By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
NASHVILLE _ No idea how good a general manager Tony LaCava will be when the time finally comes.
We know one thing.
LaCava is a good soldier and a loyal company man.
For background’s sake new Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapirio tapped into his Cleveland Indians roots to hire Ross Atkins as his general manager over interim GM LaCava.
And on Monday at the winter meetings, who was asked to play Meet the Press in the daily Jays briefing?
It was LaCava answering 23 minutes of questions and doing TV sessions. That would be like losing out for a promotion and then being asked “ah, would you mind doing the work anyway for a few days?”
Think for if the second in 2013 the Jays had hired John Gibbons over bench coach Don Wakamatsu in 2013 and asked Wakamatsu to manage the first series.
How would that work?
LaCava, promoted from assistant GM to senior vice president of baseball operations, put on a brave face explaining it was easier for him to answer questions since Atkins had only been hired on Friday and LaCava was more familiar in talks with representatives for free agents and clubs in trade talks.
An hour later Atkins was on the Sportsnet set being interviewed by Jamie Campbell.
Atkins could bounce back into the saddle as quickly as Tuesday, but Monday did not have the best optics of a bumpy off season which saw Alex Anthopoulos offered a one-year deal with an option (by Shapiro) and a five-year deal from Edward Rogers the final few days before he made his exit, zero offer to David Price and Shapiro saying Atkins reminded him of John Farrell.
While LaCava had been working on an interim basis with Shapiro (and signing free agents Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ and dealing for Jesse Chavez) Gibbons didn’t meet his news immediate bosses until Monday morn.
Gibbons was asked if it was a surprise with the change at the top that one of Shapiro’s first moves was to re-hire him.
“No,” Gibbons told reporters. “I thought we did a pretty good job last year. We got to the postseason which was our goal. It had been so long.
“When new people come in, a lot of times they bring their own, I didn’t know either way, but it’s not a shock. I still have to do my job with the guys on the field. I figure, as long as I’m productive and the team’s productive I’ll be around.”
Gibbons’ first impressions of his new bosses, Atkins and Shapiro?
“Nice guys, very professional,” said Gibbons who met Shapiro years ago in Canton and Atkins pitched in the double-A Eastern League while Gibbons was managing.
“I know the name,” Gibbons said, “but two nice guys, easy. We had our meeting this morning. I threw my opinions out, things like that. It’s never an easy transition when you bring new people in.
“It’s not easy for us. It’s not easy for them. But we can make that work.”
And it didn’t look easy for LaCava.
TIME TO PAY ... NOW: Edwin Encarnacion wasn’t the first Dominican slugger to deliver a winter meetings ultimatum to the Blue Jays.And there is a chance he might not be the last.
The Jays have until spring training to negotiate a contract extension with Encarnacion or he will head to free agency, according to Boston report.
Player agent Randal Hendricks said the same thing about George Bell at the 1987 winter meetings in Houston. A multi-year deal was worked out the next February after Bell’s American League MVP season. President Paul Beeston held up the signing by insisting a ‘comeback of the player of the year’ clause be included into Bell’s contract.
“We have not heard from Edwin, that being said, obviously we would respect that,” LaCava told reporters. “He has his options.”
And if the Jays lock up Encarnacion, well batter up ... next will be Jose Bautista, also on the final year of his contract.
“Jose in particular is very good about his conditioning and you see his commitment to being healthy and to staying in shape. I would expect him to be a guy that can continue to do what he does for quite a while.”
Can the Jays afford to extend both?
“We haven’t ruled anything out,” said LaCava, who will input but it won’t have the final say.
“They are special players. You have to look at the 25-man roster and you have to work to allocate money properly.
“It’s possible you can have both those guys; it would have to be at a cost of putting the money somewhere else, balance what was best for the 25-man.”