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Selig wants Beeston to stay with Jays Add to ...

The concern many Toronto Blue Jays fans are feeling about the plight of their team these days isn't shared by Bud Selig.

The baseball commissioner, speaking during an interview with The Canadian Press, feels the club is in good hands under interim CEO Paul Beeston and would like to see him take over the role on a long-term basis.

That isn't likely to happen, as Beeston has repeatedly said he's not interested in the job permanently and pointed out that one of his primary duties is to find his own replacement.

The Blue Jays have had endured some tumultuous times since Beeston filled the void left by Paul Godfrey's resignation last fall, slashing payroll, putting ace Roy Halladay on the block, and giving Alex Rios away for nothing on waivers under his watch.

Plenty of questions have been raised locally about where the team is headed, and Selig feels Beeston is the right man to set the course.

"I have a lot of faith in Paul Beeston, he was very successful there the first time around, he'll be successful again, I wish he'd stay there a long time, that's how much faith I have in him," Selig said Thursday from his office in Milwaukee. "Having said all that, I think they're doing things the right way.

"Look, they've traded some players, they've signed a fair amount of their draft choices, but they clearly are building for the future. ... It may take some time, but do I believe they're on the right track? You bet I do."

Beeston appreciated the praise but insisted he only took the job on a short-term basis.

"He's kind to say that, it doesn't change my mind," said Beeston. "What this place requires is someone who can commit for 5-to-10 years. For the good of the team, we need someone who wants to be here for that period of time."

The search for a new leader is "moving along very well," said Beeston, adding that he might consider staying on in an advisory role, but that "needs a person in charge first."

That uncertainty is one reason others don't agree with Selig's optimistic outlook.

One source with knowledge of the situation said every move the Blue Jays have made since last fall points to the sale of the team within the next two to three years, and that the ownership at Rogers Communications Inc., has had far less regard for the club since the death of Ted Rogers last December.

Market analysts continue to ask how committed the company is to a perennial money-loser - it lost in the neighbourhood of C$16 million last season but will lose less this year, partly due to a payroll reduction of around US$17 million - but Selig doesn't sense a reason to worry.

"I have no concerns (about ownership's commitment) at all," he said. "I think the moves they've made, frankly from a baseball perspective, have been smart, but they're very painful in the short run."

And there has been a lot of pain.

Aside from falling apart at the seams following a strong start, trying to deal Halladay (something that could be on the table again this winter) and letting Rios walk to avoid paying the US$60 million left on his contract, the Blue Jays also released closer B.J. Ryan and ate the US$15 million left on his deal, dealt third baseman Scott Rolen to Cincinnati for personal reasons, and this week failed to sign three of their first four draft picks.

On that last front, Selig feels some sympathy for the Blue Jays, who went above Major League Baseball's recommended slot signing bonuses for the first time under GM J.P. Ricciardi but still couldn't get all their selections in the fold.

Many in the game believe the draft needs to be reworked and Selig says levelling the disparities between rich and poor teams in signing picks and procuring international talent will be a priority in talks with the players union when the current CBA expires in December 2011.

"There's no doubt about that," he said. "In the next negotiations, we're going to talk about slotting and the worldwide draft.

"(But) the slotting system this year worked better than ever. We had over 70 per cent of our players signed at slot or under."

The Blue Jays also face a competitive balance issue at the big-league level having to compete in the American League East with the New York Yankees (US$202 million payroll, first in majors) and Boston Red Sox (US$122 million, fourth).

The Blue Jays are spending US$81 million in comparison, and given that gap, they need one of their richer counterparts to falter, the way the Yankees did last year allowing Tampa Bay to win the division while Boston claimed the wild card, to get over the hump.

So while Selig correctly points out that nearly 20 teams remain in contention at some level this deep into the season, parity doesn't exist in the AL East.

"I do not minimize how tough the American League East is, I don't want to do that, it is tough," said Selig. "The Tampas of the world, Baltimore is now developing young players and I have faith in Toronto, I think they'll have a great shot at it."

Selig also said there's little appetite in baseball for eliminating the divisions and unbalanced schedule in favour of a single division with the top four teams reaching the post-season, a suggestion some feel would open the door for the Blue Jays to end their playoff drought dating back to 1993 World Series win.

The pessimism and grim outlook for the team now makes those days seem like a distant dream. Attendance is down about 200,000 fans compared to the same point last season, and some worry about the future of the lone remaining big-league team in Canada.

"It's a very important market for us," said Selig. "We tried long and hard to keep the team in Montreal, I went up there myself to try and help Claude Brochu, we tried a lot of things, it didn't work, unfortunately.

"As far as Toronto is concerned, it's not only a major-league market, it's a terrific major-league market and I have no question that Toronto will have a long and constructive history in the major-leagues."

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