11/29/05 12:53 AM ET
Blue Jays sign free agent closer Ryan
Hard-throwing lefty inks richest contract paid to a reliever
By Ian Harrison / Special to MLB.com
"That was a good day on and off the golf course," Ryan said with a smile on Monday, minutes after officially inking his five-year, $47 million deal, the richest total ever for a reliever.
But it wasn't his luck on the links that made Ryan feel good about signing with the Blue Jays. Rather, it was the vibe he got from general manager J.P. Riccciardi during a mid-November visit to Toronto.
"I like to think I'm a pretty good card player and you get a read on people," said the 29-year-old lefty. "That's what you look for. You look for that trust and that bond.
"I was very impressed with J.P., really impressed with his desire to build a winner," he said. "It's just kind of a gut feeling when you meet people and go through an organization and get treated the way you do. For the couple of days we were here, we got a good idea where this organization was headed. He's doing a good job."
For his part, Ricciardi sees the hard-throwing Ryan as the next step in Toronto's return to respectability after a more than a decade without a postseason berth.
"We're a lot closer to having a chance to play into October next year and going forward than we ever were," Ricciardi said.
Ryan was a sure thing at the back of Baltimore's bullpen last season in his first season as a closer, converting 36 of 41 save chances and striking out 100 batters in 70 1/3 innings. An All-Star for the first time in 2005, he also led American League relievers in strikeouts per nine innings.
"He's just starting to scratch the surface, as far as being one of the premier closers in the game," said Ricciardi.
"This is a young guy in his prime. He's been relatively healthy. Hopefully he'll stay healthy and do what he's capable of doing for the next five years."
The Blue Jays have faced criticism for overpaying to get Ryan, but both player and GM brushed aside the talk.
"This is one where we didn't want to come in second," Ricciardi said. "You have to get what you can get, when you can get it. If we wait on [Ryan] and [Billy] Wagner signs, we probably don't get [Ryan]. We thought, 'Let's go out and get a closer.' He's the one guy we like, he's the guy we wanted and we had a chance to get him."
Ryan said he expected such a massive contract to generate some negative reaction.
"It didn't matter what deal I signed or who I signed with, those words were going to come out," he said. "You just have to shrug it off."
The Louisiana native said being a big-money player and tackling pressure-packed save situations will take less of a toll than his introductory press conference, which was broadcast live on local TV and radio.
"It's a lot easier to go out and play in front of 35,000 or 40,000 people than get up and talk about it," he said after a brief speech. "That's more nervous than I've been in a while."
Ryan replaces Miguel Batista, who saved 31 games for Toronto in 2005, his debut season as a stopper.
"The nice thing about Miguel is that we've got options with him," said Ricciardi, denying rumors that Batista was headed to Texas in a deal for outfielder Kevin Mench. "He's been a starter here in the past, he's been a closer for us. I think we've got a lot of ways to go. Right now he'll probably go back into the rotation for us."
The Jays are also pursuing pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Brian Giles, and hope their commitment to Ryan could spur more targets to sign on the dotted line.
"We're still talking to them," Ricciardi said. "How close we are, I couldn't answer that. You never know until you get that final call."
Ian Harrison is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.