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Blue Jays’ free-agent groundwork could soon yield payoffs –



TORONTO – About a month into the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays have surveyed the landscape, done their legwork and apparently have their budget for 2021. Now, general manager Ross Atkins says, they’re ready for action.

“It doesn’t take much at this point for a deal to happen,” he said Wednesday during the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s annual meeting. “I don’t know if it’s days or a week or two before things start to pick up for the Toronto Blue Jays. But we’re prepared.”

Prepared for what exactly remains the subject of much intrigue. They continue to be connected to new names daily, while some industry chatter wonders if a trade is in the offing. The Blue Jays have a surplus behind the plate and “a lot of teams have approached us about our catching,” Atkins said, declining to elaborate on a follow up.

No matter their specific aims, they’re big-game hunting, and making it known that they’re big-game hunting, which is an indication that they’re confident of landing a prime target.

Hence, even with Atkins conceding that “feeling the interest back has reshaped” their current pursuits, the Blue Jays feel that “this is an opportunity to not only impact this team this off-season, but it’s an opportunity to impact this (team) for years to come.”

“As we’ve talked about, this is just one step in the process, as last trade deadline was, as last off-season was,” he continued. “This is another point in time where we have an opportunity to add talent. And what we’re thinking about is not only positional fits, whether that be pitching or outfield/infield/catching, but also how it will impact our environment for some time to come.

“So that’s something we’re talking to free agents and targeting free agents for, is how they will influence Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) and Ryan Borucki and Jordan Romano and others.”

That’s a description befitting the likes of George Springer and D.J. LeMahieu, two players believed to be high atop their list, and other names they’ve been connected to, such as J.T. Realmuto. The sudden flooding of the free-agent market with players non-tendered ahead of Wednesday’s deadline – a deeply troubling purge of the game’s middle class – created some new opportunities for the Blue Jays, but they’re not achieving Atkins’ stated goals in that shopping aisle alone.

They also seem to have received approvals from team owner Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns this website, for their spending plans. Asked if the club’s 2021 budget has been OK’d, Atkins replied: “There have been several interactions, as there always are. We feel well-positioned. We feel like everyone understands our plan and everyone understands our opportunities. We feel well-positioned to proceed on executing them.”

Let’s condense those 33 words down to one, as that sure sounds like a yes.

Within that plan, Atkins said the Blue Jays “are in a good position to make the team better on both sides of the ball,” although he stressed that the club’s resources weren’t “unlimited.”

How those resources get divvied up bears watching, as after Robbie Ray was re-signed, Atkins said the Blue Jays felt good about covering a season’s worth of innings, and were focused on the quality of their innings as opposed to the quantity from here on out.

Save for ace Trevor Bauer, some of the better starting options are already off the free-agent board, which is why the Blue Jays seem positioned to strike on the position-player front first and secure impact there, circling back to the pitching market afterwards.

“I would say that’s a fair assessment, but it’s not by any means that I feel strongly that is the case,” said Atkins. “But I think the way that you framed it is fair.”

What they manage to accomplish in terms of adds will help determine how they line up the pieces already in place.

The decision to non-tender Travis Shaw, while not surprising, underlines that the Blue Jays believe they will find an infield upgrade. LeMahieu is the ideal option both from an offensive standpoint and his ability to play at any of the bases, but he may be impossible to pry from the New York Yankees, or perhaps the Mets.

Allowing the Blue Jays to examine a host of options is that Biggio can remain primarily at second base, move over to third or be bounced around the diamond. Atkins also won’t rule out the possibility that Guerrero is part of the solution at third base, describing him as one of the variables impacting where Biggio ends up playing, the other being who they end up acquiring.

“The great thing, and it’s the biggest compliment I can possibly make, at least in my view, to Cavan, is he has two incredible attributes that give us an incredible opportunity to have the situation just described,” said Atkins. “One is he has the athleticism and ability to do it. And two, he has the openness and values it himself and what it means for a chance to win. I think he prioritizes that. He prioritizes team and that’s a huge benefit for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

Even better would be if the Blue Jays reward him with some certainty about his defensive responsibilities for 2021. Given all the groundwork that’s been laid in recent weeks, and with the virtual winter meetings due to begin next week, payoffs on a number of fronts may soon start coming.

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New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job



The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.

The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.

A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.

Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.

He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.

He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.

The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.

Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon



The NHL has asked the Canadian government for a decision by June 1 about U.S. teams crossing the border during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ESPN reported Friday.


The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.


“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”


Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.


Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.


The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.


In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.


An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.


–Field Level Media

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Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.



As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.

Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.

The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.

Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.

Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.

As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.

“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.

“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”

-Field Level Media

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