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West Point graduate Chris Rowley dazzles in Major League debut

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On the night before his big league debut, Blue Jays’ pitcher Chris Rowley tried to wrap his head around the milestone he was about to set. “It’s something that I’m not sure I really understand the magnitude of,” he told reporters Friday. “I’m not sure I ever will, but it’s something I’m trying to digest a little bit. It’s something I’ve tried to appreciate, but at the same time I have a job to do.” The 26-year-old right-hander became the first West Point graduate to pitch in Major League Baseball when he stepped on the mound during Saturday’s game against the Pirates.

Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Rowley had only pitched 32 2/3 innings at any professional level. He served a two-year commitment to the U.S. Army in 2014 and 2015 and was eligible for early release before returning to a career in pro ball, though he’s still technically on individual ready reserve. His stuff impressed in High-A Dunedin, where he issued a 3.49 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 123 2/3 innings in 2016. In 2017, he quickly ascended the rungs of Toronto’s minor league system, earning a combined 6-6 record and 2.29 ERA in back-to-back gigs with Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo.

When fellow Toronto right-hander Cesar Valdez hit the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder impingement, the latest in a long line of injuries to befall the Blue Jays’ rotation, Rowley got the call he had been waiting for. He stepped into his role with ease on Saturday afternoon, striking out three batters and allowing five hits, a walk and a run over 5 1/3 solid innings against the Pirates.

Backed by a seven-run outpouring from the Blue Jays, Rowley not only made a favorable impression on his new team, but notched his first Major League win, too. He was excused in the sixth inning after working into a jam, and walked off the field to a standing ovation from the 46,179 fans in attendance at Rogers Centre.

“This is the dream,” said Rowley. “That was a really special moment, and I wanted to make sure that I took it in. I didn’t want to just put my head down and go into the dugout, I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed it.”

2017 Winter Meetings Preview

Craig Calcaterra
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — The baseball world has descended on the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Disney World for the 2017 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

The two biggest names on the market — Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton — have found new homes, but so far only 33 of baseball’s 249 free agents have signed, almost all of them minor. Still looking for a home: Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, CC Sabathia, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and many, many more. In early November we ran down the top free agents, position-by-position, to help you get a jump on who is available and what your team is looking at as it seeks to fill its needs.

It’s not just players looking for homes this week, however. It’s teams looking to make up for their failures in the Ohtani and Stanton derbies. The Cardinals and Giants both went big to get Stanton and came up empty. The Giants were likewise in Ohtani, but no dice. Baseball’s worst team in 2017 is obviously willing to spend some money to improve, and now they will look elsewhere to spend it. The Red Sox weren’t in on those two, but since it’s biggest rival landed Giancarlo Stanton, GM Dave Dombrowski will no doubt be kicking the tires hard on J.D. Martinez or Eric Hosmer to try to keep pace. The Mariners acquired a lot of international pool money in their quest for Ohtani, but they could still use a starting pitcher or two, so perhaps they may look at, say, Jake Arrieta? Lance Lynn? Yu Darvish? Well, they should, but who knows if they will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is a thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. The Marlins already traded Stanton, but their fire sale does not seem to be over. Could they deal the newly-acquired Starlin Castro? Christian Yelich? Marcel Ozuna? Bet on yes, and bet on any team wishing to spend prospects instead of free agent cash to take what Miami is unloading. Other potential trade candidates: Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Rays starter Chris Archer and third baseman Evan Longoria and Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors at the Swan and Dolphin. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year there are six new men at the helm: Dave Martinez in Washington, Mickey Callaway with the Mets, Gabe Kapler — Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager — in Philly, Alex Cora in Boston, Aaron Boone with the Yankees and Rob Gardenhire with the Tigers. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun. Or if any of them slug me for saying that they’re ugly.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. The big one everyone is talking about this offseason is the possibility of a pitch clock.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene down here at Disney World, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.