Ricciardi likes where Jays are headed

Ricciardi likes where Jays are headed

TORONTO -- The non-waiver Trade Deadline has come and gone, and shortstop Marco Scutaro is still a Blue Jay. Yet the fact remains that Scutaro will be a free agent at the end of the season, and general manager J.P. Ricciardi must decide whether to pay Scutaro a hefty raise to keep him in the fold, or let him walk.

Scutaro, who had never been an everyday player before this season, is having a career year, batting .291 with a .389 on-base percentage entering Tuesday. His .993 fielding percentage is the best among Major League shortstops.

Scutaro has also been a solid leadoff hitter for the Jays, and finding a replacement for both his glove and his bat would not be an easy task for Ricciardi. But Scutaro is also likely to be a Type A free agent at season's end, which would give the Jays two compensatory Draft picks if he signs with another team.

"We're going to try to bring him back," Ricciardi said of Scutaro, "[but], obviously, we're looking at two Draft picks with him. We're going to get a first-round and a sandwich [pick], so I think that's pretty impressive. We have to sit back and say, 'Can we make ourselves better in another way?' But if not, we'll try to bring him back."

Ricciardi added that it's difficult to gauge what kind of salary Scutaro could command in the free-agent market next offseason, given the state of the economy in Canada and the United States.

"It'll be interesting to see how the winter goes," Ricciardi said. "I don't really see much changing from last year, but who knows?"

In a wide-ranging conversation with reporters before Tuesday's game with the Yankees, Ricciardi also touched on topics including his general plans for the offseason and the outlook for Toronto's injured pitchers.

The Jays stormed out to a 27-14 start this season, thanks in part to an impressive hot streak by their offense, but they have slowed down considerably as the bats have cooled. Toronto boasts an impressive group of young pitchers -- six rookie starters have pitched for the Jays this year, with five making their Major League debuts -- but Ricciardi is loath to trade away pitching to improve the lineup -- especially considering the number of injuries to the team's staff this year and last.

"I hate to give up our arms because of what has happened to us in the last few years, but I think next year we'll just see -- we'll see where we're at," Ricciardi said. "I'd rather keep the arms, to be honest with you. I think some can go to the 'pen."

While the offense's struggles are partly related to the fact that center fielder Vernon Wells and right fielder Alex Rios are posting subpar numbers, Ricciardi feels this season is a blip on the radar.

"Vernon and Rios are good players, just having down years," Ricciardi said. "I've got a lot of confidence those guys will bounce back."

Ricciardi reiterated that some of the Blue Jays' rookie pitchers, such as Brett Cecil and Marc Rzepczynski, will be hitting their innings limit soon, and the team may have to use a six-man rotation soon to avoid overtaxing young arms -- a plan manager Cito Gaston said was in the works earlier this season.

"I think we're going to have to start watching some of the young arms, as far as their limits -- they're going to start getting taxed out a little bit," Gaston said. "Beginning in September -- Cecil, Rzepczynski -- we're going to probably end up taking them out of the rotation or backing them off some."

The plan for next season is for Toronto's currently injured starters to return, bolstering a young rotation. Ricciardi expects Shaun Marcum, who underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery at the end last September, to be ready soon, but the GM is not going to rush Marcum back before he's fully healed.

"We're just going to keep letting him go through his stuff, and we'll see," Ricciardi said. "If he can get here, fine. If not -- if you don't pitch this year, you don't pitch. He'll be ready for Spring Training 100 percent, so that's the most important thing. We're getting [reliever Casey] Janssen back."

Ricciardi added that right-hander Dustin McGowan, who is recovering from right shoulder surgery, may not be ready for Spring Training, and Jesse Litsch, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April, will likely not be back until July.

With the Jays entering Tuesday in fourth place in the American League East and 11 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card race, they're more likely building for the future than working toward a playoff spot.

That could provide a chance for the younger Blue Jays to make their mark. Ricciardi added that 21-year-old left fielder Travis Snider, who made the team out of Spring Training but was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas in May after struggling at the plate, is likely to be called up before the end of the season.

"I think we're getting a lot of experience for our younger kids, which is good," Ricciardi said. "I think ultimately, we'd like to get Snider back up here at some point and let him get some more playing time up here, and maybe a few other guys -- just start preparing ourselves for what we think we might look like next year."

Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.