TORONTO – Joe Maddon had an opt-out clause with the Tampa Bay Rays that allowed him to leave the team if general manager Andrew Freidman pulled up stakes. Freidman left for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Maddon moved on to manage the Chicago Cubs.
So the waiting game has now begun in Cleveland, where manager Terry Francona has a similar clause in his contract that he is free to execute now that team president Mark Shapiro has been formally announced as Paul Beeston’s replacement as president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Blue Jays. Francona had the clause inserted when he signed a new multi-year deal with the Indians.
Francona told reporters on Sunday that “I have no intention of ever using something like that as leverage for another job, because I don’t want to.” But he also said: “If Mark’s not here, there’s a time, I guess, to talk about that.”
Francona would be one of the hottest commodities on the market should he opt out – the guy who followed up ending the Curse of the Bambino by taking the Indians to the wild card game in 2013 and had them in playoff contention until the last weekend of the 2014 season.
He would be form-fitted for a team of veterans such as the Washington Nationals, who can be expected to fire Matt Williams as manager at the end of the season – or the Detroit Tigers or even the Dodgers, who might move off Don Mattingly in the event of another post-season collapse. In other words, Francona might demure right now, but let’s see how he feels at the end of the season. My guess is he leaves Cleveland.
Here’s today’s “which of these things doesn’t belong?” quiz: Joey Votto. Michael Brantley. Andrew McCutcheon. Edwin Encarnacion. Bryce Harper … Ryan Goins?
We will lower the curtain on Edgust Monday at the Rogers Centre, celebrating an offensive month of the part of Encarnacion that is straight out of the record books. But let’s give the often-forgotten Goins his due, as well.
You know about the defence – but offensively, Goins has done precisely what a person of his modest resume needs to do to contribute to a winning team.
Goins has hit .303 with 16 walks and has a .439 on-base percentage this month, the latter figure fifth in the majors for August behind that group led by Votto. To put that in perspective, Goins had 20 walks in his previous 544 career at bats and has a career OBP of .272. His wOBA (weighted on-base average) is .391, 35th among all major leaguers.
Turns out the key to this change is nothing – or, more precisely, doing nothing with the bat other than resting it on his shoulders. Seriously … that’s it?
“That’s really it,” Goins said Sunday, after a two-run double on a day when the bottom of the order – including Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar and himself – reached base seven of 12 times. “The change was made because the hitting coaches (Brook Jacoby and Eric Owens) knew I wasn’t going to be playing a lot when everybody was healthy – that I was going to be a utility guy – so the idea was to make myself as simple as possible at the plate so I wouldn’t get blown away by velocity.”
Goins is now able to let pitches travel in a little deeper, and finds he’s giving his hands a better chance. This is a small but not necessarily minor adjustment, since, with Devon Travis out for the year, having a better than average defensive second baseman and backup shortstop who can help turn over the batting order and maybe be on base for No. 2 hitter Josh Donaldson is a boon to production.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• This just in from the Dept. of Old School Stats: Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter on Sunday night marked the first time a Chicago Cubs pitcher recorded seven wins in the month of August since Rick Sutcliffe in 1984. The other Cubs pitchers with seven or six wins in August: Rick Reuschel (seven in 1979); Ray Burris (six in 1976); Charlie Root (six in 1927); and Guy Bush (six in 1926.) Arrieta is the first Cubs pitcher to have as many as 14 consecutive quality starts since Greg Maddux, who did so in 1992 en route to winning his first of two Cy Young Awards.
• It’s one of the things I’ve always wondered about with R.A. Dickey: Why on earth do the Blue Jays employ the shift with him on the mound, given the odd mix of contact that he induces with his knuckleball? Surely the capricious nature of the pitch – the randomness of it – would defy traditional positioning. Manager John Gibbons answered the question on Friday’s Baseball Central and also said it took Dickey a year to buy into the notion.
• Scarborough, Ont.-born Netherlands national team member Jonathan de Guzman is figuring prominently in the run-up to Tuesday’s closing of the transfer window in the Barclay’s Premiership. A useful 27-year-old midfielder and set-piece specialist who is playing with Napoli of Serie A, de Guzman has agreed to join Bournemouth on loan after failing to come to terms with Sunderland. It’s a nice pickup for the Cherries, who are getting a player with 14 caps for Holland and who scored 15 goals in 93 appearances for Swansea City between 2012-2014.
Just to reiterate: It’s my opinion that general manager Alex Anthopoulos deserves a contract extension and sole authority over baseball operations with the Toronto Blue Jays. But as we approach the Sept. 1 roster expansion, I’m wondering whether he isn’t focused on still improving the team. Several national media outlets report that the New York Yankees claimed closer David Robertson on waivers to block him from going to the Blue Jays – an indication that the industry believes Anthopoulos isn’t finished.
Jeff Blair is host of the Jeff Blair Show from 9-Noon ET and Baseball Central from Noon-1 ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and Sportsnet. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.