TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays will continue taking offers for Roy Halladay past the loose deadline of Tuesday set by GM J.P. Ricciardi, while Rogers Media President Tony Viner insisted that any such deal would be made for baseball, not financial reasons.
The news comes on a day big things seemed to be afoot for the club, which may be closer to charting a direction for its future after completing a two-day planning session.
Viner, discussing the team during a rare interview with the media, told The Canadian Press that interim CEO Paul Beeston and Ricciardi have the approval of ownership to do what they think makes the most sense for the team.
That approval includes dealing Halladay - who a source said will remain on the market through Friday's non-waiver trade deadline.
"The Blue Jays are committed to winning," said Viner, who runs the division of Rogers Communications Inc., responsible for the club. "There is no pressure whatsoever for them to reduce payroll."
The question for many of the team's fans ever since Ricciardi publicly placed Halladay on the block is how can the Blue Jays deal their foundation and remain competitive?
A Halladay deal would likely lead to other moves shipping out veterans such as Marco Scutaro, Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay and Scott Downs, and there is persistent talk of another spending cut for 2010.
Halladay's status also remains the most popular question in the Blue Jays clubhouse.
"Nobody wants him to go. Everybody knows we have a better opportunity to win with him on this team and next year it'll be the same thing," catcher Rod Barajas said before Toronto's game in Seattle Tuesday night. "You never want to lose the most dominating pitcher in the league and I strongly feel he's the best pitcher in this league. To take him off our team would be a big loss."
The speculation is threatening such a crisis in confidence for the Blue Jays that one analyst asked during a conference call on the company's quarterly earnings Tuesday if it was worried that ill feeling might affect Rogers' other core businesses.
"The thing I'd say is look to our track record, we have consistently invested in the team," Viner said later. "It's incumbent on Paul and J.P. to come to us with a plan, which is frankly where they are today, and then we'll react to that plan."
Halladay is sure to be a key part of that plan either way. If he stays, logic says there will be some sort of commitment to the current group, while if he's dealt, the right trade "could set this team up for next few years," as one executive put it recently.
Rumours about the right-hander picked up again Tuesday, with a Yahoo! Sports report suggesting the Red Sox had offered starter Clay Buccholz, triple-A pitcher Michael Bowden and outfield prospect Ryan Westmoreland for Halladay.
"No, that's not true at all," said one source with knowledge of the talks, who added: "We'll listen (to offers). But we don't think anything is going to happen."
Viner said the Blue Jays were the only company within Rogers Media to show a bottom-line improvement over the past year, and that comes despite a decline in attendance.
The Blue Jays have drawn 1,238,569 fans through 52 dates for an average of 23,819, compared to 1,438,408 fans for an average of 27,662 at the same point last year.
"We sort of stopped free ticket giveaways and our actual revenue per ticket has risen sharply this year," said Viner. "We're going to beat our budget and that's with the existing player payroll. That's with the combination of reducing expenses, especially on the business side, and getting more revenue in."
Unsaid is that the Blue Jays also reduced their payroll from about US$95 million to somewhere in the $81 million range this year, although they have increased spending on scouting and player development.
What that all means for the payroll next season remains a question.
"If we had the opportunity to improve the team, we would improve the team, especially if we felt it was going to drive our revenues," said Viner. "What we're going to try and do is raise revenues to be in line (with spending) and we think we can do that and we think we've taken the right steps, and we'll be even more aggressive on that front."
Viner also insisted the instability atop the team - new Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed isn't believed to be as enamoured with ownership of the club as the late Ted Rogers, Beeston is actively searching for his replacement, Ricciardi's contract expires after the 2010 season - isn't a problem.
"We think (Ricciardi) is here to stay and although Beeston is interim, it's been tough to get rid of him," said Viner. "Seriously, we are quite close to identifying a successor to Paul, he's been quite active on that file, and there are some things that should probably be left to Paul's successor."
The future of Halladay, and the other Blue Jays attracting interest prior to the July 31 trade deadline, won't be among them.
Viner also said the Blue Jays remain as important to the company as they did a decade ago, something Mohamed reiterated to analysts Tuesday when he said that, "we remain obviously committed to the Blue Jays."
Viner pointed to a brighter future.
"I'm not going to kid you, we're not going to break even this year but the fact is, the Jays are one part of my portfolio where they are financially better this year than they were last," he said. "Read that to be that our losses will be much reduced year over year."
With files from The Associated Press