The number to remember this off-season is 269 2/3.
Those are the innings the Toronto Blue Jays received during the regular season from starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and David Price. Neither are expected back next season – and that’s why the acquisition of Jesse Chavez from the Oakland Athletics for Liam Hendriks makes so much sense.
It’s understandable that after 22 years in the playoff wilderness, fans feel an attachment to every single person on the 25-man roster – thank goodness John McDonald didn’t play on the team last season; he’d have roads and schools named after him – but the simple truth is the Blue Jays believe Chavez is a better bet to help fill the starting innings gap than Hendriks. It’s true that a healthy Marcus Stroman addresses much of the innings issue – but what if the Blue Jays decide to trade, say, Drew Hutchison or R.A. Dickey? As poor as Hutchison was last season, that’s 150 innings. Dickey fell on his face in the playoffs, and manager John Gibbons would be popping champagne corks if he was ever dispatched … but he still logged 214 1/3 innings. And what if Aaron Sanchez stays in the bullpen?
Chavez alone doesn’t make the Blue Jays rotation better. The team will need to add, I believe, two more arms better equipped for the front of the rotation. But Chavez’s acquisition might allow general manager Tony LaCava to put some innings in play on the trade market, if he’s so inclined. And while it is an understandable inclination to doubt under-the-radar guys (even those with a 2.3 WAR, the same as Dickey’s in 2015) and look for flaws, keep this in mind: Chavez has been a decent early-season starter since he remade himself two years ago, and if that holds true he’s in the least an insurance policy against any April or May bumps in the road suffered by, say, Sanchez should he wobble a bit in any transition back to a starter.
THE WEEK A.A. MADE IT RAIN
Speaking of Jays-Athletics transactions, it was a year ago this week – the 28th, to be exact – that Alex Anthopoulos had the bright idea of adding Brett Lawrie to a package of prospects in an attempt to pry away Josh Donaldson from Billy Beane. Then the Blue Jays GM, Anthopoulos pulled off a counter-intuitive deal that upgraded the team at a position that did not figure in much of the early winter chatter – except for those of us who believed a shift to second base was in the future for Lawrie – and in the process gifted his organization a middle-of-the-order hitter for, essentially, the rest of the decade; insurance for the eventual loss of Jose Bautista and/or Edwin Encarnacion. Even better: the Blue Jays had an impact player who could stay healthy and saw playing on artificial turf as a boon to his defence, its slowness and true bounces playing into his hands, literally.
You know the rest: Donaldson is the best all-round player the Blue Jays have had since Roberto Alomar, and he was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League last week, beating out Mike Trout in a vote that wasn’t nearly as close as many expected. That has led to suggestions in some well-respected circles – friends Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, in particular – that with just one MVP award and three second-place finishes despite crushing WAR each season, Trout is in danger of becoming under-rewarded; that the expectations for him each opening day mitigate against him getting a fair shake.
I can’t agree, with all due respect. Passan sees hints of Ted Williams’ annual snubbing by baseball writers, but I give modern-day voters more credit. It’s true that there has always been a prejudice towards players whose team makes the playoffs – that’s a timeless and legitimate debate in every sport – but, really: at the age of 24, my guess is Trout has many more MVP awards in him. The way the game is played, and the way it’s analyzed, plays into his hands. Credit Donaldson.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Kyrie Irving will not be with the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night in Orlando or Wednesday when they meet the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre, but he’s getting close. Irving, who has been sidelined five months with a fractured kneecap suffered in the first game of the NBA Finals, is doing light one-on-one contact drills and is now taking part in pre-game shooting drills. The Cavaliers have been without his replacement, Mo Williams, for two games due to an ankle injury and his status for Monday’s tilt is doubtful but privately, the team is still looking to Dec. 10 as a return date for Irving.
• When Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks broke the 1,000-career point mark with two assists on Saturday, he became the third player from the 1997 draft class to reach that plateau, joining Joe Thornton and Marian Hossa. Marleau was chosen second in 1997 and is the 23rd player to reach that milestone with the team that drafted him. Thornton was taken first by the Boston Bruins and Hossa 12th by the Ottawa Senators. The only other draft classes to have the top two choices record 1,000 points are 1971 (Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne) and 1987 (Pierre Turgeon and Brendan Shanahan).
• The Carolina Panthers have won 14 consecutive regular-season games, third-most in the NFC since the 1970 merger. They’ll play the Dallas Cowboys on U.S. Thanksgiving Day with defensive end Charles Johnson back after going on IR boomerang with a hamstring injury late in September – not a bad pick-me-up for a defence hardly in need of it: the Panthers haven’t played a snap in the red zone in their past two games. They should be every NFL fans’ second-favourite team. Come to think of it, against the reprehensible Cowboys – who are everything that’s wrong with America, let alone the NFL – any opponent is worth cheering.
Well, this ought to be fun. According to Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello wants to pick a fight with the team’s owners over the number of times the club appears in back-to-back games – something the Leafs have already done six times this season. As McGran points out, the Leafs aren’t exactly hard done by when it comes to travel (they travel the third-fewest miles in the NHL) and that red-hot television juggernaut known as the Columbus Blue Jackets actually plays more back-to-back games. But as we saw with the move to keep club broadcasters off the team charter, there’s no little, dark corner of the Leafs operations that Lamoriello doesn’t think he can control. Truth is, the Leafs were a TV product long before Rogers and Bell bought into MLSE, and when they become relevant they will be the single-greatest driver of TV revenue in the league. He might be the guy who invented the game … but there’s not much Lamoriello can do about economic reality. This ain’t Jersey.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.