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The Blue Jays, Reds, A's and Diamondbacks have completed the first big deal of the winter meetings. Oakland got the guy they wanted -- Erubiel Durazo, who Billy Beane called his "Holy Grail" -- and Toronto will receive at least one terrific prospect, an excellent return for Felipe Lopez, who didn't fit into the Jays' plans anyway. The identity of the Oakland prospect(s) can't be officially revealed until after tomorrow's Rule 5 draft, but it's no secret. There have been several conflicting reports; ESPN first made it sound like the Jays were getting three youngsters, and it's still unclear whether it's one or two.

In BB #59 I already stated my enthusiastic endoresement of Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin, as reasonable value for Orlando Hudson, who was then rumoured to be going to Colorado. When the big Matt Williams-for-Larry Walker deal collapsed, so did that three-way plan. Give J.P. Ricciardi and Billy Beane credit for keeping this one alive, and selling it to their gullible counterparts in Arizona and Ohio.

In fact, this is better news for Toronto fans than the previous idea. The Jays still have Hudson, instead of the undisciplined (on and off the field) Lopez.
For the second time in a week, I'm surprised to find myself agreeing with Richard Griffin, who argues there is plenty of room in Cooperstown for flawed superstars, like Dimaggio, Ruth, Cobb and Pete Rose. While the Star columnist is usually way off base (blinded by jealousy?) when he "analyzes" the Blue Jays, he presents a rational case for the Hit King's reinstatement.

After 20 years in an industry that calls itself "sports and entertainment" while 100% dependent on gambling, I have some relevant experience and a couple of thousand words to say on the subject, but am not sure Batter's Box is the proper forum for Rose discussion, or if anyone cares what one old coach thinks about the topic, which polarizes otherwise reasonable people.

I laughed out loud at Jim Caple's column imagining the next Pete/Bud summit meeting. That's precisely how contrite and sincere Rose would be, and why he should never be permitted to hold a position that might affect a game. He shouldn't be a manager, coach or umpire, but he'd be a lot more interesting on Sportsnet than Faulds and Cerutti.
Monday, we'll see if Scott Wiggins or any other Blue Jays get claimed in the annual Rule 5 draft. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo explains the rule in detail, but here's the nitty-gritty:

"A player who is 18 when he's signed can spend four seasons in an organization before he has to be protected. Anyone who is 19 or older must be protected after three years. Once past that time of service, a prospect must be put on the 40-man roster if his organization wants to keep him from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
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Exactly a third of MLB clubs changed field bosses in the recent, unprecedented game of musical managers. Imagine the new guys, squaring off in 162-game prize fights…
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Chris Carpenter decided this afternoon to reject the Jays' contract offer.
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Greg Myers has signed a one-year deal with the Jays. Details from the team's official website are here.

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The Toronto Sun had a full 2 1/2 pages devoted to baseball today, most of it Bob Elliott's preview of the Winter Meetings. Nothing much of substance, but it sure is long. Erubiel Durazo's name keeps popping up, and popping up...

Mike Rutsey also reported that Chris Carpenter got an extension until 3:00 tomorrow to accept or decline the offer from the Blue Jays. I've felt all along that Carp would leave if he got a better deal, but maybe he's not in demand. The most optimistic projection is that he could be pitching in July, but I doubt that would be at 100% effectiveness, or in the rotation, so don't expect a major contribution from him next year.
"The players' worst fears are unfolding. The owners are in the driver's seat back to self-control."

So sez Richard Griffin today in the Star. I am quick to criticize Griffin for inconsistencies and biases, but when he isn't slinging mud at the local team, Rich often has some provocative thoughts, and he builds a strong argument around the Rangers letting Pudge walk, then hits a bullseye:

"The most talented free agents in this crop must feel bushwhacked by the sudden availability of a talented Expos core group of players offered by cost-cutting MLB ownership. Conflict of interest? No doubt."

Yesterday on the Transaction Oracle thread about Steve Finley, someone posted "Call the 1-800-COLLUSION complaint line. Oh wait, that number's not in service yet." I suggested calls to that number should be forwarded to Scott Boras' office. This "correction" in the baseball economy is a response by the teams to the new CBA that has gone further, sooner, than many of us expected, but it will take one greedy owner to start a stampede in the opposite direction. Until then, though I'm not implying management is doing anything illegal, we're almost back to the days of the great Andre Dawson signing a blank contract. The smart and flexible teams will get the "right" bargains, so the Jays are well positioned to improve.
Baseball-Reference.com, the authoritative online location for comprehensive baseball stats, has posted the final 2002 statistics, including those of your Toronto Blue Jays. Here's a few observations:
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Huh? Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago that Randy St. Claire was spirited away from my hometown Ottawa Lynx to become Syracuse's pitching coach? Now comes word that Tom Filer has been brought in to replace St. Claire. I've never heard of a guy being hired and fired in the same off-season before. Maybe someone can shed some light on the situation? BTW, yes, that's the same Tom Filer who went 7-0 with the '85 Blue Jays. Maybe he and Doug Linton can reminisce about the good times.

Also, Merv Rettenmund was hired as the Skychiefs' hitting instructor. Rettenmund, formerly the batting coach for a number of big-league teams, most recently the Tigers, Braves and Padres, is an interesting hire, to say the least. He's said to emphasize plate discipline, but the teams he's been advising haven't walked a great deal and haven't scored a lot of runs: last year's Tigers posted an incredible .300 OBP and .679 team OPS, while the previous year's Braves produced .324 and .736 lines. He was supposed to help Andruw Jones make the next step up in Atlanta, but after some early success, he regressed (though there's always been some question about Jones' coachability). You can find a number of sabrmetric people who don't think much of Merv Rettenmund, so this hiring surprises me a little. I'm looking forward to finding out more about it.
From Roch Kubatko of the Baltimore Sun: "an Orioles official denied that the club was trying to send pitcher Sidney Ponson to the Toronto Blue Jays for Felipe Lopez. But the switch-hitting shortstop could be obtained in the right deal. Lopez, who just completed his second season in the majors, batted .227 in 85 games and lost his starting job to Chris Woodward."

The O's make this sound like Toronto's idea. The Orioles also want Rey Ordonez; how funny is that? Here's the full column.

Best baseball article on the Internet today? Aaron Gleeman's Class of 2003 on his blog. There's already a lengthy and spirited discussion on Primer, but if Batter's Box regulars want to take a swing at this one, go right ahead.

I have trouble leaving Bruce Sutter out if Tommy John gets in, and I'm prone to thinking of players from the "wouldn't it be great to have him on my team" perspective, so Mattingly is a hero. And Jack Morris would beat Kaat or Blyleven in any meaningful game; he just would. So it's not necessarily Aaron's conclusions I'm applauding, but it's recommended as an enjoyable read.
The Blue Jays are considering "variable" pricing, where tickets to the most attractive games by opponent, date and/or time suddenly become more expensive. There is no mention in today's Star article of how much cheaper seats might be for matinee D-Rays and Orioles and Tigers and Royals games, but this plan, which scalpers have used for ages, is being spun as an incentive to boost attendance at those events.

About a quarter of MLB teams have already adopted this approach, a clever way to boost revenues. If it costs season-ticket holders more -- a near certainty -- it's also a cash grab from your best existing customers, which won't be very popular. I don't have season tickets, but will vote with my feet at the box office. This type of "marketing" is up there with the famous Rogers "negative billing option" and Sympatico's rude treatment of their core Internet customers, imposing a bandwidth charge. I'll see you at the Dome for the bargain series, and watch the premium games on TV if this ever happens in Toronto.
So much for the Cruz and Lopez-or-Hudson to San Francisco plan; the Giants added Marquis Grissom (is Felipe the GM now?) and Ray Durham yesterday. Their arbitration offer to Jeff Kent seems a mere formality, but JK could move to first or third, and Durham to CF, so temporarily, they have depth where I thought they were most in need of help. Of course, if the plan is to actually play Grissom and Neifi Perez and get rid of Rich Aurilia, the moves may be Sabean's undoing.

Durham and Jim Thome going to the NL has made my AL Roto team better, as I didn't own either, but two rivals lost keepers. It leaves me wondering who the second best fantasy 2B is now, and if there's a bigger gap between the best and the rest at any other position.

The Yankees deciding to let Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza walk was interesting; one is aging but effective (note to Ed Wade: a lot better option than Dan Plesac!) and the other may not be 100% sound, so even the Yankees are getting cost-conscious, and Cashman hasn't exactly committed to the Rocket, merely kept his options alive.

And of course, there's Pudge. The Rangers, in addition to calling Kenny Rogers' bluff and letting "The Gambler" go, have simply turned their backs on a 10-time all-star and future Hall-of-Famer.
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Before the day is out, I would like to send, from all of us, a quick "Happy Birthday" wish to Vernon Wells.

Long may he reign.