Blue Jays won’t let others dictate off-season

Re-signing Melky Cabrera is the Blue Jays' top priority this off-season. (Jon Blacker/CP)

Melky Cabrera has until 5 p.m. today to decide whether he’ll take the Toronto Blue Jays $15.3 million qualifying offer. Assuming his agent, Peter Greenberg, doesn’t lose his mind and his client turns it down for free agency, what is the next deadline for Cabrera?

Try the start of baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego, scheduled for Dec. 7-11.

“I’m not going to allow myself to be held up in making some decisions,” Anthopoulos told me in an interview last week, sounding like someone who was being much more matter of fact than someone who was drawing a line in the sand. “Really, you should know if you have a shot by the winter meetings.”

That would also seem to go for signing another team’s free agent, a process which for most major league teams kicks into gear this week when general managers and owners gather in Phoenix for annual meetings. The Blue Jays have been clear that re-signing Cabrera is their first priority, but Anthopoulos is also aware that despite Jhonny Peralta’s ability to stay clean and contribute after a suspension for performance enhancing substances and despite a four-year, $53-million deal that many see as a framework for PED miscreants at similar stages in their careers, the market for Cabrera and another formerly suspended player, Nelson Cruz, might develop at a slower pace than for other free agents.

Anthopoulos wouldn’t say so, but it’s a safe bet that one of the reasons for his timeline is the memory of what happened to the Blue Jays in the winter of 2006, when he was an assistant GM to J.P. Ricciardi. That was the winter in which the organization found itself bogged down at the winter meetings waiting for Ted Lilly to decide whether to re-sign and waiting for Gil Meche to sign as a free agent. Lilly ended up signing with the Chicago Cubs and Meche took a lesser deal to sign with the Kansas City Royals, and there was much internal criticism that the organization had let others dictate their off-season.


Nobody paid attention to the Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames heading into the NHL regular season. No more.

Tuesday night, the Jets have a chance to tie a franchise record if they can collect a point at the Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens – they’re 6-0-2 in their last eight games, and went 6-0-3 from Dec. 9-28, 2005, as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Flames, meanwhile, are in Carolina tonight and can notch their 10th win in 17 games, something they didn’t do in 2013-2014 until Dec. 4, in their 27th game.

Now, I’m not ready to start talking up Mark Giordano for the Norris Trophy like this guy did, but if you want a reason the Flames started this well, he’s a good place to begin.

Giordano, whose NHL career is a testimony to resilience and faith, told reporters on Sunday that he credits defence partner T.J. Brodie with helping his offensive game, noting that Brodie’s ability to make a quick turn on the strong side "allows me on the weak side to jump into the play a lot more than in past." Otherwise?

"Sometimes, you get those seconds assists and it looks like we’re doing things differently, and we’re not," said Giordano. "The only thing is this year we’re being counted on to provide offence from the back end; the coaches want us jumping into the play."

His coach, Bob Hartley, mentions the names Ray Bourque and Rob Blake when discussing Giordano’s start to the season. Yikes. Don’t know about that, either, but Giordano will go into Monday’s game as only the second defenceman since 2005-2006 with at least 18 points in his team's first 16 games. Tomas Kaberle had 20 points for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009-2010, four seasons after Bryan McCabe (Maple Leafs, 20), Lubomir Visnovsky (Los Angeles Kings, 19) and Joni Pitkanen (Philadelphia Flyers, 18) had at least 18 points in their teams' first 16 games.


The things you learn in a week of hosting a sports talk show:

"I think we have gained a little more respect around the league. We’re a solid team, we have high expectations. We have great players – DeMar (DeRozan) is making a name for himself. As far as officiating goes … I don’t speak much on that … but around the league we’re getting more respect."

Toronto forward Tyler Hansbrough chose his words carefully when asked if the Raptors playoff experience and growing reputation has made a difference in how referees and opponents view them.

Listen: Tyler Hansbrough on The Jeff Blair Show

"The National League West has four changes to general managers, and there have been some changes in managers. In baseball sometimes when there are changes like that, teams want to be aggressive. I do think there will be a little bit of an aggressive nature to the free-agent market."

Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin believes his peers will be aggressive in free agency and in the trade market this winter.

Listen: Doug Melvin on The Jeff Blair Show

"(The) proliferation of all sorts of programming over the internet and over the top vehicles and the competition it creates will be another big issue to deal with. We’ve just come out of 15 or 20 years where sports rights fees escalated off the charts. Going forward, I don’t see it happening. I see it levelling or a decrease, so that may be a transition for (Rob Manfred) going forward."

Andrew A. Zimbalist, noted sports economist and lecturer, is bullish on incoming baseball commissioner Rob Manfred but says the changing world of broadcasting and media habits will present a challenge.

Listen: Andrew A. Zimbalist on The Jeff Blair Show


- The Toronto Raptors might as well pocket all the points they can right now. The Bulls, 5-2, play the Detroit Pistons Monday night with guard Derrick Rose, who has missed three games with ankle sprains, listed as questionable according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears. The Bulls then will visit the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday and between Rose’s status and Joakim Noah’s minutes capped as he rehabilitates post-knee surgery, there are suggestions that head coach Tom Thibodeau – criticized at times for burning out his starters - is having some of his lineup decisions dictated by the front office. Despite all that, I still think the Bulls will win the Eastern Conference; I’ll still take them over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

- As I reported last week the Blue Jays will take a shot at signing free-agent catcher Russell Martin, who is said by some industry insiders to already be leaning in the Chicago Cubs direction. Martin wants a contract worth between $75-$80 million over five years, similar to or a little more than the deal Brian McCann received from the New York Yankees last winter. An intriguing component might be Martin’s oft-stated desire to move out from behind the plate at some point, and while it challenges the bounds of reality to see him at shortstop, the Blue Jays have enough positions in flux that it might prove to be a bit of a carrot for Martin.

- Is the baseball commissioner’s office done with Alex Rodriguez? You wonder, after multiple reports this weekend that MLB lawyers are beavering away looking for evidence that Rodriguez might have participated in the distribution of performance-enhancing substances. Rodriguez has been granted immunity as part of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s pursuit of the Biogenesis case. So, too, have other players linked to the anti-aging clinic, including Melky Cabrera. Woe to A-Rod if any of the dots can be connected to him.