THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — Catcher Michael Barrett and left-hander Mike Maroth were among the four players signed to minor-league contracts by the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, and they may be the last notable additions the team makes this off-season.
With little wiggle room left on a payroll expected to hover around US$84 million, general manager J.P. Ricciardi has little option but to sift through the free agent clearance racks for the rest of the winter in an effort to find more bargain-priced help for his ball club.
"I don’t really see us doing much," Ricciardi said in an interview. "I think our payroll is what it is, I think our team is what it is — we’d love to be able to do some other things but we just don’t have the resources at this point.
"We’re going to see if the young kids can help patch some holes and see if some veteran guys can patch some holes."
Barrett and Maroth will certainly be given every opportunity to do just that, as will catcher Raul Chavez and infielder Randy Ruiz, the other two players who agreed to minor-league deals.
Barrett, the 32-year-old former Montreal Expo whose deal includes an option for 2010, and Chavez, 35, will compete for the backup catcher’s job behind incumbent Rod Barajas, clearing one item off the club’s to-do list. The veterans will hold the fort down until catching prospects J.P. Arencibia and Brian Jeroloman are ready.
"We’re happy with the guys we have," said Ricciardi, "and the guys that we were able to bring in."
Barrett appeared in just 30 games during a difficult 2008 in which a foul ball off his own bat fractured three bones in his face. He batted .202 with three doubles, two homers and nine RBIs.
Maroth, meanwhile, joins Matt Clement as a reclamation-project candidate for the starting rotation. The 31-year-old, best known for losing 21 games for the dreadful 2003 Detroit Tigers, is coming off shoulder surgery last June and should be ready for spring training.
Sal Butera, special assistant to the GM, watched Maroth pitch several times before the deal was done.
"I don’t think he’s 100 per cent back, I think he’s closer to 90 per cent but working his way toward 100 per cent," said Ricciardi. "I talked to him, he said he felt great. He understands we have some opportunities here. Hopefully guys like him and Clement will take advantage."
Other candidates to fill out the starting rotation behind ace Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey include Casey Janssen, who’s coming off a shoulder surgery of his own, Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., prospects Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil, and possibly relievers Brian Tallet or Scott Downs. Dustin McGowan, also coming off shoulder surgery, is throwing from 45-50 feet right now and is expected back sometime in May.
The Blue Jays are also keeping an eye out for anyone else who might fall into their price range.
"We’re working on a lot of minor things but at this point nothing major," said Ricciardi. "You know, you might add a guy who comes up and gives you 10 starts and that’s important at this point."
The club’s looming piecemeal rotation is a cause for concern amid the loss of A.J. Burnett to the New York Yankees, who have also added workhorse lefty CC Sabathia and slugger Mark Teixeira this winter. The Boston Red Sox have also reportedly signed former Dodgers ace Brad Penney, deepening their already talented rotation.
Factor in that defending AL East champion Tampa Bay is expected to beef up as well and it all adds up a bleak outlook for the Blue Jays in 2009.
"We still like our lineup, we think we’ll be a better offensive club, we still like our bullpen, we still have Doc and Litsch, Purcey is going to have to continue to make strides," said Ricciardi. "We’re just going to be inexperienced on the mound, which is the one area where you don’t want to be (inexperienced), but we led the league in pitching last year, maybe this year we’ll lead the league in hitting."
Chavez spent last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, appearing in 42 games and hitting .259 with four doubles, a homer and 10 RBI.
Ruiz, 31, made his major league debut with Minnesota last year, appearing in 22 games and hitting .274 with a homer and seven RBI. He spent most of the year with triple-A Rochester, leading the International League with a .320 batting average in 111 games with 33 doubles, 17 homers and 68 RBIs.