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HAPP + ESTRADA > PRICE

By Murray Chass

August 21, 2016

In an unusual burst of front-office activity in the past year, major league clubs hired a dozen new general managers and hired or promoted three general managers to positions as heads of their baseball operations.

Some of those newly positioned people have had early success in turning their teams’ fortunes around while others are still struggling to achieve that status.

It should be noted, however, that the best off-season acquisition was made by an assistant general manager, Tony LaCava of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Last Nov. 27, six days before the Blue Jays named Ross Atkins their new general manager, LaCava signed free-agent pitcher J.A. Happ to a 3-year, $36 million contract. The 33-year-old left-hander has turned into a big bargain, enjoying the performance of his career with a 17-3 record, best in the majors.

The Blue Jays left negotiations to LaCava because Alex Anthoupolos had resigned as general manager a month earlier, rejecting a contract extension and an invitation to stay under the new club president, Mark Shapiro.

Several years earlier LaCava had rejected an opportunity to become the Baltimore general manager, preferring to stay with the Blue Jays and continue to live in Pittsburgh. Now he was responsible for doing the general manager’s job with an interim title. Besides Happ, the Blue Jays had targeted their own free-agent pitcher, Marco Estrada, and LaCava signed him, too.

“We made a qualifying offer to him,” LaCava said of the 33-year-old Estrada, “and the day before he was able to talk to other teams we were able to do a two-year ($26 million) deal with Marco, who ended up being an all-star.

“With Jay, we were aggressive early on. We had had him in the past” – 2012-13 – “and were familiar with him. His time in Toronto was disrupted. He was hit by a batted ball off his head. It wasn’t so much his head. When he landed he twisted his knee and that wound up taking time to heal. We felt he never hit his stride with us. We knew what was in there.”

When Atkins arrived as general manager, the Blue Jays had their off-season plan well underway.

“It started with what our goals were in the off-season,” LaCava said by telephone last Friday. “We were bringing back the best offense in baseball. We had traded a lot of prospects in trying to put that team together last year. We got Tulowitzki and David Price and the others. Alex did a nice job with brining in players.”

Before this season, LaCava added, “we didn’t want to give up any prospects to bring pitching in and we wanted to hold onto our draft picks. We felt we could do that holding onto Marco and getting Jay and go with shorter term deals and try to get the guys we liked and let the offense do what they did the year before.”

As of game time Saturday, the Blue Jays were in the same place they were when last season ended, leading the American League East. Boston, on the other hand, was …

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YANKEES’ FANTASISTS GET EXCITED

By Murray Chass

August 18, 2016

When the New York Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays Monday night in the first game of their three-game series, I thought this is crazy and far-fetched, but maybe the Yankees could be a playoff contender in the final seven weeks of the season.

When the Yankees took a 6-0 lead against the Blue Jays after five innings the next night, I thought this is getting crazier by the inning. And then a 42-minute rain delay threw cold water on the Yankees and the fantasy. The Blue Jays erupted for 12 runs after the delay and won, 12-6.

Toronto’s explosion against the Yankees’ relief corps epitomized the problems the Yankees could have as a result of their decision to trade two-thirds of their bullpen troika, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. No longer would the Yankees be covered for the final three innings if they had a lead after six innings.

But General Manager Brian Cashman made that decision in the belief that …

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MLB’S MASTER MONEYMAKER

By Murray Chass

August 14, 2016

Christmas came early this year for Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Bob Bowman was the jolly old gentleman with the big belly and the fluffy white beard.

Bowman is the president of MLB business and media, formerly CEO of MLB Advanced Media, who is probably responsible for generating more revenue for MLB than any other individual.

His gift to the clubs was last week’s $1 billion sale to the Walt Disney Company of a one-third stake in BAM Tech, the venture Bowman and aides developed to stream live events, allowing them to be viewed on any device.

“We’re trying to grow a business,” Bowman said in a telephone interview last Friday. “We built third-party streaming technology. People started calling us. It was a client demand. People said we want to do it.”

BAM Tech has attracted widespread and serious attention from, among others …

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