Brett Lawrie used the all-star break to recuperate from back spasms that bothered him last weekend in Chicago.
The third baseman also saw the Toronto Blue Jays sign slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $27-million contract, which included a $10-million club option. There is no disputing the manner in which Lawrie has put his stamp on this team: the Langley, B.C., native pushes merchandise and is one of the reasons that the Blue Jays and their broadcast partners will tell you they’ve made inroads into younger demographic groups.
Not to diminish Jose Bautista’s status in these parts – the Jays slugger is the only one close to a superstar in this market – but when manager John Farrell says that Lawrie has managed to “project his personality” out of the leadoff spot, he is talking about an impact that has resonated on more than simply the lineup.
Major-league baseball rousted itself Friday from its midsummer all-star slumber and three Cleveland Indians pitchers combined on a five-hitter in a 1-0 win over the 43-44 Blue Jays. Travis Hafner’s leadoff home run in the second inning off Ricky Romero (8-5) in front of 32,308 at the Rogers Centre held up the rest of the way as Indians closer Chris Perez retired the meat of the Jays lineup (Colby Rasmus, Bautista and Encarnacion) in the ninth inning.
In the previous regime, there might have been talk about signing Lawrie to a multiyear contract. That won’t be the case this time around. In 2003, the Blue Jays gave 2002 rookie of the year Eric Hinske a five-year, $14.75-million package and signed Vernon Wells to a five-year, $14.7-million contract after his first full season.
Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays general manager, was assistant GM to J.P. Ricciardi during that time. He liked the idea. Now, not so much.
“No knock against those deals, but I wouldn’t do it,” Anthopoulos said Friday, without specifically mentioning Lawrie. “Why? That’s the point. You have five club options through arbitration. In some ways, it’s the greatest club option of all time. I’d just be hard-pressed to ever see a moment where we had a guy with three arbitration years left, and we’d do a three-year deal.”
Anthopoulos agreed that there are outliers such as Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum. “Cy Young winners, MVPs, you’d be probably looking to do something, then,” he said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want them around?”
Conventional wisdom is the deals protect the relationship between the player and team from the vagaries of the salary-arbitration process, in addition to giving the team cost-certainty. Anthopoulos says that fear is overblown.
“Maybe I’m naive, but the way we approach salary arbitration isn’t to bash the player,” he said. “Our approach is: ‘You made ‘x’ last year and both your agent and us agree that you deserve a raise. That’s good. We both want you to have a raise – now let’s see how much the raise will be.’ ”
At the core of arbitration system is a multiplier effect: a good season begets a larger raise the next year. Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays have enough financial capacity that they can err on that side at the expense of cost-certainty. “You lock in at a certain number in one year, and you can end up over-paying by $5-million eventually,” he said.
Much has been made about how Anthopoulos has nudged president Paul Beeston off some closely held principles, such as getting a five-year contract for starter Ricky Romero or convincing Beeston a team can’t do business by allowing an employee unfettered freedom to go to another team, as a result of off-season reports that the Boston Red Sox wanted Farrell to manage.
But evolution has been a two-way process.
“As an assistant GM, my mindset was to be more aggressive early with young guys – long, long deals,” Anthopoulos said. “The more I’ve been around Paul, the more I’ve seen how they don’t work out.”
Anthopoulos says it’s clear he’ll do long-term deals closer to free agency, which a player reaches after six full seasons. It will be interesting to see how the message goes over if Lawrie’s star continues its ascension. Nothing an MVP award couldn’t cure.