The first day of the Winter Meetings went by at the obscenely opulent Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville relatively quietly.
There was an early announcement of the first three members of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 by the Pre-Integration Era Committee. Ninteeth-century star Deacon White, umpire Hank O’Day and Jacob Ruppert — the Yankee owner who bought Babe Ruth from the Red Sox — will all be inducted posthumously next summer, along with whomsoever the writers vote in and the winners of the Ford C. Frick (broadcasting) and the J.G. Taylor Spink (writing) Awards.
We’ll find out Tuesday afternoon if Tom Cheek finally gets the recognition that he so completely deserves.
In the afternoon Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman took to the podium to discuss the details of Alex Rodriguez’ impending hip surgery. Not only will it take Rodriguez four to six months to recover from the operation and get back on the field, it will also require a four to six week pre-habilitation period before he can even go under the knife. The injury first reared its, um, hip in the Yankees’ first-round playoff game in which Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth, and Rodriguez hardly played from that point on. The Yankees expect a full recovery, but they kind of have to, seeing as they owe him at least $114 million over the next five years.
There was a lovely, moving news conference in which representatives of every media relations staff in the major leagues took to the stage to introduce an auction to raise money for "Stand Up To Cancer". Go to www.mlb.com/su2cauction and help cancer research by bidding on some of the 75 items — including lunch with John Farrell!
We also found out about the Red Sox’ signing of Mike Napoli and the Rangers’ addition of Joakim Soria.
Throughout the course of the meetings, every big-league manager will have a half-hour sit down with the accredited media, and once-and-present Blue Jays’ skipper John Gibbons was among the first to take to the golden chair.
Amongst the information shared by Gibby:
-It’s too early to say who’s going to hit where in the line-up, but he had no trouble guaranteeing a top four of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. As of now, Maicer Izturis is the starting second baseman and will likely bat ninth.
-Adam Lind will be given an early opportunity to play every day, hitting against left-handers as well as righties. Gibbons expects Lind will "get every opportunity to (be an impact bat) because he’s got a chance to be a key part of this. And he hit before, he should be able to hit again."
-Gibbons spoke to Brett Lawrie, and found him to be a "gung-ho kid." He also spoke to Al LeBeouf, who was one of Lawrie’s hitting coaches in Double A with the Brewers, and LeBeouf told him, “You’ll love this kid. He’ll go through a wall for you.”
-About his knack for running a bullpen, Gibbons said it’s as simple as identifying the roles and running with them, while still protecting the relief corps. "You don’t want to kill them down there. You piece it together like a puzzle in a lot of ways."
-On the Blue Jays’ issue of running into what seemed like more than their share of unnecessary outs last season, Gibbons said he "can’t worry about that. It’s a new start for them. It’s a new start for me. But this team has got very good team speed. We’ve got power. We’ve got the pitching. So we need to play smart baseball."
Alex Anthopoulos held court as well, as he will every day while we’re all here in Nashville, and he was quick to stomp out recent reports out of Texas that said the only way Darren Oliver would come back and pitch another season in the majors was if the Blue Jays traded him back to the Rangers. Anthopoulos was unusually candid, since generally he doesn’t comment on any rumours or reports. He said there was no truth whatsoever to the story, and added that he’s sick of all the false reports coming out about the Blue Jays. Anthopoulos has talked to Oliver and believes that it will take until January to get an answer as to the southpaw’s plans for the coming season. A possible one-and-done is something the Jays were aware of before they signed Oliver, but they wanted him anyway.
With or without the man who calls himself ‘Black Magic’, Anthopoulos likes his bullpen. Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos are expected to be fully recovered from their shoulder surgeries by Spring Training, though Gibbons suggested the Jays may take it easy with Santos to start the spring, and they’ll be joined by Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln and two of Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and Jeremy Jeffress if Oliver chooses to retire.
One name missing from the list, one that a lot of Blue Jays’ fans wish was on it, is Carlos Villanueva’s. The free agent righty did a terrific job as a swingman for the Jays the last two seasons, but said this winter that he wanted to go to a team that would give him a spot in its starting rotation — and that’s something the Jays can’t guarantee.
However, Anthopolous told us that Los Del V’s tune is changing. Given the loading up the Blue Jays have done so far this off-season, Villanueva is now "more open-minded" to returning without the guarantee of a starting spot. If the attraction is strong and mutual, the Jays have to find the money to bring him back, since it appears as though they’re at their payroll limit.
Finally, Anthopoulos wouldn’t take the bait when asked how he sees his team standing in the American League East right now. Hearkening back to the long-ago proclamation of last year’s Winter Meetings when the Marlins were being fitted for an N.L. East crown, and a year farther back when the Boston Red Sox won the winter by building what some called the "Best Team Ever" and remembering how neither of those clubs even made the playoffs, with Miami finishing dead last, Anthopoulos said that none of the teams ahead of the Jays have gotten worse, that he needs to show respect to teams that have already won, and that right now, he feels his Blue Jays are the fourth-best team in the A.L. East.
One has to imagine that, like the great Armen Tamzarian before him, Anthopoulos is hoping his charges prove him wrong. In his case, though, they’re far likelier to actually do so.