After you’ve spent five years watching someone operate under pressure, you get some sense of their tells.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s giveaway is overexplaining. The less confident he is, the more likely he is to start droning through the fine print. Over the past couple of years, the nervous speed-talker inside him has appeared more and more often.
On Wednesday, Anthopoulos held an informal bull session with local writers. It’s an annual excuse to talk baseball over a free lunch.
He’d been in the office until 4 a.m. the night before. He had got up at 6 a.m. with his kids. He’d spent the rest of the morning polishing off a deal that puts his team’s positional house in some sort of order.
And he was ebullient. I can’t remember Anthopoulos seeming so up – and he’s already a pretty up guy. Laid back, telling jokes, most of them the sort you can’t print.
Maybe he knows this is his last shot, and he’s trying to soak it up. But that wouldn’t fit the man we know very well. More likely, this is an Anthopoulos who finally feels like things are coming together.
In the evening, the Jays did a deal that will send starter J.A. Happ to Seattle in return for outfielder and Victoria native Michael Saunders.
Anthopoulos wouldn’t exactly say that takes the Jays out of the Melky Cabrera market, but that takes the Jays out of the Melky Cabrera market.
Cabrera and the Jays never got anywhere close to a deal. The money the team might have spent on their left fielder went to free-agent catcher Russell Martin instead. Cabrera thinks he’s worth a very big number. Given that he’ll cost his new team a first-round draft pick, he may have erred in his valuation.
Saunders is a career .230 hitter with a little bit of pop. He’s nowhere near the offensive player Cabrera is, but he’s a better defender. It’s not like for like, but it’s close enough to explain to yourself.
If we believe Alex Anthopoulos on Dec. 3 – 82 days until pitchers and catchers report – that’s it. He’s essentially done.
He will have to play mix-and-match in the bullpen, but that’s the cattle auction of baseball. The pursuit of big-name, big-money studs is finished. He claims the Jays will not be players in the market for free-agent pitchers Jon Lester or Max Scherzer.
“Everyone would love to have a front-of-the-rotation starter. I don’t think we need it,” Anthopoulos said. “I use the Orioles as an example … They didn’t have anybody coming into the season that anyone viewed as an ace. They had five guys who did well.”
He managed to make it sound hopeful. It’s a word that can mean many things.
The Jays will go with what they have – veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, youngsters Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison. Any one of four or five guys could slot into the fifth spot vacated by Happ, but the most likely candidate is Canada’s Doogie Howser, Aaron Sanchez. He’ll be stretched out in Dunedin for that purpose.
They’ll count on those five to be workmanlike as a collective, while the offence and defence are above par.
“If we’re not going to have those stud front-line starters, we’re going to have to catch the ball,” Anthopoulos said, giving the 22-syllable explanation of fundamental baseball you’d try out on visitors to this planet.
Last year, Anthopoulos tried to wait out the market. That strategy blew up on him when free-agent starter Ervin Santana took a pass very late in the day. News leaked that the club had gone hat in hand to its top performers, asking them to defer pay in order to scrape together the ducats for Santana.
A baseball clubhouse is always a twitchy environment. The Jays locker room has been less resilient than most. The Santana fiasco was echoed later in the year, when the club did nothing at the trade deadline. That’s when guys started publicly cracking.
Anthopoulos learned his lesson. He loves the free-for-all of the marketplace, but his employees require a minimum amount of certainty. Nobody likes to come to a job where the furniture is always getting moved around.
Flailing about at the last moment – and then failing to do so – makes for a confused, unhappy work force.
So here it is, folks: your pretty-much-complete 2015 Toronto Blue Jays.
They’ve made major upgrades at catcher (Martin), third base (Josh Donaldson) and designated hitter (Edwin Encarnacion).
They’ve stepped back in left field and first base, where they’ll gamble on Justin Smoak as an everyday replacement for Encarnacion.
Who knows what they’ve got in centre with raw rookie Dalton Pompey. Same goes for the rotation. They’ll continue looking for a cheap fill-in at second base and a great deal of help in the bullpen.
It’s not a completed structure, but they’ve started laying in drywall.
On the weekend, Anthopoulos heads to the great trading floor of the winter meetings.
On TV, the meetings look exciting in a goofy Jerry Maguire way. In reality, it’s a bunch of executives hiding in their suites watching daytime television. Every evening, they cook up stories for the press, who spend a week drinking miserably in the lobby. It’s the worst gig in sports. Anthopoulos already sounded like he was dreading it. He’s got nothing to do there.
Judging by his mood, he thinks he already has a playoff team.
That’s what he hinted at two years ago. And last year, as well.
But on both of those occasions, he was trying to explain it to you. This time, he’s not saying much at all.Report Typo/Error
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