Step 1 of Blue Jays’ off-season plan: Don’t turtle on Shohei Otani

Japan's starter Shohei Otani pitches against South Korea during the first inning of their semifinal game at the Premier12 world baseball tournament. (Toru Takahashi/AP)

TORONTO – Five years ago, a Toronto Blue Jays general manager spent w-a-a-a-y too much time in the suite of the Miami Marlins during general managers meetings in Arizona. The result was a 10-player deal – announced five years to the date on Sunday – that made the Blue Jays Vegas favourites to win the World Series and, well, we all know how that worked out.

That GM is Alex Anthopoulos who, as the New York Post’s Joel Sherman first reported, will be named GM of the Atlanta Braves this week.

And when Major League general managers convene starting Monday in Orlando, Fla., the Blue Jays can once again be expected to beat a path to the Marlins’ door where nothing Derek Jeter has said or done suggests he and the rest of the Marlins ownership and brain trust won’t listen to offers for outfielders Marcell Ozuna or Christian Yelich in addition to Giancarlo Stanton.

This used to be the time when teams laid the groundwork for next month’s winter meetings, but now the day often belongs to the aggressor. If the Jays can pull off a deal for a guy like Yelich I’d just shut down the rest of the off-season. Seriously, I’d sign off and tell my fans, “See you in Dunedin.”

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The Jeff Blair Show
Jeff Blair: Anthopoulos making news again
Originally aired November 13 2017

Here’s a five-point off-season plan for the Blue Jays:

1) Don’t turtle on Shohei Otani the way the Blue Jays did when Yu Darvish was posted. Since it’s only going to cost money and since, by several accounts, they’ve spent more time scouting Otani than most teams, the Blue Jays damned sure better be in on the two-way Japanese star.

They’ll need to somehow add international signing bonus money to match what another aggressive team — the New York Yankees — already has to spend, and the last thing the Blue Jays can do is let Otani hold up their off-season planning. You can’t use a tradable commodity to increase the possibility of signing Otani as opposed to getting a tangible return in the form of a player. The Blue Jays almost need to do what they need to do regardless of Otani’s timetable. I’m skeptical they have a shot, but they should still give it a run.

2) Staying away from free agents because they have been extended qualifying offers by their teams and might cost a compensatory pick is silly business and is an unnecessary way of hamstringing the Blue Jays at a time when it’s already hamstrung by contracts to older players such as Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin.

I get it, the Blue Jays don’t want to get older, but you know what? Either the Blue Jays are all in on keeping this window of opportunity open or they’re not. Losing one draft pick shouldn’t be that big a deal.

3) Forget about Josh. Seriously, I’m not certain Josh Donaldson’s status is the big deal some people make it out to be and, yeah, I’m one of those people myself.

The time to sign Donaldson to a multi-year deal was two years ago. Unless somebody makes the Blue Jays a stupid, silly offer, they should start the season with him, see where the team is at the July 31 trade deadline and go from there even if it means losing Donaldson as a free agent.

Hey, could be worse things than a draft pick, eh? Oh, wait …

4) Make nobody untouchable (other than Vladimir Guerrero Jr.).

Clearly the Blue Jays ought to be loathed to trade Marcus Stroman, and after his lost 2017 it’s doubtful Aaron Sanchez would bring anything in return that matches his value. They have minor-leaguers who are mostly middling prospects and must be put on the 40-man roster by Nov. 20 or they risk being claimed by another team in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. They also have bullpen depth but unless it’s Roberto Osuna nobody’s going to give them a starting position player for any of those arms. Kevin Pillar’s game is more highly regarded in Toronto than elsewhere so it’s doubtful he’d get you much unless it’s part of a package. Then, there’s Kendrys Morales. Oh boy, is there ever Kendrys Morales.

Monitor the market for the likes of Alex Cobb and Tyler Chatwood, but pitching ought to be a secondary target this winter. The biggest needs are defence and hitting, hitting and more hitting. Left-handed hitting, switch-hitting, hitting that can hit at the top of the order and play the outfield. Hitting that can run once it’s on the bases and is preferably mid-20ish.

We’re talking an impact bat, such as Yelich or Lorenzo Cain – the latter of whom will be out of the Jays’ price range. As long as Devon Travis and Tulowitzki are on this roster, they will need a utility player such as Eduardo Nunez who is good enough to play everyday at those positions. The Blue Jays need to operate under the assumption that one of them is always going to be hurt and go from there.

Oh yes, and get a catcher capable of playing multiple games in a row until Danny Jansen is ready. Not much to do, eh?

Quibbles and Bits

• Last second? Game on the line? You want the ball in DeMar DeRozan’s hands, right? Just like Sunday? So what to make of this nugget from the Elias Sports Bureau. Over his eight-plus seasons in the NBA, DeRozan is 2-for-16 from the field with his team trailing by one point in the final minute of the fourth quarter or any overtime period.

• I wonder what it says about Joey Votto’s reputation in the game that he can put up the numbers year after year and still lose the Silver Slugger Award to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt?

Understand that this award is voted on by managers and coaches and isn’t a reflection of who members of the BBWAA like or dislike. Votto lost the vote this season despite a higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Votto was also way ahead of Goldschmidt in offensive WAR, using Baseball-Reference.com’s measure.

Maybe he’s hurt by the fact his team is a perennial non-contender? Either way, it’s odd.

• The scariest thing about the brazen manner in which the Seattle Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson violated the NFL’s concussion protocol last Thursday is that head coach Pete Carroll is considered one of the most forward-thinking coaches when it comes to the topic of headshots and concussions. This summer, he mused about using holographs in practice to prevent unnecessary contact (think: his defence against a holographic quarterback).

In 2014 he began championing a safer style of tackling that leads with shoulder first. Of course, if the players don’t have enough common sense to let the system play out, there’s not much any of us can do but still, Wilson’s teammates might want to have a chat with him before they complain again about the physical toll of playing on Thursday nights.

In the meantime, Wilson set an embarrassing example to the already-decreasing number of kids playing football.

• You think you’ve seen it all with the Golden State Warriors’ statistical assaults? You haven’t.

The Warriors face the Orlando Magic Tuesday and can become the first team in NBA history to win seven consecutive games by at least 17 points. The 1990 Phoenix Suns and the current Warriors team are the only clubs to have done so in six consecutive games.

• The BBWAA begins doling out individual awards Monday, and here are some early calls:

American League MVP – Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
National League MVP – Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
AL Cy Young – Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
NL Cy Young – Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
AL Rookie of the Year – Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
NL Rookie of the Year – Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Manager of the Year – Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins
NL Manager of the Year – Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks

Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take fans inside the Blue Jays and around MLB with news, analysis and interviews.

The Endgame

Roy Halladay’s first season of Hall of Fame eligibility is next winter, which means the Hall of Fame will not have to enact one of the provision of Rule 3(D), which mandates a six month waiting period following the passing away of a former player. As a result, Halladay’s eligibility coincides with what his BBWAA eligibility (five years after last active game) would have been anyways.

According to Jon Shestakofsky, vice-president of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in the case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five years, that candidate becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame six months after the date of death or after the end of the five-year period, whichever comes first.

Halladay should be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.