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Blue Jays have chance to go against the industry grain in frugal off-season – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Whether economic uncertainty is the driving factor, or that teams are just using the pandemic to extend the drawn-out leverage plays inherent to recent winters, a slower-moving off-season remains the expectation after the virtual GM meetings wrapped Thursday.

Even in the absence of the usual formal talks at a swanky resort, informal chatter during happenstance run-ins, and clandestine conversations in secluded alcoves, the game’s business trudged along via text, phone and Zoom. Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said he was pleased with the amount of groundwork laid with agents and teams, and intriguingly said, “We’ve actually been close on another deal,” that didn’t come to fruition.

Then, tellingly, he added: “I do expect the value of discipline to be real.”

There’s truth to that, as clubs sweating out free agents has proven to be an effective strategy in recent years. The impact on the market has been so drastic that the players union has suggested free-agency is under attack and hinted at collusion among owners.

Coupled with the industry-wide flux created by COVID-19’s ongoing fallout, there’s an opportunity for a team like the Blue Jays – on the rise, with money to spend, in need of impact – to separate itself from the pack by being aggressive.

If the majority of clubs are content to be passive, why not jump the market and force the issue?

“If we can, we will,” Atkins said on a Zoom call. “The discipline part comes into understanding value, our internal assessment of those values, what are early-strike prices for us that we would be willing to move on. We worked through that process and have been exhaustive in thinking about every opportunity that that will present itself, and not just the ones that will present themselves later.”

To be fair, the Blue Jays were the first team on the board this off-season with the re-signing of Robbie Ray to an $8-million, one-year deal last weekend. Then there’s the near-miss Atkins declined to detail, and Sportsnet colleague Arden Zwelling had an interesting thought when he wondered if Kevin Gausman, whom Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported mulled multi-year deals before accepting the $18.9-million qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants, might have been their target.

The Blue Jays pursued Gausman in free agency last winter, so they’ve liked him in the past. Whether it was him or someone else, that the well-regarded righty took the qualifying offer – as did fellow free agent Marcus Stroman – is indicative of the anticipated frugality in the market.

Now, spending recklessly just to get things done is bad business. But so too is grinding down free agents for savings that might be negligible, especially when there’s value to the bird in hand amid the current circumstances.

Complicating matters for the Blue Jays is that while they’ve mapped out an ideal set of moves this winter, no team gets its complete wish list and they have multiple ways to upgrade a versatile roster. They also must weigh what making a move now could cut them off from later — and how to end up with the best package of upgrades for a team with needs in the rotation, bullpen, infield and outfield.

“That is a significant challenge for us, making sure that there aren’t missed opportunities that are stabilizing,” said Atkins. “What we’re focusing on is the impact being larger earlier in the market at this point. If we were to move earlier, that the impact would be significant and that doesn’t take us out of significant impact later.

“We’ll continue to have opportunities to move the needle further,” he continued. “We just always have to balance that, what that means for us to have a substantial impact over the course of the off-season. Earlier in this off-season, what we’ll be focused on is bigger impact, at the same time thinking about opportunities that could present themselves later.”

That kind of talk will continue to raise expectations for the Blue Jays, who have an opportunity to go against the industry grain, potentially to their great benefit.

Some other highlights from Atkins’ Zoom call:

• The Blue Jays have largely built their bullpens through internal options and value-play free agents, but head into the winter without an established closer as both Ken Giles and Anthony Bass hit the market. Rafael Dolis finished out the season in the role, but is this the time for a splurge?

“We do believe strongly in the importance of having at least one individual, and ideally, you have several individuals who have the mindset to handle extremely high leverage and being the individual on the mound that is out there when you win or lose,” said Atkins. “It’s not just a matter of who can get outs and who can’t. The ability to turn the page is a significant one. The characteristic traits of those individuals is certainly important. We feel that Jordan Romano has those attributes. We feel that we have several individuals that could potentially handle that type of leverage and that type of situation. But we will be looking for other individuals that also have those character traits, and also could potentially be in that role.”

• Despite enviable depth behind the plate, the Blue Jays kicked the tires on free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal last winter, and J.T. Realmuto and James McCann are now available this one. Even in a down year offensively, Danny Jansen was worth nearly a half-win above replacement, as calculated by FanGraphs, while Alejandro Kirk very much impressed during a brief stint. So, is Atkins satisfied with the teams catching situation?

“Extremely satisfied,” he replied. “but are you ever good enough? You’re always thinking about getting better. There are several ways to do that. You could acquire talent. You could trade away talent. Or you can get better. Jano actually finished really strong, he’s working out already down in Florida. … What he’s done thus far has been more than enough for us to be extremely encouraged. Alejandro Kirk has obviously exceeded our expectation thus far. (Prospects Gabriel) Moreno and (Riley) Adams are extremely exciting prospects. Reece McGuire will be better than he was for sure, was fine defensively, and just never got anything going offensively. So it’s definitely an area of depth for us.”

• As hopeful news about a potential COVID-19 vaccine emerged this week, Atkins said Major League Baseball is discussing what the expectations would be for clubs and staff in terms of inoculation, if and when they become available. Asked if he’d expect a uniform MLB policy or a team-based one, Atkins replied: “I would think the union would have a lot of say in that.”

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By the Numbers: Comparing Metcalf to Megatron – TSN

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After D.K. Metcalf’s monster performance against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, the second-year wide receiver said he had a chip on his shoulder following comments made to him by Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Metcalf revealed after the game Schwartz said to him, “I was in Detroit with Megatron, but you’re not there yet.”

While there may have been a misunderstanding about the comment – Schwartz later clarified he meant to compliment Metcalf as the closest thing to Calvin Johnson, the three-time All-Pro receiver that retired after the 2015 season, Schwartz has seen – Metcalf used it as motivation to finish the game with 10 receptions for a career-high 177 yards.

The 22-year-old Metcalf has been outstanding for the Seahawks since the club selected him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Has he been as good as Johnson through the first year and a half of their careers? Is he on his way to becoming the next Megatron?

TSN.ca takes a closer look at Metcalf’s early-career numbers and compares them to Johnson’s statistics at the same time of his career.

  • Metcalf accounted for 77 per cent of the Seahawks’ 230 passing yards. It was the third-highest percentage by a single receiver in the past five seasons, but strangely not even the highest percentage of Week 12. Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant caught the lone completion by fill-in QB Kendall Hinton against the New Orleans Saints.
  • Metcalf’s 177 receiving yards were the fifth-most in Seahawks’ history, behind three games by Hall of Famer Steve Largent and one by fullback John Williams.
  • Metcalf leads the league with 1,039 receiving yards and his nine receiving touchdowns are fifth in the NFL.
  • With his 177 receiving yards on Monday, Metcalf became the fastest Seahawks receiver to eclipse the mark in just the 11th game of the season.
  • His 1,039 receiving yards are also the fifth-most by a player in his first or second year in the league through 11 games in the past 30 years.
  • His 1,939 career receiving yards are just 88 behind Joey Galloway’s 2,027 for most through two seasons in Seahawks franchise history.

Metcalf vs. Megatron (through the first 27 games of their career)

  • Metcalf has 116 receptions on 190 targets for 1,939 yards and 16 touchdowns.
  • Johnson had 101 receptions on 200 targets for 1,727 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2007-2008.
  • Johnson would finish his sophomore campaign with 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns.
  • Metcalf is on pace to finish his sophomore season with 84 receptions for 1,511 yards and 13 touchdowns, projected over a full 16-game schedule.
  • Johnson wouldn’t earn a trip to the Pro Bowl until his fourth season with the Lions and his best work came in seasons 5-7 when he named an All-Pro in three straight seasons.
  • He would twice surpass Metcalf’s projected receiving yards total for this season (1,511) with 1,681 yards in 2011 and 1,964 yards in 2012.

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Raptors finalize their 2020-21 training camp roster – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday that they have finalized their 2020-21 training camp roster.

There is a maximum of 20 players allowed on the roster at this time.

In addition, the Raptors announced that restricted free agent Oshae Brissett and free agent centre Henry Ellenson have each signed multi-year contracts. Toronto also finalized contracts with both of their 2020 draft picks, with Malachi Flynn signing a rookie scale deal and Jalen Harris signing a two-way contract.

The Raptors officially signed free agent forwards Alize Johnson and Yuta Watanabe to one-year exhibit-10 deals.

Terrence Davis remains on the roster after his arrest in New York City for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend back in October. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 11.

As Sportsnet’s Michael Grange explained, the situation with Davis continues to be uncertain and his future in Toronto is in doubt despite being included on the training camp roster.

“At this point, its a matter between the NBA and the union,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said in a media availability Tuesday.

Individual workouts and training camp will take place Saint Leo University near the Raptors’ temporary home in Tampa Bay, Fla., from Dec. 1 to Dec. 11.

2020-21 Toronto Raptors Roster

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Why Greg Vanney decided to step away from Toronto FC and what's next – MLSsoccer.com

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USA Today Sports Images

Sitting for his first (virtual) press conference no longer part of the Toronto FC organization he had been with since 2013, Greg Vanney warned he might not get through his long list of thank-yous without getting emotional. 

He almost made it.

Around the eighth minute of what would be 10 minutes of heartfelt thank-yous, Vanney got to thanking his players and people at the club. There was a palpable silence— you could feel the lump in his throat as he tried to gather himself to continue. He took a few seconds.

Then Vanney leaned back, one last push to collect himself, which revealed he was wearing a Toronto FC warm-up jacket, the club crest over his heart, including the star above the logo to signify their MLS Cup triumph in 2017.

“I’ll never forget this journey,” Vanney said. “There’s so many people who have meant so much to me, are so important to me. Much will be written about the successes and failures, but what means most to me are people at the club I’ve meant and the experiences we’ve had together. That’s what you never forget.”

The successes outweigh the failures.

Toronto have been one of the best teams in MLS under Vanney after enduring a very difficult start to life in MLS, failing to make the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons. Vanney leaves a club that won a historic treble in 2017 with MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship. TFC have been to a further two MLS Cup finals as well as a Concacaf Champions League final, falling in penalties to Chivas, nearly becoming the first MLS club to win that trophy. Vanney lists failing to win the CCL as his biggest regret.

“One of the most important decisions I made of my career is that I believed in Greg Vanney and Tim Bezbatchenko at the time as general manager that they had what it took to bring this team to new heights,” club president Bill Manning said. “He more than paid back that decision with a number of trophies.”

Greg Vanney departs Toronto FC as the most successful coach in club history. | USA Today Sports

The news came as a big jolt to the MLS community when Toronto announced Vanney would be stepping away. His reign in Toronto was the third-longest active tenure in the league and reports had suggested as recently as October that a contract extension was essentially done, just needing signatures.

Those signatures never came. Why? 

“This was a difficult decision, one that I processed for an entire difficult year and came to a conclusion that it’s the right time for myself and my family to move forward and take a different step,” Vanney said. “This profession is about a journey, and in this journey, we have different experiences. I’ve taken every ounce of what I can from this experience and I think it’s time for myself and my family to move on.”

The decision had nothing to do with finances or other contract details. 

“We tried to show Greg how much we valued him and wanted him to continue as head coach. … As the season wound down to a close, we did ask Greg for a decision,” Manning said. “We felt we couldn’t go further into the offseason without knowing what position we’d be in with our head coach.”

“Along the way, we had a lot of incredible memories and did a lot of incredible things,” Vanney added. “The club is destined to keep doing that. It’s time for somebody else to take that.”

For the first time in close to a decade, Vanney and Toronto will go their separate ways for the future. The club are beginning their search for a head coach while Vanney ponders what’s next. 

“I’m a builder, I like to build things,” Vanney said. “I like projects. This club is in a really good place, there’s not a lot of building to do. This club is positioned to be great.”

Vanney doesn’t have a timeline for when he’ll put his hardhat on and get back to building. A lot of speculation has linked him with the vacant LA Galaxy job, considering he spent seven seasons with the club during his playing career and also went to nearby UCLA for college. 

“I do need to catch my breath and regroup a bit, but anyone who knows me, knows I don’t sit still very well,” Vanney said. “It won’t be a long thing.”



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