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Jays bury hatchet with Barajas deal

The Canadian Press

1/25/2008 3:08:35 PM

TORONTO - There are times when Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has to put the team's interest ahead of his own.

It's no secret that Rod Barajas was among Ricciardi's least favourite people last winter when the free-agent catcher reneged on an agreement with the Blue Jays.

But that didn't stop Ricciardi from signing Barajas this week after his agent approached the team.

''The ultimate goal that all of us have to ask ourselves at all times is does this make our team better?'' Ricciardi said Friday on a conference call. ''I think when you keep asking yourself that question and the answer is yes, (then you have to make the move).

''(When) you talk to the manager, you talk to the coaches and everybody's in favour of doing it, I think it's your job and your obligation to try to get the best players in here.''

Barajas signed a US$1.2-million, one-year deal that includes an option. The Blue Jays were prepared to make him their starter last year but he'll serve as Gregg Zaun's backup in 2008.

Ricciardi feels his team has lacked depth in the past and sees this signing as another way to address that problem.

''It's unfortunate but the last two years we've had to battle through some injuries,'' he said. ''I think when you go into the reality of seeing those injuries, you try to build up as much quality depth as you possibly can.

''If Zaunie goes down for 90 days again, we feel like we're really covered. Rod's a good player - we've always liked him.''

The GM downplayed the importance of his failed attempt to sign Barajas last winter. The team and the catcher's agents agreed on a $5.25-million, two-year contract last November before Barajas got cold feet and refused to take a physical.

That clearly upset the Jays.

''Where I come from, your word means something and your handshake means something,'' Ricciardi said at the time. ''And we had more than a handshake.''

More than a year later, he's moved on.

''That was last year, it's over with,'' said Ricciardi. ''We're concentrating on this year. We got the player and we're happy about that.

''I think in life, all of us, you need to go forward. There's nothing to be gained by going backwards and we're looking to go forward. We're just really happy that the player's here, we like his ability and we think he's going to make us a better club.''

Barajas batted .230 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 48 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Those numbers were down from the production he had each of the previous three years with Texas.

Ricciardi believes the 32-year-old suffered from a lack of playing time in Philadelphia. The amount of action he'll get in Toronto will depend largely on Zaun. Barajas represents a defensive upgrade on Zaun, who had doesn't have a strong arm and rarely throws out baserunners.

The Barajas signing likely marks the end of Ricciardi's acquisitions before spring training opens next month in Florida. However, he still has to sign outfielder Alex Rios to a contract and says talks have gone well on that front.

Rios, who made $2.535 million last season, is seeking $5.65 million in arbitration while the Blue Jays have countered with an offer of $4.535 million. There's no immediate pressure to get a long-term deal done since Rios won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2010 season.

''We're trying to get a long-term deal done with him,'' said Ricciardi. ''Hopefully that'll work out. It's kind of a two in one deal - we have to get a one-year deal done if we're hoping to avoid arbitration.

''It's the big picture and the smaller picture that we're trying to grasp at the same time.''

Ricciardi was able to look at the big picture in signing Barajas.

He spoke to the catcher on Thursday night but said the two haven't yet reached the point where they can joke about the way things unfolded.

''Maybe during the year we'll have a laugh about something as we get to know each other a little better,'' said Ricciardi. ''But I don't think that there was anything that came out of it that you could sit there and say we were having a laugh over.''