TORONTO - Blue Jays president Paul Beeston thinks he has one asset going for him when he and general manager Alex Anthopoulos talk to agents about their free agents.
“All the players love the city,” Beeston told the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America at a Thursday luncheon.
“They might not like going through customs and immigration, they might not like two tax forms and they might not like the different colours of our money, but they all love the city.”
Loving the city is one thing. Loving a chance to win often trumps civic pride.
Neither Beeston or Anthopoulos were discussing specific free agents, but it is known that the Jays brain trust which heads to Dallas and the 110th winter meetings on the weekend, have some certain likes anddislikes. They’d like:
• A closer such as San Diego Padres pitcher Heath Bell, whom the Jays have expressed interest in as have the Miami Marlins and a third ‘mystery’ team which will either be an actual team or an agent’s negotiating ploy.
• Or Cincinnati Reds reliever Francisco Cordero, represented by Bean Stringfellow, the same man who represents Jose Bautista.
• They’re not really interested in Prince Fielder, according to people close to the team, or the Japanese posting process where the Jays, or any other club, have to pay millions for the right to talk to right-hander Yu Darvish.
Anthopoulos has three serious holes to fix including second base (Question: if the season started tomorrow who plays second? Answer: “We don’t have a second baseman, well, we have Mike McCoy,” said Anthopoulos of the versatile utility man). Jays could also use another starting pitcher and a closer.
“What kind of closer do I like?” said Anthopoulos, still exploring trades and free agency. “A strikeout guy, there are fewer balls in play, but you know guys with a lot of strikeouts often walk a lot too. I guess the closer we want is the guy who saves games.”
The Jays surplus is prospects and they could move some for a quality starter. If not? They’ll proceed with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow,
Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez. Opposing teams continue to inquire about Drabek.
“We can fill from within if we have to when it comes to our rotation,” said Anthopoulos.
The names on paper look OK. Just remember the No. 3 man in wins last season was Jo-Jo Reyes (five)... and he made his final start July 22.
That’s a hard to do, too, on a team that wasn’t a sub-.500 team. Beeston knows he has to field a competitive team to get to where the Jays were in December of 1991 when Jack Morris and Dave Winfield wanted to come to Toronto to win, followed by Paul Molitor the next season.
“We’re not there yet, we’re not going to go out and buy a team,” said Beeston. “We want to be good for a long time, there is more interest in the club on all levels, be it scouting, player development or agents.”
How have the Jays done at previous winter meetings in Dallas?
In 2005 — one of the busier winter meetings — GM J.P. Ricciardi signed free agent A.J. Burnett (five-years, $55-million) and acquired first baseman Lyle Overbay, giving up former No. 1 picks Zack Jackson and Gabe Gross plus second-round pick David Bush. The week before the Jays had signed free-agent closer B.J. Ryan (five years, $47 million).
In 2000 the Jays goal was to re-sign shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Agents Jim Bronner and Bob Gilhooley, representing Gonzalez, battled GM Gord Ash until talks came to a standstill with a four year, $19.5 million offer.
Jays president Paul Godfrey took over, bumped the offer to $20 million, told the agents he would not go to their $24-million asking price and the deal was completed.
In 1987, besides the George Bell story, the week was dominated by GM Pat Gillick attempting to deal Jesse Barfield to the Dodgers for Bob Welch. There was doubt as to how serious the talks were in some quarters.
The night talks broke off I came around a corner to find then Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine yelling at former manager Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers: “You guys are DEAD WRONG! You have pitching, you don’t have anyone like Barfield!”
Barfield was dealt to the Yanks for Al Leiter, ending a 628-day inactive trade streak for the Jays. Welch was traded to the Oakland A’s where he won 84 games and a Cy Young award the next five years.
THE GEORGE BELL CONTRACT
At the 1987 winter meetings George Bell was coming off his MVP year and the Jays offered a one-year deal. Around midnight Toronto time I ran into Bell’s agent Randal Hendricks inside the Anatole Hotel in Dallas.
The agent said “either George gets a multi-year deal or he plays next year with the Jays and goes elsewhere as a free agent.”
The next day Bell was presented the Sporting News Player of the Year award. A TSN reporter cornered Hendricks asking “we understand you were quoted in a Toronto paper threatening Bell would leave — if we can believe the report.”
Standing in the background I gulped — Alan Eagleson once told me Ottawa was “not a big-league city.” I awoke the next day to hear his denials on CFRA.
“I have not read the paper, but I believe it to be 100% accurate, it was not a threat, a notification,” Hendricks said. The Jays gave Bell a multi-year deal two months later.