For the Thrill of It: Jays quiet as Winter Meetings wrap

Will Hill
12/10/2009 10:34:00 AM
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The Winter Meetings have drawn to a close.  The big TV networks have torn down their sets and lights.  The lobby, which had been jammed by executives, media types and job seekers for three full days, is all but empty now.  The absolute top priority for top club officials at this moment isn't a trade or talks with a free agent, but rather a ride to the airport.  The Toronto Blue Jays new GM got the jump on all of them.  Alex Anthopoulos was gone from the hotel by the time I arrived around 8:15 am. 

When these meetings opened back on Monday, there was some thought Anthopoulos and the Jays would be the centre of attention in Indianapolis.  On the morning of the first day, a longtime friend of mine who works with ESPN saw me and said, "Hey, good year to make your Winter Meetings media debut.  Your team is going to be making some news".  I saw that same friend again late last night and he just shrugged and shook his head with a sympathetic smile.

In truth, the Jays made no news whatsoever here.  And forget about being the centre of attention....Alex Anthopoulos got hardly any attention at all, largely because he spent almost all of these meetings holed up in his hotel room.

So, let's review the state of the AL East at the end of these meetings.

The Yankees have improved themselves significantly with the addition of All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson.  Granderson ranked sixth in all of baseball last year with 25 home runs hit to right field.  That was playing largely in spacious Comerica Park.  Now this extraordinary pull hitter is going to a homer-friendly stadium known for its short porch in right.

The improving Orioles acquired innings-eater Kevin Millwood to anchor their otherwise young pitching staff.  Millwood has logged five seasons with 200 or more innings pitched and just missed out on a sixth this last year.  He finished 2009 with 198.2 IP.

The Rays, according to reports, have obtained hard-throwing Rafael Soriano from the Braves.  This certainly addresses one of Tampa's pressing needs -- help at the back end of the bullpen.  Soriano struck out 102 batters in 75.2 innings of relief work last season in Atlanta.

Even the Red Sox made a couple of minor transactions.

As for the Jays....well they've had "a lot of talks", a "bunch of balls in the air" and a "lot on our plate".  This is what we heard over and again from Anthopoulos on the occasions in which he's emerged from his suite for daily media briefings (If you don't believe me, just go the video player on the far right side of the MLB page and listen to some of the clips).  Those briefings were held in the hotel room of the Jays PR director.  Presumably this was done to keep the GM's room location a closely guarded secret throughout the proceedings.  Forget about where Roy Halladay is headed -- finding out where Anthopoulos was staying was actually the biggest source of mystery during these meetings.

As for Halladay - there was plenty of speculation here from reporters as to where he might be traded and for whom.  But there never really was much to it.  Even Cito Gaston in his media briefing made it abundantly clear that he has no clue where Doc might be headed, or if he'll even be dealt at all before Spring Training 

And then came news this morning - Joey Gathright as a Jay?  If the great Bob Elliott puts it down in print, then I'm sorely tempted to believe it, even in the face of repeated denials from both the Jays and the player's agent.  But, really, Joey Gathright?  There's a good reason he struggled for playing time in both Tampa and Kansas City, in years in which they ranked among the worst teams in baseball.  He has 212 career strikeouts and only 96 walks.  Yes, he has remarkable speed on the basepaths.  The problem he has lies in getting on those basepaths in the first place.  The acquisition of a fourth outfielder (if it does come to pass) is hardly a cause for celebration, especially viewed in light of the quality players obtained by the Yankees, Orioles and Rays during this industry-wide gathering.

So Toronto fans can call this four-day session in Indianapolis the Winter Meetings of our Discontent.  And for baseball fans across Canada looking for some hope, some source of optimism, that snow outside suddenly seems a little deeper and the winter months a little longer.

Jays add Zinicola in Rule 5 Draft -10am

The last event of a rather uneventful set of Winter Meetings was the Rule 5 Draft. How important is the Rule 5? Well, consider this -- Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was already out the door of the hotel en route to the airport before a selection was even made.

When the draft got underway, the Blue Jays fittingly enough went back to Syracuse for help from the farm, selecting right-handed pitcher Zech Zinicola. Of course, for more than 30 years, Syracuse stood as the Class AAA affiliate of the Jays. Now, the SkyChiefs are the top farm club for the Washington Nationals.

Zinicola, a 24-year-old product of Arizona State University, pitched to a combined record of 1-2 with a 5.33 ERA over two levels of the minor league baseball in 2009. What seems promising is that he struck out 31 batters in 33.1 innings of work at the Triple A level, while issuing just 10 walks. He was the Nats sixth round pick in 2006.

Here's what you need to know about this selection. The Blue Jays will pay a fee of $50,000 to the Nationals for the rights to Zinicola. They are obliged to keep him on their roster for the duration of this season.  If they don't, he must be returned to the Nationals for $25,000 or alternative arrangements can be made between the clubs.

The Rule 5 proved especially useful in the early years of the Blue Jays organization, landing George Bell, Kelly Gruber and Willie Upshaw in Toronto. Since 1985 though, the Jays have only picked 18 players in the Rule 5, none of whom every truly amounted to much. Nearly half of those selections were returned to their original clubs.

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