It was before the Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener on April 4 and Alex Anthopoulos had just tap-danced around a report that several members of the team had agreed to defer salary in an abortive effort to sign free agent Ervin Santana. The Blue Jays general manager was pulled aside and asked whether that meant he wouldn’t be able to sign Colby Rasmus or Melky Cabrera to contracts before they became free agents at the end of the season.
“Two different things,” Anthopoulos responded. “Those contracts would be extensions. They wouldn’t come into effect this season. It wouldn’t have an impact on our 2015 payroll.”
As things have materialized, signing either player is, at this time, not a priority for the Blue Jays. But in light of concern about whether Anthopoulos’ hands are tied approaching the trade deadline, the answer was telling. Anthopoulos is in a position to add a player or pitcher with a sizeable contract for next year – providing he’s prepared to adjust should he not get an increase in payroll.
More to the point, he has flexibility in 2015: refusing club options held on Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Adam Lind and Sergio Santos would save $28.5 million (Lind and Morrow have a $1-million buyout on a $7.5 million contract; Happ has a $200,000 buyout) while Rasmus and Cabrera make $15 million this season and another eligible free agent, Casey Janssen, makes $4 million. Of that group, you’d think the Blue Jays would want to bring back Janssen and Cabrera but both can be expected to test free agency. The rest are hardly core players. Of the remaining core, Mark Buehrle is due a $1 million bump to $19 million while Jose Reyes gets a $6 million increase to $22 million. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are earning roughly the same. So, there’s room – even without an increase in the Blue Jays $132 million payroll.
Payroll became an issue this weekend when Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun tweeted that the Blue Jays had told teams they can’t add payroll at the trade deadline. A Rogers executive, asked to comment on the report, issued a three word, e-mail response: "News to me."
Meanwhile, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi say the Blue Jays are continuing to talk to the San Diego Padres about Chase Headley, who is still owed about $5 million this season. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says they’re in on Chase Utley.
Anthopoulos, for his part, did another tap dance Sunday when pressed about whether he can add money to the 2014 payroll. It’s not as draconian as it seems, since any player added would only be owed a pro-rated portion of his salary for 2014. It was going to take $14 million to add Santana in spring training as a free agent; it could take at most a third of that to make a significant addition at the deadline.
Perhaps Anthopoulos is in the same situation his predecessor, J.P. Ricciardi, found himself in: Ricciardi used to say he could ask for more money in-season. Once.
I know that’s not going to assuage the concern of Blue Jays fans, but that’s all I have for you.
NOT A TIME TO BE CAVALIER
It’s difficult to understand why the Cleveland Cavaliers would be in such a hurry to make a move for Kevin Love, especially if it means trading No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. What’s the rush?
True, LeBron James likely didn’t re-sign with the Cavaliers in order to ride out a three-year rebuilding program but why not see how Wiggins and James fit in before adding Love – a gifted offensive player with no post-season appearances?
Wiggins’ first-year calling card is his defence and if James needs a reminder about how important it would be to have someone who can help out in that area all he has to do is look back to how spent he was in the NBA Finals. It makes more sense to see how a cost-effective starting five of Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, James, Wiggins and Tristan Thompson work before making a play for Love.
The Minnesota Timberwolves can talk all they want about the Golden State Warriors sniffing around but there’s no way the Warriors will part with Klay Thompson, the T-Wolves’ target. Cleveland’s the best trade partner for the T-Wolves – but that is also likely to be the case in, say, December.
WHAT I LEARNED
The things you learn in a week of hosting a radio show:
• Sal Fasano is the Blue Jays’ minor league catching instructor, and I wondered what role a minor league catcher can play in a pitchers development.
"We have certain rules for our pitchers at each level," Fasano said. "I’ll give you an example: at (Single-A) Lansing our pitchers are supposed to establish the extension side fastball – the fastball down and away if you’re right-handed - and throw and command their changeup ... we use the same guidelines as the pitching coaches at each level."
• Peter Horachek, one of two new assistant coaches hired by Toronto Maple Leafs brass to clean up 2013-14’s mess, won’t have much time for some of the Leafs’ forwards and their slow, lazy, looping circles when transitioning to defence. Have fun, Nazem.
Horachek talks about a "5-5-5" system: "There’s a cluster of people back," he said. "Back pressure is the biggest difference in the last eight years or so … don’t allow teams to have second-wave attacks."
• Toronto Raptors assistant coach Jesse Mermuys is running the Summer League team and has been impressed with first-round pick Bruno Caboclo’s ability to retain coaching despite a substantial language barrier.
"The English is still … he’s a long ways away there, that’s for sure," Mermuys said. "But as far as retaining information, he has surprisingly - even through the languages barrier - been a surprisingly quick learner. If you slow down and take the time to show him properly, you only have to show him one time he gets it and implements it. That’s pretty impressive, considering there are a lot of guys who do speak English and play in the United States and we have to show them 10 or 15 times."
Full interview here
QUIBBLES AND BITS
-- Catcher Max Pentecost, selected 11th overall by the Blue Jays in June’s draft, made his debut this week for the short-season Vancouver Canadians. Blue Jays catching coordinator Sal Fasano’s early read on Pentecost is he’s a rare species of athletic catcher: "Buster Posey is athletic and Jason Kendall is athletic. Max is athletic, and can create his own niche," Fasano said.
-- Punter Chris Kluwe, who is threatening to sue the Minnesota Vikings for wrongful dismissal despite Friday’s release of an investigative report into allegations that he was let go for supporting equal marriage rights, can stop trying to convince all of us he’s really, really interesting and that he’s a renaissance man among NFL Neanderthals. We get it: @chriswarcraft is one of the cool kids on Twitter (he’s got the hair for it, too) and deserves credit for being an early and outspoken proponent of LGBT rights. But, it would be better if he’d just get on and sue the Vikings instead of rolling around in the Twitter gutter – although he might want to explain why he made fun of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State by cutting out the seat of his pants and imitating a victim of child abuse in front of Vikings strength and conditioning coach Tom Kanavy, a Penn State alumnus. Beware false idols, people.
-- Not only did Germany’s Mesut Ozil donate his World Cup winnings to help fund surgeries for 23 children in Brazil, the German Federation turned over it’s custom-built, $40-million (U.S.), 161,000-square foot training facility in the small Brazilian village of Santo Andre to the community upon the teams departure. The facility and its fitness centre and spa will be turned into a school as well as an eco-tourism facility. The Germans used local workers for construction and hired only local workers, while ponying up for the purchase of an ambulance for the town before the World Cup ended. Nice.
-- Here’s the skinny on the Detroit Red Wings’ new $1.8 billion downtown arena and entertainment complex, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.
• Former punter Chris Kluwe steps into the gutter in his legal battle with the Minnesota Vikings.
Jeff Blair will be hosting Prime Time Sports all week while Bob McCown is on vacation. Jeff is the host of The Jeff Blair Show form 9 a.m.-12 ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and Baseball Central from 12-1 p.m. ET on the Sportsnet radio and television network.
Follow him on Twitter @SNJeffBlair.