Tag Archives: Toronto Blue Jays

Why Did Alex Anthopoulos Really Walk Away?

At press time last week, the news about Alex Anthopoulos leaving the Toronto Blue Jays was just about to break. To say that the announcement caused some discussion in the Toronto sports media, and amongst the general public, would be an understatement.

Looking back at the situation now, it is perhaps easier to see why Anthopoulos decided to move on, and realize that most Blue Jays fans were just hoping that Anthopoulos and news Blue Jays President & CEO Mark Shapiro would work things out. When we re-examine the facts and connect the dots, it seems this was not the hasty decision it seemed to be at the time it was announced.

Former Blue Jays General Manager had every opportunity to stick around, but he chose to leave.

To summarize what we know:

  1. Both parties confirmed that the team had offered Anthopoulos a five year extension, to continue as General Manager of the ball club.
  2. Anthopoulos said that his reason for turning down the offer was that he didn’t see this as “the right fit” for him. He didn’t expand on that comment, other than to repeat it several times in various interviews with the media following the official announcement.
  3. Edward Rogers, CEO of the Blue Jays parent company Rogers Communications, indicated that the offer made to Anthopoulos was for the same job he had under Paul Beeston, the retiring CEO of the Blue Jays, and there would be no change in the level of autonomy Anthopoulos would be granted under the extension, other than a change in his immediate boss, Shapiro. Shapiro was officially announced as Beeston’s successor on August 31st. Rogers went on to say that the offer included a salary increase and would have provided Anthopoulos with an “opt out clause” after twelve months.
  4. Anthopoulos has always been very private about all matters, whether they were about his own contract, or about which pieces of the roster needed upgrading or changing.
  5. Anthopoulos said on Bob McCown’s Prime Time Sports show on FAN 590 1FAN 590 is an all-sports station owned by Rogers on Thursday evening that he had initially turned down the offer on the evening of Monday October 26th, and that for the next two days the Blue Jays and Rogers had come back to him in an attempt to persuade him to change his mind. Anthopoulos stated that he thought about the discussions over those two days, but on the evening of Wednesday October 28th, he advised Rogers that he was standing by his initial decision to walk away. To Anthopoulos credit he took the high road, not once speaking negatively about Rogers, the Blue Jays, or the way he had been treated. He indicated he did not have another opportunity in front of him, and that he would take things day to day and enjoy time with his family.

In view of the Blue Jays success over the final 60 days of the 2015 season and their spirited post-season run, it is easy to sit back and be puzzled by the turn of events. Since both sides confirmed that a five-year deal had been offered, we can take comfort in thinking that was accurate. Anthopoulos said the offer was, “to be the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays”. He did not offer to explain if or how the team or Rogers wanted to change his level of authority. Rogers and the team continued to stand by their earlier statement that the offer included no changes to the role that Anthopoulos had been performing for the past six seasons.

How Did We Get Here?

So, where did it break down? Now that the dust has settled somewhat, and again looking back at recent events, it is perhaps easier for fans and the media to pinpoint several situations that might have triggered Anthopoulos’ decision.

Looking at the facts of the past twelve months chronologically, the first hiccup likely came in the fall of 2014, when Rogers made it known within the industry that Beeston would be retiring no later than the end of the 2015 season. Rogers is a communications company, but apparently they forgot to inform Beeston of their decision. Rogers started looking for his successor. They targeted several individuals, all with baseball backgrounds rather than the business background, that Beeston brought to the table. We can only assume that the move to seek a new CEO with a baseball background was likely triggered by the fact that both Beeston and Anthopoulos’ contracts expired at the end of the 2015 season, so everything fitted nicely in terms of the new President and CEO being able to hire “his guy” rather than inheriting Anthopoulos, the Beeston disciple.

Several names were suggested as Beeston’s successor, but the two that were mentioned most prominently were Kenny Williams, President of the Chicago White Sox and Dan Duquette, General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. As both Williams and Duquette were employed, Rogers needed to obtain permission from the White Sox and Orioles before approaching Williams and Duquette. The first contact was supposedly with the White Sox principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf regarding Williams. What Rogers failed to take into account was that Reinsdorf and Beeston are extremely close friends, so once he was approached; Reinsdorf’s first call was to his buddy Beeston asking him what was going on. Beeston was not pleased, as none of us would be. Then the search turned to Duquette and Orioles owner Peter Angelos requested compensation in an amount that the Blue Jays weren’t prepared to agree to.

Once it became public knowledge that Rogers wanted to replace Beeston, it was glossed over and announced that Beeston would retire at the end of the 2015 season. He would be 70 years old at that time and a Blue Jays employee for 40 years. In fact he was the team’s first employee, hired in 1976, a year before the team first took the field. Apart from a few years working in MLB headquarters in New York, Beeston has been a fixture with the Blue Jays for all those years. Even when he worked for MLB, he maintained an office at Rogers Centre (then known as SkyDome).

So the search continued for a new CEO, ending with the Shapiro hire on August 31st. While the official announcement didn’t take place until late August, obviously discussions with Shapiro and the Indians were ongoing well before the hire was announced. In fact, those discussions likely went back to at least the latter part of July, when the Blue Jays were 50-51 and it appeared they were about to enjoy another .500 season. It is very likely that Rogers made it clear to Shapiro that cleaning house would be easy to justify given the team’s on field performance at the time discussions were taking place.

While both sides have denied it, rumours persist that shortly after Shapiro came on board, during a conversation with Anthopoulos, he was critical of the numerous trades Anthopoulos had made at the July 31 deadline, giving up several good prospects in order to obtain Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. Whether Anthopoulos acted on his own in these trades, as was his mandate, or whether he and Beeston had discussed the strategy we will likely never know, but the possibility exists that if both felt their Blue Jays careers were over on October 31st, why not take a gamble and go for it all in 2015? After all, they had nothing to lose. Beeston knew he was going, and Anthopoulos must have felt that he would be gone too if the record didn’t improve, because his biggest supporter was leaving at the end of the year.

After Anthopoulos made his announcement last Thursday, Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly detailed a conversation he had had with Anthopoulos in September when the Blue Jays were in New York for a four game series with the Yankees. Kelly describes the conversation as being very causal, in the visitors’ clubhouse. ”You’re coming back, right?” asked Kelly. “I’m not sure” Anthopoulos responded. Kelly interpreted that as meaning that there had been no discussions about a new contract for Anthopoulos. Anthopoulos indicated he had only met Shapiro in passing, and had no feel for him. Anthopoulos apparently told Kelly that he had no interest in staying if it meant running every move up the ladder and while he was open to collaboration, he did not want to be micro managed. If that is the way the conversation took place, then it is easy to see why Anthopoulos didn’t “see a fit” for himself in the post-Beeston era. Anthopoulos also apparently revealed he had had no discussions with ownership, which Kelly thought was odd. Anthopoulos apparently agreed. Kelly indicates he was asked not to reveal the discussion at the time it occurred, but now that it has come to light, it would seem that Anthopoulos had in fact made up his mind long before the five year contract offer last week.

Shaprio held his first press conference at Rogers Centre on Monday, his first day on the job. He said all the right things, that he wanted Anthopoulos to return and is disappointed Anthopoulos decided to seek other pastures, that he was looking forward to working with a team that not only represented a city but a whole country, that the Blue Jays had a strong management team, and that he hoped all would stay. He danced around a lot of questions. There were lots of definite maybes in his responses. Perhaps we should expect that from any executive. Perhaps we should expect that from anyone in their first day in a new job. But Shapiro did nothing to settle the minds of Blue Jays fans still enjoying the team’s first post season appearance in 22 years. Shapiro did state that in order to provide some stability, he was promoting current Vice-President and Assistant General Manager Tony LaCava to Interim General Manager, and that field manager John Gibbons would return in 2016, but when asked, he made no comment about whether LaCava would be seriously considered for the General Manager’s job on a full time basis.

Incoming club president Mark Shapiro (right) acted quickly in naming Tony LaCava (left) Toronto’s new general manager.

What Shapiro did was damage control, essentially providing himself with a little more time before having to make a formal statement on where he saw the team going. LaCava was loyal to Anthopoulos so from a continuity standpoint the appointment makes sense. LaCava also worked for the Indians for a year in the early 2000’s when Shapiro was the General Manager in Cleveland, so there is a little history there, but the announcement was clearly not a resounding endorsement. In his November 3rd column, Kelly is suggesting that LaCava shouldn’t run out and get new business cards.

As a Blue Jays fan since day one and a long-time member of a season ticket group, I wasn’t impressed with Shapiro’s first state of the union message. I hope it gets better, but I can see why Anthopoulos made the decision he did. It likely wasn’t just his inter-action with Shapiro, or the lack of it, it was probably what he has seen over the last twelve months, starting with the way the organization treated Beeston, his good friend and mentor and the new direction the Blue Jays appear to be heading.

Ironically on the day Anthopoulos’ decision became public, he was named as the MLB Executive of the Year for 2015. A nice thing to add to your resume in an industry where opportunities arise fairly often, and an industry where hopefully Anthopoulos will find “the right fit” not too far down the road.

Could this have been resolved? Yes, but the circumstances would have had to be different. If Rogers had known the success the team would enjoy on the field after July 31st, they may have handled it differently. Looking back, and using the “if only we knew then what we know now” approach, the best move would have been to promote Anthopoulos to President and CEO 2He holds a degree from a McMaster University, a well-respected Canadian institution and let him run the baseball side. The business, marketing and stadium issues could have fallen under the responsibility of a new hire with those specific skills, reporting to Anthopoulos. What difference does it make if you have a baseball guy reporting to a President with a business background, or a business guy reporting to a President with a baseball background? From my seat, it makes no difference.

Anthopoulos has earned a lot of respect in this city as a result of his work with the Blue Jays this year and his open, friendly manner with everyone he came into contact with. He was always giving of his time while working with the Blue Jays and seems genuinely disappointed that things didn’t work out between the two parties. I think that fans saw him as “one of us”, a baseball fan and a Canadian to boot.

All we can say is good luck Alex and thank you.

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1. FAN 590 is an all-sports station owned by Rogers
2. He holds a degree from a McMaster University, a well-respected Canadian institution

What’s next for Alex Anthopoulos?

At the start of the 2015 season Alex Anthopoulos knew that this season would be something of a make or break season for him as General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The team had not made an appearance in baseball’s post season since the second of the back to back World Series wins of 1992-93. Anthopoulos was entering the last year of his contract with the Blue Jays as was his boss, team President Paul Beeston who had announced his intention to retire at the end of his existing deal on October 31.

The Blue Jays successful season is well documented. On July 28 the team was 50-51, apparently going nowhere in a division that was clearly open for the taking by any team in the division that went on a good run. In a four day period Anthopoulos significantly made over the roster, giving up only one player on the 25 man roster, (Jose Reyes) in the process and more than adequately replacing Reyes with Troy Tulowitzki in the first of his four deals. Following the acquisition of five players; Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins, David Price, Mark Lowe and Ben Revere the Blue Jays went 43-18 over the balance of the regular season and claimed their first division crown in 22 years. Two hard fought post season series later, the Blue Jays were eliminated in the American League Championship Series by the AL champion Kansas City Royals and almost immediately the plans for keeping the team competitive for the 2016 season started.

Every team goes through player changes at the end of each season, whether they lose a hundred games or win the World Series. No team stands completely still. On the field, with the exception of catcher Dioner Navarro and infielder Cliff Pennington, all of the Blue Jays position players are either under contract or under club control for 2016. The pitching staff is another story. Not only does the team have to improve its overall pitching, decisions have to be made on whether to try and re-sign restricted/un-restricted free agents such as David Price, Mark Lowe and Marco Estrada, Hawkins has announced his intention to retire and Mark Buehrle is expected to follow suit. The club holds an option on R.A. Dickey for 2016. We can see that the pitching staff needs a major overhaul. Given the expected departures of Price and Buehrle, it makes sense that the team will pick up Dickey’s option even if it is simply to ensure that 200 of the approximately 1,400 innings that will be needed next year can be accounted for. Decisions will have to be made on whether to consider Drew Hutchison as a starter given his up and down season in 2015 and whether one or both of Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez remain in the bullpen or whether they are stretched out as starters for 2016. Moving one or both to the rotation partially solves one problem, but immediately creates another as then the bullpen gap(s) needs to be resolved. If they both go to the rotation and Lowe leaves, the only reliever that can be relied upon is Brett Cecil. At this point Estrada would appear to be where they should channel their attention since he has shown that he can contribute and I think we all realize that Price is unlikely to resign given the offers that will surely come, although his post season efforts may not have added to his resume.

But the real changes will be off the field and four days before Anthopoulos’ contract expires this coming Saturday, if it has been decided who makes those on field decisions, it hasn’t been announced. If Beeston was returning, there is no doubt that Anthopoulos would be as well, given the team’s results this year and the working relationship that Beeston and Anthopoulos have enjoyed. Former Cleveland Indians executive Mark Shapiro takes over as President of the Blue Jays on November 1 and undoubtedly he will want a say in who runs the team from the General Manager’s office. To his credit Shapiro has remained in the background since his hiring was announced, out of respect for Beeston, Anthopoulos and the team’s participation in the post season. No one wants to see the on field efforts distracted. At this point it isn’t known whether Anthopoulos wants to sign a new contract or not, whether Shapiro wants him to continue as GM or whether the two even know if they could work together on a long term basis. What is known is that if Anthopoulos stays it will be on the understanding that he has full control over the baseball side of the team, leaving Shapiro to concentrate on the business side of things as Beeston did. Beeston is an accountant by profession so he left the baseball decisions to those who sat in the GM’s chair during Beeston’s many years with the organization. Shapiro is an experienced baseball man, with scouting and player development experience before becoming GM in Cleveland and subsequently rising to the President’s office there. Shapiro may decide that he wants his own guy in there as GM and if so, that leaves Anthopoulos out in the cold.

As with anyone who has an expiring contract, Anthopoulos is free to entertain offers from other teams on November 1, but in order to do that there has to be at least one of the 29 other teams looking for a GM. A quick scan of the current GM’s shows only one potential vacancy, in Miami and it is widely believed that Dan Jennings will return to the front office after a partial season as field manager. Given that the Marlins are currently interviewing candidates to assume the field manager’s role for 2016, logic would indicate that the GM has already been identified, even if not formally announced.

Of course, we have all seen teams replace someone who we thought was safe as soon as someone seen as being a better fit becomes available. Case in point is Rick Renteria, who everyone thought was returning as field manager of the Chicago Cubs in 2015 and the team had basically said that was the case until Joe Maddon suddenly became available. Renteria was quickly fired.

In looking at the other 28 MLB teams that currently have a GM we see that 13 of those GM’s have been hired since August 2014, in other words none of them have had a chance to wear out their welcome yet. Of the remaining 15 teams, the incumbents range from Brian Sabean (Giants) in 1996 to Rick Hahn (White Sox) in 2012. Many are long tenure employees and most preside over successful teams, which means they are unlikely to be replaced with a GM that suddenly becomes available. Teams that were thinking of replacing their GM due to poor results in 2015 would likely have done so by now and looking at the number of new GM’s appointed since the end of the season (five – Atlanta, LA Angels, Oakland, Philadelphia and Seattle) it would seem that other teams don’t expect Anthopoulos to be looking for work or they would have waited to consider interviewing him once his contract expired. The odd surprise resignation, retirement or illness is also a possibility, but let’s not wish anyone bad luck.

An added factor to keep in mind here is that if Anthopoulos leaves and Shapiro brings in a new GM that likely means the end for field manager John Gibbons. Anthopoulos and Gibbons have as a good a working relationship as do Beeston and Anthopoulos, but a new GM would likely want “his guy”, someone with whom he has a working relationship.

If Anthopoulos wants to remain a GM, he would appear to have few options, but Anthopoulos has said that he doesn’t necessarily have to be a GM, it’s not an ego thing with him. He has often said that he loved scouting, one of his former roles before assuming the GM position in Toronto when J.P. Ricciardi was fired in October 2009. True to his word, Anthopoulos has made interesting career decisions in the past. His father owned a business in Montreal before passing away suddenly when Anthopoulos was in university. Along with his brother, Anthopoulos could have taken over the family business, however he had little interest in running the business so he went to work for the Montreal Expos as an unpaid intern in 2000, eventually moving into scouting before leaving to work for the Blue Jays in 2003. When he joined the Blue Jays he took a lesser job than he had with the Expos, so clearly when he says it isn’t about ego, we can believe him.

Anthopoulos has proven that he can identify talent, both as a scout and as a major league GM, and if he isn’t adamant about remaining as a GM and he chooses to work elsewhere then there would clearly be some opportunities. But he is a Canadian, has a young family and as a result of the Blue Jays success this season, primarily through his astute trading for/signing quality players he is popular in this city and hopefully Shapiro and Anthopoulos can agree on a path to improve the team and in 2016 finish what was started in 2015. As a fan, I certainly hope so.

Fans Impact The Royals Playoff Run

The Kansas City Royals are up two games to none on the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS. As one of the rabid fans of this Royals club, I like to think that the fans have had a big impact on the playoff run up to this point. Some of this impact is obvious and reported on, while other impacts have been hidden.

If you want to see the physical on field impact that the Royals fans have had on this series, look no further than the Jays right fielder Jose Bautista. The battle of Bautista versus Royals fans has been ongoing since the Royals took on the Jays in Toronto back in August. Bautista was in the middle of many multiple bench clearings and stare downs as the Jays and Royals had one of the most hostile series of the year. He even took to Twitter to proclaim he no longer respected Royals manager Ned Yost. While Bautista has become one of the most arrogant and unlikeable players in the game with his on field antics and off the field Twitter rants; he is especially despised by Royals fans. We will have our team’s backs, and we’ve shown that so far in this series.

After striking out early in game one, Bautista was visibly whining and pouting in the Jays dugout. The fans of KC jumped on this, as videos and memes of Bautista in the dugout went viral. Inside the stadium fans booed him with a furry that only the likes of Robinson Cano and Brett Lawrie have heard. They cheered when he took strikes and booed his whole trip to first base when he walked. After catching a fly ball for the third out late in the game, Bautista faked like he was going to throw the ball to the crowd proving that the crowd had gotten inside his head. The Royals went on to win that game 5-0.

In the second game fans had an even bigger impact on Bautista and the Jays as they blew a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning. Bautista had another bad day at the plate, again whining and pouting after being rung up by the home plate umpire. After that at bat to finish the sixth inning, Bautista taunted Royals fans behind the dugout and in the outfield but showing 3-0 with his hands. It was just a few pitches later that Ben Zobrist hit a high pop fly into shallow right field. Bautista came in as second basemen Ryan Goins went out to attempt the catch. Bautista slowed first as Goins called him off, then at the last second Goins backed away allowing the ball to fall to the ground. Goins said after the game he heard someone yell “I got it”. He didn’t hear someone, he heard 40,000 people inside the K saying it as the noise was a factor. The Royals went on to score five runs that inning, Bautista made no further gestures to the crowd. After the game Goins took responsibility for the play as Bautista threw his teammate under the bus saying the video will show what happened.

Luckily for Bautista and his teammates, they get away from KC for a few days as the series heads to Toronto for the next three games. But that will only protect the Jays from the physical help of Royals fans. No amount of distance will protect them from Royals superstition. Now that you’re done rolling your eyes, hear me out. We are all superstitious when it comes to sports. We all have that favorite shirt, spot on the couch or pre-game ritual. Even Yost has superstitions as he bats Alcides Escobar lead off for no reason other than “we win when he leads off”. Nobody, not even Yost, believes that the sole reason for the Royals winning games is because Escobar bats leadoff. But at the same time, if it works, who am I to argue with the logic?

The same goes for fans. Case in point, the lucky nachos of section 405. Now this goes back to ALDS game five against the Astros. With the Royals trailing 2-0 in the fourth inning when a Royals fan tripped and dropped a plate of nachos onto the stairs in section 405. It was only seconds later that Eric Hosmer roped a single scoring Lorenzo Cain. Someone in the crowd said “don’t touch the nachos, they must be lucky”. Johnny Cueto retired every batter he faced after the nachos were spilled and the Royals scored six more runs. The fans protected the nachos, asking fans to step around them, even taking the broom from the employee paid to clean them up. The nachos were cleaned up in the eighth inning but that didn’t stop the fans in section 405 as they chipped in and bought a new plate of nachos, sitting them in the same spot as a sacrifice to the baseball gods.

Did those nachos have any effect on Hosmer hitting that ball or Cueto pitching his best game of the season; no. Does the fact that my mom has worn the same Royals jersey the day of games since the playoffs started affect how the team plays; no it doesn’t. My wife loves telling me that where I sit, what my kids wear, or what I’m eating has no effect on the outcome of games. As with most things in life, my wife is right. But while she makes logical sense, it’s also hard to argue with results. I’ve always said when it comes to superstitions, what does it hurt? When the Royals come home again we will be the tenth man on the field and do our best to throw the visiting team off their game. But we will also be doing our best to follow Yost lead and do what works, even if it doesn’t make any sense. So protect those nachos, wear that lucky shirt and create whatever seating chart you need. While there is no proof that the crazy things we do help, there is also no proof that it doesn’t!

More Than A Friday: Thinking of Lamar Odom During a Busy Week in Sports

Lamar Odom is going to die. We sincerely hope it doesn’t happen today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or even in the next year. For Odom, there is a reality, and doesn’t that word really have some negative connotation to it? The reality is, that I hope he is able to survive from the time between now and whenever this publishes, but only for a life that doesn’t involve suffering.

Why do I care about the mortality of Lamar Odom? As former Arizona Cardinal Darnell Dockett so bluntly stated, he didn’t cross my mind before he was trending, so to speak. I don’t mourn for his situation with a Lakers or Heat flag on my car, and I’m not sympathetic to the character he was presented as to the masses on a show I didn’t watch. I know who he is, because of basketball, and I know how much he loved being a Laker, through the words of his ex-wife during a very brief glimpse of that show that I swear I didn’t watch. I’m sympathetic to his situation, because he is very obviously in the public eye, and it feels like he’s slowly dying in front of all of us.

I don’t feel that he deserves that. He deserves our compassion, but to suffer, with all of those toxins eating away at the very life he’s lived for the past 35 years, 11 months, and change; no one has earned that fate. Everyone in the media seems to be acting appropriately sensitive, walking on egg shells and citing his difficult background, while commending his wildly successful life and hoping for the best. We’re all human enough for that; we should be well wishing Odom for a prolonged life or a merciful death, though most of us don’t know the answers. While we brace ourselves for the inevitable assassination of his character from a few directions, and for various reasons, this is a time to be above the noise and just care.

In Major League Baseball

If you lack a dog in this fight, it’s been an awesome week of watching the field dwindle itself from 8 down to 4. If you had rooting interest in the Division Series, half of you are elated and half of you ain’t.

The Chicago Cubs were the first ones in the clubhouse, waiting to see what the rest of semi-final field would be. They had to win that winner-take-all game, which is always dangerous. It meant burning their best arm, leaving one Jake Arrieta available for just one start in the subsequent best-of-5 series. To survive that do-or-die game in Pittsburgh, it meant taking on baseball’s best regular season team and a long-time arch-rival in what’s been a very lopsided pairing for a very long time.

Give it to the Cubs, for not letting history get the best of them. They were able to bounce back after a poor showing in St. Louis in Game 1, a game that had you thinking the Cubs didn’t have the ammunition to survive the almighty Cardinals, beaten and battered as Mike Matheny’s squad may have been. Lo and behold, they kept hitting the ball out of the park, and when the Cardinals pecked away at a Chicago lead, the Cubs scratched back.

We’ll say good-bye to the Cardinals, and point out that they’re just another great National League team that managed to win at least 100 regular season games on a long list of triple-digit winning National League teams that have failed to win the World Series since the Mets won it all in ’86. The 2015 chapter of the Mets are a little different; they’re not supposed to be here. Blame the Washington Nationals for that, but maybe credit these young Metropolitans for being too dumb to know the stage is too big for them or that they’re not ready yet.

For a while, we’ve known the National League’s chapter of New York baseball was acquiring too much talent to be kept down for long. Remember when Matt Harvey was pretty much the chosen one there? Those days are long gone, with the flowing locks of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard making the Dark Knight (and the Yankees) an afterthought in Gotham. You’ve got Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright earning the headlines for Terry Collins’ team, but it was the efforts of the likes of Michael Conforto and Daniel Murphy that put them in the place they needed to be to host the Cubs on Saturday in Game 1 of the NLCS.

As for the Dodgers, the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for two games apiece wasn’t enough. Chase Utley taking out Ruben Tejada on a questionable double-play breaking slide wasn’t enough. Justin Turner’s .526 batting average wasn’t enough, nor was any other aspect of the roughly $310 million payroll enough to get three wins against these Mets in a best-of-five series. If you’re into math, they were paying about $77 million, per team that advance farther than them in the 2015 Playoffs.

It’s probably not the best of ideas to reduce a best-of-five that goes the distance down to a single inning of an elimination game, but that’s how we’re going to roll with the American League Division Series. The conversation of the day on Wednesday, at around 2:30 PM (Mountain Standard Time) was about whether or not the Astros could rebound from their 8th inning collapse, a few days prior, against the defending AL Champs at home. And maybe the Royals had something to do with that as well, but you had to hold the phone on making Game 5 of Astros-Royals into headline material. Down 6-2 in the eighth inning, on the road, six outs from elimination, the Royals put together one of those innings. They got some bounces and scored enough runs(5) to survive(a 7-6 victory), but needed another win to advance. That was Monday.

Before the Royals could do what they needed to do, back at home on Wednesday evening, there was the issue of settling the other half of the bracket with Game 5 in Toronto. Fast forward to the 7th inning of that one, game tied at 2, with Rougned Odor on 3rd base and Shin-Soo Choo at the plate. On a Russell Martin throw back to Blue Jays’ reliever Aaron Sanchez, the ball hits Choo’s bat and squirts toward the third baseman. Odor scores on the “throwing error”, and all hell breaks loose in Toronto. After a review, the Rangers lead 3-2 and they were 9 outs from another trip to the ALCS. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus wasn’t prepared to help the cause.

It started with a routine ground ball to short, which he mishandled. Then, there was a double play ball, and well, the ball was thrown poorly by Mitch Moreland at first base, and Andrus couldn’t haul it in. Next batter, it’s a sacrifice bunt not executed well, where a good throw to third should eliminate the lead runner, but Andrus can’t handle it. Bases loaded.

Toronto tied the game on a ball that should be described as a Texas Leaguer, and could have invoked the Infield Fly Rule, floats beyond the reach of the Texas second baseman. It ends up being a fielder’s choice at 2nd base, but the tying run scores. Tie game, runners at first and third for Jose Bautista.

What he did was hit the ball, so far that metaphors would be ineffective for those that don’t know much about Canadian geography. It was a three-run job, giving the home team a 6-3 lead that would stick. After he hit it, he tossed his bat about eight feet in the air, and (we assume) it traveled for kilometers before it reached the ground, well after he’d run the bases.

Blue Jays win, and they’re back in the ALCS, for the first time since 1993. That was the year Joe Carter hit baseball’s second (and most recent) World Series clinching walk-off home run. In a lot of ways, regardless of what happens to the Blue Jays the rest of the way, this Bautista shot may have been a bigger deal.

1908, 1985, 1986, 1993. The last time the Cubs, Royals, Mets, and Blue Jays have won it all, respectively. We’re going to get someone new, while the Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Yankees watch from the couch…and I that’s just fine by me.

In Football

Ohio State is going to stay #1 until they lose. It’s just the way it is. I look forward to them playing Penn State under the lights in Columbus, but I’m not looking forward to seeing them wearing all black, for the sake of wearing all black.

Texas A&M will host Alabama, and the Aggies have a legitimate shot to win that game and establish themselves as a legitimate player in the College Football Playoff talk, while Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines host in-state rival Michigan State with a good chance to finally allow some points and to likely get handed their second loss of the season.

Florida will travel to Baton Rouge for a night game with LSU on Saturday. They will be without their starting quarterback, while South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt and USC travels to Notre Dame, both without their head coaches. You might expect an 0-3 run from that group with those voids.

On Sunday, expect plenty of blood in the water, in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Bruce Arians didn’t even take the Cardinals back home last week, after thumping Detroit; you can be sure he wants to get his pound of flesh from Mike Tomlin and company, after they kicked him to the curb a few years back. TJ Ward said he wanted to remain with the Browns (and presumably his best friend, Joe Haden) two year ago, but Cleveland wasn’t interested, so he’ll surely be interested in ringing some bells with his Broncos visiting the 2-3 Browns. Finally, they say snitches end up with stitches, so go ahead and find your own shitty air/inflation-related pun to describe what Tom Brady and the Patriots might do to the Colts on Sunday night.

In the National Hockey League

Call it a Stanley Cup Hangover, or call it the distraction of one of your top players being accused of sexual assault, but the Chicago Blackhawks have looked anything but Champions…so far.

It’s obviously early, but we haven’t seen an immediate impact from Mike Babcock joining the Maple Leafs or Connor McDavid joining the Oilers. Both will happen in due time.

The Arizona Coyotes are basically left for dead by anyone who knows anything about this game, but they’re off to a promising start under Dave Tippett in Glendale. Rookies Anthony DuClair and Max Domi look like they have something special budding in the desert, making major contributions to the ‘Yotes 3-1 start.

The Tribe is Alive!

The Tribe is alive. I can’t believe it either.

The Cleveland Indians are just 4 games back of the second wildcard spot entering the final month of the season.

A month ago, I, and many others, were counting the Tribe as out. The bats were dead, the starting pitching wasn’t keeping the game in check and the bullpen was suspect. Add to that the lack of moves by the front office at the deadline and our suspicions weren’t unfounded.

This season was over, in every sense of the word.

And then, slowly but surely the Tribe won a few games.

Then the won a few series and then, they got a sweep.

The bats have been working lately, the starting pitching has been keeping opposing hitters at bay, and the bullpen, when they’ve been needed, have delivered.

The defensive play has been the hidden lynch pin to the Indians streak of success as of late. Who would have known that the addition of Abraham Almonte (seriously?) in centerfield and the return of Lonnie Chisenhall in RF along with the play of Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela on the left side of the infield.

After the current series with the Blue Jays, the Indians have games within and only within the AL Central. Those games include 6 against the Tigers (3/3 Home/Away), 6 against the White Sox (3/3 Home/Away), 7 against the Royals (4/3 Home/Away), and 6 against the Twins (3/3 Home/Away). They are going to need to win approximately 80% (20) games to cement themselves in the wildcard playoff for the American League. There is no chance anyone in the American League Central will catch the Royals. Currently, they are 13 games ahead of the second place team, the Minnesota Twins and 16 games ahead of the Indians.

The next month of baseball could be very interesting. Undoubtedly, memories of 2013 have begun to whimsically drift into the back of my head as I reminisce about one of the greatest months of baseball in recent memory.

While the next month will be interesting, the big Indians-related news of the week occurred late Sunday night

Shapiro back, back, back and gone to Toronto

Reports surfaced last week of an impending offer of the Presidency/CEO duties of the Toronto Blue Jays to current Indians President Mark Shapiro. The collective interwebs and social media were aflame with ifs, ands, and buts about the whole thing before it went quiet for a few days.

Then on Sunday, the hammer was dropped. Multiple well-known and respect sports journalists reported that Mark Shapiro would accept the offer from the Blue Jays effective at the end of the 2015 season. Soon after, the team confirmed it and a press conference was scheduled for Monday afternoon.

At the presser, Mark said he was excited about the opportunity for growth in Toronto and addressed (barely) issues he faced here in Cleveland. When asked about attendance, he side-stepped the issue and moved on to other topics of interest.

Direct reports to Shapiro will now report to Paul Dolan and Dolan also stated he will not look outside the organization for a successor for Mark. It would appear that the next era of the Cleveland Indians Presidency will take effect from within the organization and speculation has begun about who that individual will be.

When looking back over Shapiro’s impressive 24 year career in Cleveland, one can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

When John Hart left the organization in 2001 and Shapiro ascended the GM throne, he was left with a very bad situation: a fan base used to winning and winning a lot, a minor league system devoid of any serviceable talent ready for the majors, and owners who didn’t want to spend much money on talent.

With that, Mark began the process of shaping the Indians from the ground up into the team he envisioned. Unfortunately for him, his drafts were awful. In the early to mid-portions of the first decade of the 2000s, you would be hard-pressed to name one decent major leaguer that came up through the Indians farm system (and no, Matt LaPorta isn’t decent. At all). Where Mark really shined was in his ability to leverage current team assets towards futures of other teams’ farm assets.

Case and point: the Bartolo Colòn trade of 2002:

In 2002, the Cleveland Indians were out of contention and Shapiro pulled the trigger on a deal that sent staff ace Bartolo Colòn to the Montreal Expos for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips.

I don’t need to tell you about the contributions and accolades that group of players have garnered over the course of their MLB careers to prove to you how fantastic that trade was.

When Shapiro stepped aside for Chris Antonetti to assume the role of GM, he took over as team president and was able to turn his attention things outside of personnel and baseball operations. His role in the new construction at the ballpark which debuted this season and his work in making Progressive field more fan and family friendly have been enormous. I love what has been done to Progressive field and I feel way more connected to the team and the game when I’m at the stadium than when I was younger.

Mark Shapiro has been around the Indians organization for longer than I’ve been alive. He has been there with us during the highs (1994-2001), the lows (2002-2006), and the playoff runs and appearances (1995-1999; 2001; 2007, and 2013). He has felt the heartache we’ve all experienced at one point or another. He’s felt the exhilarating highs of Tom Hamilton’s walk off calls in the lazy summer evenings and the lows of a Matt Underwood curse before an opposing player does something great.

Sure he’s a part of the organization, but he is also one of us. He did the very best he could with the resources he had, and I for one, can’t blame him for anything. He’s going to a great organization north of the border with deep pockets and a handful of great hitters. I wish him nothing but the best, and hopefully, he’ll come back around Cleveland from time to time to check in on us.

If You’re Reading This, It’s Already Too Late

If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Yeah, I didn’t exactly give anyone the chance to do that.  It was one of two requests I asked of the Justice of the Peace that officiated our nuptials.  The other, I stole from Spaceballs.  We required the short, short version for our outdoor mid-summer Phoenix wedding.  While I’m on the subject, allow me to tip my proverbial cap to Jen, my bride of eight years.  Without her blessing to do this, we wouldn’t be here right now.  As an act of gratitude, I may even unload the dishwasher or take out the trash.

For some reason, I’ve been trusted with the master key to all of More Than A Fan, and I have to tell you, this is all so surreal.  I keep expecting to wake up and I’m actually waiting for someone to yell at me, to tell me what I can’t do.  Don’t get me wrong, the ‘ghost’ of Josh Flagner will linger in my head, and it will haunt me if get out of line, but that isn’t my intention.  In fact, my intentions are not a priority these days; my obligations are.  Let me break those down.

First, it is paramount that we keep the lights on.  I laughed about it in BASEketball, when Squeak went to turn off Doug and Coop’s gas, but it wasn’t very funny when the natural gas ceased to flow in my own residence.  You’d think you could live with it, especially on nice spring days, but a week of ice-cold showers and painful shaves had me changing my tune.  It’s a good excuse to grow a beard, but my mind hadn’t gone there.

I learned from a friend, who had little money and no power, how to rough it with easily bought neighbors, an extension cord, and a power strip. Unplugging the TV, to open an outlet, to plug in the coffee maker, to heat up the water to shave, well, that’s no way to live.  It’s obviously not how you run a website.  Keeping the lights on, in this figurative sense, it requires money, so you’re going to see advertisements and we might even do some things we’re not proud to do (but, hopefully not).

Next, I have an obligation to these fantastic writers, as well as our loyal readers.  A glance around More Than A Fan reveals that Matthew Kline always sees something that could use tweaking or fixing in sport, Jared Andrews knows the peaks (present-day Blackhawks) and valleys (historically, the Cubs) of being a Chicago sports fan, and what a time for Britt Zank to be waxing poetic about his beloved Kansas City Royals!

Our resident Canadian, John Poulter is writing about and talking about his hometown Toronto Blue Jays at the right time.  Let’s see how all of that plays out.  When we get to football season, Jared may be slightly less elated to speak on the tragedy that the Chicago Bears have become, compared to the suddenly-inspired, Joe Maddon-led Cubbies.  Outside of Arizona, there can’t be too many folks longing for the cold days of winter, but maniacal hockey fans probably have their countdowns down to the hour by now.  Though his Maple Leafs are so cursed, they might as well be Cleveland’s fourth team, John still makes his way to the Air Canada Centre more than a few times a year, come win, lose, or shootout.

They do play their fair share of hockey south of Ontario, and our hockey staff has you covered with opinions from Anaheim to Boston, and everywhere between.  As for me, my biggest NHL interests reside in the desert, specifically in a small-time city that generally seems not to care about at least one of its major professional sports franchises.  Never a dull moment with the drama surrounding the Coyotes, my favorite hometown team.

It’s weird to say it and a little awkward to see it typed out, but Phoenix absolutely is my hometown.  I’ve been here 14 years, later this month.  However, if you know me at all, you know my birthplace and long-time home is a seldom-respected city of yesteryear in Northeast Ohio, known as Cleveland.  As More Than A Fan and I are brought together once again, I remember our common bond, we were both born in Cleveland, as was the site’s founder.  Deny it, as anyone might, that’s our home base.  It’s where our original readers come from, and in February 2013, Daniel Zaleski and the rest of management decided those readers had earned their own page.

The voices at MTAF: Cleveland are different from what they were in the beginning, but the tone is the same.  We’d be speaking out of turn to evaluate fan bases, but I personally understand the dedication of those fans, near the shores of Lake Erie.  In some cities, the night ends when the games end.  The 2-1-6 is different; they’re talking Browns on the 4th of July and the discussion about a 7:05 Indians game could well into the AM hours of the next day, both online and on the airwaves.  We cannot understate how the Cavaliers are overwhelmingly the best team in town at the moment, but they aren’t the only basketball team in downtown Cleveland.

A few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena stands the once state-of-the-art Wolstein Center, and while crowds are a far cry from what they used to be for Vikings basketball, the entire Cleveland State Athletic Department remains near and dear to the heart of the many alumni that reside in and around the city.  I cut my teeth on underdogs and upsets when the ’86 hoops team knocked off Bobby Knight’s 2-seeded Indiana as a 15, and rooted hard for this mid-major that’s never lost an Opening Round game in the NCAA tournament, as they went toe-to-toe with Butler in the Horizon League, before Butler bolted for greener pastures a few years back.  For everything else on Cleveland’s only Division I athletic program, I defer to our own Bob McDonald.  He is the decided authority for all-things-Cleveland-State.

I’m the one who decided that, so take that for what you will.  The bottom line is, for our readers from Cleveland to parts unknown, we know you have options.  We owe you good content for following our crazy views on the wide world of sports, and we need to deliver it on a consistent basis.  If that does not happen, I have failed in my role.

On that note, my last obligation, or really, my moral imperative is to take care of (MTAF Founder) Josh Flagner’s baby the best way I know how, by treating it like my own.  He has an actual baby to take care of now, so he should appreciate that.  Josh, I promise not to drop this thing on its head, feed it paint chips, or let it be a Brian Hoyer fan.  All kidding aside, if there’s a better way for “my” More Than A Fan to pay homage to Josh Flagner (and co-founder Lisa Pitz) than to recognize their charitable efforts, I don’t know what it is.

Off the webpage and in the community, philanthropy is a big part of our mission statement.  I want More Than A Fan to be more than a place that simply houses brilliant, unfiltered sports opinion, but good-standing members of society.  This team should demand that of me, as well as of themselves.

We aren’t just more than fans in these parts.  We hope to be more than readers, writers, editors and publishers, but a community that takes care of one another and looks out for our own.  Together, we make More Than a Fan a place that we can all be proud of, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ’til link-rot do us part.

Russell Martin proves you CAN go home again.

Dionner Navarro had established himself as the Toronto Blue Jays number one catcher during the 2014 season. Team management, the media and fans alike recognized that the Blue Jays had some holes to fill on their roster if they were going to compete in the 2015 season and most everyone felt they would look to sign some pitchers (both starters and relievers), another good bat for the infield/outfield, plus some bench strength.

It came as a surprise to just about everyone other than the Blue Jays management when on November 18, 2014 the Blue Jays announced that they had signed free agent catcher Russell Martin to a five year, US$82Million contract. Why would they choose to strengthen a position that didn’t appear to be a weakness? General Manager Alex Anthopoulos covered some of the reasons at the press conference announcing Martin’s signing by saying that Martin was a good defensive catcher who would help the pitching staff, a leader in the clubhouse and most of all he was a winner, having been on seven post-season teams in his nine year major league career.

Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin Jr. was born February 15/83 in the then Borough of East York, now part of the City of Toronto, but he would spend his early years in the Province of Quebec. His father, Russell Martin Sr. an African-Canadian was a subway musician, playing the saxophone at various stations on Le Metro de Montreal (the Montreal Metro, the city’s subway system). His Mother, Suzanne Jeanson was an actress, of French Canadian descent, from just outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba. His parents separated when he was approximately two years old and subsequently divorced. After the separation, Russell Jr. lived with his Mother until he was 12 years old. When he was nine, his mother re-married and together with her new husband and young Russell, moved to Paris, France. During their time in Paris, Russell Jr. attended school and in the summer months the family would tour other parts of Europe, with young Russell being introduced to the finer parts of life, including rich European pastries, hardly what a young budding baseball player really needs.

Ms. Jeanson had always promised her son that when he was 12, he could choose whether he wanted to live with his Mother or his Father. Around the time Russell Jr. turned 12, Ms. Jeanson returned to Canada to live, taking up residence in Chelsea, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa. Her son decided that he would like to live with his father, primarily so that he could work on his baseball skills, baseball being a game that he had always enjoyed, had shown some ability in and one that his Father had encouraged him to play. His parents agreed upon how the arrangement would work and the two Russell Martins moved into a middle class home in Notre-Dame-de-Grace (“NDG”) a residential neighbourhood of Montreal, located in the City’s west end. Russell Sr. continued to work as a subway musician and by his own account would play in the subway for 2-3 hours each day, usually making approximately $40 in quarters, dimes and any other loose change that transit riders would donate. With his son, he would roll the coins and by his own admission “we were just getting by. Some days it was pretty tight”.

The hours of practising with his father in NDG paid off, because in 2000 Russell Jr. was drafted in the 35th round by the Montreal Expos. Although it was his childhood dream to play for what he considered his home-town team, Russell Jr. passed on the opportunity when he was offered a scholarship at Chipola College, mainly through his play for the Canadian team at the World Jr. Baseball Championships. It was at Chipola that he played on the same team as another future major leaguer, a young player with an unbelievably strong, accurate throwing arm, named Jose Bautista. After two years at Chipola, Martin was drafted a second time, this time by the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the 17th round. He signed with the Dodgers and while playing Rookie ball in Vero Beach, Fla. the Dodgers converted him to catcher. In 2006 the Dodgers called him up to the majors, where he made his major league début, behind the plate on May 5. The Dodgers won 17 of the first 21 games that Martin played, which helped solidify him as the team’s number one catcher. The catcher he replaced was Navarro, who was eventually traded to Tampa Bay. Navarro might be the only player that wasn’t pleased to see Martin join the Blue Jays, although the two seem to have developed a good relationship over the course of the season.

After six years with the Dodgers and stints in New York with the Yankees and with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Martin became a Free Agent after the 2014 season. Several teams were rumoured to be interested in acquiring his services, primarily the Dodgers and the Cubs, both big money clubs and both teams without an established number one catcher. Even if we had known the Blue Jays were interested, I doubt many would have given the team much chance of signing him given the Dodgers and Cubs ability and willingness to write cheques whenever they want something.

Both Russell Martins welcomed the Blue Jays chance to play the Cincinnati Reds in the final two pre-season games this season. The games were held in Montreal, at the Olympic Stadium, former home of the Expos before they left for Washington. Russell Jr. said that it took him back to the times when he and his Father would take the Metro to Pie IX station, right below the Olympic Stadium to watch the Expos play. In fact, when the Blue Jays-Reds series was played, Martin took the subway to the games as a reminder of just how far he had come in life.

Russell Sr. played the national anthems before one of the games and Russell Jr. stood proudly behind the plate, clearly moved by the event. Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons also added to the thrill by inviting Russell Sr. to visit the mound late in one game to make a pitching change.

Not only had the size of the contract made coming to Toronto somewhat of a pressure situation for Martin, he would have to learn to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball and there would be the pressure to produce as there is any time a player signs such a big contract. Martin was up for the task, confirming Anthopoulos’ belief that he was a team leader. He worked hard at learning to catch the knuckleball and promised that he would get better at it.

The knuckleball experience has taken some time and it appears to have worked out quite well, but with the season in the home stretch and Martin a bit banged up with a sore thumb and a hamstring injury, the Blue Jays have elected to use Josh Thole to catch Dickey. Thole and Dickey have worked together pretty much exclusively since their days with the Mets, before they came to Toronto for the 2013 season. Having Thole catch Dickey not only saves Martin from the extra work in adjusting to a knuckleballer, it also gives him a day off every fifth day, a good way to rest your top catcher during the so called Dog Days of August, without really losing anything defensively. Martin has contributed offensively, while batting only .242, he has supplied some power with 15 HR and 52 RBI in 359 AB’s through games of August 25.

On top of everything else, he is a Canadian, trying to become the Blue Jays’ biggest Canadian star in their history. There have been no shortage of Canadians who have donned the Blue Jays uniform, going back as far as their very first game in April 1977, when current Arizona Diamondbacks first base coach Dave McKay, a native of Vancouver B.C. started at third base. Since then we have seen approximately 20 Canadians play for the Blue Jays, with varying success. Some, like Brett Lawrie have come on the scene with a bang. Some, like Rob Ducey and Paul Quantrill have quietly played roles on winning teams. Others like Corey Koskie have simply been swallowed up by the hype and pressure of trying to be a hometown hero. Current Blue Jays Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey will get their opportunity to shine and over the years there has been no shortage of Canadian talent on the front office side. Long-time team President Paul Beeston is from Welland, Ontario and Anthopoulos is from Montreal. Former General Manager Gord Ash is a Torontonian.

Russell Martin may just be the best fit for the role of a Canadian as a front line player. He fits the mold on several counts. Firstly he was an established star when he arrived, unlike any of the others. He was born in Toronto, the country’s largest city but grew up in Montreal, its second largest city. He has lived part of his life in luxury, part of it struggling to make ends meet. Canada is a diverse country and Martin is of mixed race and is fully bi-lingual. It doesn’t get a whole lot more Canadian than that.

Thomas Wolfe once said that “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Obviously he never met Russell Martin.

The Blue Jays get a makeover. Is it enough?

In my last column I wrote about the Blue Jays acquiring Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies in a surprise move. All Blue Jays fans, local media and baseball people in general all expected that any moves made by the Blue Jays prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline would be for pitching help or for so called “role players” to support existing position players, specifically an extra infielder or an extra outfielder. So as we discussed last column, the Tulowitzki move came out of the blue and personally I was of the opinion that the team would make no additional major moves. It was my opinion that after GM Alex Anthopoulos had seen the price the Kansas City Royals had to pay to get Johnny Cueto “on rental” for the balance of the season, he had shied away from trying to acquire a top flight pitcher, even on a rental basis, simply because he felt the cost would be far in excess of what he wanted to/was able to pay in terms of prospects.

Fast forward to the late morning news of July 30. It shocked me. There is no other way to describe it. As a Blue Jays fan since day one of their existence (April 7, 1977) when along with 44,648 others I sat in a cold, snowy Exhibition Stadium in Toronto and saw them defeat the Chicago White Sox 9-5, I couldn’t believe that Anthopoulos had managed to acquire Tiger ace David Price. Price is one of the top starters in MLB and he is mentioned in any conversation about THE best starter in MLB, right up there with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Cloe Hamels and Max Scherzer among others. The cost was excessive, in terms of numbers (three) and current potential of the prospects sent to the Motor City, but in Price the Blue Jays definitely got the best rental pitcher available at the deadline and their first ace since Roy Halladay was traded after the 2009 season. I have not included Hamels in my assessment of pitchers available, since he is not a rental and his Phillies contract contained a list of teams to which he could not be traded and it is believed Toronto was one of those teams.

Two minor deals were completed the following day in the acquisition of relief pitcher Mark Lowe from the Mariners and outfielder Ben Revere from the Phillies. Both were picked up for prospects, but none of the prospects were considered “gems”.

So the makeover was pretty much complete (save for the addition of middle infielder Cliff Pennington from the Diamondbacks on August 8) and we all sat back, took a deep breath and re-assessed the new look roster.

Undoubtedly Price brings credibility to the rotation and the pitching staff, in fact to the entire team. He is a dominant innings eater, capable of winning 10 of his remaining 12 projected starts this year. In addition to the innings and leadership he will provide, by extension he makes the bullpen better, because it means that Alex Sanchez can be slotted into the eighth inning role and the fact the when Price starts the use of the bullpen will be greatly reduced. Lowe and Revere are expected to play smaller roles with the Blue Jays.

When Price was acquired, the Blue Jays were essentially a .500 team (52-51). My initial assessment was that if he went 10-2 in his 12 starts and the team played the same .500 ball in the games not started by Price, they would end up with 85/86 wins, usually not enough to win a division or secure a post-season wild card berth. With those figures in mind and fully expecting that Price was a pure rental, I thought the team had given up far too much of its future potential for 12 starts. What has happened since has been the talk of baseball. Since acquiring Price, the Blue Jays have gone 9-1, winning the last eight in a row, including a three game sweep at Yankee Stadium cutting the Yankees lead back to a game and a half, four in the all-important loss column. It hasn’t been just Price, although he is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings pitched. It has been Tulowitzki, Revere, LaTroy Hawkins, along with the continued success of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and numerous others. This streak has reduced the need for the Blue Jays to play at a .600 level outside the Price starts in order to reach 90 wins, the common benchmark for post-season qualification. Plus, they still have 10 games left with the Yankees over three series, two of which are in Toronto. The pitching, both the rotation and the bullpen has also improved tremendously since the roster makeover, which netted five new major league roster players at a cost of only one 25 man roster player (Jose Reyes) and 11 pitching prospects.

I have seen Tulowitzki play numerous times over his major league career and always knew he was a good ball player and I knew he would be an upgrade defensively over Reyes. It is only after watching him every day now for about 12 games that I realize just how good a ball player he is. Whether it is the change of scenery that is raising his game, the fact that he is no longer the only “go to” guy on his team or the fact that he is in a pennant race for the first time since the Rockies had that run to the 2007 World Series, something has re-charged his batteries. The Blue Jays have put him in the leadoff spot, something new for Tulowitzki, but it seems to be working for him and the team. While he is hitting only .244 with three home runs in his new uniform, since he joined the club, their only loss (August 2 to the Royals) was the only game he has not started. With tongue in cheek, I wish the Blue Jays had acquired him coming out of Spring Training…………….the pennant race would be over by now.

Many, myself included, felt that Anthopoulos’ job was probably on the line this season. The team has not made the post-season since its back to back World Series wins in 1992-93 and the contracts of both Anthopoulos and Team President Paul Beeston expire at the end of the 2015 season. Beeston has said he will retire at the expiration of his contract, so Anthopoulos’ future will be decided by the new President. We don’t know if Anthopoulos’ job was/still may be on the line, but one thing is for sure he didn’t make these trades like a guy whose job was on the line. The deals not only re-shaped a good team that had underachieved into a much better team that all of a sudden is getting results, they position the team well for the future. Tulowitzki is signed through 2020 and he could easily be moved into one of the power spots in the line-up if one or both of Bautista and Encarnacion depart after their contracts expire after 2016, spots into which Donaldson could also step into. There is a slim chance that Price will re-sign given the Canadian personal tax situation and the current Blue Jay policy of not signing pitchers to contracts longer than five years, but with Mark Buehrle’s contract off the books after 2015, who knows what lies in store. Price has said all the right things, acknowledging the fan support, how he has been welcomed and accepted by the fans and the team, but money still talks loudest for professional athletes.

The bats will need to continue to carry the team, 12-23 in one run games as of August 10, but it is 24-6 in games that are decided by five runs or more through the same date. Does the shoring up of the pitching staff and adding another bat give them a better chance in those one run games? It should help some, since logic dictates that if you keep scoring runs at your current pace but start giving up less runs, you should win more games and that would start with one run games.

The sample size is small, very small and may not be any indicator of what lies ahead for the last 50 games of the Blue Jays season, but one thing is for sure, we have the opportunity to see some meaningful games during August and September for the first time in two decades.

As a fan, I hope that my initial assessment that “The Price is Wrong” was incorrect.

Did Alex Anthopoulos make his last big move?

Tulo looking sad
Tulo looking sad

For most of the season, both Blue Jays fans and the media have been begging for an upgrade in the starting rotation. It all started when Marcus Stroman, penciled in for the top spot in the Blue Jays rotation went down with a knee injury on a fluke play in Spring Training and was lost for the season. An already thin/questionable rotation became even thinner and even more questionable. Two of the five spots went to rookies Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez to start the season. Norris struggled and Sanchez got hurt and while Marco Estrada came out of the bullpen to do a credible job in the number five spot, everyone knows the Blue Jays really need one more starter, preferably two.

They have been mentioned as candidates to be bidders for just about every starting pitcher likely to be made available at or before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, from big names like Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, David Price and even Cole Hamels to slightly lesser names like Jeff Samardzija and Mike Fiers. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos is very likely in a must win situation this year. With President Paul Beeston retiring at the end of the season, another season without a post-season berth is likely to cost Anthopoulos his job as it would be the ideal opportunity for the new President to bring in his own guy.

So while most of us were waiting to see how Anthopoulos would acquire a starting pitcher without having to give up the same quality and quantity that the Royals did to get Cueto (three left handers, including Brandon Finnegan who was on the Royals World Series roster last year), I woke up on Tuesday to hear that the Blue Jays had completed a blockbuster trade overnight. I quickly tried to imagine who they had acquired and how heavy the price was. Knowing the pitchers still on the market and the aforementioned price for Cueto, a two month rental, I held my breath. I’m not sure if I was pleased, disappointed or just “ho-hum, same-old” when I heard that they had acquired All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins from the Colorado Rockies for three young pitching prospects; Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco.

Now that I have had an hour or so to think about it, my reaction is that it is a little bit of all three feelings. Pleased because Tulowitzki is a big defensive improvement over Reyes, whose defense has fallen off significantly in the two and a half years he has been a Blue Jay. Reyes has spent a fair amount of time on the Disabled List due to injuries and playing on the artificial turf at Toronto’s Rogers Centre has not been kind to his body. Pleased because even though he is 42 years old and says that he will retire at the end of the year, Hawkins will bring some veteran stability to a relatively young and/or inconsistent Blue Jays bullpen which is undergoing a major overhaul two thirds of the way through the season. Hawkins might be the 2015 version of Darren Oliver. Disappointment because in giving up Hoffman, Castro and Tinoco, the Blue Jays give up yet more young arms that may come back to haunt them. In recent years the Blue Jays have given up several promising young arms, including Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Henderson Alvarez (Marlins) and Franklin Barreto, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman (all traded to Oakland this past winter in the Josh Donaldson deal). Add the three players dealt to Colorado and you have to figure that at least one or two of those eight youngsters may become elite pitchers. Hoffman, a 22 year old 6’ 4” 185 lb right hander was a first round draft pick (ninth overall) in 2014 who underwent Tommy John surgery and is in the process of coming back to form. So far in 2015 he has played at Advanced Class-A Dunedin and Class-AA New Hampshire, combining for a 3-3 record in 13 starts. Castro, a 20 year old 6’5” 190 lb right hander had a great Spring Training for the team and made the opening day roster. Within weeks he was the closer, but then started to struggle and was sent to AAA Buffalo, where he posted a 1-3 record, working as both a starter and a reliever. Both Hoffman and Castro could become stars and the deal may look bad for the Blue Jays five years down the road. Tinoco, only 20, is rated as a second tier prospect. A 6’ 4” 190 lb right handed Venezuelan and in the Blue Jays system since 2012, he has posted a 2-6 record with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.352 WHIP for Lansing at the full season Class A level this year.

Trading prospects for established stars, be it for rental purposes or for long term purposes can be tricky. The aforementioned Syndergaard was part of the deal to acquire R.A. Dickey. That one may still pan out for the Blue Jays, but right now it is looking like a steal for the Mets, although we need to see Syndergaard over a bigger sample size before making a final assessment. In 1993 the Blue Jays acquired Rickey Henderson from the Athletics for the stretch drive and it resulted in a second consecutive World Series for the Blue Jays. They gave up a pitcher who at the time seemed a certainty to be part of the future and there was a lot of discussion that the team had given up too much for two months of Henderson. The pitcher they gave up was Steve Karsay, whose career never took off. Two deals that came back to haunt the teams giving up the prospect still stick in my mind and one of them became front and foremost this week as I watched the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. In August of 1987, the Tigers were looking for a starting pitcher to bolster their pennant run. The Braves were the worst team in baseball at the time and Doyle Alexander was available. The Tigers gave up a Class AA pitcher who had been a 22nd round draft choice in 1985 to acquire Alexander from the Braves. We all know what John Smoltz accomplished and it was recapped for us in the Cooperstown ceremony. In 1990 the Boston Red Sox needed bullpen help and offered the Houston Astros a 22 year-old Double-A first baseman in return for Larry Andersen. I can’t remember whether Andersen did the job for the Red Sox, but Jeff Bagwell had a pretty good career with the Astros.

So did the Blue Jays better themselves with this transaction? Maybe. Maybe not. While Tulowitzki is clearly an upgrade defensively over Reyes, like Reyes he may have trouble with the artificial turf at Rogers Centre, which is at least one year away from being replaced by natural turf. If he doesn’t adapt to the artificial turf, he may spend as much time on the Disabled List as Reyes did. Hawkins is likely only in Toronto for the balance of the season, so unless the team’s results are overwhelming, he won’t go down in history as a saviour. We won’t know about the price paid for these two players for as much as five years, by which time we should know if Hoffman, Castro and Tinoco are Steve Karsay or John Smoltz. My guess is they will be somewhere in between.

Anthopoulos still needs to make another move and he can’t continue to empty the farm system, so his next move, if in fact there is one, has to be a keeper. He emptied the farm system in the 2012-13 off season when he made the big deal with the Marlins and then the Dickey deal and between the two he gave seven top prospects. Of those players acquired in those two deals, only Mark Buehrle, Dickey and Triple-A catcher Josh Thole remain in the Blue Jays system and Buehrle is likely won’t return next year as his contract is up at the end of this season.

Like all Blue Jays fans I keep hoping for another deal this week which includes a starter, but given the benchmark that the Cueto deal established and the fact that Anthopoulos has now traded three prospects for Tulowitzki, I am doubtful there is anything else major going down, unless it involves a member of the Blue Jays current 40-man roster. Anthopoulos may have decided that pitching help was too expensive and instead elected to strengthen his team another way.

Perhaps this deal will work out the way the Henderson deal did in 1993, but I am not holding my breath.

Cleveland Indians Weekly: A Lot of talk, not a lot of movement

 

It’s been a pretty big week for player movement in the MLB thus far

The deal involving the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays was the centerpiece of this week’s marketplace.

In exchange for 3B Josh Donaldson, the A’s received 2B/3B Brett Lawrie and three minor-leaguers (High-A Pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman & teenage shortstop Franklin Barreto).

In my opinion, this signals that the A’s are entering a period of rebuilding even though Billy Beane hasn’t overtly made that decision known to the general public. Donaldson has a WAR north of 7.4 the past two seasons and is one of the best players in the game today. In a world where he has to compete with the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, his true influence is left nearly unnoticed.

From the Blue Jays side of the equation, there are a few things that are clear:

1. They think they have what it takes to compete AND win the A.L. East in 2015

2. The power moves by the Boston Red Sox (signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) signaled a “Power” arms race in the N.L. and the other four teams had a very short time to decide if they wanted to jump in. Clearly New York is nowhere near the point where it can hope to compete  in 2015. Their superstar hung up his cleats for good, it’s rotation is unproven and its infield is decimated from just a few years ago. The Orioles are seeing some of their rising stars hit free agency and take the opportunity to test the market (See: Nick Markakis), but they retain many of the pieces that helped them win the division by 10+ games in 2014. Finally, the Rays have lost skipper Joe Maddon to Chicago and unless everything comes together in 2015, I just don’t see them even competing through the All-Star break.

Some minor rumblings…

There were some other smaller moves around the league and the Indians have been linked to the likes of free agent and former SEA 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and NYY 3B Chase Headley. Whether anything happens with those players, it’s too early to know. Considering we already have Carlos Santana, I guess I don’t see the point in being linked to Morales unless the thinking is that he and Carlos would split 1B/DH duties. As for Headley, we’ve basically moved away from that deal, but it’s interesting that were looking at a 3B when we have Lonnie Chisenhall. While some people think Chisenhall had this crazy good season, he honestly didn’t. He came out smoking into June and then just deflated. His slash line at the end of the season was .280/.343/.427. Above average, but nothing to write extensively about, in my opinion. If that slugging percentage goes up by oh, I don’t know, 50-60 points and his SO/W ration comes down from 3, then we can talk.

In the same breath, we can also say that FA and former Tribe ace Justin Masterson is garnering interest from every team in the AL Central in addition to a handful of other teams in the AL and NL East & NL Central. Again, WAY to early to tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team pull the trigger on him around the time of the winter meetings or a little before.

The real talk…

Has been around what to do with Nick Swisher. Nick’s contract has about $30 million left on it and, after last year, many are speculating that the Indians front office is shopping his contract around to see what they can get for him. I’ve never been a “fan” of Swisher per se. Last year was definitely a blip on the radar. Swisher has never played as badly (or as few games) as he did last season. The front office must see it as the beginning of his post-prime regression. I would give him one more year. If he had played a full season, I guarantee his numbers would have rebounded somewhat.

If the Indians are looking to unload a contract…

They should look at Michael Bourn. Bourn is in the middle of his 4 year/$48 Million contract and he still has upside that may be appealing to some teams. If the front office could package Bourn and a few prospects (that are not off the table (See: Lindor, Frazier, Naquin, etc) for PHI P Cole Hamels, that could be a smart move. Hamels is owed $90 million through ’18, but he is going to be cheaper than many of the current FA P on the market. The problem with this deal is: The Phillies are an old team. When I say old, I mean OLD. The Phillies want one thing and one thing only: Young talent. We have young talent. We have a lot of it. But the Phillies are going to want our best and brightest, especially after Cole Hamels finished 6th in the NL Cy Young race and delivered a a 3.07 FIP, 3.37 SO/W and 5.0 WAR. I’m thinking they’ll request Lindor and/or Naquin and our front office will laugh all of the way out of their offices and make a joke about old age, dinosaurs, etc (at least I would).

You may have heard…

That the Indians and Red Sox are poking around the idea of a trade involving Yoenis Cespedes for a few of our major-league tested young pitchers (Bauer and Salazar). Don’t believe it for a second. Carrasco, Bauer and Salazar are propped up for Big seasons this year, and the front office is not going to damage what could be the best young rotation in the majors for a 1 year rental on a guy who regressed on a really bad Red Sox team. Mark my words: Cespedes will be dealt by the All-Star Break this year (or earlier). He’s goign to be dealt to a dumb team on the cusp of playoff-relevancy with a lot of young talent to unload. I’m thinking Brewers.

Interested in meeting AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber?

Or MVP finalist Michael Brantley? Check out Tribefest, held January 24th and 25th at Progressive Field. I’ve included the link here. Last year, the area got hammered with bad winter weather and I was unfortunately unable to go, but from what I heard from my friends on Twitter, it was the greatest thing next to opening day. I highly recommend going if you’d like a chance to take a picture with one of your favorite players or get an autograph. Tickets are on sale now and are going quick!

As the weeks progress, I’ll be sure to cover any deals or signings by the Indians. Because this is the downtime for the MLB, I’m going to be doing in-depth profiles of the players who I believe will get the starting nod on Opening Day 2015. I’d like to include snippets of conversations with fans, so, if you have an opinion about starters in 2015, make sure you leave a comment and let’s talk!

I love ya Cleveland. Roll Tribe!