March 26, 2019
Freedom is Apparently Overrated
Or at least doesn’t pay as much as it used to. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the surprising number of contract extensions signed this Spring by MLB’s top stars. Of course, there were still high profile free agent signings – Harper, Machado, Corbin, .etc., but there have been more examples of players forgoing the opportunity to become a free agent by signing new long-term deals with their existing clubs – Trout, Arendado, Goldschmidt, Kershaw, Sale, Bregman, Verlander, Hicks, and several others. [Story update: News just broke that the Mets and Jacob deGrom have agreed to a 5-year extension. Am I timely, or what?] [Another story update: CHI just announced a four-year extension for Kyle Hendricks!] Further, many established stars elected not to opt out of their existing contracts, preferring to stick with the deals they have with their current clubs rather than try for better ones on the open market – Arrieta, Strasburg, Darvish, Jansen, Chapman, Andrus and more.
(Chris Sale will be taking the Fenway mound for five more years with $145 million in his pockets. This picture from my personal archives was taken seconds before Sale threw a pitch behind Manny Machado’s head in the 2017 dust-up between BOS and BAL. Any surprise that the BOS fans wanted him back?)
Could it be that the arc of free agency has finally peaked and the “Moneyball” approach is now being adopted by the players as well as the clubs? I’ll have more to say about that in the days ahead, but for now we can finally look to the field for the action after a Spring Training where all the news seemed to occur off the field. At least several stars and their fans now know where they will be playing for several years to come.
(Justin Verlander wouldn’t mind another appearance or two in Chavez Ravine during the two-year contract extension he was given by the Astros. The $66 million was nice, too.)
And we’re off!?
March 21, 2019
One week until MLB’s official Opening Day, and yet SEA is already 2-0 and OAK is 0-2? That’s the way the world of sports goes in the 21st Century, with openers on both sides of the globe.
I am fine with that, as I long to see baseball become as popular around the world as the younger American sport, basketball, has become. However, when a game starts at 4:30 a.m. locally, that is almost taking the term “opener” too far. Fortunately I could watch comfortably in the darkness of my room, with the sound off so as not to wake Mrs. Commissioner. Of course, she has slept through thousands of games during our 32 years of marriage, so no real problem there.
You may not have gotten up for the start of either game, but I hope you saw the send-off for Ichiro in the 7th inning of Game 2. Although he could not produce any Derek Jeter-type magic in his final plate appearance,
there was an instant when I thought Ichiro might at least end his career with a signature infield hit. It crossed my mind that OAK SS Marcus Semien double-clutched on his throw to first just to give Ichiro a chance to beat it out, but there just wasn’t quite enough left in his 45-year old legs. Unfortunately the umpire called him out and SEA manager Scott Servais did not challenge the call. Even so, the end of a phenomenal career is something to be celebrated anytime, and but particularly when it comes in an official game played in the player’s home country even before the official MLB Opening Day. The fans in Japan (or should I just say the whole country) certainly celebrated him, and I think MLB was very wise to set this stage for the finale of one of the greatest MLB careers by a non-American so far. (That’s an interesting debate. Who would you pick? Clemente would be mine. As to future possibilities, do you think Shohei Ohtani was watching?)
My own tribute to Ichiro is that I thought enough of him to record this photo in my personal archives when we visited Marlins Park in 2016. The fact that Jack also had an Ichiro shirt is high praise in our house. Jack is very particular about who he reps.
So two games have been played and a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has already retired, but your B.A.B.E.S. picks are not due for another week. Just a little more 21st Century analytical data for you to consider. Perhaps the performance of OAK’s pitching staff makes you doubt that Billy Beane can conjure up another 97-win season with his no-longer-mystical ways. I will reveal all of my picks on 3/27, but I will tell you now that I am not going to have OAK in the post-season, and that decision was made before they lost the first two games of the season.
March 19, 2019
And I thought the off-field news was interesting before today.
This morning news broke that Mike Trout is about agree to an extension with LAA that will crush the “record” contract Bryce Harper signed just two weeks ago, and I do mean crush: 1 year shorter, 100 million more dollars! Something about Harper’s deal seemed off to me when it was announced (note my skepticism about his value in the 3/1 post below). In addition to disputing whether he is worth the money, the contract itself seemed artificially structured to save face for him and his agent, Scott Boras. Boras had proclaimed that Harper was worth $400 million, and Harper had already turned down $300 million over 10 years from his existing team, WAS. Sure, he ultimately got more total dollars and more annually than any other player, but it seemed contrived to me. Just like his overall value seems contrived around his one good year – 2015.
Well, Mike Trout has had seven great years, five of which were better than or at least equal to Harper’s one great year. If you really study the stats, and if you assume that Harper’s money is appropriate for his performance, the new contract underpays Trout. Apparently LAA’s owner Arte Moreno agrees that it is a good deal because he is committing this enormous sum of money two years before Trout is even eligible for free agency. He must know that the market will only go up. And it is a true sign of Trout’s stature given that Moreno has already had two bad experiences with big contracts – Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (the latter being perhaps the worst contract in MLB history, even though there is a lot of competition for that title).
(Now Jack and I know why Mike Trout was smiling so big in this banner hanging outside The Big A.)
As with all contracts, short and long, the true value to the team will only be known over time. But my guess is that in this particular comparison $430 million for 12 years will prove to be cheaper than $330 million for 13.
March 15, 2019
The action is still off the field more than on it
So we are a month into Spring Training and have only two weeks to go until Opening Day (five days if you count the OAK v. SEA games in Japan March 20-21). All thirty teams will be in action on March 28 for the earliest domestic openers in MLB history. The schedule was moved up last year to create more off days during the year for the players. That seems appropriate to note as this year the most interesting news around MLB is what is happening off the field rather than on it.
I noted in my opening 2019 post on March 1 that the biggest news is where will all the veterans be playing, if they are playing at all. Well, Opening Day is almost upon us and a couple dozen players remain unsigned, including Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and Gio Gonzalez. Today that is still a story, and perhaps even more confounding since both LAD and NYY have ailing aces. Kershaw may be ready for Opening Day, but it will be dicey since he has been held out almost all of Spring Training. Luis Severino is definitely out for the month of April and perhaps longer. Couldn’t one of the two richest franchises take a financial risk when the team’s performance is at stake? Apparently even the traditionally big spenders are sticking with the new attitude towards over-30 veterans and long-term contracts.
And, as I wrote in my end-of-year post on 12/31,
the real question this year is whether MLB and the MLBPA understand the crash course they are on. And the answer is apparently, “yes.” In another surprise off-field move, the league and players announced an agreement on significant rules changes for 2019 and 2020, and their agreement to open CBA negotations over 2 years early!
Apparently Mr. Manfred and Mr. Clark read our site and take our advice. Good for them, and Good Luck to them. The initial reviews from expert analysts were not favorable, at least as to the rules changes effecting strategy for play on the field.
My guess is that some of these may either get dropped even before being tried or abandoned shortly after implementation. The real news to me is that the parties see that they must be pro-active in dealing with the serious issues between them. The fact that MLB, led by Commissioner Manfred, seem bent on changing the game in order to appeal to younger fans is worrisome, but we have to believe that it is well-intended. And some of the changes off the field are clearly aimed at the fans, such as the changes to All-Star voting. The redo at the end of the voting should create a lot of fan involvement and some exciting election day coverage. We will need some more time to study the impact of the on-field changes.
But, as we count down the days to Opening Day, let’s be thankful that we have the attention of the stewards of the game, both on and off the field.
March 1, 2019
It’s March – do you know where your favorite players are playing?
A free agent veteran wondering where he is going to be playing this year….
Hello, B.A.B.E.S. veterans, and perhaps some rookies, as well. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Spring Training 2019 is underway. I know this because I am listening to the A’s v. Rockies on the MLB At Bat app (the best $20 anyone can ever spend). It is awesome to have live baseball to listen to again and not have to listen to non-stop speculation about where Bryce Harper is going to be playing.
You may have heard that Harper agreed to a new 13-year contract with the Phillies. In addition to staying within the NL East, Harper gets to continue wearing red.
The picture above is not the first shot of Harper in PHI’s spring training camp in Clearwater, FL. It was actually taken in 2015 at the Nationals’ old Space Coast Stadium home in Melbourne. Harper struck out in that at bat, but he did go on to have an MVP season – one that barely justifies his $330 million contract. But more about that later.
For now my only reaction to his new deal is to confess that my first prediction for 2019 has already been proven incorrect. Back in November I expressed my belief that NYY was sure to sign Harper to play first base and set HR records with the short right field fence in Yankee Stadium. Well, if you need any further evidence that there is a new Steinbrenner in charge in the Bronx, and a new fiscal approach to team management everywhere in MLB, look no further than the fact that the Yankees did not sign either of the two top free agents this year. No, the Padres and the Phillies took those honors. But more about that later, also.
The question for now, as we begin to consider our picks for 2019, is where will the rest of the dozens of free agents sign, if at all? I always like to wait until the end of spring training to make my selections, not because I think spring performance is particularly relevant but because I am concerned about injuries. Now I have to add the variable of a significant free agent signing – Dallas Keuchel anyone? Or perhaps one or more of these dozens of available veterans?
Whether you like to wait like I do, or have already made your picks, make a note that Opening Day, and the deadline for submitting your picks, is now only four weeks away, March 28.
While you ponder your 2019 selections, you may want to revisit yours and others’ 2018 approach, particularly the Rocky winner Gus Pompa who proved that the term “analysis by paralysis” is not always a criticism.