Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi has a void in his starting rotation and a monumental trade chip in center fielder Vernon Wells.
"We tried to get Lilly and Meche because we thought they could make our club better. Now we have to go in a different direction, but it doesn't mean we have to trade Vernon Wells to do that."
-- J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto GM
But that doesn't mean Wells' custom-clearing days are necessarily history.
The Blue Jays are still leaning toward keeping Wells in 2007, Ricciardi said, even if they're unable to negotiate a long-term deal with him this winter. Wells, who will make $5.6 million next season and be eligible for free agency in November, appears to be spiraling rapidly beyond Toronto's price range.
Wells trade speculation, which appeared to have cooled, flared anew last week when the Blue Jays failed to sign free-agent pitching targets Ted Lilly and Gil Meche. But Ricciardi said he thinks Toronto has enough talent to make a trade even without moving Wells.
"We tried to get Lilly and Meche because we thought they could make our club better," Ricciardi said. "Now we have to go in a different direction, but it doesn't mean we have to trade Vernon Wells to do that.
"We're not in a panic mode. If people think we're up here pulling our hair out and taking cyanide pills because we didn't get who we wanted, that's not the case. This is just a part of the game you go through."
Wells, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, hit .303 with 32 homers and 106 RBI last season. Even though next winter's free agent crop is exceedingly deep (Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron, Mark Kotsay and Aaron Rowand will also be on the market), Wells looks like a strong candidate to receive a nine-figure deal.
Toronto's starting rotation currently consists of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin in the first three spots. Unless the Blue Jays upgrade the back end of the rotation, Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen and Josh Towers (2-10 with an 8.42 ERA) are among the starters who could get a look in spring training.
Ricciardi recently told USA Today that the Blue Jays will have to "explore" the possibility of trading Wells if they can't sign him to a long-term contract. He told the newspaper that he should have a better idea where things stand with Wells in early January.
"We're going to exhaust every possible way to sign the player," Ricciardi said Monday. "Ownership has been great to us, and if it gets to a point where we can't sign him, then we can't sign him. That's the reality of it. It's not that we don't want to."
When asked to give odds on the likelihood of Wells wearing a Toronto uniform in 2007, Ricciardi declined to make a prediction.
"I don't want to predict numbers," he said. "If you've been to the race track with me, you'd know I'm not too good."
Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN Insider.