6:20 PM Central
When the team you’re covering doesn’t transact any business on a given day at the Winter Meetings, the highlight of that day is the evening sit-down with the General Manager.
Alex Anthopoulos met with the Toronto media for close to 45 minutes after a productive, but ultimately fruitless Day One here in Dallas, and he feels as though it’s unlikely the Blue Jays will wind up getting anything done before they leave the lovely Hilton Anatole.
Things can heat up in a hurry, no question, and a deal that was simmering on the back burner can get moved up front and then get done in a heartbeat, but right now Anthopoulos says his sense is that things are moving slowly. He wasn’t sure whether it was because everyone had to wait for the Collective Bargaining Agreement or for some other reason, but he said it’s as though things are about two weeks behind where they were at this point last season. And last season it was the night before the Winter Meetings began that the Jays traded Shaun Marcum to the Brewers for Brett Lawrie.
The famous quote from Anthopoulos Sunday night that he was on the five-yard line with a bunch of deals didn’t quite mean that he was about to punch the metaphorical ball into the end zone anytime soon. What he meant was that there are trades and free agent signings that are available to him, that he could get done with only a “yes”, but that he hasn’t been able to talk himself into doing any of them yet. He said that sometimes it takes a while to convince yourself that a move is the right one to make, and sometimes you’re never able to convince yourself. We’re very familiar with the line Alex often uses when discussing a trade, that he “agonized” over it for a long time. He may well be in the process of agonizing over something (or things) even as you read this.
Anthopoulos did say that he wasn’t going to make a move to address second base until Kelly Johnson decides whether or not to accept the Blue Jays’ offer of arbitration. I got the sense that he thinks Johnson will accept, but only the sense. For me, it would be the right move for Johnson to make – he’d get at least $6 million in arbitration, if not more, and if he goes out and has a year like his 2010 (or 2007 or 2008), he would hit the market as a highly sought-after free agent at the tender age of 30. The deadline for Johnson to accept or decline the Jays’ arbitration offer is 11:59pm Eastern on Wednesday – if he declines, he would still be available for the Blue Jays to sign.
So that leaves the pitching staff as the major area of concern for the Blue Jays, and while Anthopoulos did say that he could see the team leaving Dallas with a closer in hand, he thought it was far more likely that any move would come after the meetings break up.
Anthopoulos again reiterated that he prefers to acquire players by trade rather than through free agency. He addressed the apparent contradiction – trades cost you assets but adding free agents only costs you money – by saying that he feels it’s easier to get true value back in trade. You have to tend to overpay for free agents, and often get yourself stuck with a contract you don’t want.
It would appear, though, that the free agency route is the way to go for the Blue Jays to pick up a closer for 2012. Candidates on the market include the Franciscos – Cordero, Rodriguez and Frank – as well as Ryan Madson, David Aardsma, Jason Isringhausen, Kerry Wood and maybe Michael Wuertz, LaTroy Hawkins and Todd Coffey. OK, well, maybe there are only four strong free agent candidates, in looking over that list (and at least Madson wants too much money and term), so I guess Alex’s resolve to avoid the free agent market won’t be tested too terribly much even in looking for a closer.
I asked him if he thought there might be a couple of closers left without a contract when the music stops, and if he would then be able to swoop in and take his pick, and he said he was having a hard time handicapping the closer market because so many teams have the opportunity to choose between staying in-house and going out and signing somebody. I got the feeling he doesn’t really have his eye on anyone in particular and, though he’d prefer to have the draft pick, he wouldn’t really mind if Frank Francisco accepted arbitration and came back to close again next year (no blown saves after the all-star break, remember, and a WHIP under 1.00 with an ERA under 2.00).
Francisco Cordero will be looked at as an attractive solution in some corners – he won’t be looking for a long-term deal, since he’ll turn 37 early next season, and he’s coming off a very strong season in Cincinnati in which he racked up 37 saves, his fifth straight season with at least 34, and posted a terrific WHIP of 1.019. But Cordero scares me. For one thing, his strikeout rate dipped all the way to 5.4 per nine innings, by far the lowest in his career outside his rookie season (it had been 9.1 going into 2011). For another, 2011 was the first year Cordero’s WHIP has been under 1.3 since 2007, and only the third time since 2002. Not the guy I would want.
Finally, Anthopoulos quashed the crazy rumour out of Cleveland that had the Blue Jays as one of the three finalists – and even the front-runners – for the services of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. Alex wouldn’t say the Jays won’t be singing Prince, but that’s because he never speaks on the record about specific players or specific rumours. He did, however, say that he feels that the Blue Jays are being used by some reporters and some agents because of that stance – because they know the Jays will never deny reported interest in a player – and he said that the Jays are “pretty averse ” to signing players who would require seven- or eight-year contracts (like Fielder and Albert Pujols) and that they probably wouldn’t be getting involved with any of those players.
Obviously, that’s as far as Anthopoulos will go in closing the door – he would never say something absolute that would tie his hands just in case the situation changes – but I feel comfortable in slamming it shut and saying that there’s no way the Blue Jays will sign either Fielder or Pujols. I’m as confident about that as I am that the Jays will continue to be rumoured to be involved with Fielder and Pujols until such time as they sign elsewhere.
Day One of the Winter Meetings also brought us the news that Ron Santo has been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era committee. Funny, his career doesn’t look any better now than it did two and three years ago, and he was alive then, so it probably would have meant quite a bit more had it been done back then.
Day Two will feature, among other things, a half-hour afternoon sitdown with Jays’ manager John Farrell (the highlights of which we’ll have for you right here) and the announcement of the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award – induction into the writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame. Once again, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun (and frequent guest on Prime Time Sports) is up for the award, and he remains incredibly well-deserving. On Wednesday, we find out whether or not the voters have smartened up enough to give Tom Cheek the Ford C. Frick Award.
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