In Major League Baseball, there always seems to be repetitiveness, a familiarity to every off-season that tends to include the same basic ingredients and formulas.
One, the Yankees and Dodgers will dominate the rumour mills and will be predicted as an eventual landing spot for any of the big-name free-agents.
Two, agent Scott Boras will make a grand entrance at the winter meetings, holding court with an enthralled audience of reporters. Then he will hold out his star free agents du jour, letting the market set itself before making a decision on contracts usually terrific for the player but not so much for the team he signs with.
And finally, the Blue Jays will be selling hope to the fan-base, suggesting that good health and some career seasons is all they need to compete.
But this winter seems different.
Following is one man’s opinion of the top-5 surprises that have taken place in since the Kansas City Royals surprised the confident New York Mets to capture their first World Series since 1985.
1. Alex Anthopoulos resigns as Blue Jays GM
Whoever was to blame for this organizational debacle — i.e. Rogers ownership — one has to admire Anthopoulos for remaining true to his principles and not accepting a subservient role to incoming president Mark Shapiro. This, even though he did not have the traditional fallback of a contract buyout nor were there any openings for general managers with other MLB teams he could immediately move into.
It’s not Shapiro’s fault for accepting the responsibility of final say on player acquisition moves — it was a promise made to him before the Jays went on their improbable run that made a national hero out of the young Canadian GM.
Maybe we should have known something was wrong when the Jays made no grandstand move to extend Anthopoulos as GM even after they had clinched a playoff spot, won the division and then the division series.
Anthopoulos’ misgivings about diminished power rang true when he was reportedly offered a one-year deal plus an option by Shapiro. Then, in desperation according to sources, AA was offered a five-year, $10 million deal but with no promise of final say on player moves. Again, sources indicated that would be a substantial bump from the $800,000 he had been earning.
2. David Price signs with Red Sox
We are not fooling ourselves into believing there was any chance the Jays were going to re-sign Price at the seven years, $217 million he received from David Dombrowski and the Boston Red Sox. That may have been one of the main factors in Rogers taking power away from Anthopoulos; they didn’t even want the perception of having pursued Price.
When the sixth-year GM traded for Price from the Detroit Tigers and gave up three top pitching prospects, his goal was not only to win the division but to take a serious run at extending Price, who loved his teammates and Jays fans. But on the open market, the ace left-hander couldn’t give any home team discount because of his responsibilities to the players’ union and future MLB free agents.
Watching on TV, it was funny watching the press conference at Fenway Park with Price, his family and girlfriend Tiffany in the interview room playing nice because of the sweet new contract with the new team. Recall it was just over two years ago Tiffany famously sent out an angry tweet that read: “Convinced that there must be a written rule that in order to be a Red Sox fan you have to be a complete and utter POS. Wow!”
Gee, hope they didn’t take it personally.
3. Zack Greinke leaves Dodgers, signs with D’backs
The Valley of the Sun is a fine destination for free agents — see Randy Johnson back in the day — but when Greinke opted out of his huge contract after three years with the Dodgers, MLB insiders said it was either back to his old club or up the coast to the San Francisco Giants. And perhaps, as a long-shot candidate, the Cardinals; three teams that needed and would be willing to pay a starting ace of Greinke’s stature.
As for the Diamondbacks, they had lopped $24 million off their opening day payroll between 2014-15, down to $88.1 million, and their highest-paid player of the moment was former Jays infielder Aaron Hill at $12 million for 2016. All of a sudden, GM Dave Stewart shocked the world by spending $206.5 million guaranteed over six seasons for Greinke — the highest annual average value for any player in MLB history. The NL West suddenly became a three-team race.
4. Marlins hire Barry Bonds as hitting coach
The last time I saw Barry Bonds was at the 2014 NLCS in San Francisco. It was early morning prior to a day game in the service tunnel outside the home clubhouse at AT&T Park. I was walking towards the elevator to the press box, and there was Bonds frantically jiggling the handle of the clubhouse, slamming an open hand on the door. He turned sheepishly as I walked by and said, “Good morning, Barry.”
It seemed comically ironic at the time, as if the game’s all-time home run champ with the PED past was trying to gain entry back into baseball and nobody would answer the door. Now he’s truly back as a hitting coach with an opportunity to re-introduce himself to the game as a human being, as the all-American guy he was with the Pirates. He’s on my Hall of Fame ballot.
5. Yankees trade for Aroldis Chapman
Adding a third closer is like carrying Darnell Coles to Newcastle. The Bronx Bombers already have closer-in-waiting Dellin Betances, current closer Andrew Miller, named the top reliever in the AL last season, and now have added the hardest throwing reliever in baseball in Chapman.
The belief is Yankees GM Brian Cashman is setting up another deal — maybe Miller for a starting pitcher — however with that three-man bullpen, they may be able to get by with a couple of starters that simply go twice through an opposing order then hand over the ball.
The AL East is another division that clearly has become a three-team race, with the Blue Jays favoured to win the bronze.
But there are three months to opening day, with more surprises to come.