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No fire sale around this fireballer


No fire sale around this fireballer
There are rumours already, and there will be more because of the change at the top of Rogers Communications brought on by the passing of Ted Rogers and the interim status of Paul Beeston - considered a major sports domo-in-waiting for years.

But with Opening Night a little more than an hour away last night, Beeston perched himself in the corner of the empty Toronto Blue Jays dugout and made it clear that the team would not be in the position this year of embarking on a distress sale of players.

(In Montreal, the Expos used to refer to it as a fire sale. Annually, once Charles Bronfman stopped being owner.)

"I think we are in a position to grow for the future," the Blue Jays' interim president and chief executive officer said, before a surprisingly flat pre-game ceremony. "We have a lot of talent in the minor leagues. But we can also use that talent to acquire players, too."

The New York Yankees blew the doors off everybody in the free-agent market and the Boston Red Sox dabbled in discussions with the likes of Mark Teixeira. But you know what? Both teams are spending less money on payroll this year than they did last year. And Boston general manager Theo Epstein has already said publicly that he decided to keep some of his powder dry because he believes the economy is going to force teams into distress sales.

This weekend, the New York Post's Joel Sherman - who is well connected at the GM level - speculated that the Red Sox might be willing to take on the remaining $20-million (all currency U.S.) of Toronto closer B.J. Ryan's salary in order to expedite the acquisition of Alex Rios, who has six years and $63.6-million left on his multiyear deal (not including a club option for 2015.)

Beyond the source, it's an interesting concept: would the Red Sox, say, move Jason Bay, who is eligible for free agency and with whom the team has ceased negotiating? The Blue Jays, it is to be imagined, would need an arm in return. That freed-up money could be used to seriously explore re-signing Roy Halladay or go after multiple free agents.

General manager J.P. Ricciardi's eyes widened when asked about the report. "We haven't talked to them [the Red Sox], about that," Ricciardi said. "Honestly, I don't think we'll know a lot about what our payroll will be going forward until the end of the year. But I don't see our ownership doing that [forcing a distress sale]."

Beeston, who replaced Paul Godfrey at the end of last year, shared a quiet moment with manager Cito Gaston in the manager's office before the game, then emerged to rattle off a typically smooth television interview and slid over to the stands, where he signed autographs, posed with a beaming young woman with the good sense to have purchased a Travis Snider T-shirt, then exchanged good-natured jibes with a fan in a New York Yankees jacket.

The Blue Jays are going to be revenue-challenged this year, particularly if the team performs to its low level of expectations. They will be hurt by the Canadian dollar, and let's be honest: with the Rogers Centre set to "celebrate" its 20th anniversary on June 5, we'll all be spending an inordinate amount of time wondering how much life is left in it, especially with the Minnesota Twins moving from the Metrodome at the end of the year. This is going to be one long year of introspection.

"Attendance will go down, unless we're a contending team in August or September, in which case we might be able to pull ourselves out," Beeston said matter-of-factly, when asked about his expectations for the year. "That's due to the challenges of the economy, the perception that we did not improve the team - which I don't agree with ... but if we play hard and are entertaining, I think we'll bring the fans back. And if we contend ... we can get big crowds here, again."

The Blue Jays have had trouble hanging on to corporate sponsors. Beeston wouldn't get into specifics, but he did note: "We're no different than them. We've cut down on our advertising, too. We're trying to spend dollars more judiciously."

In his pre-game chat with the media, Gaston made a cryptic reference to hoping fans turn out "so they can help us keep our players." Neither Ricciardi nor Beeston read anything into it, and when Beeston was asked whether he felt there was a distraction imminent because of the status of Halladay - who is eligible for free agency at the end of next year, and who will take over from the Toronto Raptors' Chris Bosh in two weeks as the Toronto athlete whose psyche is most often probed - he shrugged and said, "Not if I know Roy."

Beeston has spoken to Halladay once about his contract: a 20-minute discussion at a dinner in spring training held for the players by Beeston and Rogers vice-presidents Phil Lind and Tony Viner. "I was president when he [Halladay] was drafted," Beeston said, as an aside. "I was the one who made contact with the Hendricks brothers [Halladay's former agents]."

It's early, but here's a prediction: the Blue Jays will make a significant, payroll-inspired move this year. And it won't involve Halladay.

jblair@globeandmail.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 7, 2009

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