THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — The price for Jason Bay was too high and the Seattle Mariners backed away from a potential deal for Raul Ibanez, leaving the inept Toronto Blue Jays offence to finish out the season as is.
General manager J.P. Ricciardi was forced to stand pat as the 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline came and went Thursday, despite finding himself more active than expected.
For a brief while he thought manager Cito Gaston would be able to pencil into his lineup one of Bay, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger from Trail, B.C., or Ibanez, another offensively productive left-fielder.
Instead, the 54-54 club will get no surprise external boost for the final two months of the season as it attempts to undo an 108-game trend of mediocrity and pull back into contention.
The Blue Jays begin a three-game series at Texas on Friday night 9 1-2 games behind Tampa Bay for first in the AL East and 6 1-2 games back of wild-card leading Boston, which ended up snagging Bay in a three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to L.A.
While the gap with Boston may not sound like much, Minnesota, the Yankees, the Rangers and Detroit are all also in front of them in pursuit of the Red Sox.
"I don’t think we’re on the middle ground, I think we’re in it," Ricciardi said during a conference call. "We’re relatively within striking distance in the wild card and there’s still two months to play, so I don’t think we ever thought about, `Hey, we’re going to be sellers.’
"The thought process is if we can continue to add without taking anything away leading to us going forward, that we would try to do that."
That certainly wouldn’t have been the case with Bay, a player the front office has long admired and someone assistant GM Tony LaCava helped draft with the Montreal Expos back in 2000.
The Pirates’ are believed to have asked for starter Shaun Marcum and top prospect Travis Snider in any potential deal, nipping things in the bud fairly quickly.
"It was pretty steep for us," said Ricciardi.
The talks with Ibanez picked up some steam afterwards, with the Mariners apparently walking away at the moment of truth. The deal was said to be a 2-for-1 featuring two 40-man roster players, although a source vehemently denied a report the offer featured starter David Purcey and reliever Brandon League.
"We were ready to go forward," said Ricciardi, "At the end of the day they probably weren’t as comfortable with making the trade as we were. That happens."
Interim Mariners general manager Lee Pelekoudas refused to characterize the talks with the Blue Jays, telling reporters only, "we came close to a couple of deals and weren’t able to get them done."
But contacts in Seattle said the teams were throwing names back and forth for a few days and could never quite solidified anything.
The deadline also passed with no calls about starter A.J. Burnett, who can opt-out of his US$55-million, five-year deal in the fall. He’d been the subject of speculation but will finish out the season in Toronto.
Catcher Gregg Zaun, who said earlier this week he’d welcome a trade, didn’t get his wish and will have to close out the year as Rod Barajas’ backup.
"We got some hits on Barajas but none on Zaunie," said Ricciardi.
The Blue Jays did get some good news on starter Dustin McGowan, who had surgery Thursday to repair fraying of the labrum in his right shoulder and should be ready next spring.
The 26-year-old did not need reconstructive surgery on his torn rotator cuff, which would have kept him out even longer.
"It’s encouraging news, he should be ready for spring training," said Ricciardi. "We might have to bring him along a little bit slower but everything looked good, went good."
.The right-hander was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 starts and has been out since leaving a July 8 outing against Baltimore after four innings, saying the pain was too much to bear.
Ricciardi added that he’s not concerned about third baseman Scott Rolen, who said Wednesday that his left shoulder, operated on three times, had a "mechanical issue" that kept it from "functioning properly."
Rolen said surgery wouldn’t be necessary and that regular rest and a rehab-type program would allow him to keep playing.
The 33-year-old sat out Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Rays and is in an 0-for-17 rut while batting .163 (13-for-80) in July.
"We just got to get him back off a little bit and give his shoulder a chance to rest a little bit," said Ricciardi. "Medically, no one has any concerns long-term about him continuing to play. …
"His shoulder is as strong as it could possibly be, it’s just a little fatigued from overwork."
A more productive Rolen would certainly help the Blue Jays make an unlikely run in the standings, especially in light of the Red Sox picking up Bay while ridding themselves of Ramirez’s distractions.
The Yankees also plugged some holes by picking up Xavier Nady from Pittsburgh and Ivan Rodriguez from Detroit, which helped its bullpen by getting Kyle Farnsworth in return.
"It’s nice to see Manny out of our division," said Ricciardi. "Regardless of what other people do, we still control what we have, we play these teams a lot, it’s all in front of us, but we’ve got to get more consistent as a club, we haven’t had that all year.
"We win five in a row and then we kind of go back a little bit. There’s a reason why we’re .500."