Reports: Ryan to Jays

O's closer said to sign with Toronto for 5 years, $47M


B.J. Ryan, the Orioles closer who saved 36 games in 2005, has bolted north of the border for a lucrative and lengthy contract from the Toronto Blue Jays, according to published reports.

Ryan, who turns 30 in December, has signed a five-year deal worth $47 million to pitch for the American League East rival Blue Jays, say reports that first surfaced in the New York Daily News last night. The contract, which has not been officially ratified by Major League Baseball, would be worth more than double the three-year, $18 million offer the Orioles put on the table earlier this week.

The Orioles had planned to increase their offer but, said one high-ranking team source, a five-year deal was never considered.

Ryan, his agent, John Courtright, Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette did not return phone calls last night.

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi called the report "premature" last night.

"We are still talking to him and I know they are still talking to people," Ricciardi told the Toronto Globe and Mail.

But an industry source said Ryan wanted to get a deal done before the annual winter meetings in early December and that a five-year offer - unusually long for a closer - had been made.

As part of his free-agent tour this offseason, Ryan visited Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit and the New York Mets. He reportedly told others that he was extremely impressed with the Blue Jays' organization and was judging the other visits against the one he had in Toronto.

The Blue Jays were expected to increase their $55 million payroll by as much as $30 million this season in hopes of catching the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Ryan and Florida Marlins starter A.J. Burnett became the Blue Jays' two top targets.

Burnett has yet to sign with a new team, but Toronto reportedly has offered him a five-year deal as well.

With Ryan in the fold, the Blue Jays may move their 34-year-old closer Miguel Batista, who saved 31 of 39 opportunities in 2005, back to the starting rotation. Or they could package him with prospects and perhaps Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson to acquire a power bat.

Ryan became a full-time closer for the first time in 2005 and excelled - converting 36 of 41 opportunities while making his first All-Star team.

He has been with the Orioles since July 1999, when he and a minor league pitcher were sent here from Cincinnati for pitcher Juan Guzman. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Ryan worked his way up from left-handed middle reliever to setup man and finally to the closer's role.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said last night that he hadn't heard any official proclamation that Ryan was gone, but he had been bracing for the possibility once the season ended.

"We certainly wanted to have B.J. back, no question. He was a big asset for us and will be hard to replace, but we are going to move on," Perlozzo said. "We wanted B.J. to come back and we wish him luck, but we need to find a closer now."

There are several alternatives still on the free-agent market including perennial All-Stars such as Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman. Instead of paying top dollar for a closer while the team has gaping holes in the rotation and the lineup, however, it's likely the Orioles will look to lower profile possibilities such as Tom Gordon or Todd Jones who could bridge the gap to future closer Chris Ray.

Ray, 23, went from Double-A Bowie to Baltimore this year. He pitched in 41 games with the Orioles, and compiled a 1-3 record and a 2.66 ERA.

Perlozzo said he hasn't ruled out Ray as the closer next season, but that's not his preference.

"We have to find someone we think can close," Perlozzo said. "The ideal situation is to get someone good enough to close until we get Chris [ready]."

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