Apparently, Alex Anthopoulos learned something last season.
Instead of waiting patiently for the market to develop and address pressing issues — only to find himself involved in the optically destructive Ervin Santana affair — Anthopoulos seems set to return to his favoured approach and do the heavy lifting before December’s winter meetings.
For better or worse, that’s what happened two years ago when Anthopoulos pulled off a multi-player deal with the Miami Marlins that was formulated at the general manager’s meetings on Nov. 8 and signed off by the commissioner’s office on Nov. 19. Even before then, the boldly moving GM thought he had a deal with the Chicago White Sox for Jake Peavy.
So it’s to be hoped that the speed with which Saturday’s trade of Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for Marco Estrada came together suggests the Toronto Blue Jays’ general manager will move quickly when free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, because as a stand-alone deal it makes little sense, since Estrada — a non-tender candidate with the Brewers — is a gamble in both the Rogers Centre and American League. To view this deal with any degree of optimism, it must be hand-in-hand with the non-exercising of options on Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan and Sergio Santos, as the first step toward maximizing financial and pitching flexibility.
Perhaps Anthopoulos will come out of the gate and go hard after, say, free agent Russell Martin (the Blue Jays have had internal discussions about him) that would allow switch-hitter Dioner Navarro to become the team’s primary designated hitter and add a player who has undergone a career renaissance and has a reputation for clubhouse leadership.
The trick for Anthopoulos will be to ensure his plans aren’t held hostage by free agent Melky Cabrera. That element was not present during 2013’s winter shopping spree, although it’s true that a team’s payroll on Nov. 14 doesn’t have to be its payroll on Opening Day.
One of the consequences of Toronto playing host to this years world junior hockey tournament is that the Raptors will play seven of eight games on the road between Dec. 19 and Jan. 4, including six consecutively.
The good news is, starting with Tuesday’s game at the Air Canada Centre against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team will begin a run of eight home games out of their next nine. That’s a logistical dream for head coach Dwane Casey and his staff, who have plenty of time to address things arising from their 2-1 start all in the confines of their own training centre.
This much is certain: Casey’s options off the bench are a real strength, especially since Tyler Hansbrough is much more comfortable in his surroundings this season. It was a surprise to see him as Casey’s first big man off the bench in the opener.
"Tyler’s doing a much better job of spacing and screening and getting into position," Casey said. "It sounds crazy, but just by doing that you’re helping people score."
Given the way the Maple Leafs have overhauled their roster and dumped all of their heavyweight pugilists, you can make the choice that in terms of reputation within his game, Hansbrough is this city’s most notorious athlete. He’s an uncompromising throwback. When the Atlanta Hawks were in town for the opener, Dominique Wilkins was chatting with the Raptors broadcasters when Hansbrough nodded hello. "Man, that guy would have been valuable in our day," Wilkins said.
WHAT I LEARNED
The things you learn in a week of hosting a sports talk-show:
"Yeah, and I think Detroit is another good example. They had a lot of injuries to players like (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg, and all of a sudden (Gustav) Nyquist and (Tomas) Tatar are filling those spots and taking advantage of opportunities, That’s what we’re trying to do, too."
-- Jarmo Kekalainen, general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, hopes his injury-riddled team can turn a negative into a positive, as did last season’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings. Full interview
"I was on a real good team with a lot of good vets last year in Memphis, and what I was able to do down there gave me confidence. You know, to start in D-League and rebuild … and doing things I have to do on and off the court to be successful … just seeing what kind of heart they had and what kind of expectations they had for me. This team is asking me for a different role and I’m willing to buy in."
-- Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson discusses why he is a different player and teammate in his second stint with the team. Full interview
"Joe Maddon in many ways reminds me of Felipe Alou. So many years riding the buses in the minor leagues; so many years cutting his teeth and learning his craft and figuring out what he wanted to do -- in the off chance … (he) gets the bench coach job with the Angels and works under Mike Scioscia for a few years ands then finally get job with Rays in his early 50s. The Rays made a competitive offer, but a competitive offer is not what you’d get on the open market."
-- Jonah Keri, baseball writer for Grantland.com, describes the motivation of Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, 60, in opting out of his contract with the Rays and becoming a free agent. Full interview
QUIBBLES AND BITS
-- If anybody wants to know why the Brewers are excited to have Adam Lind, consider these numbers: .629 and .642 -- the OPS of Brewers first basemen in the last two seasons. Lind’s OPS in that time is .854 and .860, respectively, and his left-handed bat stands out in the Brewers’ righty-heavy lineup. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
-- He’s shuffled lines, but could Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff quietly hit on another way to prime the pump? Phil Kessel enjoyed a productive three-point night on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets despite just 12 minutes and 34 seconds ice time. And while Dion Phaneuf logged a beastly 24:11 in Saturday’s win over Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks, his average ice-time this season is 22:10 -- one minute and 24 seconds less than last season, more than two and half minutes off his career average and his lowest average since his 2005-2006 rookie season.
-- Until today, Joe Maddon has been the affable, quotable, slightly quirky face of everybody’s second-favourite team, the Tampa Bay Rays. No more. Instead, the new manager of the Chicago Cubs will find a lot of people within the game rooting against him, such is the degree of bitterness some feel over the fact he has forced out Rick Renteria as manager, even though most acknowledge that Renteria would not likely have survived next season. The move finally brings together Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Maddon, who was a finalist for the Boston Red Sox’s managerial position that Epstein eventually gave to Terry Francona.