Avoiding The Silly Season
Alex Anthopoulos and Brian Burke know one another, and have compared notes from time to time on the differences and similarities between the industries in which they work.
What Anthopoloulos is dealing with today, Burke was dealing with on July 1st, and that's the inflated expectations of a fan base that has put up with years of mediocrity and now wants to see instant additions to the roster capable of transforming the team into a winner.
Yep, it's free agent time in baseball. And just as Burke had Leaf Nation in full throat back in July calling for millions to be thrown at Brad Richards - however many millions it would take to lure Richards to Toronto - Anthopoloulos now has dreams of Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Jonathan Papelbon dancing in the heads of Jays supporters.
The scenarios are worth comparing, particularly since both Toronto's hockey and baseball teams are young squads hoping to become winners.
The Leafs, and Burke, were bashed from pillar to post for failing to sign Richards, who went, just as everyone expected, to the New York Rangers. Burke was in Afghanistan visiting Canadian troops, in constant contact with his large crew of advisors and assistants at the home office, but was still visited with absurd allegations that he was somehow neglecting his duties at home, the proof being that Richards wasn't signed.
Well, the Leafs did end up signing Tim Connolly, and added a few pieces. None broke the bank, none have yet been particularly impactful. In fact, the most significant addition since the end of last season may have been David Steckel. Yet despite failing to make a huge splash in free agency last July, the team is off to a terrific start, perhaps suggesting that those who screamed that all was lost because Richards became a Blueshirt might have been off the mark a little. Indeed, seeing Richards second on the Rangers cap at $6.666 million per season until the completion of the 2019-20 campaign might make you blanche, particularly given his (52nd in league scoring) and New York's performance in the very early parts of this season.
He was probably going to the Rangers the whole way, but in the end, the length and sheer size of the deal didn't make sense to the Leafs, and they dropped out. Maybe they never really had a shot, but as of now, they're not regretting it.
That's the thing about free agency. As shiny as the available baubles might look, it still has to make sense.
So if Pujols wants 10 years at $200 million, Rogers probably has the dough, but would it make any sense? That's the kind of question Anthopolous has to deal with at a time when expectations are extremely high that he will be able to to significantly enhance his roster between now and the end of the baseball winter meetings in December.
If he does nothing, or something small, there will be disappointment. He'll just have to suck it up for now and wait until the hunting is more fruitful. But over-paying just to make the fans feel better makes no sense. As a hockey man of note once said, start listening to the fans too much, and you'll end up sitting with them. Or maybe it wasn't a hockey man. Seems a maxim that applies to all sports.
We'll see what happens with the Jays. The baseball free agent financial numbers are high, there are many needy and deep-pocketed bidders, and the appeal of Toronto as a destination for major leaguers is unclear. Anthopoulos has multiple needs - closer, second baseman etc. - which makes it trickier to prioritize and apportion dollars to specific needs and players.
Good thing Tony LaCava's sticking around. He's clearly what Dave Nonis is to Burke, the sombre voice of reason and second thought, something GMs need at this time of the year when it's easy to make a very large, and very expensive error.