The Blue Jays have some heavy-lifting to do this winter but there are plenty more story lines to monitor before Spring Training begins in February. You’ll hear a great deal about the following six names:
Robinson Cano: Get the impression the New York Yankees second baseman is going to enjoy being a free agent this winter? Yes, that was Cano at El Classico sitting with Shakira watching the singer’s significant other, FC Barcelona and Spanish national team centre back Gerard Pique, playing against Real Madrid this past weekend. And, yes, that $34,000 (U.S.) Hublot watch he was wearing was indeed the one Jay-Z gave him at the birthday party the singer-impressario threw for Cano in Belgium. Cano wants $300-million over 10 years, and while he might not get his terms, do not be surprised if he does indeed end up averaging close to $30-million per year. Hey, when Jay-Z’s your agent, who wouldn’t want to do free agency over again?
Rob Manfred: The product of Cornell University and Harvard Law School is considered to be Bud Selig’s handpicked replacement as commissioner when Selig steps down in January, 2015. Manfred was named chief operating officer this year – the position, once held by Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston, was vacant since Bob DuPuy was forced out in 2010 – and is the point man for the commissioner’s office in the on-going legal dispute with Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s appeal of a 211-game suspension for use of performance-enhancing substances resumes on Nov. 18. Manfred, who authorized a controversial payment of $125,000 to a source in return for documents pertaining to Rodriguez’s involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, needs the votes of 24 of 30 owners to get Selig’s job and how he performs in the Rodriguez case could be telling.
Masahiro Tanaka: The 25-year-old right-hander is expected to declare his intentions to come to the major leagues after going 24-0 (1.27) for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. Tanaka, the first Japanese pitcher ever to win more than 15 games while going undefeated and having enough innings to qualify, will be hotly sought after in a free-agent season that is painfully shy of impact pitchers. The Blue Jays are one of the teams expected to post bids for Tanaka, in a winter in which baseball might overhaul its posting rules and allow the pitcher to choose from the top three sealed bids instead of merely limiting negotiations to the team with the highest bid.
David Price: If the ghost of Hideki Irabu has diminished your taste for Japanese pitchers, how about a 28-year-old Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star with 71 career wins and a 1.158 WHIP and a track record of success in the American League East? Price, the Tampa Bay Rays left-hander, could find himself dealt two years away from free agency just as the Rays traded James Shields this past off-season for a package that included Wil Myers. It will take more to get Price, but he’s worth it.
Walt Jocketty: The general manager of the Cincinnati Reds moved quickly to fire manager Dusty Baker and most around the game saw the move as a sign that the Reds will be looking to overhaul a club that hasn’t played up to expectations. The overhaul could see pitcher Homer Bailey and second baseman Brandon Phillips dealt. The Reds are one of a few teams that need to do some dealing in order to keep open their window of opportunity, a list that includes the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.
Joe Torre: No, he won’ t be coming out of retirement to manage, say, the Tigers (but Tony La Russa might.) Rather, Torre – who is Major League Baseballs vice-president of baseball operations – will be front and centre as baseball figures out how to widen video replay, address the issue of collisions at home plate and, yes, examine its rule on obstruction. Torre is one of the games most unifying personalities, and as such is the right man for a job that will require some deftness and sensibility.