TORONTO – One day after a series of injuries created some unwelcome questions for the Toronto Blue Jays, a different kind of challenge awaited team decision makers.
At this point, there’s little to be done about Kirby Yates, who will likely miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But injuries to George Springer (oblique strain) and Robbie Ray (bruised elbow) must be managed carefully in the eight days remaining before the season opener and there appears to be genuine interest in pursuing outside help, too.
On the field, the Blue Jays beat the Yankees 5-0 in a game started by Trent Thornton Wednesday. But behind the scenes, bigger questions loom for the team that spent more on free agents than any of its rivals over the winter. To answer them, coaches and club executives will spend the next week gathering information on various fronts.
Once the Blue Jays have answers to the questions below, their path forward will become much clearer.
Will Springer be ready for the opener?
First up for Springer: a few days of rest. Best-case scenario, that helps and he’s ready to go for opening day.
If not, though, the Blue Jays have a couple of options. One: roster Springer but ease him into action with a start at DH and an early day off. Or two: place him on the injured list.
It’s far from ideal, and certainly not what anyone envisioned when Springer landed the largest contract in franchise history, but that six-year, $150-million deal makes the 31-year-old a core player for this franchise. Pushing him to his physical limits in March of the first year of the deal isn’t exactly ideal, either.
If the Blue Jays were to open the season with Springer on the IL, he’d be able to come back after just six games. Teams can backdate 10-day IL stints to March 29 and the Blue Jays have an early-season off day, so Springer could be eligible as soon as the third series of the season if needed.
In that scenario, they’d have a more-than-capable starting outfield of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez and might carry an additional outfielder like Jonathan Davis for depth. Alternatively, Breyvic Valera or Josh Palacios could get looks for that outfield role, but it all comes down to how Springer progresses.
Will Ray be ready for the first week?
If Ray progresses as expected, he’ll be part of the Blue Jays’ season-opening rotation. If not, manager Charlie Montoyo could ask Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch or Thornton to make a start, but of course that has a chance to impact the team’s big-league bullpen and minor-league depth.
Asked Wednesday whether he’d rather pitch out of the MLB bullpen or stretch out for a potential starting role without the benefit of a big-league roster spot, Thornton was clear.
“I want to pitch in the big-leagues,” he said. “Without a doubt. No hesitation. Whatever the team needs, I just want to help the team win. Obviously, I’d love to be a starter, but I just want to pitch in the big leagues. It finally feels so good to get back out on the mound and compete, feel that adrenaline. So yeah, it’s pretty easy to answer.”
As the Blue Jays build their pitching staff, they’ll need capable big-league arms to help them through an early season stretch of 16 consecutive games. That likely means a nine-man bullpen at times. But some of those pitchers will have to be stretched out to ensure a layer of starting depth exists behind the big-league rotation.
What’s out there in trades?
Even before the injuries to Yates, Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff could have benefitted from addition depth. Now, that need is more pronounced and the Blue Jays will explore ways of raising the floor and ceiling of their pitching staff, according to GM Ross Atkins.
“(We) need to factor this in and consider if we need to be more aggressive as it relates to acquisitions before the trade deadline,” Atkins said Tuesday. “We’ve been working on that. We’ll revisit that in a more assertive way.”
Many veteran pitchers have contract outs this time of year, and out-of-options players can be available in trades. Regardless of where it comes from, there’s certainly a need for reinforcements.
In the meantime, there’s opportunity for the likes of Anthony Castro, who pitched another scoreless inning Wednesday while improving his Grapefruit League strikeout to walk ratio to 13:1.
“He’s in the conversation,” Montoyo said. “He’s been outstanding.”
How do the Blue Jays manage their 40-man roster?
Lost in the injury news is the question of which catchers are on the Blue Jays roster. If Alejandro Kirk’s strong spring performance has earned him a spot on the team, that means exposing Reese McGuire to waivers. There’s some risk in that, but depending on the answers to the questions above, the Blue Jays may actually need to open multiple 40-man spots.
Here’s how it breaks down. At present, their 40-man is full, but they’ll free up one spot easily when they transfer Yates to the 60-day IL. Yet all of Joe Panik, Francisco Liriano, Tim Mayza and A.J. Cole would require roster spots if added, meaning countermoves would be needed.
Simply put, the more non-roster players the Blue Jays want to carry, the more room they have to make elsewhere.
UEFA threaten to ban breakaway clubs from all competitions
By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – European soccer‘s governing body UEFA has warned clubs linked to a breakaway Super League that they face being banned from domestic and international competitions if they set up a rival to the Champions League.
In a joint statement https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/mediaservices/mediareleases/news/0268-12121411400e-7897186e699a-1000–statement-by-uefa-english-fa-rfef-figc-premier-league-laliga-le with Spanish, English and Italian leagues and federations, UEFA said it will consider “all measures”, including the courts and bans from domestic leagues, in opposition to plans for a breakaway competition.
UEFA said it had learnt that clubs from those countries “may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League”.
“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we….(and) also FIFA and all our member associations – will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” UEFA said.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way,” the statement added.
In January, FIFA had said that a breakaway league would not be recognised and that “any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation” – meaning players would be banned from the World Cup.
Sunday’s UEFA statement said: “The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)
Netherlands and Poland seal narrow Billie Jean King Cup playoff wins
In Den Bosch, the Dutch were without world number 11 Kiki Bertens for the second day because of injury and found themselves trailing China 2-1 after Wang Xiyu beat Lesley Kerkhove in Saturday’s opening singles.
But Aranxta Rus beat Wang Xinyu to level the tie and then teamed up with Demi Schuurs to defeat Zhang Shuai and Zu Yifan to send the hosts through.
It was equally tight in Poland where the hosts were pushed to the brink by Brazil.
Brazil’s Carolina Meligeni Alves took the tie into a deciding doubles with a win over Katarzyna Kawa but the Poles prevailed 3-2 as Kawa and Magdalena Frech came back from a set down to beat Meligeni Alves and Luisa Stefani.
Kazakhstan also won a deciding rubber to see off Argentina.
Britain led 2-0 overnight against Mexico in London but Marcela Zacarias beat Heather Watson to keep alive the tie.
Katie Boulter proved too strong for Giuliana Olmos though to clinch the tie for the hosts.
Italy beat Romania 3-1 while Canada‘s teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez sealed her country’s path as she gave her side an unassailable 3-0 lead over Serbia thanks to a three-set win over Nina Stojanovic.
Ukraine eased past Japan 4-0 while Anastasija Sevastova secured Latvia’s 3-1 victory over India.
The eight winners move forward to next year’s qualifying round where they will hope to reach the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals.
The old Fed Cup was re-branded last year and named after the American great and 12-times Grand Slam singles champion who won the inaugural tournament nearly 60 years ago.
This year’s 12-team Finals were postponed because of the pandemic and a new date has yet to be finalised.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)
Motor racing-Canadian Grand Prix cancelled for second year
(Reuters) -The Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been cancelled for the second year in a row, CBC Radio reported on Thursday although Formula One said discussions remained ongoing.
With the spread of new COVID-19 variants and Canada battling to contain a third wave of the virus, Montreal public health authorities concluded that even if run behind closed doors without spectators the risks were too high, reported the CBC.
F1 officials, according to the CBC, wanted to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers and rely on private medical staff and have the entire operation run in a bubble.
The race is scheduled to follow on immediately from Azerbaijan, whose grand prix is scheduled for June 6 in Baku and is due to go ahead after also being cancelled last year.
“We are continuing our discussions with the promoter in Canada and have no further comment,” an F1 spokesperson told Reuters.
The Autosport website quoted a spokesperson for the Canadian promoter as saying the radio report referred to “a document of recommendations from public health.
“We as an organisation have not had confirmation from our public health officials and won’t comment until we get an official confirmation.”
Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, obliges its citizens and residents arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.
International arrivals are required to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel.
One of Canada‘s biggest sporting events, it would mark the second consecutive year the grand prix has been removed from the F1 schedule due to the spread of COVID-19.
Media reports have suggested Turkey is on standby to be slotted in as Canada‘s replacement.
The Istanbul circuit is logistically convenient for freight coming from Baku and was brought in last year also at short notice to bolster a calendar ravaged by the pandemic.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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