During the postseason, someone asked Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons whether he subscribed to the idea of momentum in sports.
Gibbons readjusted himself from side to side in his chair – his body-language equivalent of verbalizing the word "no."
"Maybe in a game," he said. Heavy emphasis on "maybe."
Eight hours later, the Jays lost Game 6 of American League Championship Series. If it had ever existed, whatever momentum they had going in to Kansas City had burned off like morning fog.
Momentum in sports isn't an actual force. It's a function of belief. You have as much momentum as people think you have.
That perception of momentum is a variety of capital. If you've got a lot of it, you can invest it and earn more. And while momentum may not matter from day to day in the playing of baseball, it matters a great deal in the off-season while you're trying to convince players that you know what you're doing.
Right now, the Blue Jays are in the midst of a small but perceptible slowing of the incredible amount of speed they've built up since July. A few wrong moves in the next few weeks, and they could robbed of it entirely.
Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos gave his habitual year-end presser on Monday. He is out of a contract this coming Saturday. On the following day, the new president and chief executive officer of the team, Mark Shapiro, takes over. According to Anthopoulos, there have been no substantive talks between the two men about a new deal.
That seems … weird. Anthopoulos doesn't have an agent. There are no middlemen here. They aren't working out the Treaty of Versailles. This is a 15-minute phone call.
Anthopoulos said very little about his situation, and what he said was deliberately obscure.
"We have a lot of things to get done. Player options, things like that. It [signing a new deal] will be on the list, I guess, of things to get addressed. I probably wouldn't want to get into timelines with things like that," he said.
There is only one element to any negotiation: ultimate control over baseball decisions. If Shapiro is willing to confine himself to a counselling voice rather the final word, Anthopoulos will return. If he isn't, Anthopoulos will not.
One thing that is important to understand about Anthopoulos is that, while he loves being the general manager of a major-league ball club, it does not define him. He has said over and over again that he'd be perfectly happy going back to where he started: scouting. It's the sort of thing a lot of guys start to say when they notice the axe dangling overhead. Anthopoulos has been saying it since he got the big chair. It sometimes sounds like he'd prefer being a scout.
At 38, he has a young man's confidence that there's plenty of time left to do whatever he wants. This is someone who will walk away if he feels strong-armed.
There is an obvious moment to announce an Anthopoulos extension – at Shapiro's unveiling next week. Maybe the deal has already been agreed to on a nudge-nudge, wink-wink basis, but Anthopoulos didn't make it sound that way.
It was little things. There was an unusually valedictory tone to his remarks. A preoccupation with what has happened, rather than what's yet to be done. Maybe that's to be expected after such a remarkable season, but it still came off as odd, considering the source.
For the first time, you began to consider that Rogers might be stupid enough to let the architect and figurehead of all the Jays' success slip out the back. If that happens, the bandwagon doesn't just pull up short. It hits a rut, goes into the ditch and catches fire.
Whatever momentum the Jays have going in to the off-season is based entirely on the framework Anthopoulos has constructed. He talks like a man who has found the secret: "I'm starting to hit my stride a little bit. … I'm starting to understand things a little bit more."
On a larger scale, that's true of the club as well. The Jays have also started to hit their stride. Without Anthopoulos, they'll have to start looking for it again.
Letting him go would signal the beginning of a full-scale clear-out. Most of Anthopoulos's lieutenants would follow him out the door. Without the GM's protection, Gibbons would be fired.
Having done that much, there would be an irresistible temptation for the new regime – president, GM and manager – to put their mark on the roster as well, meaning a good deal of turnover. While this is happening, fans would revolt.
It would just be too Toronto to finally stumble on a crowd-pleasing formula – Classic Coke – and then decide that New Coke sounds even better.
It sounds too foolish to credit, but this is the same organization that functionally fired outgoing president Paul Beeston through the media. It has a track record of going out of its way to do something difficult and wrong, while ignoring something that's easy and right.
If you were a potential job applicant – a free agent or trade target – how would that sort of change look to you? It would seem chaotic and slipshod. If you had other options, it would be something you'd want to steer well clear of.
In short, it would be a pillar-to-post public-relations disaster.
It's still not a likely scenario, but it's a realistic one. For as long as questions about Anthopoulos's future are allowed to persist, it will be a handbrake on any momentum the Jays have going into a crucial point in the off-season.