He was loved when he left following the 2015 season, but nobody seemed to remember the hand-wringing wrought by Alex Anthopoulos at the 2011 winter meetings when he publicly established a link between attendance at Rogers Centre and “payroll parameters.”
Whether in a positive or negative light, nobody’s felt comfortable enough to again make that link as blatant until Mark Shapiro did so with his recent comments about the power of this marketplace and the need to keep open the Toronto Blue Jays‘ window of competitiveness.
None of us should have been as surprised as we seemed to be.
Overlooked in the fantasy chatter about buying or selling – chatter that will no doubt grow to a crescendo now that Sunday’s 19-1 humiliation by the Houston Astros has five days to marinate – is the fact that Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the Blue Jays and (and this is important) Rogers Centre, is in the middle of planning for a major refurbishment of the facility that includes nuts and bolts stuff that is wearing out as well as amenities.
Although no one has said anything formal, the guess here is Shapiro will attempt to get an all-star game for the city (which hasn’t hosted one since 1991) as a carrot to ameliorate some of the impact on ownership but make no mistake: this project will cost a couple hundred million dollars, and it’s a lot easier to convince ownership to sink that amount into a stadium when the place is almost full each night and television ratings and merchandise sales are robust. And that doesn’t even touch on the inevitable discussion that must be had with ownership when the day comes to buy out a chunk of Troy Tulowitzki’s contract and expedite a move. That’s coming; you and I both know it.
I reported two weeks ago Shapiro saying that intellectually there are similarities between this team and the Cleveland Indians team he tore down in 2002, but that he “doesn’t operate in an intellectual vacuum,” referring to the team’s attendance and television ratings. He might also have been saying that as president and CEO of Rogers Centre, he cannot achieve his biggest tasks without fans in the stands. Nobody would make their job made more difficult by blowing this thing up; nobody has as much to lose for management to do anything other than make baseball trades for baseball reasons and keep the customers happy.
GIVE ‘EM A BREAK
Here are how I’d give out the individual awards at the all-star break … with my pre-season selections made for Sportsnet.ca in brackets:
• American League MVP: George Springer, RF, Houston Astros. His arrival in the majors four years ago was the first green shoot of the Astros rebuild, and his emergence as a force at the top of the order has put the finishing touch on things. His 27 homers at the break the most by a lead-off hitter, breaking Brady Anderson’s total of 26 back in the bad, old, steroid days. (Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
• AL Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox. There are two outcomes in baseball these days: strikeouts and home runs. Sale leads baseball with 178 strikeouts and has the eighth-fewest walks with 22; he has allowed 11 homers, the fewest in the majors by any starter with 110 innings. The Red Sox aren’t in first place in the AL East without him. (Sale)
• National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s always put up terrific numbers. This season he’s doing it for a contending team that has more wins before the break than any other season in the franchise’s existence. This will be an intriguing second-half battle with Etobicoke’s Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. (Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers)
• NL Cy Young: Let’s give it to Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals before his arm falls off. Scherzer leads the NL in WAR and strikeouts but thanks to the weak Nationals bullpen he also averaged the most pitches per start (107.2) and had thrown at least 100 pitches in 10 of his 18 outings. My Baseball Central co-host Kevin Barker and myself play this game where every now and then we’ll ask: one elimination game, who pitches it for you? In the NL recently it’s always been Madison Bumgarner. Until now. (Kershaw)
• NL Rookie: Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers. Just as Judge gets to name-drop some of the game’s greats because of his performance in his rookie season (see: Joe DiMaggio) so, too, does Bellinger get to name-drop some of his franchise’s greats – such as Mike Piazza and Gil Hodges. Since 2005, only two Dodgers players have cranked out 30 homers; Bellinger, who has 25, will be the next. In a time when starters litter the disabled lists of teams, Bellinger-for-Adrian Gonzalez has been a crucial add for the Dodgers. Bonus points for looking like one of my favourites, Shawn Green, at the plate. (Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves.)
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Speaking of Bellinger, his first walk-off RBI went into the books Saturday night when he drew a bases-loaded walk off the Kansas City Royals‘ Scott Alexander, who walked all four batters he faced that inning. Since 1961 only one other team has won a game that way: Don Larsen, then of the San Francisco Giants, walked four Chicago Cubs batters – and threw a wild pitch – in losing on June 6, 1962.
• Keep an eye on the men’s 100-metre races at the next two Diamond League events: this weekend in Rabat and next weekend in Monaco. Usain Bolt has confirmed that he will make his 2017 Diamond League debut in Monaco while Justin Gatlin has confirmed his participation in Rabat along with Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse – who will pass on the 100 metres in Monaco to race instead in the 200 metres. The IAAF World Championships begin Aug. 4 in London, with the men’s 100-metres final set for Aug. 5. That could be one of the greatest days in the history of Canadian sports.
• The British press is all over a report that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Iconiq Capital – a group that controls private wealth in Silicon Valley and includes former baseball agent and Diamondbacks/San Diego Padres limited partner Jeff Moorad – is preparing an offer to buy Premiership outfit Tottenham Hotspur. The Spurs have denied the report, but speculation is the club could be had for US$2.5 billion. If the deal goes ahead, don’t be surprised if Oakland Athletics executive vice president Billy Beane gets involved in the group. Beane is a Spurs fanatic and has served in an advisory capacity in the past.
There’s “wait till next year,” but what’s going on in the NBA Eastern Conference is going to put a new spin on an old cliché.
When Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri re-signed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka this week, he acknowledged that the exodus of talent to the Western Conference was “one of the things that pushed us in this direction,” and also said the team was now, formally, in a two or three-year plan dovetailing with DeMar DeRozan’s contract. Translation: the Raptors want to stay close so that when/if LeBron James loses interest and decides to go west they’ll be in a position to strike.
I like the approach; but I’m also going to be interested in seeing how the likes of Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira and – dare we think it? – Bruno Caboclo make out. Ujiri has made his mark on this franchise by preaching stability, giving it intellectual heft … and relying on stuff left behind by Bryan Colangelo. His best trade was the one the New York Knicks wouldn’t make for him, turning down Lowry. For this to work, Ujiri’s going to need some of his own internal options to step forward.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET and Baseball Central from Noon-1 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.