Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
Not to get too provincial, but … what province were you thinking about?
How ‘bout Ontario? Who should fans of Your Blue Jays keep an eye on, as the best-of-five set unfolds? That’s assuming Rogers Communications opens the vault as they did after the 2012 season.
Two years ago the Jays attempted to sign free-agent Torii Hunter. The Detroit Tigers landed the outfielder and he’ll be playing Game 1. Unable to sign Hunter, the Jays went after Melky Cabrera. Hunter signed a two-year deal worth $26 million US, while the Jays gave Cabrera a two-year $16 million package.
Now, Hunter (17 homers, 83 RBIs, .286, .765 in 142 games), who turns 40 next July, and Cabrera (16 homers, 73 RBIs, .301, .908 in 139 games), who turns 30 next July, are free agents again.
With centre fielder Colby Rasmus and Cabrera likely out of the Jays price range, what about Hunter, who grew up in Arkansas worshipping Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson, who is “the reason I’m a ballplayer.”
So, after the Tigers win the World Series, would Hunter sign with the Jays?
“I haven’t really thought about next year yet, winning this round and the Series are my ultimate goals,” said the nine-time gold glove winner Wednesday at Camden Yards before his Detroit club worked out. “The Tigers would have right of first refusal. I don’t remember Toronto and us getting so close that we exchanged numbers (two years ago).”
Tigers boss Dave Dombrowksi moved quickly signing the Anaheim Angels free agent, 19 days after the San Francisco Giants swept Detroit in the Series. Hunter wanted to play for the Tigers. The Tabbies wanted Hunter. It was a matter of thrashing out the numbers.
“I don’t know the future. At this stage, I always say I’m playing 0-to-5 more years,” said Hunter.
Zero means retirement and five would likely mean two more contracts.
The Tigers’ Game 1 starter, Max Scherzer, is a free-agent too, but he already turned down a six-year, $144 million offer. We don’t see Rogers matching that number even if they throw proceeds from a mayoralty backers three-round, no-socks barred, boxing match: Mike Tyson vs. Paul Beeston, with corner man Howard Starkman.
DH Victor Martinez is free at last, and the New York Yankees are expected to make a push for the man who received MVP consideration after his productive year. The switch hitter, who turns 36 in December, had 33 doubles, 35 homers, 103 RBIs, and batted .335 with a .974 OPS.
Down the hall, Orioles GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have amassed the most talent in the AL East with plenty of free-agents: Nelson Cruz, the only slugger to hit 40 homers, reliable shortstop J.J. Hardy and right fielder Nick Markakis — if the O’s don’t pick up his option.
“So,” the 6-foot-7 Miller was asked, “after the Orioles win the World Series have you thought where you’ll pitch next year?”
“I’d by lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it, I’m trying to go out, get outs as quickly as I can,” said Miller. “I don’t want it to be a distraction.”
Would he be interested in Toronto, which has vacancies in the bullpen? And as closer Casey Janssen heads to the free-agent winter wonderland.
“I would never eliminate one team,” said Miller, a former first-round pick, who has pitched parts of nine seasons with the Tigers, Florida Marlins, Boston Red Sox and the Orioles. His preference? An AL East team.
After Miller said it was the best division, it was pointed out only one AL East team made the post season.
“The AL East is like SEC (Southeastern Conference) football, those teams always beat each other up,” said Miller, 29, of Gainesville, Fla. home of the Florida Gators, where he watched coach Steve Spurrier with Emmitt Smith, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.
“Our division has five teams that think they can win,” the Oriole reliever said. “You have the Yankees and Red Sox, Toronto has had some good days and the Rays are usually good. There are varying degrees of fan base and history.
“But every game means something.”
Miller, who brought his wife Katie and son to Toronto on the O’s last trip to finish the season, visiting Toronto Island, has done his part.
He’s 5-5 with a 2.02 ERA and one save in 73 games with Boston and the O’s this year. He’s held opposing hitters to a .153 average, walking 16 and fanning 103 in 62 1/3 innings.
Gentlemen … get ready to open your cheque books.
– Follow Bob Elliott on Twitter @elliottbaseball