TORONTO – Amid the maelstrom of excitement, emotion, stress and pressure created by the intersection of the 4 p.m. trade deadline and the first baseball game at Rogers Centre in 670 days, the Toronto Blue Jays made a choice with ramifications for years to come.
Bold trades converting prospect capital like Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson into present value like Jose Berrios were always going to be the next logical progression for the franchise after the mega-contract signing of George Springer last winter.
But the timing of that next step was never certain and getting it right is essential, because cashing in 12 years of two premium but untested talents for 1½ years of elite big-league performance at the wrong time can be perilously detrimental to the entire program.
That’s why the blockbuster GM Ross Atkins pulled off with the Minnesota Twins around noon Friday, hours before a 6-4 homecoming win over the Kansas City Royals, was described by one executive as “a little bit scary – for both sides.”
Berrios, 27, is an increasingly scarce commodity, a front-end starter with a blend of talent, durability and character that are exceedingly difficult to groom and even harder to acquire, either through trade or free agency. The Twins, described earlier in the week by another executive as “hoping a team will do something stupid,” may very well rue his loss.
But Martin, 22, has top percentile bat-to-ball skills and control of the strike zone, although where he fits on the diamond remains a question. And Woods Richardson, the key piece back from the New York Mets in the 2019 Marcus Stroman trade, is only 20, already at double-A and an American Olympian.
So this can go boom or bust for one, or both, and there’s no turning back for the Blue Jays now that they’ve sacrificed high-ceiling potential from their mix in 2023 and beyond to supplement the present with the best starter available not named Max Scherzer.
That this leap came during the best deadline seller’s market in recent memory, when executives suddenly abandoned their prospect hoarding and the teams the Blue Jays are chasing for the post-season all got demonstrably better, too, makes it even more significant.
Inflation struck the trade market. They didn’t flinch at the moment of truth.
“You’re trying not to,” Atkins said when asked if the deals made by others influenced his team’s deliberations. “You’re trying to discipline yourself, because I think any research you do, any studying you do about decision-making, about running a good business or running a good sports team, is about being disciplined and about being patient. In this case, we felt as though we were still doing that and felt as though the value was worth it.
“The opportunity to acquire Berrios was exciting for us and a very difficult decision, not something that we just walked into. Austin Martin will be a great player. Simeon Woods Richardson is going to be a great pitcher and we’re going to be pulling for them. This was just an opportunity that we wanted to take.”
The action Friday, and in the days leading up to the 4 p.m. cutoff, was dizzying and the returns in many deals staggering. Front and centre in that regard was the Chicago White Sox sending impressive but injured infielder Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer for a season and a half of Craig Kimbrel.
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave up their two best prospects plus two others to get Scherzer for the next two months plus shortstop Trea Turner through 2022, while the New York Mets gave up their first-round pick last year, Pete Crow-Armstrong, to rent Javy Baez.
The New York Yankees gave up six prospects ranked between 12 and 24 in their top 30 by Baseball America for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, and then traded two others for Andrew Heaney.
Even a middle-tier rental like Brad Hand, acquired by the Blue Jays from the Washington Nationals on Thursday, cost Riley Adams, a triple-A catcher with a chance to be a backup, while prying reliever Joakim Soria away from Arizona required two players to be named later.
Compared to the returns from recent summers, it was like baseball turned into the irrational Toronto real-estate market.
“As we were going through it, we felt as though the asks were very high compared to what we were accustomed to. And then as we saw moves occurring, it appeared that those asks were being met,” Atkins said. “It’s a hard thing to really pin down and say one reason why. There are subjective reasons with that excitement and energy around being, for us the first time back on our own home field, but throughout the game, people are just so excited to be playing baseball in front of fans again. That probably has some impact.
“But everything is a bit cyclical in the world and in business and maybe we’re seeing a bit of a shift here. It really is exciting to see this deadline. It was one of the more invigorating deadlines that I can recall in a while and that’s ultimately good for baseball.”
Another driving factor is that middle-tier contenders like the Blue Jays, who began the day with FanGraphs calculating their playoffs odds at 26 per cent, all decided to push in. Cincinnati, Atlanta and Philadelphia, each with playoff odds of 20 per cent or less, all made add trades, as well, when they could have justifiably gone the other way, adding pressure on the market.
Teams like Cleveland (the Blue Jays made a run at Jose Ramirez but it’s unclear how far that got), Miami, the Angels and even Minnesota could have sold far more aggressively and didn’t, providing more leverage for the Cubs, Nationals and Rangers, who reset their bases with massive hauls.
The frenzy counterintuitively turned the Blue Jays’ early strikes for Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson from the Marlins and Trevor Richards from Milwaukee into relative bargains, as teams didn’t have to back off their asks as the clock ticked down. That allowed them to stay in the market for Gallo and come close on a handful of other potential deals.
Take the six new pieces and add the looming return of Nate Pearson to the Blue Jays relief corps – he is “already full steam ahead in a bullpen, electric stuff again,” said Atkins – and perhaps Julian Merryweather, a desert oasis or mirage, depending on your outlook, and the roster got a sizable bump.
That all of it came just in time for the team’s homecoming only added to a uniquely memorable day. During the emotional pre-game ceremonies, the Blue Jays took the field via the centre-field fall, ran through two columns of intensive-care unit workers from Toronto General Hospital and lined the infield as a series of videos tugged at heartstrings.
It didn’t take long for fans to serenade players with the first “Let’s Go, Blue Jays” chants in the building since 2019, and for the first time this year the crowd was not only decisively behind them, but also vehemently against their opponents.
“Really emotional,” Bo Bichette said of the entry to the field. “I was looking at Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.), looking at Teo (Hernandez), everybody’s looking at each other like, man, I got the chills, I’m holding back tears, stuff like that. It’s hard to explain the feeling.
“We’ve just kind of been trying to pretend like we had a home and it’s difficult to do for two years. So when we finally came back here, it feels like definitely a big weight off our shoulders. Just super excited to be here.”
A crowd of 13,446, considered a sellout with a maximum of 15,000 people allowed in the building, kept at it all game long and the type of night the Blue Jays envisioned when they poured $150 million into Springer back in January came to life before them.
“Today, honestly, was one of my best days in baseball,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who later added: “We felt love.”
The goal is to repeat that feeling, over and over, which is why the Berrios symbolized so much on a day of renewal at Rogers Centre. Yes, the price was high, and yes, so is the risk, but as baseball returned to Toronto, the Blue Jays decided to live for here and now.
Canada’s Auger-Aliassime falls to Ruud in National Bank Open quarterfinals – Sportsnet.ca
Felix Auger-Aliassime stood at the back of the IGA Stadium hardcourt with one hand on his hip and a look of astonishment on his face.
Casper Ruud managed to get his racket on an overhead smash late in Friday’s quarterfinal at the National Bank Open, the return floating over Auger-Aliassime’s head and inside the baseline.
Auger-Aliassime scrambled back but his shot found the net. Nothing was working for him on this day — not even the tennis equivalent of a slam dunk — in a 6-1, 6-2 rout that lasted just 74 minutes.
“(My) first two matches were good, some positive things,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I never thought it would be ending like this today.”
The sixth-seeded Auger-Aliassime entered play without dropping a set this week but he came out flat on an overcast afternoon. Ruud, the No. 4 seed from Norway, wrapped up the first set in a brisk 36 minutes and took the partisan crowd out of the match.
Auger-Aliassime, from Montreal, made 21 unforced errors to just eight for Ruud, who advanced to his third Masters 1000 semifinal of the season.
“It was a perfect day for me at the office,” Ruud said.
Auger-Aliassime was the last Canadian remaining in the draw. Ruud who will next play No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-1 winner over Nick Kyrgios.
Auger-Aliassime was hoping to become the first Canadian to reach the semifinals at this ATP Tour event since Denis Shapovalov in 2017. The last Canadian to win this tournament was Robert Bedard in 1958.
“It’s super disappointing to lose any tournament like this and especially here,” Auger-Aliassime said.
Unseeded players were scheduled to play in the evening quarterfinals. American T
In a match between two unseeded players, Britain’s Daniel Evans defeated American Tommy Paul 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to advance.
Evans will next play Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, who defeated British qualifier Jack Draper 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the last of Friday’s quarterfinal matches.
Auger-Aliassime couldn’t get on track despite regular urging from the near-capacity crowd. He was shanking more shots than usual and his mistakes came at critical times.
With a powerful forehand and effective two-handed backhand, Ruud was clinical in his attack and relentless with pressure. Auger-Aliassime was forced to his heels and had to settle for a defensive style.
The Canadian gave up two quick breaks in the second set before finally holding serve to get to 1-4.
“To right away lose my service game, then another one … from three-love, it really felt like the worst possible outcome today,” Auger-Aliassime said. “At that point it gets really tough.
“I tried my best, but he was also getting more and more comfortable and confident, so then things get much more difficult.”
Earlier in the day, Hurkacz took advantage of two double-faults by Kyrgios early in the third set for the first service break of their match. He rolled from there to end the Australian’s nine-match winning streak.
“Nick is a super opponent, he can make every single shot,” Hurkacz said. “He doesn’t really have that many weaknesses, if any. I was just trying to serve (well) and stay aggressive.”
There was no wasted energy from Kyrgios, who played like he had a cab waiting outside the venue.
He’d usually bounce the ball just once and go right into his service motion. The pace of play agreed with Hurkacz, a six-foot-five right-hander who matched the Australian’s power game.
Both players had break opportunities but tiebreakers were needed to settle the first two sets.
Kyrgios, who dispatched defending champ and world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the second round, slowed in the third set and his serve lost some of its zip.
“I’m not a machine, I’m a human,” Kyrgios said. “My knees were sore, my back was sore, my abdominal (area) was sore. I was trying to stay moving, but I just stiffened up.”
Kyrgios entered play with wins in 15 of his last 16 matches, with the only defeat coming to Novak Djokovic in last month’s Wimbledon final.
The semifinals are set for Saturday and the final of the US$6.57-million tournament goes Sunday. The winner will earn just over $915,000.
Three Stars from Day 4 of WJC: Lysell, Sweden dominate all-European action – Sportsnet.ca
Sweden made its presence felt in an all-European matchday at the 2022 World Juniors.
The Junior Crowns established their dominance in Group B with a convincing 6-0 win over Austria. They will fight for a first-place finish in the group stage with the United States on Sunday.
Without two of their best young forwards, Red Wings eighth overall pick in 2022 Marco Kasper and Canadiens second-rounder Vinzenz Rohrer, Austria struggled against the Swedes. The good news for the Austrians is that there is no relegation in this rescheduled version of the World Junior Championship.
Slovakia salvaged their disappointing run in Edmonton by clinching their spot in the quarterfinal round.
The Slovaks — without the top two picks in the 2022 Draft in Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec — fell 5-4 against their Czech rivals then 11-1 against Canada earlier in the tournament. In their third game on Friday, Slovakia were held up by Latvia but finally took a 3-2 win in a shootout.
The loss means that Latvia will finish in the depths of the tournament. The Latvians can find solace in the fact that the country stood up to Slovakia and at least snagged away one point from their European counterparts.
Here is a look at the top performances from Day 4 of the World Juniors:
3rd star: Isak Rosen, Sweden
Sweden had yet to score on the power play at Rogers Place yet but Rosen rose to the occasion with one goal and one assist.
After a first period where the Swedes had 21 shots but only one goal, Rosen added a second goal to his tournament tally and broke their power play drought.
The Austrians forgot about the winger near the right faceoff circle. Fabian Lysell located Rosen with a cross-ice pass of his own and the young winger bagged in the one-timer on one knee.
Rosen later told Swedish media that this was an important goal for his country after they spent the pre-tournament and the first game of the WJC without scoring on the power play.
The Buffalo Sabres prospect is known for his strong shot but he also has quite the passing ability. Rosen used his physicality to impose himself and get Sweden another goal.
The 19-year-old dispossessed Austria’s Tim Geifes along the boards and then found his captain Emil Andrae with a swift cross-ice pass to notch his country’s fourth goal of the game.
Rosen will cross the pond to North America for the first time for the upcoming season. The wingers will play for the Rochester Americans of the AHL and be yet another addition to the young Sabres pipeline.
Honourable mention: Slovakia’s Adam Sykora blew away the few fans in attendance with a flash of brilliance to get his country levelled 1-1 in the first period. He skated his way past a defenceman then made a give-and-go play with Jakub Demek to fool Lativian goalie Bruno Bruveris.
Slovakia will try to channel the relief from their shootout win against the high-flying Finns on Sunday. On their end, the Latvians will hope to hold another close game on Sunday against Czechia.
2nd star: Emil Andrae, Sweden
A defenceman with two goals in a single game is always worth mentioning. Emil Andrae returned to the ice after a season-ending injury with HV71 and helped his team find another gear in the second period.
The 54th overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2021 was touted as a blueliner that can play on both sides of the puck and proved it against Austria.
Sweden’s captain scored twice in the span of 1:05 to keep the Austrians at bay and secure the victory.
The five-foot-nine defenceman took advantage of Rosen’s forced turnover to score his first goal. Andrae found himself in a perfect position to utilize his heavy wrister on the power play.
Andrae added his second goal from the point with another wrist shot directed in traffic to get Sweden up by four goals. The captain chipped in a late secondary assist in the third period to finish the game with three points and a plus-2 differential.
1st star: Fabian Lysell, Sweden
On an all-European afternoon, Fabian Lysell made his experience of North American ice felt. The winger made sure to remind hockey fans that the Boston Bruins drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Lysell finished the game with one goal and one assist. He joins his teammates Rosen and Andrea as Sweden’s leading scorers with three points each.
The winger may have missed a penalty shot but he bounced back admirably with a goal a few seconds later.
From a very tight angle, Lysell found the tiniest bit of space above Austrian netminder Sebastian Wraneschitz’s shoulder to score Sweden’s fifth of the game.
The winger showed that his game isn’t too far away from the NHL and that he doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. The Swede, who is used to North American ice playing for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, crashed Wraneschitz’s net early on in the game in an attempt to kickstart Sweden’s domination.
Lysell and his country-mates will need to keep the pace up as Sweden looks to take on the Americans on Sunday and the surprising Germans on Monday.
Joshua Roy off to a hot start at the World Juniors – Habs Eyes on the Prize
The Montreal Canadiens have several prospects in action at this summer’s World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton. In today’s episode of Habsent Minded Extra, I’m taking a look at how fifth-rounder Joshua Roy has become a key member of the powerhouse Canadians in their quest for gold.
He has played most of his minutes so far on the top line with Mason McTavish and Connor Bedard. That trio has been relied upon to drive offense for the team so far, and while their initial contest against Latvia was somewhat lukewarm, they exploded against Slovakia on Thursday night.
In a selfless act, Roy gave up a chance at a breakaway and his first goal of the tournament by passing to McTavish, and insisting that the latter take his attempt at notching the hat trick, which he did.
#GoHabsGo Joshua Roy is an exemplary teammate.
Foregoes a breakaway and dishes to Mason McTavish, and points to the net, letting him know he doesn’t want it back and wants his linemate to go for the hatty.
He gets the hatty. pic.twitter.com/Sv1nPXHVm9
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) August 11, 2022
With the game well in hand for Canada in the third period, head coach Dave Cameron brought out the line blender. This saw Roy shifted down in the lineup to play with Islanders prospect William Dufour, and Senators prospect Zack Ostapchuk. An eyebrow raiser at first given Roy’s performance, but it yielded results almost immediately.
Roy scored his first goal of the tournament, and added an assist on an Ostapchuk goal to finish with four points against Slovakia, tying him for second in tournament scoring behind McTavish.
Whether that line blending sticks or not, Roy showed in this game is that he can produce wherever they put him in the lineup. With Dufour and Ostapchuk, he actually gets to play more of a similar trigger-man role that he’s used to in Sherbrooke, and it may even help his overall production.
His selflessness, and acceptance of a checking and puck retrieval role with the top guns means they can put him right back on that top line as well. After barely missing out on the roster for the ill-fated December 2021 tournament, he has established himself as a versatile tool for team Canada.
That versatility should earn him plenty of playing time for the remainder of this tournament, and could make him a no-brainer for a big role with the team when they reconvene in December for the next one.
Click the play button below to listen to my full thoughts on Roy’s hot start ahead of tonight’s game against Czechia.
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