Did Martin signal end for Cabrera with Blue Jays?

Melky Cabrera (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The guessing game surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays payroll just became a little more complicated now that Melky Cabrera has agreed to a reported three-year, $43-million contract with the Chicago White Sox.

That contract is hardly unreasonable given the market, and is comfortably within the ballpark of what the Blue Jays were said to be prepared to offer. Yet, I wonder if a serious offer was made at all to Cabrera? And if the Blue Jays really did say they’d do three years at $39 million, why the reluctance to kick in another $3 million or $4 million?

I’m told that the Blue Jays contacted both Peter Greenberg, the agent for Cabrera, and Cabrera himself just before acquiring Michael Saunders in a trade with the Seattle Mariners to let them know the team was out — despite suggestions there was a slim chance the player would re-sign and allow Saunders to move to centre. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made it known that he wanted an answer from Cabrera before the winter meetings, but industry sources suggest the signing of catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82-million contract had as much to do with the coolness towards Cabrera.

“I think Alex decided his lineup was better on balance with Martin behind the plate and a guy like Saunders in left than it was with Cabrera back in left and a lesser catcher,” one source said. “I think Melky was gone the second Martin was signed. Toss in Josh Donaldson at third base instead of Brett Lawrie, and you’re looking at a significant upgrade at two premium positions.”

Cabrera’s move to the White Sox also reinforces an indisputable fact about free agency: forget the nonsense about players saying they’re happy or unhappy in their environment. If a team really wants to re-sign a player, it had better act on it in-season.

VIVA LAS VEGAS

It’s nice that Wayne Gretzky has hitched his wagon to William Foley’s bid to bring an NHL franchise to Las Vegas, but if you want to know the real impetus for hockey’s interest in the gambling capital of the world it’s Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA.

The race is on to be the primary tenant at a 17,500-seat facility called the AEG/MGM Arena, which is scheduled to open in April 2016, with plans already in place for events on 140 nights per year even without a professional sports tenant. The first team in stakes a claim and might indeed force the next team to look at building its own venue.

Baseball and basketball have traditionally been the sports most sensitive to connections with legal and illegal gambling, due to the history of gambling scandals in the sport. But Silver, the far-sighted, politically astute and aggressive successor to David Stern, has shown an openness on the matter and even went as far last month as writing an editorial in the New York Times in support of legalized gambling. The NHL’s proactivity is only prudent, whatever you might think about the evils of easing access to legalized gambling or the efficacy of a winter sport putting another team in the desert.

WHAT I LEARNED

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

“They still miss him. Spending time in your zone … you know, Slava makes that easy first pass … or like very few defenceman he’s that double threat where he can pass or skate it out of trouble. I think that is something you don’t teach. Very few have that skill or excellence like he did.”

Los Angeles Kings TV analyst Jim Fox discusses the impact on the salary cap-challenged team in the absence of defenceman Slava Voynov, who has been suspended since Oct. 20 pending the outcome of an investigation into domestic assault charges. His spot has been taken by stay-at-home defenceman Brayden McNabb.

Jim Fox on The Jeff Blair Show

“I found it … an interesting lesson in how every small detail can become a massive story and how you really have to be mindful of every small, little thing we’re doing as an organization.”

Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas discusses his view of what has now been called “Salute-gate,” a contretemps started when Leafs players failed to give fans at the ACC a traditional post-game salute that coincided with the remarkable turnaround in the teams on-ice fortunes.

Kyle Dubas on The Jeff Blair Show

“It’s really important for Canada (to finish first in Pool A). Some groups they may actually want to finish second or even third depending on what’s happening in other groups. But I think for Canada it’s absolutely crucial because we understand our country and we understand some of the challenges of moving from east to west and west to east. So if you finish first in this group, you really minimize the risk of travel fatigue and that has a major impact on our players when you look at the importance of recovery and regeneration.

John Herdman, head coach of Canada’s women’s soccer team, notes that if Canada can finish first next summer in Group A at the 2015 FIFA women’s World Cup (out of a pool with China, New Zealand and the Netherlands) it means his team will get to stay predominantly on the west coast. (ADD LINK FROM JOHN HERDMAN INTERVIEW, THIRD HOUR FROM DEC. 9 BLAIR SHOW.)

John Herdman on The Jeff Blair Show

QUIBBLES AND BITS

(*)The Washington Nationals must be quietly wondering whether their window of opportunity is slipping away. They have been unable to come to agreement with shortstop Ian Desmond, are contemplating trading Jordan Zimmermann a year out from free agency and early this morning came to an agreement on a two-year contract with Bryce Harper, just a day before being taken to arbitration by Harper, who wanted to void the final season of a five-year, $9.9-million deal he signed when he was drafted. Harper stiffed the Nationals annual fan festival this weekend, saying he couldn’t attend due to “matters out of my control.” But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo threw him under the bus, telling reporters: “He chose not to be here because of the grievance.” The crux of the grievance was the contention by Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, that he had a verbal agreement with the team that allowed Harper to opt out of his contract if he reached salary arbitration before it expired. There was a rush to sign Harper’s deal because negotiations went right up to a few minutes before baseball’s signing deadline. Even if a three-man panel had ruled in favour of Harper, he’d still be under team control through 2018. But there’s little doubt that the Nationals need to start cementing a few things and smoothing over some feelings.

(*)Of all the remarkable words penned and spoken this past week after the death of Jean Beliveau, few captured the essence of the player as did Ken Dryden’s description of Le Gros Bill. “Some stars diminish others; Jean Beliveau made others better.”

(*)Four years ago, Canadian luge coach Wolfgang Staudinger, himself an Olympic medalist, called German luger Felix Loch the “Michael Jordan” of the sport. But Loch, who at 25 has a career 19 individual World Cup race wins and has the last three overall World Cup titles while winning back-to-back Olympic golds in Vancouver and Sochi, was beaten on Sunday by Calgary’s Samuel Edney, who became the first Canadian man to win a luge World Cup event. Edney raced with a helmet designed by a 19-year-old artist named Richard Flamenco, who suffers from a rare, incurable skin disease. The helmet is part of the Helmet For Heroes program, and Flamenco was able to watch the end of the race alongside Edney in the leader’s box at Canada Olympic Park. Remarkable: the two Olympic games we have hosted in this country have left an indelible winter sports legacy and are an example of tax dollars working, yet so many people still can’t get past the hide-bound notion that all we do is produce hockey players — especially when it comes to year-end awards.