This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: December, 2017
Giancarlo Stanton in Pinstripes New Owners, Same ol’ Marlins
Shohei Now! The Angels Nab Ohtani Cooperstown Gets Watered Down (Again)


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.284 155 154 24 3 52 114 116 11 5 9

We’ll spare you the “judge” analogies (you know, “all rise,” etc.) because they’ve all been used to death by now, and just admit that the king-sized rookie’s display arguably ranks as baseball’s greatest debut. You name it, Judge did it; he broke Mark McGwire’s home run rookie record, scored and knocked in over 100 runs, walked over 100 times, won the Home Run Derby, and so on. Once the awards season kicks in, he’s a shoo-in for AL Rookie of the Year and a strong candidate to win the AL MVP. Granted, he’s a late bloomer of sorts—at age 25, he’s older than Bryce Harper—but opposing pitchers must shudder to think what this guy has in store as he likely matures. Perhaps the Yankees will be a stronger magnet for top free agent pitchers—not for the money or pinstriped prestige, but because they won’t have to face this guy.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.331 137 213 35 14 37 104 56 9 10 14

Yes, we know—take the lumberjack-bearded center fielder out of Coors Field and put him in, say, San Francisco, and he doesn’t post the kind of numbers as he did in a Rockies jersey. Or maybe he would; we’ll just never know until he gets traded to the Giants. In the meantime, we’ll acknowledge the mile-high advantage but still put our faith in a guy who sparked the Rockies to their first postseason since 2009 with prodigious, all-around flair. While Blackmon did hit better at Denver—everybody does—he still was strong enough on the road to merit this honor. Has he peaked? He turns 32 in 2018, his walk year before becoming a free agent; now that Colorado has wiped Jose Reyes off the books, it might be a good time to lock Blackmon up.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Adam Engel, Chicago White Sox

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.166 34 50 11 3 6 21 19 0 8 8

If Rookie of the Year awards were handed out solely for defensive excellence, then the 25-year old outfielder would be a lock. But you got to hit, too—and that’s where Engel’s contributions to the rebuilding White Sox hit a brick wall. His batting average and on-base percentage were the lowest among major leaguers with at least 200 at-bats, and nobody struck out more (117) in as few at-bats (301). Here’s some advice for Engel when he shows up in Arizona for spring training: Skip the fielding drills and spend lots of time in the batting cage.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Michael Saunders, Philadelphia Phillies

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.205 25 41 9 2 6 20 11 2 1 0

After putting up productive numbers for Toronto in 2016, Saunders was grabbed by the Phillies for $8 million as part of their veteran stability movement for 2017. Like most of those moves, it failed—but in Saunders’ case, it failed spectacularly. The 30-year-old outfielder started off okay, but his game collapsed to the point that the Phillies released him by mid-June. He went back home again to Toronto to end the season, but his Philadelphia tenure is one he would have to file under ‘repressed memories.’


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
18-4 203.2 141 56 51 36 4 5 0 265 2.25

The 31-year-old Indians ace may have laid an egg in the postseason, but they give Cy Young honors for what you do in the six months prior—or four months, in Kluber’s case. After an iffy April and an absent May owing to back issues, the right-hander righted the ship and was dominant through September, posting a 15-2 record with a sensational 1.59 ERA over his last 23 starts. It gets better; he struck out 224 batters during this stretch—while walking just 23. His five complete games and three shutouts tied Ervin Santana for the major league lead, and he might have won 20 for the first time had it not been for the month-long layoff. To all those Indians fans brooding over how soon it will be before Kluber becomes too expensive to stay, relax; he’s under Cleveland control through 2021.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
16-6 200.2 126 62 56 55 4 11 0 268 2.51

This was a very tight call with Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg in the mix, but in the end we had to give it to Scherzer, who sabermetrically owned the edge over the other two. Yes, Kershaw had more wins and a lower ERA, but Scherzer had the majors’ lowest opposing average (a remarkable .178) while only Corey Kluber had a lower WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) than Scherzer’s 0.90. Finally, the 33-year old’s fastball remained ablaze, averaging near 95 as he led the NL with 268 strikeouts. All this, while battling various maladies and lack of run support, posting seven quality starts without a win. Let’s hope the arm doesn’t blow out anytime soon, because he’s a marvel to watch.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
1-7 93 125 86 81 51 11 4 0 63 7.84

In the four years prior to 2017, when all else failed for the Orioles’ rotation—and it failed often—there was Tillman, a stabilizing presence with a knack for picking up wins. The 2017 campaign was to be the championing crescendo for the Anaheim native, ready to further impress at age 29 before hitting free agency. Then came this. He missed April with a shoulder injury, returned in May and won his first start with five shutout innings—and then failed to win any of his remaining 18 starts as he got lit up on a regular basis. The Orioles’ faith in Tillman became so tentative that they moved him to the bullpen toward season’s end, with little rebound. All along, Tillman has contended that he’s felt good—which might only scare potential bidders this coming winter even more.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jordan Lyles, Colorado-San Diego

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
1-5 69.2 96 61 60 22 4 4 0 55 7.75

The right-hander from South Carolina manages to stick around the big leagues because of a tantalizing fastball, but at some point all the ugly numbers that surround his velocity will lead teams to start shying away from him. That point may be near. Lyles started the year demoted from the rotation in Colorado, and struggled from the bullpen—allowing 11 homers in 46 innings—before being released in July; the Padres picked him up, exiled him for a month at Triple-A El Paso, then auditioned him in the San Diego rotation in September with disastrous results (five starts, 9.39 ERA). The best hope for Lyles, who’s been spinning his wheels on the mound for seven years, is to be reinvented as a hard-throwing set-up reliever. But it’s just not going to happen until he simply figures how to get guys out.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Cleveland Indians (102-60)

Cleveland’s early exit from the postseason certainly is the sour cherry on top of a 2017 regular season campaign full of sweet memories. And the later in the year it got, the sweeter those memories were. After playing musical chairs with AL Central foes for first place through the season’s first half, the Indians grabbed the top spot late in June, barely hung onto it for a few weeks and then, boom—the team charged up the afterburners with a record 22-game win streak so dominant, they hit more home runs than they allowed total runs. Likely AL Cy Young recipient Corey Kluber highlighted a staff that nearly became the first in major league history to average 10 Ks a game while walking fewer batters than anyone else; at the plate, Jose Ramirez’s continued maturation reached MVP levels to lift the offense. Unlike Indians teams of recent past, the core of this unit isn’t due to be broken up by budget restrictions, so expect this roster to remain quite competitive for a few years to come.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58)

The Dodgers were supposed to be good this year, but not like this. The extra boost didn’t come from Logan Forsythe (.226) or teenage pitching phenom Julio Urias (0-2, 5.40 ERA in five starts), but instead they came completely out of nowhere with Seattle reject Chris Taylor and rookie basher Cody Bellinger, whose sweet, upper-cut swing broke the NL rookie record for homers with 39. With these two firmly in tow—and sophomore pilot Dave Roberts deftly exploiting the minimized DL timespan to give players crucial rest—the Dodgers became a force that simply could not be reckoned, turning a middling start into an uncanny midseason burst of supremacy in which at one point they won 52 games in a 61-game stretch. A head-scratching slump (16 losses in 17 games) to start September took them off a record pace for wins, but they quickly bounced back from it and secured the majors’ best record.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Detroit Tigers (64-98)

At the beginning of the year, we picked the Diamondbacks, Royals and Tigers as three teams we felt would go into full-bore tank mode if they didn’t get off to an inspiring start. So, one out of three ain’t bad. Hard to believe this was a team that clung to the .500 mark as late as June 7, but an eight-game skid later in the month was the signal for Tigers management to start dismantling—and boy, did they ever. Before you knew it, their two top hitters (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton), top ace (Justin Verlander) and top reliever (Justin Wilson) were all gone, traded to better teams. And that’s not saying much, because by season’s end, everyone else was better than the Tigers, thanks to a woeful (13 wins in their last 53 games) finish. The silver lining: They get the #1 pick in the amateur draft next spring.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
San Francisco Giants (64-98)

The Giants’ season looked good for about eight innings, before Mark Melancon wasted two Madison Bumgarner homers and blew a save on Opening Day. It went all downhill from there. Bumgarner inexplicably jumped on a dirt bike and crashed, costing him three months; the rest of the rotation heavily underperformed; the bullpen sagged as Melancon was never 100%; and the offense never got the memo that home runs were back in vogue, as 126 major leaguers went deep more than Brandon Belt, who led the Giants with a paltry 18. The team got so desperate, it brought back Pablo Sandoval—who rewarded them with a franchise-record string of 39 hitless at-bats. It’s a miracle that manager Bruce Bochy’s fragile heart didn’t totally give out after all of this. Overall, it’s such a shock that a highly revered organization has dropped into such an abyss.


Wild Pitches

Yes, They Can’t Believe This Really Happened
(December 2017 Edition)

Are We Sure Loria Has Left the Building?
Long-time scout Marty Scott was fired by the Marlins while recuperating in a hospital following colon cancer surgery.

Don’t Forget Your Ear Buds
Rafael Palmeiro, 53, said he is seriously considering a comeback.

Get Your Lap Dance Elsewhere
The Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta’s Triple-A team, changed their name to the Stripers. So you know, that’s Stripers, as in Stripes, as in Stars and Stripes—not Strippers.

Butt Punch
Angels GM Billy Eppier was so excited at the moment he found out that Shohei Ohtani signed with his team, he went to sit down and calm himself—but the chair he thought was there, wasn’t.

Merry Christmas, Everyone
All 30 major league teams will each receive $50 million as part of the deal to sell BAMTech, part of MLB’s interactive wing, to Disney.

Very Merry Christmas, Kids
Texas pitcher Cole Hamels took a $10 million mansion in Missouri they had originally built for themselves and donated it to a local day camp program that helps kids with chronic illnesses and special needs

Bull 1, Matador 0
Texas pitcher Martin Perez was startled by a bull in his Venezuelan home and fell to the ground—injuring his elbow and requiring surgery that will keep him out of action through May 2018.

No Wonder he was Worn Out by the Ninth
In a televised interview with Dr. Oz, former slugger Darryl Strawberry claims he had sex in the clubhouse in between innings while playing for the Mets in the 1980s. How? By getting someone to fetch female fans down from the stands.

All Seattle Wants in 2018...
With the Buffalo Bills claiming a spot in the National Football League playoffs for the first time since 1999, that leaves the Mariners (2001) as the team with the longest postseason drought among all four major pro sports leagues entering 2018.




Friday, December 1
The New York Yankees name Aaron Boone as their new manager, replacing Joe Girardi. Boone is a veteran of 12 major league seasons, half of one of those for the Yankees, in 2003, and recently has been an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecasts—but he has no previous coaching experience. He could get some sage from his baseball-rich family tree, as father Bob Boone managed six seasons from 1995-2003.

Aledmys Diaz, an All-Star rookie for St. Louis in 2016 but a study in regression this past season, is traded by the Cardinals to the Toronto Blue Jays for low-level minor leaguer J.B. Woodman. Diaz hit .259 in 286 at-bats in 2017, and is expected to serve as a utility infielder for the Blue Jays.

The Chicago White Sox sign catcher Welington Castillo to a two-year, $15 million contract. The 30-year-old Castillo hit a personal best 20 home runs in 96 games in 2017 for Baltimore while throwing out 24 of 49 would-be basestealers. His presence is expected to shore up a weakness within the White Sox’ roster from last season.

Colorado closer Greg Holland and Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas win (respectively) the National and American League Comeback Player of the Year awards. The selection of Holland, who saved a Rockies record-tying 41 games in 2017, is somewhat surprising given the unexpected burst of life from Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman after many years of drying on the vine. Meanwhile, Moustakas recovered from an early season-ending injury in 2016 and played a full schedule this past year, belting a Royals-record 38 home runs.

Sunday, December 3
Japanese wunderkind Shohei Ohtani, who has excelled at both pitching and hitting in the Orient, narrows his list of MLB teams he would like to play for to seven. Those teams are Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, the Chicago Cubs, Texas and both Los Angeles teams. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are among those teams who are out of the Ohtani sweepstakes, which is bound to upset ESPN (which never misses a chance to put Red Sox-Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball) and certainly upsets the New York Daily News, which posts a giant front-page headline in response to Ohtani’s snub: “What a Chicken!”

Monday, December 4
Houston second baseman and 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve adds another honor to his trophy shelf: Acknowledgment as co-winner of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, sharing the award with J.J. Watt of football’s Houston Texans. The two are lauded, beyond their gifts for athleticism, for their efforts in helping out the local Houston community after the devastating hurricane that pummeled the area this past August.

Tuesday, December 5
The Cardinals sign pitcher Milos Mikolas for two years and $15.5 million. Pretty good money for a guy who has scant major league experience, from 2012-14—so what’s up? Mikolas spent the past three years in Japan where he thrived, earning a 31-13 record, 2.18 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.

The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear a case involving four minor leaguers who have sued baseball for colluding and suppressing wages. The players’ case states that they work for pay that’s below minimum wage standards, but the court dismisses the case because of baseball’s antitrust exemption.

Wednesday, December 6
It’s back to the drawing board for the Oakland A’s in their search for a new ballpark. The Board of Trustees that oversee Laney Community College, where the A’s are hoping to build a new yard, say no to the idea. The abruptness of the decision catches the A’s off guard; with the team pretty much stuck in Oakland, they may have to reconsider remaking the aging Coliseum—especially now that the aging facility’s two other clients, football’s Raiders and basketball’s Warriors, have plans to leave in the next few years.

Does Major League Baseball really want to rethink barring the A’s from moving to San Jose?

Tracy Stallard, best remembered for serving up Roger Maris’ 61st home run in 1961, passes away in Kingsport, Tennessee at the age of 80. The tall (6’5”) right-hander would endure a less than stellar major league career; after winning just two of nine decisions for the Boston Red Sox from 1960-62, Stallard was sent to the woeful New York Mets, where he was 16-37 over the next two seasons (including a NL-leading 20 losses in 1964) before another deal to the Cardinals finally brought him respect in 1965 with an 11-8 mark and 3.38 ERA. But within two years he was out of baseball, never to return. In a way, he did get even with Maris—winning a charity golf tournament baring the slugger’s name in 1990.

Thursday, December 7
Giancarlo Stanton remains a Marlin—for now—but Dee Gordon does not. The 29-year-old second baseman, who’s led the majors in thefts three of the past four years and collector of 200-plus hits in two of his last three, is traded to the Seattle Mariners. With Robinson Cano already entrenched at second, the plan is for Gordon to play in center, even though his experience playing the outfield consists only of 13 games in the Dominican Winter League in 2013.

Former Colorado pitcher Tyler Chatwood signs a three-year, $38 million contract to play for the Chicago Cubs. The 27-year-old right-hander posted an unimpressive 8-15 record and 4.69 ERA for the Rockies in 2017, but has shown periods of excellence away from Coors Field—such as in 2016 with a 1.69 road ERA over 80 innings.

There’s a clause in Chatwood’s contract that calls for a $4 million bonus if he gets even one vote for the Cy Young Award. This causes concern with the Baseball Writers Association of America—which votes on the award—because it could cause a potential conflict of interest. It thus tells the Cubs that it may disqualify Chatwood from being eligible for a Cy vote in years where the bonus would apply.

Friday, December 8
Shohei Ohtani has chosen…and it is the Los Angeles Angels he will play for. Seattle and San Diego had been considered the prime contenders to land the Japanese phenom who can hit as well as he can pitch, but instead he will go to Anaheim will he’ll share lineup space with Mike Trout and prop up a battered Angels rotation. The Angels will pay the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Ohtani’s former team, a $20 million posting fee, and pay Ohtani close to under $3 million in 2018 salary.

What do you know…after years overpaying for talent (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton), the Angels may have found a relative bargain in Ohtani.

Boston pitcher Steven Wright is arrested at his Tennessee home after an alleged domestic assault upon his wife. A statement from his lawyer later claims that the incident was purely “emotional” and that he “did not raise his hand at anyone.” Wright spends the night in jail and is released the next morning on $5,000 bond; MLB is investigating.

Saturday, December 9
“Bronx Bombers” takes on a whole new meaning as the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins agree to send Giancarlo Stanton to Yankee Stadium and partner in the lineup alongside fellow Home Run Derby behemoth Aaron Judge. In return, the Marlins receive infielder Starlin Castro, two low-level prospects and will help pay off $30 million of the massive $295 pact still owed to Stanton.

The Stanton Sweepstakes had picked up a lot of steam in the past few weeks, and for a time it appeared that San Francisco and St. Louis both had the best chances of landing the reigning NL MVP—but Stanton, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, said earlier this week that he would refuse a deal to either team. There was also widespread speculation that his first choice would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, because he’s from the area and reportedly wished to play on the West Coast—but the Dodgers and Marlins apparently couldn’t agree on a trade. The rumors shifted when Stanton gave a list of four teams he would accept a trade to: The Yankees, Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros—all four being LCS participants in 2017, in line with his request to play for a team ready to win now.

Sunday, December 10
Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, two Detroit Tigers stars of the 1980s, are elected into the Hall of Fame in a Veterans Committee vote focused on players of the “Modern Era” over the last 50 years. Morris won 254 games, 162 of them during the 1980s—the most by any pitcher for that decade; he also was a member of four World Series champions, including three straight (1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) toward the end of his career. Trammell was one half of the Tigers’ 20-year keystone combo along with Lou Whitaker in the middle infield, hit .285 with 2,365 career hits and was winner of the 1987 AL MVP—when he collected personal bests with a .343 average, 28 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Cooperstown just got very good again. Although talented and well-liked, Trammell is not considered a baseball “great” from our side of the aisle, and he never got more than 40% of the vote in the regular Hall of Fame ballots. As for Morris, congrats are due to a pitcher that will go into the Hall with a higher career ERA (3.90) than any other inductee. As with Bill Mazeroski and his historic World Series-winning homer in 1960, Morris probably got the nudge into Cooperstown because of one game: His 10-inning shutout win in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series for the Twins against Atlanta.

Somewhere, Mike Mussina (270-153, 3.68 ERA) must be thinking, “I’ve got to be a shoo-in now!”

Two veteran relievers find new homes via the free agent market. Brandon Morrow, off a terrific year for the Dodgers in which he posted a 6-0 record and 2.06 ERA in 45 games, signs a three-year deal with the Cubs for $21 million that could rise to $30 million should a vesting option kick in for the final season. In St. Louis, Luke Gregerson inks for two years and $11 million despite toiling through, easily, his worst season yet in 2017, furnishing a 4.57 ERA in 65 appearances for Houston.

Monday, December 11
Baseball’s annual winter meetings begin in Orlando, Florida, but with no major trades or signings announced, the big news surrounds the fallout of the Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton from Miami. Stanton is officially introduced by the Yankees and says he didn’t want to be part of yet another rebuild in Miami, so he asked to be traded; he claimed he was told by the Marlins and new part-owner Derek Jeter that he had three choices: Play for the Cardinals, the Giants, or return to the Marlins. Stanton refused all three options (saying the Cardinals and Giants weren’t ready to win) and called the Marlins’ bluff. And so Jeter called upon his former team in New York to make the deal.

The typically private Jeter, notably absent from the meetings not far from his Florida home, responds via conference call with reporters and blames Stanton and his massive salary for his departure.

Tuesday, December 12
Uh oh. It’s reported that Shohei Ohtani, just a few days after signing with the Angels, may have a damaged ligament in this throwing arm. Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan writes that Ohtani sought a plasma injection in October to help overcome the problem, but fears are that he might become vulnerable to Tommy John surgery in the near future.

The Yankees, convinced that Chase Headley is about as good as he’s ever going to be, trade the third baseman and pitcher Brian Mitchell to San Diego for outfielder Jabari Blash, a potentially exciting but thus far unrefined talent. Headley has pretty much been Headley in three-plus years for the Yankees, hitting roughly .260 with roughly 12 homers and roughly 60 RBIs—as visions of a return to his breakout .286-31-115 campaign of 2012 have never materialized.

Reliever Bryan Shaw, a stalwart in the revered Cleveland bullpen, tasks himself with the ultimate challenge: Pitching at Coors Field. Shaw agrees to a three-year, $27 million contract with the Colorado Rockies, looking to possibly reload with closer Greg Holland likely to sign elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 13
The hot stove at the Winter Meetings in Orlando heat up with a number of signings and transactions: The Marlins, after dealing away Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon, are not through. They send outfielder Marcell Ozuna, coming off a terrific year (.312 average, 37 homers, 124 RBIs), to St. Louis for four prospects, three of whom rank in top 13 of the Cardinals’ organization. Later, they release veteran pitcher Edinson Volquez, who threw the majors’ only no-hitter of 2017 but otherwise faltered with ineffectiveness and injury—even as they are on the hook to pay him $13 million in 2018.

Agent Scott Boras, who loves nothing more than to command a crowd of reporters at the Winter Meetings—or anywhere, for that matter—calls out the Marlins as a “pawn shop” for their shedding of talent.

In light of the Marlins’ massive talent purge, two of the team’s few remaining quality players—outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto—public denounce the moves and ask to be traded as well. This prompts a public, authoritative missive from Marlins GM Michael Hill, saying that “we will be the ones who initiate that conversation…”

With one more legit outfielder than they need, the Cardinals turn around and deal Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland A’s for two minor leaguers.

The Angels, desperate for a second baseman, acquire veteran Ian Kinsler from the Detroit Tigers. He has one year left on a contract that will pay him $11 million in 2018. In return, the Tigers will receive two mid-level prospects.

The Minnesota Twins take a chance on former Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda, signing the right-hander for two years and $10 million—although Pineda is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be ready to pitch until late 2018 at the earliest.

The Astros, whose bullpen was a weak spot amid their championship campaign, sign reliever Joe Smith to a two-year deal worth $15 million. Smith has been consistently reliable through 11 big league seasons, never posting an ERA above 3.83.

The Hall of Fame announces that Bob Costas has been named winner of this year’s Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting. Though he’s never done play-by play for one team, his work on national broadcasts for NBC (starting in 1980) and, more recently, the MLB Network—combined with an utter passion for the game—earned him the honor.

Frank Lary, one of the best pitchers in Detroit Tigers history, passes away at the age of 87. The right-hander from Alabama was a workhorse for the Tigers from 1955-61, three times leading the AL in innings pitched (topping out at 294 frames in 1956) and twice won 20 games. He saved his best for the Yankees, owning a career 28-13 record against a franchise that was at the top of its powers during his personal reign; in 1958 alone, Lary won seven of his 16 games against New York.

Thursday, December 14
The free agent season continues to be very active one…for relievers. The Twins bring aboard closer Fernando Rodney—who will be 41 next season—for one year and $4.5 million, while the Cubs bolster their bullpen yet even more by inking sidearm reliever Steve Cishek to a two-year deal.

Friday, December 15
Carlos Santana, who’s played all eight of his major league seasons for Cleveland, signs a three-year, $60 million contract with Philadelphia. With Santana likely to play at first base, late-season Phillies breakout rookie Rhys Hoskins will probably be moved to left field.

Perhaps to make room on the roster for Santana, the Phillies deal infielder Freddy Galvis, who’s spent all six of his big league campaigns with Philadelphia, to San Diego. In exchange, the Phillies receive Double-A pitcher Enyel De Los Santos.

The Angels continue to strengthen their roster, signing free agent infielder Zack Cozart to a three-year deal worth $38 million. Cozart, too, has spent his entire career with Cincinnati, setting career highs in 2017 with 24 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .297 average while earning a spot of the NL All-Star roster.

The Giants send pitcher Matt Moore, who struggled with a career-worst 5.52 ERA and NL-leading 15 losses in 2017, to the Texas Rangers for two minor leaguers and $750,000 in international slot money. It’s said that the move is made to free up spending cash for the Giants in hopes of landing a free agent outfielder.

Saturday, December 16
A blockbuster trade between the Dodgers and Braves, at first glance, almost makes no sense except for those who believe the transaction’s true purpose is to shave payroll. Coming back to Los Angeles is outfielder Matt Kemp; going to Atlanta is first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitchers Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy and outfielder Charlie Culberson. Rumors have the Dodgers eventually flipping Kemp to another team, while the Braves immediately designate Gonzalez for assignment; the fate of Kazmir and McCarthy, two pitchers expected to earn a combined $30 million, remain up in the air—especially given that a bad hip kept Kazmir from pitching at the major league level for all of 2017.

CC Sabathia is returning to the Yankees for a one-year deal worth $10 million. The portly southpaw revived his game in 2017 with a 14-5 record and 3.69 ERA in 27 starts, after winning just 18 games with a 4.42 figure combined through the three previous seasons.

The Milwaukee Brewers bring home Yovani Gallardo, who threw at Miller Park from 2007-14 and ranks among the best of Brewers pitchers—including a #1 standing on the franchise strikeout list. It may be a different Gallardo that Brewers fans see; he’s struggled since leaving the team, posting an 11-17 record and 5.57 ERA over the last two seasons for Baltimore and Seattle.

Monday, December 18
The Red Sox re-up first baseman Mitch Moreland for two years and $13 million. The 32-year-old veteran had very Moreland-like output in 2017, hitting .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs, while continuing his strong play defensively.

Tuesday, December 19
While rumors are rampant of a possible Manny Machado trade, the Orioles know that they’ll certainly be without closer Zach Britton early in 2018. While doing an offseason workout in California, Britton ruptures his Achilles tendon—and will be out of action through at least May.

The last of three surviving female members of the Negro Leagues passes away. Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who was 82, played three years for the Indianapolis Clowns in the early 1950s after being rejected by the All-American (and all-white) Girls Professional Baseball League, posting an impressive 33-8 record and .270 batting average. After her playing days, she worked as a nurse for 30 years.

The other two women to play in the Negro Leagues were Connie Morgan and Toni Stone, both of whom also played for the Clowns in the 1950s.

Wednesday, December 20
Evan Longoria, the closest thing to “Mr. Ray” in St. Petersburg, is no longer a Ray. The veteran third baseman is dealt to San Francisco for four players including underachieving outfielder Denard Span and highly-touted young third sacker Christian Arroyo. Longoria was just 10 hits away from supplanting Carl Crawford as Tampa Bay’s all-time hit leader, but leaves the team first on the franchise lists for home runs, RBIs, doubles, runs and walks. The Rays make the move to save on the $86 million still owed to him through 2023.

Some people wonder why Longoria couldn’t use his powers as a 10-and-5 player—one who’s logged 10 years in the majors and five with one team—to void the trade; that’s because he’s really more of a 9 5/6-and-5 player; if you recall, Longoria wasn’t called up to Tampa Bay until after Opening Day 2008 so that the Rays could gain another year of team control on him, much the way the Cubs handled the promotion of Kris Bryant early in 2015.

A couple of mid-level first baseman with All-Star potential sign with new teams. Yonder Alonso, who impressively muscled up with 28 homers split between Oakland and Seattle in 2017—he never had hit more than nine in any one of seven previous seasons—inks a two-year, $16 million deal with Cleveland. In Washington, the Nationals sign Matt Adams, who also set a career mark for homers with 20 split between two teams (St. Louis and Atlanta).

Milwaukee brings into its rotational fold Jhoulys Chacin, a journeyman veteran who enjoyed something of a comeback campaign for San Diego in 2017 with a 13-10 record and 3.89 ERA, for two years and $16 million.The Brewers are hoping that Chacin will pitch as well at Miller Park as he did at San Diego, where he posted a 1.79 ERA—and that he’ll pitch better on the road than a 6.53 ERA with the Padres last year.

No one seems happy with the plight of the talent- and payroll-slashing Marlins. A day after ‘Face of the Team’ Derek Jeter finally shows his face to irate season ticket holders—including Laurence Leavy, the so-called ‘Marlins Man’ who vows now to renew his tickets—commissioner Rob Manfred gets raked over the coals in a tense, ambush-like phone interview with ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard. Most of Le Batard’s fury directed at Manfred is over whether he knew that Jeter & Co. would buy the Marlins and immediately trash the roster, which puts Manfred in the tough spot of answering that, yes, he knew, or that no, he didn’t—making him come off as a bit blind to the team’s intentions. (Manfred opts for the latter reply.)

Not to totally defend the new Marlins regime, but it should be pointed out that the group inherited so much debt from Jeffrey Loria’s ownership that it had almost no option but to slice away at payroll to whittle the deficit down. So there’s that.

Thursday, December 21
Broadcasting legend Dick Enberg suffers a fatal heart attack at age 82 in La Jolla, California. Though best known to many for his national play-by-play of the National Football League for NBC during the 1970s and 1980s, Enberg was a baseball voice for the California Angels from 1969-78 and the San Diego Padres from 2010-16, with national work for NBC in between, frequently using his catchphrase, “Oh, my!” Enberg was also remembered for his work calling UCLA basketball during its glory years under coach John Wooden, Wimbledon tennis for NBC, the Masters golf tournament for CBS, and he was host of the popular 1970s syndicated game show Sports Challenge, in which members of sports teams (the Yankees of the 1950s, e.g.) would test their sports knowledge against one another.

Seattle infielder Jean Segura posts an image and message via his Instagram page stating that he was roughed up, held at gunpoint, robbed of valuables and had his pickup truck “crashed” by members of the Dominican Republic’s anti-drug forces. Authorities are investigating, yet it serves up one more hazard for ballplayers hanging out in the D.R. in the offseason.

Sunday, December 24
Jerry Kindall, a nondescript veteran infielder of nine major league seasons who enjoyed much greater acclaim as coach for the University of Arizona baseball team over a quarter century, passes away at age 82. The St. Paul, Minnesota native played for the Cubs, Indians and Twins, rarely playing full time; he appeared to finally hit full stride as the everyday second baseman for the Twins in 1965, but he hit only .183, suffered from numerous injuries and lost his starting job to Frank Quilici just as Minnesota reached the World Series—never once appearing on the field during that seven-game set against the Dodgers. As manager at the University of Arizona, Kindall won three national titles and is only one of two people to have both played for and managed a college champion, having performed for the University of Minnesota in 1956.

Tuesday, December 26
Twas the day after Christmas, and not a creature was stirring except for general managers signing yet more relievers off the free agent market. The Twins reach a one-year deal with vagabond southpaw reliever Zach Duke, who will now play for his eighth team over his last nine years; and the Reds bring on Jared Hughes, a right-hander with a career 2.85 ERA that will surely be challenged in the cozy confines of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.

Wednesday, December 27
Yet more accolades for Houston second baseman Jose Altuve. The Associated Press names him the Male Athlete of the Year, outpacing Tom Brady and LeBron James in the final tally of reporters. Altuve has already won the AL MVP award and been honored by Sports Illustrated as Co-Sportsperson of the Year with football’s J.J. Watt.

Thursday, December 28
A photographer for a web site following (but not affiliated with) the Minnesota Twins tweets that she was sexually assaulted by Twins third baseman Miguel Sano while covering an autograph signing event in 2015. Betsy Bissen’s allegation spells out in detail that Sano attempted to force her into a bathroom, but he gave up after 10 minutes of trying. Sano denies the story, but you can bet MLB will be looking into the matter.

Friday, December 29
The Colorado Rockies continue to be spare no expense to build up their bullpen. The Rockies sign closer Wade Davis for three years and $52 million; this makes Davis, at $17.3 million a year, the highest annually paid closer in baseball history. Along with bringing in Bryan Shaw and bringing back Jake McGee, the Rockies have invested over $100 million in guaranteed wages this offseason to relievers, something previously unheard of in the majors.


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