Making sense of the biggest potential moves of MLB’s off-season

Ross Atkins joins Prime Time Sports to talk about how the Toronto Blue Jays went about hiring their new manager Charlie Montoyo.

It all seemed so simple at one point: the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies would split free-agent spoils between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Nice and neat.

But look where we are now as Major League general managers gather in Carlsbad, Calif., on Monday for meetings that will lay the groundwork for off-season personnel decisions. Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, joked that he and his client already have made a decision and tells Yankees TV voice Michael Kay that he won’t give him any further details because Harper wants to tell him in person.

Meanwhile, there are duelling reports in the New York press: the Yankees are out on Harper, in on Machado, out on both. The Chicago Cubs are telling everybody that they suddenly have payroll restrictions and will focus on contracts for their own players — there goes one stalking horse — while the Cleveland Indians have essentially put everybody but Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor on the block, moves that could have a significant impact on the higher-end free-agent market.

Man. Given all the B.S. out there, looks like hip-waders will be a necessary fashion accessory this off-season.

Each week, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt tackle the most impactful stories in the world of sports and their intersection with popular culture. Come for the sports; stay for the storytelling and cigars.

Here’s a quick guide to making sense of it all:

• The Yankees, who have paid out a staggering $341 million in luxury tax since 2003, didn’t get below the luxury tax threshold for the first time since 2002 (and subsequently reset their penalty for exceeding it at 20 per cent instead of 50) to not take advantage of it. Machado’s and Harper’s ages both dovetail with the team’s window of opportunity — they’re both younger than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton — and with shortstop Didi Gregorius likely out most of next season, they have room for Machado. Adding Patrick Corbin and another starting pitcher should take precedence, but the Yankees can do that and add Machado.

• The Indians are doing shrewd business here, more than simply linking pay-roll to attendance. The entire American League Central Division is rebuilding, and even if the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox have a jump, there is no reason to think the Indians can’t trade their way into opening a new window of opportunity. Where it gets interesting is if the White Sox, who have been linked to Machado in the past and who have enviable depth on the cusp, feel emboldened and make a run at the free agent.

• I wonder what Cubs manager Joe Maddon is thinking after being told he will all but be a lame duck this season with a club that says publicly it will be constrained? Actually, my guess is he feels like I do: I don’t believe it. The Cubs might have to move a Kyle Schwarber, and that Jason Heyward contracts sucks big time, but I’ll be stunned if they’re not big players this winter.

• Everybody’s off-season would be made easier if Mike Trout’s future was clearer. He has two years left on his contract with the Los Angeles Angels, he’s the best player on the planet and won’t come near a World Series if he stays there. He’s a North Delaware guy and if the Phillies can land Machado this winter and angle for Trout, well, look out. There isn’t a team that wouldn’t take him over Harper or Machado.

Prediction: Harper re-signs with the Washington Nationals; Machado signs with the Phillies.

In this MLB and Toronto Blue Jays podcast, Dan Shulman takes a look at the human side of baseball. Because everyone in the game has a story.

NOW TWEET THIS

In which we ask Adam Silver to end the B.S. with Jimmy Butler … Wonder what the future holds for Pete Walker … remember Alan Page/Carl Eller/Gary Larsen/Jim Marshall and their 21 Pro Bowl appearances … dance the samba … and continue the Vlady Countdown at a rapid pace: 117.2 m.p.h., to be exact.

• This Jimmy Butler stuff is all good clean fun but seeing him join Warriors fans by waving a towel during Friday night’s rout of his T-wolves means it’s time for Adam Silver to step in. Disrespecting fans and sponsors is a consumer confidence issue. #embarrassing

• I’m not surprised that Brook Jacoby and Tim Leiper are gone, but I am surprised that incoming manager Charlie Montoyo is pushing for Neil Allen — his former Triple-A pitching coach fired by the Twins after 2017 — to join him. Wonder what that means for Pete Walker? #change

• Grew up watching the Vikings Purple People Eaters defence, so it got my attention when the Lions’ Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times to set a new Vikes club record. Danielle Hunter is on pace to become only the second Vikes player with 20 sacks, joining Jared Allen. #relentless

• Courtesy of MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis: since 2015, 15 big-leaguers have recorded an exit velocity of 117 m.p.h. on hits. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doubled this weekend in the Fall League with an exit velo of 117.2 m.p.h. On an 82-m.p.h. breaking pitch. #prospectporn

• Two Brazilian-born players had never had multiple-goal matches on the same day in Premier League history until Richarlison and Felipe Anderson recorded braces on Saturday. #peleweeps

• The Flames are clutch — they lead the NHL in third-period goals and have three regulation wins after trailing going into the third; the whole league has seen just 11 of those comebacks. #burnt

• It looks like the classic trap game for the Raptors: Wednesday in Sacramento against one of the most nondescript franchises in sports. Don’t look now, though: the Kings are second in the NBA in pace, after being dead last in 2017-18. #crowned

THE ENDGAME

As bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, incoming Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was tasked with the responsibility of working with an infield that, on June 15, started four rookies: Jake Bauers, Joey Wendle, Willy Adames and Christian Arroyo. On Aug. 10, they faced the Blue Jays once again with four rookie infielders, plus rookie catcher Michael Perez in a 7-0 win.

It was the first time in franchise history that happened — and considering the Rays penchant for, um, cost effectiveness, that’s saying something. In fact, the Rays became the first team in Major League history to use at least 23 rookies and finish at least 28 games over .500, which, according to Rays manager Kevin Cash, will stand Montoyo in good stead in his new job.

“At one point we had all rookie infielders and a lot of moving parts — defence and positional shifting, changing on pitch counts and I watched how he got buy-in from them; how much of a ‘connector’ he (Montoyo) is,” Cash told my show last week. When he was in Toronto late in the season, Cash raved about his young team — which would go on to win 90 games — and how they’d taken control of their clubhouse. The key, he said, was essentially to make it fun for them to come to work and then get out of their way, and he talked about Montoyo’s consistency in the dugout of a team that was going through regular change.

I know it’s anathema to Blue Jays fans who chafe at the notion of a big-city team following the lead of one of the game’s worst markets, but the fact is you can’t beat the Yankees or Red Sox until you beat the Rays. In your dreams, the 2019 Jays are the 2018 Rays. It’s nice to have somebody in charge who’s been there and done it.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.–12 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. He also co-hosts ‘The Lede,’ a podcast with Stephen Brunt.

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