Blue Jays extend Gaston, retain Ricciardi

Shortly after the Toronto Blue Jays announced a two-year contract extension for manager Cito Gaston on Thursday, team president Paul Godfrey confirmed general manager J.P. Ricciardi would return in 2009.

Blue Jays fans don't know where A.J.  Burnett is going to pitch next season, but the immediate futures of general manager J.P. Ricciardi and manager Cito Gaston became clearer Thursday night.

Shortly after Toronto announced a two-year contract extension for Gaston, team president Paul Godfrey confirmed Ricciardi would return in 2009.

"I gave them my recommendation on J.P. and they absolutely agreed with it," Godfrey told reporters, referring to team owner Rogers Communications.

Ricciardi, who is signed through the 2010 season, was rumoured to be in jeopardy of losing his job, but Godfrey reportedly told the players in a pre-game meeting that he wanted the much maligned GM to return next season.

"I know this will be received with mixed emotions — not only in the media, but by the fans as well," Godfrey said. "But I believe J.P. is still the one to do the job … I naturally discussed that with the Rogers ownership and I gave them my recommendation on J.P., and they absolutely agreed with me."

The Blue Jays have never reached the playoffs under Ricciardi, who was hired before the 2002 season.

Ricciardi 'a very passionate guy': Godfrey

Last year, Ricciardi drew criticism for concealing the nature of closer B.J. Ryan's elbow injury and earlier this season for negative comments about then-Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Dunn. In June, he questioned Dunn's passion for baseball during a phone-in segment on a Toronto sports radio station.

"He's a very passionate guy," said Godfrey of Ricciardi. "He has slipped a couple of times. He knows that. It's only because he cares and he really gets emotionally involved in the game. I know what he passionately wants to do is win, and win for the Blue Jays."

Meanwhile, the 64-year-old Gaston had indicated since taking over from the fired John Gibbons on June 20 that he was interested in returning for the 2009 campaign.

"It's something that, from Day 1, J.P. and I talked about," he said. "We talked about [my] coming back for one year, but two years is great."

Ricciardi said Gaston's biggest success has been improving Toronto's offence.

"Offensively we've really been the club that I thought we'd be, and he's had a big influence on that," Ricciardi said. "He may have simplified some things, the approach, maybe brought everything in a little mainstream. Just simplified runners in scoring position, tried not to do too much."

The Blue Jays (84-75) sit fourth in the American League East Division, and head to Baltimore for a season-ending, three-game series with a 49-36 record under Gaston, who received a $500,000 US contract to finish the season.

"Cito came in here and had something to change it up," Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay said. "Sometimes, that is what you need."

Gaston previously managed the team from 1989 to 1997, leading them to four AL East titles, two AL pennants and back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

He owns a managerial mark of 750-685 in a franchise-high 1,435 games.

A former major league outfielder, Gaston served as Toronto's hitting coach from 1982-89 and 2000-01.

'I think we can get better'

"One thing we need to do is get back to where guys hit 20 to 25 home runs," Gaston said. "If you don't manufacture runs, then you have got to hit home runs. We still have some ways to go. There are some things I would like to see done differently.

"I always thought it was a good club, it just wasn't playing up to its potential — we still haven't. We have played OK, but I think we can get better."

Gaston is one of nine men honoured on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre, and he was inducted the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.

With files from the Canadian Press and Associated Press