This week sets off the baseball fan’s Christmas- the Owner’s Meetings kick off , this year in Dallas. Like a child on Christmas Eve, the fan is twitchy with anticipation to see what is going to land gift-wrapped in a big, shiny contract underneath his club’s tree this year! Perhaps nowhere is that truer than here in Toronto, where the media at least has bought into the idea that I preached last year at this time- namely that the Blue Jays are in a position to end their playoff drought in the coming season. The recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (ensuring labour peace for the next few years, proving that at least baseball learned from 1994, even if other sports seemed to fail to) addition of an extra wild card spot in each league should make it all the more possible . The next week should give us an idea if Rogers and Alex Anthopolous are serious about making the team competitive or are content to continue telling the fanbase to buy tickets for a team which is still not going to attempt to be anything more than a .500 club. So far the signs haven’t been encouraging.
Since the World Series ended, not much has happened in the world of baseball, and the Jays are no general. The only significant changes have been a minor trade and Adam Loewen, after spending a couple of years rebuilding his career, or rather kicking off a brand new one as an outfielder, in the Toronto minor league system was curiously deleted from the 40 man roster and walked off to the New York Mets days later. This weekend’s trade, well noted in sports pages (indicative of just how quiet the off-season has been thus far) sees the Jays acquire backup catcher Jeff Mathis from the Angels for lefty Brad Mills. Now letting Mills go isn’t such a big deal really- despite combining for a 19-15 record and decent ERA at Vegas over the past two years, he is a ways down the depth chart for pitching and probably would not garner more than a handful of spot starts for the team in ’12. What is troubling however is that Mathis is being brought in as a replacement for Jose molina who signed on for mere chump change with our divisional rival Rays. Mathis is supposed to have decent defensive skills and an Ok throwing arm (27% of base stealers tossed out last year) but is a huge offensive liability. Last year he managed to see his average tank to below his previous .199 career average and he launched all of 3 homers in 70+ games played. With Molina, they had a versatile catcher who can hit and could even be used as a DH in a pinch; with Mathis they’ll be playing essentially with an NL lineup of 8 hitters and one sure out. Not a step up for a team trying to move up in a tight division and the thing of nightmares should jP Arencibia end up injured.
Bigger news locally though are ongoing rumours that Prince Fielder is headed to the Jays. Tonight CTV were quoting a CBS-TV report saying Fielder was wanting to join the Blue Jays and only Texas and Milwaukee were even left in the running for his services.
Fielder might or might not make sense for the Jays right now. He certainly is a power hitter who’d help give Jose Bautista some protection in the lineup and he’d be likely to excel at the Rogers Centre. However, given the presence of Adam Lind , one wonders if the few extra home runs would merit the bump in payroll. That notwithstanding, signing Prince could make Lind expendable and a good piece to use in a package deal for a first rate starter (ala James shields or Matt Cain perhaps?) and moreover would signify not only to us- the fans- but to other big league free agents that Toronto means business. That the retro jerseys aren’t the only thing from the early 90s that the team wants to return to the astroturf. So, I am of course hopeful that Santa Alex will deliver him to our Jays Christmas tree.
Yet I doubt it. A big budget , big name signing would seem to go on a tangent from the well-worn and marked path Anthopolous has been charting since taking over as GM. I cynically suspect that the team has no interest in Fielder but have an interest in projecting that idea in order to sell more tickets and sell more optimism about the 2012 season. I expect Fielder to be in blue and white by Christmas– but the blue and white of the Cubs. It will be fun to see if I’m proven wrong though, won’t it.
Monday update: predictably (as predicted here last month) the first big deal of the Winter Meetings is Jose Reyes signing a nine-figure, 6 year deal with Miami.