This is why it's good to have “people” to do stuff for you. Alex Anthopoulos rolled into the Hilton Anatole on Sunday night for baseball's winter meetings, flying past the check-in counter and into an elevator pursued by a pack of Japanese reporters and cameras who were hoping for a few bon mots about the next big thing from that country, pitcher Yu Darvish.
He could be excused having flashbacks to his first winter meetings as Toronto Blue Jays general manager in Indianapolis in 2009, when everybody knew he was going to trade free-agent-to-be Roy Halladay.
“That was no fun because it was such an important transaction and it was so limited with the no-trade clause,” Anthopoulos said. “Knowing how I like to play things close to the vest, it was tough having to show all my cards to the player and agent at the end of the day.”
Teams and agents started showing up at this sprawling hotel Sunday afternoon, including Dan Lozano, the agent for St. Louis Cardinals free agent Albert Pujols whose reputation has been sullied by shocking, pornographic photographs of him on the website Deadspin.com. That is certain to be a topic of lobby chatter, as will reports of the Blue Jays having loads of cash to spend.
Some early fodder for the Blue Jays rumour mill:
On Prince Fielder: Jon Heyman of SI.com, who is close to agent Scott Boras, tweeted that the Blue Jays are expected to be in on Prince Fielder, echoing a report from a Cleveland-based FM station. Yep: it's classic Boras; expand the market by throwing teams out there and then telling a media scrum that there is a “mystery team.”
Anthopoulos reiterated that the Blue Jays will not offer seven- or eight-year free-agent contracts – Fielder wants 10 years – and then said: “I expect to be linked to practically every player … as a rule of thumb, if something leaks than it's probably inaccurate. If you look at the number of players we've been linked to and the ones we've ended up getting, it's probably one per-cent.”
On free agents: The Blue Jays do not have any players with no-trade clauses, but Anthopoulos said “we've left some wiggle room for free agents only. I'd never say never, but anybody we sign to a multiyear deal that's pre-free agency, we won't do it.” At least one free-agent, pitcher Mark Buerhle, has made a no-trade clause front and centre in his negotiations with teams.
On using Jeff Mathis: Anthopoulos says that Jeff Mathis, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Saturday for left-hander Brad Mills and is a former teammate of Jose Bautista's at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., will be used “the same way Jose Molina was used,” as J.P. Arencibia's backup. The Blue Jays expect Arencibia to play 135 to 140 games this season.
Focus on pitching: Anthopoulos said that he is pleased with the Blue Jays' position players, an indication the focus will indeed be on pitching. The Chicago White Sox and Atlanta Braves have pitching to move, and Anthopoulos said that one of his own prospects, 21-year-old right-hander Drew Hutchinson who was 14-5 with a 4.89 strikeout/walk ratio and 1.038 WHIP at three levels in 2011, could be ready to pitch in the majors in 2012. It was clear as he listed Chad Jenkins, Nestor Molina, Deck McGuire and of course Henderson Alvarez as minor-league pitchers on the cusp that he would consider moving Kyle Drabek in a deal that would bring in another pitcher capable of giving the team 200 innings in the majors.
The deadline: Midnight Wednesday is the deadline by which time free agent second baseman Kelly Johnson must decide whether to accept salary arbitration. The market is thin for second basemen.