This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: December, 2019
Bluff or Enough: MLB Considers Starting its Own Minor League
Marvin Miller Finally Gets His Due MLB Teams Get That Spending Feeling Again


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.296 122 164 37 2 41 112 117 2 9 5

His appearance screams “working class,” but his numbers shout “MVP.” The maturation of Alex Bregman reached platinum status in 2019, as the infielder set career highs in most every offensive category with more than his share of contributions to a dominant, star-studded Houston roster. And he did it with discipline; no one swung and missed less at pitches outside the zone, and his 83 strikeouts were the fewest by a major leaguer hitting 40-plus homers since Albert Pujols in 2009. Rejoice, Astros Nation—Bregman is locked in through 2024 at a pretty good price. (Side note: Sorry, Mike Trout—you had to settle for second best yet again.)


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.305 121 170 34 3 47 115 74 21 3 15

A year ago, opposing pitchers thought they’d tempered the star rookie from 2017. Oh, what wishful thinking that was. After that modest sophomore campaign, Bellinger came roaring back to life with a thunderous season, falling two homers shy of the all-time Dodgers season record; he started hot—hitting over .400 as late as May 21—exhibited smart baserunner skills, and was a smooth fielder wherever Dave Roberts told him to play. It’s arguable that we might be talking about Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich here instead had he not lost his last three weeks to a broken kneecap, but those are the breaks—literally and figuratively. Congrats, Cody.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Chris Owings, Kansas City-Boston

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.139 13 25 6 1 3 14 14 0 2 5

First things first: The veteran infielder of seven major league seasons is not related to Micah Owings, who listed as a pitcher but actually hit better. Maybe Chris ought to do the opposite of Micah and take up pitching. Owings began the year in Kansas City and batted an anemic .133 in 40 games; by early June, the Royals were done with him and showed him the door. The Red Sox next brought Owings on and, after looking sharp at Triple-A Pawtucket (.325 average, 11 homers in 44 games), promoted him to Boston for the stretch—but he resumed his early-season unworthiness, bagging only seven hits in 45 at-bats. At least he’ll always have Pawtucket.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.173 15 39 9 1 0 15 12 1 6 1

Make do and welcome our first-ever back-to-back offender. Yes, the once-promising outfielder did something that almost couldn’t be done; follow up a Worst-of-Year performance by—to borrow a word from Keith Olbermann—doing something worser. Brinson dropped from a .199 average in 2018, and only Billy Hamilton had more at-bats without a home run this past season. So exasperated were the Marlins—pretty bad, given how low the bar is at Miami these days—that they gave Brinson a Triple-A break that lasted three months. He looked good there, but as Owings above can well tell you, the minors ain’t the majors.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
20-5 212.1 142 66 59 48 3 4 3 326 2.50

It was a tight call between the 29-year-old right-hander and his ageless warhorse teammate Justin Verlander, but in the end we give the edge to Cole, who rode a second-half wave of success to a strikingly brilliant campaign. Among the plaudits: A 16-game win streak and nine-game run with at least 10 strikeouts—both of which he’ll actively carry into 2020; a franchise-record 326 strikeouts, the most by an AL pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1977; and a remarkable 13.82 Ks per nine innings, easily eclipsing Randy Johnson’s 13.41 from 2001 for tops all-time. If Cole, a free agent this winter, doesn’t break someone’s bank, then there truly is collusion taking place amongst the owners.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
14-5 182.2 160 53 47 24 4 0 0 163 2.32

Perhaps we should have saw this coming when the Korean-born lefty bounced back from a groin tear midway through 2018 and looked refreshed and sharp as ever over the season’s final two months. That momentum continued into this past year, as Ryu put together early-season streaks of 32 consecutive scoreless innings and 14 straight starts in which he allowed no more than two runs and a walk. He parlayed those feats into a starting assignment at the All-Star Game, and although he blew a tire in August—suggesting that he remains a fairly fragile pitcher—he rebounded in the stretch to maintain his status as the likely choice for NL Cy Young honors.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Edwin Jackson, Toronto-Detroit

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
3-10 67.2 105 81 72 32 3 6 0 52 9.58

Like the studious kid in the classroom, we forcefully raise our hand and ask: Why does anyone still bother to hire this guy? Are the few teams left who have yet to sign him do so because they need to experience the macabre? Does he have compromising dirt on teams he wants to play for? The veteran righty began the year with Toronto—his record-breaking 14th team in a 17-year career—and was released after eight appearances and an 11.12 ERA. Then the Tigers picked him up because…what the hell, they’re on their way to 114 losses—how much worse can it get? (How about an 8.47 ERA over 10 appearances?) Jackson joins Homer Bailey as a multiple recipient in this category, having also taken Worst honors for the 2014 Cubs. Oh-oh, follow-up question: Will anyone hire Jackson in 2020? Anyone, anyone?


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
1-5 49 70 52 48 17 0 2 0 70 8.82

Going 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA in the second half of a rookie 2018 campaign seemed compelling enough to convince the Brewers that the 24-year-old reliever was ready for a rotation role in 2019. But after four starts and a 9.00 ERA, it was back to the bullpen—and then downward further to Triple-A San Antonio, where he shockingly fared no better. Next stop for Burnes was Arizona and the Brewers’ rehab facility, where they analyzed him up and down before realizing it had nothing to do with injuries or skill level. So perhaps this crash-and-Burnes experience could be bottled up in one word: Mentality. The good news for Burnes is that he still has the stuff to return to 2018 form. The challenge is how he goes about rebuilding his self-esteem.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (107-55)

Better than ever, the Astros put forth a juggernaut-like effort in which the only weakness could be found in a front office that badly needs to re-enroll in Public Relations 101 (see Justin Verlander v. Anthony Fenech, Brandon Taubman v. Female Sportswriters). The Astros produced the majors’ highest batting average, lowest average against, collected the most strikeouts from the mound while suffering the fewest at the plate, committed fewer errors than anyone sans the Cardinals, and could boast the likely MVP (Alex Bregman) and Cy Young winner (take your pick between Verlander and Gerrit Cole). How long will Astros fans be able to enjoy this? If they can snag free agent Cole back into the fold, virtually the whole gang will be back in 2020…and 2021 as well.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56)

With superb pitching, a bottomless supply of young talent and abundant cash flow spent rather wisely, there clearly was no one in the NL better than the Dodgers—at least until Howie Kendrick came up with the bases loaded at the end of the NLDS. That aside, Dave Roberts’ crew set a franchise record for victories (though the 1953 team still holds the mark for best win percentage), broke the NL record with 279 home runs (three AL teams hit more), and won their seventh straight NL West title—which would be a wonderful thing to brag about had the Dodgers won the World Series in at least one of those years. (We can’t help but to keep playing the Devil’s Advocate here.) Like the Astros above, they’ll be well represented in the awards cycle with Cody Bellinger (MVP) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (Cy Young) posted as the frontrunners. Beyond a bullpen that could use fixing up in the offseason, the Dodgers are not due for a slide anytime soon with their constant infusion of talented youth, so the rest of the West will simply have to figure out how best to fight for second place.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Detroit Tigers (47-114)

The Tigers teased their faithful with a winning record a month into the season, which makes their final ledger above all the more shocking. Yes, everything fell apart in the blink of an eye, as the Tigers lacked dangerous hitting, dangerous pitching, dangerous everything. There was also no home field advantage to enjoy; Detroit lost a major league record-tying 59 games at Comerica Park, where pitchers Spencer Turnbull and Jordan Zimmermann went a combined 0-20. The Tigers have some of the game’s top prospects lying in wait in the minors; they’re going to need to grow up fast so fans can quickly put this horror show in the rearview mirror. As for veteran manager Ron Gardenhire—who was on pace to set the season record for ejections before he likely stopped caring—he let the media know how he’d put 2019 behind him: With vodka.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (57-105)

When we anointed the Fish as the NL’s worst last season, we stated: “The Marlins should be able to only go up from here.” Oops. Derek Jeter’s whatever-year plan hit a rough patch this past season, dropping further into the abyss with the franchise’s second-worst record ever (the exiled, defending 1998 champions remain the Worst of Show). In the Year of the Home Run, the Marlins were a no-show with the majors’ lowest deep-fly output (146) while easily giving up the most in team history (236)—but they were also nowhere to be found when it came to singles, doubles and triples. The aforementioned Lewis Brinson was just one of four Marlins who logged over 130 at-bats and batted in the .100’s. There is one area were the Marlins improved: Attendance. They drew 198 more fans than last year. Break out the Florida Rum.


Wild Pitches

Yes, They Can’t Believe This Really Happened
(December 2019 Edition)

He’ll Need Extra Rest Before Facing the Principal
Recently retired Ichiro Suzuki pitched against a team of teachers in Japan and went the distance, throwing 131 pitches.

Not a Champion in Our Eyes
The World Series-winning Nationals will not appear on Sunday Night Baseball games through ESPN’s fixed schedule through July 2020. Meanwhile, the Yankees are scheduled to appear five times.

Pot Luck
Major and minor league players will no longer be tested for marijuana.

Meanwhile, Back in Washington…
After Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels, former Nationals teammate Trea Turner tweeted a video of himself kicking a Rendon T-shirt that said “Anthony is my favorite player.”

Now That’s a Mail Drop
The Dodgers’ Max Muncy found his mailbox overflowing with letters from fans requesting autographs after someone leaked out his mailing address

SnowTrust Park, Just For One Weekend
The Braves rigged up a massive ski run in the middle of SunTrust Park to host a ski competition in mid-December.

That’s Not What Tony C. Had in Mind
A week after winning the Tony Conigliaro Award for overcoming “adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage,” pitcher Rich Hill was arrested at a New England Patriots football game for resisting arrest. It was all over an oversized bag that his wife (who was also arrested) insisted on taking into the stadium

The Best of Wild Pitches
Check out the wildest, oddest and OMG-worthy of baseball-related items during the 2010s in our special edition of Wild Pitches.




Monday, December 2
It’s Non-Tender Day, with major league teams resetting their 40-man rosters by jettisoning 56 players overall into the world of free agency. Not every player purged is a borderline scrub. Among the more quality names: Former Oakland closer Blake Treinen, one year removed from a sterling 0.96 ERA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, whose progress was stalled by injury and domestic abuse accusations; San Francisco outfielder Kevin Pillar, arguably the Giants’ best field position player in 2019; Philadelphia slugger Maikel Franco and infielder Cesar Hernandez; Chicago White Sox second baseman Yolmer Sanchez, who just won an American League Gold Glove; Minnesota bopper C.J. Cron, who’s hit 55 homers over the last two seasons; Milwaukee infielder Travis Shaw and pitcher Jimmy Nelson; and outfielder Steven Sousa Jr., a former 30-homer guy who missed this past season after wrecking his knee in Arizona’s final spring training game.

Mike Moustakas has a new home, signing a four-year, $64 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. The 31-year-old third baseman has hit 101 home runs over the past three years, including 35 with Milwaukee in 2019.

The Baltimore Orioles send second baseman Jonathan Villar—perhaps their best all-around offensive threat this past year—to the Miami Marlins, a week after placing him on waivers. The 28-year-old Villar hit .274 with 24 home runs, 40 stolen bases and 111 runs scored in 2019; he’s expected to make close to $10 million in his final year of arbitration, which apparently spooked the Orioles’ finance department. In return, the Orioles receive minor leaguer Easton Lucas.

The Marlins also grab former Milwaukee slugger Jesus Aguilar off waivers. Aguilar had a terrific 2018 campaign (.274 average, 35 homers, 108 RBIs), but badly recessed in 2019 with a .236 average and 12 homers combined between the Brewers and Tampa Bay.

The San Diego Padres continue to be one of few teams actively retooling their roster early this offseason, acquiring former #1 pick Jurickson Profar from Oakland. Profar hit 20 homers for the A’s this past season, but also batted just .218. Sent from the Padres to Oakland is catcher Austin Allen and a player to be named later.

Tuesday, December 3
The A’s bring back reliever Jake Diekman for two years and $7.5 million. The southpaw, who turns 33 in January, finished an underwhelming 1-7 in 2019—0-6 of that for Kansas City before a midseason trade to Oakland; overall, his season ERA was 4.65.

Wednesday, December 4
Pitcher Zack Wheeler gets a big payday from Philadelphia worth five years and $118 million. The hard-throwing right-hander has never had a great year, but most experts tend to agree that after a 23-15 record and 3.65 ERA over the past two seasons, he’s due for a bigger breakout.

The Phillies’ NL East rival Atlanta counters by giving veteran lefty Cole Hamels a one-year deal worth $18 million—the highest annual salary ever given to a Braves pitcher. The 35-year old Hamels was 7-7 in 27 starts with a 3.81 ERA for the Cubs this past season; his 163 career wins rank him seventh among active pitchers.

The Los Angeles Angels, desperate for any pitcher durable enough to qualify for the ERA title, trade four assumedly lesser arms to Baltimore for Dylan Bundy—who’s struggled over the last two years for the woeful Orioles, collecting a 15-30 record, 5.13 ERA and 70 home runs allowed.

Bundy is not the biggest acquisition the Angels make on the day. It’s announced that the team is buying its own ballpark, Angels Stadium, for $325 million. More importantly, the purchase includes the 133 acres of (mostly) parking that surround the venue, as it’s assumed that owner Arte Moreno will hitch on to baseball’s latest revenue fad and develop real estate on the property so the team can further profit. In buying Angels Stadium, the Angels end all recent speculation that the team will leave Anaheim for a nearby suburb, agreeing to play at the ballpark through 2050 with yearly options thru 2065—which if fully, realized will make the venue the Angels’ home for 100 years.

The question also is raised: Will Angels Stadium even be the same by 2065? According to reports, the Angels have hired HKS Architects to look into remaking the ballpark—or tearing it down and rebuilding a new one.

In other ballpark news, The Texas Rangers reveal field dimensions at Globe Life Field in Arlington, their new retractable-roofed joint. It will play somewhat short down the lines (329 and 326 feet in left and right, respectively) and in the gaps (372 to left, 374 to right) but deep to center, with cuts left and right of straightaway center 410 feet from home. The wall does not curve at any one point; it features nine separate straight segments cut at diagonals, meaning outfielders will have to stay on their toes and prepare for a pinball variety of baseball. More sentimentally, the dimensions will be named after star Rangers of the past; for instance, the left-field foul pole will be named after Adrian Beltre because his jersey number (29) matches the last two digits of the distance from home (329). And in a nod beyond the Rangers, the backstop will be 42 feet behind home plate—in honor of Jackie Robinson.

Finally, in Miami, the Marlins announce they’ll be moving the fences in—again—while replacing the natural grass with artificial turf for easier maintenance. The field reductions will take place in center (400 feet, from 407) and right (387, from 399). The move to fake turf will increase the number of teams currently using it to four—as the Marlins join Toronto, Arizona and Texas.

Thursday, December 5
A late-night trade between the Padres and Rays brings outfielder Tommy Pham and two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth to San Diego in exchange for slugger Hunter Renfroe and minor league second baseman Xavier Edwards. On social media, Padres fans decry the move, but in giving up Renfroe’s all-or-nothing home run talent, they get an all-around, productive Pham—whose 2019 OPS was actually higher than Renfroe’s.

Also not happy with the deal is Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell, who during a Twitch stream (yes, we’re now referencing Twitch) responds to the news by stating, “We gave Pham up for Renfroe and a damn slapdick prospect?” If Edwards, a .322 hitter at the Single-A level with solid contact hitting skills and good speed, continues to produce at that rate as he moves up the organizational chain, Snell may eventually have to eat his words. In the meantime, Snell will apologize a day later.

The Pham trade isn’t the only noteworthy news on the day for the active Padres, who also sign former Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild to look after the team’s staff.

Minnesota brings back pitcher Michael Pineda for two years and $20 million. The burly 30-year-old right-hander was a respectable 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA over 26 starts in 2019 after missing all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

In perhaps the day’s most under-the-radar news, the Milwaukee Brewers trade for Seattle catcher Omar Narvaez—who arguably was the Mariners’ most reliable and potent hitter this past year, hitting .278 with 22 homers over 428 at-bats. Narvaez fills a hole behind the plate left by the departed Yasmani Grandal. In exchange, the Mariners receive minor league pitcher Adam Hill and a compensation draft pick in 2020.

Friday, December 6
Howie Kendrick is being brought back by the Washington Nationals on a one-year, $6.25 million deal with a mutual option for 2021. The 35-year-old veteran hit a career-high .344 this past season over 344 at-bats, but more memorably supplied the go-ahead home runs in the clinching games in both the NLDS over Los Angeles and World Series over Houston.

Texas brings on another mid-level starting arm, signing 29-year-old right-hander Jordan Lyles for two years and $16 million. Notoriously hot and cold throughout his major league lifespan, Lyles compiled a career-high 12 wins (against eight losses) with a 4.15 ERA in 2019; he was 7-1 with a 2.45 figure after being traded from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee to finish the season.

Saturday, December 7
Two former star players who’ve lost their way in the last couple of years find new spots to hopefully relaunch their careers. One-time Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who horribly flamed out to start the 2019 campaign with Washington as he literally couldn’t get anyone out, signs a minor league deal with Kansas City. Getting a similar deal with Milwaukee is outfielder Keon Broxton, who as late as 2017 looked to be on the precipice of all-around stardom with the Brewers before collapsing this past year—hitting .167 with six home runs and 104 strikeouts in just 204 at-bats combined between Baltimore, Seattle and the New York Mets.

Sunday, December 8
The “Modern Baseball” arm of the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee elects former union head Marvin Miller and eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons into Cooperstown. Simmons gets 13 of 16 votes; Miller gets the minimum 12 needed for inclusion. Among those in the “close but no cigar” range are Dwight Evans (eight votes), Dave Parker (seven) and one of our two picks if we had a vote, Steve Garvey (six). The other would have gone to Miller, who’s long overdue for enshrinement based on his immensely influential role as the first legitimate leader of the players’ union that successfully fought to overturn the restrictive reserve clause in the 1970s, which resulted in modern free agency. As for Simmons, there’s no debating that he should at least be in the Cooperstown conversation given his 21 years of play, 2,472 hits, 248 home runs, 1,389 RBIs and a career .285 batting average. But to us, he was very good, not “great”—and that remains our ideal threshold for the Hall.

Monday, December 9
Stephen Strasburg is returning to Washington. The 31-year-old ace, who’s spent all 10 of his major league years with the Nationals, signs for seven years and $245 million in what’s the largest total payout ever given to a pitcher…until Gerrit Cole, who’ll reset the bar two days later. Strasburg picked a good time to enjoy a career year before being allowed to opt out of his previous contract with the Nationals; he led the National League in wins (18) and innings (209) in 2019, losing just six and posting a 3.32 ERA. He owns a career 3.17 ERA to go along with a 112-58 record—and he won World Series MVP honors with victories in both of his starts against Houston.

Uniform purists have their hackles raised as it’s announced that all MLB uniforms in 2020 will include the Nike swoosh logo above the right chest, per an agreement with the sports manufacturing company to become the sport’s official jersey supplier. The swoosh’s appearance will be subtle but obvious, and that’s what got some fans incensed. But this may be nothing compared to what’s possibly coming in the near future as MLB kicks around the idea of placing ads on uniforms; they’ve already experimented on that front, placing Ford logos on the side of batting helmets during regular season games held in Mexico this past season.

Tuesday, December 10
The Phillies add to their 2020 roster with a one-year, $14 million deal for shortstop Didi Gregorius. The 29-year-old Netherlands native bounced back from Tommy John surgery and, although hitting a lowly .238 for the Yankees this past season, did produce 16 home runs with 61 RBIs in just 82 games.

The Giants are busy on this first day of baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego. They acquire veteran infielder Zack Cozart from the Angels and assume the final year of his contract for $12.7 million—and although on the surface this looks like a bad deal as Cozart struggled through injuries and a .190 average in 2019, the Giants also get infielder Will Wilson, the Angels’ top draft pick this past year. (Going to Anaheim is a player to be named and cash.) Also picked up by San Francisco is pitcher Kevin Gausman, who also was far from top form with a 3-9 record and 5.72 ERA combined between Atlanta and Cincinnati in 2019.

Adam Jones is moving on to Japan. The 34-year-old outfielder, who hit .260 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs for Arizona last season, signs a two-year, $8 million contract to play for the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League; maximization of all clauses could expand the full payment to $15.5 million over three years.

Boston Globe sportswriter Nick Cafardo, who died at age 62 while covering spring training this past year, is posthumously named as the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

MLB announces its first-ever All-MLB Team, with the general public accounting for one half of the vote and a group of writers, former players and broadcasters consisting of the other half. This All-MLB roster features a full lineup of position players including a designated hitter, five starting pitchers and two relievers. The world champion Nationals have the highest representation with third baseman Anthony Rendon and aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The full list is here.

Wednesday, December 11
The recent days of MLB teams hiding from free agents appear to be over. The two top players in this year’s market—pitcher Gerrit Cole and third baseman Anthony Rendon—cap the end of the winter meetings by signing monster contracts with, respectively, the Yankees and Angels. After a fantastic two seasons with the Astros, Cole nets a nine-year, $324 million contract with New York, breaking (as expected) the previous record payout for a pitcher set just two days earlier by Stephen Strasburg. Meanwhile, Rendon looks to form an impressive hitting duo with Mike Trout after inking with the Angels for seven years and $245 million.

The Yankees have a rich history of free-agent pitching flops, from Kevin Brown to Randy Johnson to Carl Pavano to the late, not-so-great Hideki Irabu. For the sake of Bronx fans, here’s hoping Cole doesn’t join that list.

While the Angels have a superior lineup with Rendon, they’ll still need a decent rotation to compete in 2020; Dylan Bundy and a bunch of sub-100-inning arms won’t do it.

Superagent Scott Boras has already had a triumphant offseason. Representing signed clients in Cole, Rendon, Strasburg and Mike Moustakas, Boras is guaranteed roughly $43 million in commissions.

There’s other newsworthy (if not stop-the-press worthy) transactions on this busy day. Nomar Mazara, a consistent presence in the Texas lineup over the last four years—hitting anywhere between .253 and .268, and anywhere between 19 to 20 homers—is traded to the Chicago White Sox, who’ve offensively suffered in right field for some time; coming Texas’ way is outfield prospect Steele Walker.

Tanner Roark, who’s bounced around three teams over the past two seasons, signs a two-year, $24 million deal with Toronto. The 33-year-old right-hander was a combined 10-10 with a 4.35 ERA between Cincinnati and Oakland in 2019.

Former A’s closer Blake Treinen, who lost his way in 2019 after a sensational (0.90 ERA) effort in 2018, inks for one year and $10 million with the Dodgers. Treinen blamed this past season’s struggles on the ball, not so much because it produced more home runs but it was more difficult to control movement with.

Speaking of the ball, an “independent” study of this past year’s lively baseball—we place quotes around “independent” because MLB commissioned the study—finds that there was no intent to juice up the ball. Instead, the blame for the record rate in home runs is split between decreased drag in the ball (without referencing commissioner Rob Manfred’s claim of the “pill” at the center of the ball) and more efficient launch rate abilities from players. The study does make a number of recommendations to avoid a repeat performance in 2020, including the installation of humidors in all 30 MLB ballparks, and better oversight of production.

The juiced ball study is not the most controversial news announced by MLB on this day. Baseball makes it official—and sad: A three-batter minimum will be enacted for 2020, as Manfred has threatened for the past year or so to further cut down on game length. All relievers must now face a minimum of three batters—unless interrupted by the end of an inning, injury or weather delay. The union is not on board with the idea but has no say; in an addendum to the current Basic Agreement in March, it gave MLB the power to unilaterally enact the law. Managers, meanwhile, also grumble about the new rule—and now have to rethink their bullpen rosters.

Let’s see where we are with this rule a year from now. Teams will either have no choice to adapt as they did with reduced mound visits, or we’ll see the warts of the rule shown to a point that there will be a rethinking of it after the season.

This year’s Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting goes to Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, the long-time voice of the White Sox who retired after 2018. Equally loved as he was hated by viewers because of his folksy yet grating on-air demeanor, Harrelson did 43 years’ worth of play-by-play—33 with the White Sox.

Thursday, December 12
Former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello agrees to a one-year, $10 million deal with the New York Mets. Financially, it will be a bit of a drop-off for Porcello, who earned $20 million over each of the last four seasons for the Red Sox; since winning the 2016 Cy with a 22-4 record and 3.15 ERA, the right-hander has gone 42-36 in three years—but with a 4.79 ERA as Boston heavily gifted him with offensive support.

With Porcello gone, the Red Sox make up by bringing on former Rangers/Twins pitcher Martin Perez, who was 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 2019, and utility speedster Jose Peraza, who scuffed in Cincinnati (.239 average, seven steals in 13 attempts) this previous season after several earlier, promising campaigns.

Brett Gardner is coming back for a 13th year with the Yankees—and maybe a 14th, too. The 36-year-old outfielder and dugout ceiling abuser re-signs for one year and $12.5 million; if the Yankees like what they see, they can enact a 2021 option worth $20 million.

Friday, December 13
The war of words ratchets up in an unusual standoff between MLB and the minor leagues (MiLB). With the current agreement between the two entities set to expire at the end of 2020, MLB has suggested cutting off funding for 42 teams—essentially contracting them out of existence—due to what it describes as poor conditions at rickety ballparks and for players who are underpaid, underequipped and overtaxed by less-than-elite travel. (Never mind that MLB recently lobbied Congress to exempt minor leaguers from receiving even minimum wage.) MiLB hasn’t taken kindly to commissioner Rob Manfred’s threat to eliminate these teams, releasing a four-page memo attacking MLB’s attack back at MiLB. In a counterattack to that, Manfred today throws down the gauntlet—threatening to end all relationships with MiLB and begin its own minor league circuit.

While this is nothing more than one side trying to publicly score leverage points over the other, MLB’s position in particular is risky in that it threatens to alienate the backbone of the lower leagues that has forever helped develop talent for the majors. Sure, MLB can sprout its own minor league system, but just how ambitious an undertaking would that be—and even as financially flush as MLB is, would it succeed? Commissioner Manfred, who’s recently veered away from the “stay the course” platform he pledged upon succeeding Bud Selig, is feeling a bit bold after laying down the law on mound visits and three-batter minimums—and don’t be surprised if all of this is being used as a power flex aimed at the players’ union as negotiations for a new Basic Agreement looms.

The Tampa Bay Rays come to terms with Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, agreeing to a two-year, $12 million deal. Tsutsugo has 139 homers over the past four seasons for the Central League’s Yokohama Bay Stars.

Milwaukee gives a one-year contract worth $5 million to Brett Anderson, the journeyman southpaw who arguably compiled his best season in 2019 with a 13-9 record and 3.89 ERA for the Oakland A’s. This will be Anderson’s sixth team in 12 years.

The Mets round out a potentially strong rotation by signing former Cardinal Michael Wacha to a one-year deal worth $3 million; incentives could raise the total to $8 million. The 28-year-old Wacha has struggled to stay healthy over seven major league seasons but has been mostly good when active, compiling a career 59-39 record and 3.91 ERA.

Saturday, December 14
A crate of materials in the upper deck of Globe Life Field, the unfinished new ballpark for the Texas Rangers, catches fire and sends black smoke rising above the roofline into the Arlington air. Firefighters take care of the blaze within an hour, and there are no injuries. The extent of the damage—and whether it will delay the opening of the yard, with a concert as the first scheduled event in mid-March—is unknown at present.

Sunday, December 15
Cleveland sends Corey Kluber, its top pitcher over the last six years, to Texas in exchange for outfielder Delino DeShields and top 21-year-old pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase, who averaged 99.3 MPH with his fastball last season in the minors. Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time ERA champ, has $18.5 million and two years left on his contract—or $35.5 million if the Rangers activate a team option for 2021. He ranks third in Cleveland history in strikeouts and eighth on our list of the Indians’ greatest pitchers.

Madison Bumgarner agrees to a five-year, $85 million deal with Arizona after 10 stellar years with the Giants. Injuries have limited Bumgarner to a 19-25 record over the past three seasons, but his pitching accessories remain intact even as his fastball has slowed over time. He holds a career 3.13 ERA through 11 years with the Giants and—as we all remember from 2014—has been excellent in the postseason, sporting an 8-3 record with three shutouts and a 2.11 ERA. Like Kluber above, Bumgarner leaves San Francisco as the franchise’s third-highest collector of career strikeouts.

Monday, December 16
The Cincinnati Reds bring in another mid-level pitcher as Wade Miley signs for two years and $15 million. The 33-year-old southpaw was an underrated presence in a Houston rotation dominated by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but collapsed in September—and made just one postseason appearance, a relief stint in the ALDS. Overall for 2019, he was 14-6 with a 3.89 ERA.

Outfielder Avisail Garcia, who hit .282 with a career-high 20 homers for Tampa Bay this past year, signs a two-year, $20 million deal with Milwaukee. The Brewers are crossing their fingers that the 28-year old’s habit of suffering in even years (hitting a collective .245, as opposed to .288 in even years) doesn’t continue.

Veteran reliever Sergio Romo, who began this past season with Minnesota before being traded to Miami, is returning to the Twins on a year-one deal worth $5 million. Romo, who turns 37 in March, authored a combined 3.43 ERA in 65 appearances between the Twins and Marlins in 2019.

Tuesday, December 17
Two veteran pitchers from the Orient are picked up by MLB teams. The Cardinals sign Kim Kwang-Hyun—or, as another headline writes, Kwang Hyun Kim or, as baseball-reference.com refers to him, Gwang-hyun Kim—to a two-year contract. The 31-year-old southpaw had a stellar 2019 season for Korea’s SK Wyverns, winning 17 of 23 decisions with a 2.51 ERA over 190.1 innings. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays pick up Shun Yamaguchi, a 32-year-old right-hander who was 16-4 with a 2.78 ERA over 181 innings in Japan this past year.

Wednesday, December 18
Matt Kemp, less than two years removed from All-Star status, signs a minor league contract with Miami at age 35. After hitting .290 with 21 homers for the Dodgers in 2018, Kemp was traded to Cincinnati for 2019—where he hit an anemic .200 over 60 at-bats before being released. The Mets picked him up, and he only got in 34 at-bats at the Triple-A level before they too let him go.

Thursday, December 19
A couple of sluggers once on the threshold of greatness—yet never quite got there—sign on with new teams. Justin Smoak, a few years removed from a solid (.270 average, 38 homers, 90 RBIs) campaign in 2017—but grounded this past season at .208-22-61—signs a one-year, $5 million pact with Milwaukee. And Maikel Franco, who the Phillies patiently waited on to bust out (he never did), inks for one year and $2.95 million with Kansas City.

The Angels add 28-year-old Julio Teheran to a rotation that remains badly in need of an upgrade. The former Atlanta starter will help; his consistency has been solid for the Braves over the past seven years, forging a 76-72 record during that time while, most importantly for an Angels team burned out on fragile starting pitchers, has remained healthy, starting at least 30 games a year. His total payout for 2020 will be $9 million.

The White Sox, looking for some rotational backbone of their own, sign 34-year-old southpaw Gio Gonzalez to a one-year deal worth $5 million—with a 2021 team option that could gross him another $6.5 million. Goznalez started 17 games for the Brewers and relieved in two others this past year, but finished only with a 3-2 record despite a nice 3.50 ERA. Being allowed to pitch into the sixth inning in only four of those games may have had something to do with that.

Friday, December 20
For the second straight year, MLB players suffer a slight drop in salary—falling 1.1% to an average of $4.051 million. It’s the first time since the players’ union became keeping track of wages (50 years earlier) that it’s gone down in consecutive years—a state of affairs all the more alarming given that, two days later, it will be announced that MLB sets a new revenue record at $10.7 billion.

If stagnant salaries and soaring team revenues aren’t the ace in the hole the players’ union needs to convince MLB and the public as negotiations rev up for a new Basic Agreement, then one doesn’t exist.

Ian Kinsler retires after 14 years, his last as a member of the San Diego Padres for whom he hit .217 with nine homers over 87 games. The two-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman leaves the game one hit shy of 2,000 for his career; he also accumulated 1,243 runs, 416 doubles, 257 home runs and 243 steals. Of the latter number, 172 were swiped for the Rangers, currently listing Kinsler second on the franchise’s all-time list behind Elvis Andrus.

Saturday, December 21
MLB and umpires agree on a new five-year contract which, surprisingly, allows for the possible future use of computerized strike zones. It’s not clear yet as to whether the players’ union will have a say on whether to have a computer call balls and strikes—but with approaching negotiations on a new Basic Agreement, MLB will likely do all it can do garner unilateral control over such decisions, as it recently managed to do with the new three-batter minimum rule for relief pitchers. Used in the independent Atlantic League and a portion of the Arizona Fall League this past year, the computerized strike zone will be used in the Class-A Florida State League in 2020—and if all goes well, it will be promoted to Triple-A in 2021.

Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, who sat out the first half of 2019 before singing with the Braves and recording an 8-8 record with a 3.75 ERA, agrees to a three-year, $55 million deal with the White Sox—who continue to bulk up their rotation a couple of days after brining on Gio Gonzalez. Keuchel, who will be 32 on Opening Day 2020, has a career 84-71 record through eight seasons, all but one of them with Houston.

The Detroit Tigers, relatively quiet this offseason yet in desperate need of someone, anyone to bump up their roster after an awful 47-114 showing in 2019, sign infielder Jonathan Schoop and first baseman/DH C.J. Cron—two guys who’ve seen better days and could see them again. The 28-year-old Schoop, a deserving all-star in 2017, has hit .233 and .256 each of the past two years with fair (20-ish home run) power; Cron has been a steadier presence, and has nailed 55 deep flies over the last two seasons, including 30 for Tampa Bay in 2018. Both players sign one-year deals with Detroit.

Sunday, December 22
After an exemplary 2019 season in which one could argue he got stiffed out of a Cy Young Award, Hyun-Jin Ryu signs a four-year, $80 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. The 32-year-old Ryu was 14-5 with a MLB-leading 2.32 ERA this past season, but finished second in the NL Cy vote behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

The Blue Jays aren’t done on their late Christmas shopping. They take a $4 million chance on infielder Travis Shaw, who after several productive years with Milwaukee crashed in 2019 with a .157 average, seven homers and 16 RBIs over 230 at-bats for the Brewers.

Monday, December 23
Cleveland signs second baseman Cesar Hernandez to a one-year deal worth $6.25 million, filling a void left by Jason Kipnis after his 2020 option was refused by the Indians. Hernandez has proven durable and reliable through seven previous seasons at Philadelphia, hitting for a career .277 average while showing mild power and good speed on the basepaths; he’s only missed two games over the past two years.

Catcher Martin Maldonado returns to Houston on a two-year, $7 million contract. If anything else, Maldonado is looking for a little housing stability; over the past three-plus years, he’s gone from Milwaukee to the Angels to the Astros to the Royals to the Cubs and back to the Astros again.

The Oakland A’s buy out the Coliseum complex from Alameda County for $85 million, to be paid over six years. The county and the City of Oakland have jointly owned the Coliseum property, but the county has been aching to get out so as not to pay $13 million annually in debt. For the A’s, it’s one step closer toward total ownership of what currently is the largest public property owned by the city; the team is now the lone occupant of the complex, with football’s Raiders having played their last game in Oakland (before a move to Las Vegas) and basketball’s Golden State Warriors now playing at a new arena in San Francisco. The A’s are still looking to move to a new waterfront ballpark site near Jack London Square.

Tuesday, December 24
Outfielder Kole Calhoun signs a two-year, $16 million deal with Arizona after setting career highs with 33 homers and 92 runs scored. What likely kept him from earning a fatter contract was a .232 batting average that was his third straight sub-.250 figure—all after hitting .266 through his first five seasons.

Reliever Dellin Betances is staying in New York—just not with the Yankees. The Mets pick up the big 31-year-old right-hander for one year and $9 million, with player options for 2021-22. Multiple injuries limited Betances to just 0.2 innings of work in 2019—striking out both batters he faced—but has a lifetime 2.36 ERA and struck out 14.64 batters per nine innings pitched.

Wednesday, December 25
Merry Christmas to Edwin Encarnacion. The veteran slugger, who turns 37 in January, joins the upgraded White Sox on a one-year, $12 million deal. For the past eight years, Encarnacion has hit at least 32 homers—including 34 quietly bashed between Seattle and the New York Yankees this past season.

Saturday, December 28
Corey Dickerson, who quietly put together a nice half-season between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia by hitting .304 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs over 78 games, signs a two-year, $17 million deal with the Marlins. The 30-year old’s career .832 OPS certainly made him a sleeper target within the free agent landscape.

Monday, December 30
The latest Japanese import is revealed as Shogo Akiyama signs a three-year deal with Cincinnati. The 31-year-old, left-handed hitting Akiyama has been a steady and productive (if not overpowering) force for the Seibu Lions over an eight-year tenure; over the last five years, he’s batted .321 with an average of 19 homers, 106 runs, 35 doubles and 73 walks per season

Tuesday, December 31
The Minnesota Twins bolster their rotation with the addition of veteran hurlers Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. Hill, who turns 40 next March, has been excellent—but injury-prone—since his career reignited late in 2015, going 41-20 with a 2.91 ERA. Meanwhile, Bailey appeared to get himself back on track after four horrid seasons, posting a 13-9 record and 4.57 ERA combined between Kansas City and Oakland in 2019. Both deals are for one year.


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