This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: November, 2018
And the Winners Are...(Baseball’s Postseason Awards)
MLB Pleads Ignorance on its Donations Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer Call it a Day


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.346 129 180 47 5 32 80 73 8 8 30

Last season, the young and talented outfielder had an off-year by his standards, batting .264—but it was such a potent .264, with plenty of extra-base hits, walks, and 100 runs and RBIs each, one wondered how enriched that extra production would be if he batted, say, 80 points higher. This year, we found out. Betts was the ultimate sparkplug for a lively Red Sox offense, leading the majors with a .346 average, 129 runs and .640 slugging percentage. He put bat to ball often as well, striking out less than 100 times—and in this day and age, that’s something of a revelation. At age 26, Betts should only get better—and the Red Sox don’t have to worry about losing him to free agency until 2021.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.326 118 187 34 7 36 110 66 2 7 22

Giancarlo, Giancarlo, Giancarlo. That seemed to be all you heard out of Miami in regards the teardown of the Marlins by their new regime this past offseason, as Stanton—the reigning NL MVP—was handed over to the Yankees. Almost lost amid the chatter of Giancarlo, however, was the Marlins’ moving of Yelich to Milwaukee. Seems kind of weird to think of that now, given that he’s likely to be Stanton’s successor on the MVP podium. The 26-year-old outfielder was deemed a solid but not sensational offensive force pre-Milwaukee, but an incredible second half—.367 average, 25 homers and 67 RBIs in 65 games—had him turning a tight MVP race into a foregone conclusion. And just so we get the record straight on this, Yelich is not Pete Davidson’s bigger brother.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.168 40 79 12 0 16 49 39 2 7 2

There was a time, back in his early days at Texas, when Davis looked like a powerful Double-A slugger hopelessly failing the major league test. When he moved on to Baltimore and developed into an All-Star force, those days seemed well behind. But Davis’ 2018 performance wasn’t just a relapse back to those earlier, uglier times; this was worse. His batting average was the lowest ever recorded by anyone with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title, and his OPS was also dead last—yes, lower than Alcides Escobar. There’s a lot of bad news in Orioleland these days, but here’s what may be the worst news of all: The Orioles owe Davis—who turns 33 next March—$92 million through 2022. Maybe this is why Baltimore GM Dan Duquette got the ax.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.199 31 76 10 5 11 42 15 2 4 2

This is the guy the Marlins got in exchange for Christian Yelich. Okay, so three other minor leaguers came along with him, but he was considered the prime catch, the Willie Mays card among the pack of common players. The rookie may have better days ahead of him—he’s only 23—and yes, Mike Schmidt hit .196 in his first full year. But whatever he showed in the minors that wowed the Marlins was absent in Miami. He couldn’t hit, apparently couldn’t run (he’s said to be fast, but stole only two bases), and though he has great range in the outfield, he led the majors with nine errors at that position. Finally, Brinson lacked patience; he walked just 17 times and struck out 120. For the Marlins’ sake, he’ll mature fast and avoid making this trade similar to the dud that was the six great prospects they thought they’d gained back in 2008 after trading Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
21-5 180.2 112 41 38 64 1 13 0 221 1.89

It’s almost ironic that the league’s best “mainstream” starting pitcher plies his trade for a team that’s all but disdained the starting rotation concept as the Rays leaned heavily on the “opener” in 2018. But Snell gave the team a good reason to temporarily keep Ryne Stanek and others in the bullpen during the first inning whenever he took the bump. The 25-year-old southpaw, after an 11-15 record over 2016-17, exploded into prominence with a stunning effort in 2018. His best stuff took place after a bum shoulder healed in early August, as he went 9-0 in his last 11 starts with a fabulous 1.17 ERA. It’s a shame the Rays put such a leash on Snell; five times he allowed only one hit, but never made it past the seventh inning in any of those starts. Still, he looks likely to be the Rays’ second Cy Young Award recipient, after David Price in 2012.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
10-9 217.0 152 48 41 46 5 2 0 269 1.70

Our combined metric readings told us to give this honor to the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, but shove the Excel file—deGrom was simply the better pitcher. It’s not his fault that he won just 10 games for the Mets—for that, go blame his teammates for bad support. In one ridiculous stretch, he went 13 straight starts with just one win—despite posting a 1.89 ERA. Before and after, he was just as good; in fact, he finished the year with 29 straight starts allowing three or fewer earned runs, a major league record. (Actually, the Rays’ Ryne Stanek also hit 29 such straight starts to end the year, but he’s an ‘opener’ so it really shouldn’t count, but it must—oh never mind.) deGrom has basically been the one consistently good, (mostly) injury-free component of the Mets over the past two years; goodness only knows what would happen to this team if he broke down.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Matt Moore, Texas Rangers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
3-8 102.0 128 82 77 41 5 6 0 86 6.79

Most of the trades that the Giants have made of late haven’t worked out too well, but the one sending the veteran lefty to Texas led to plenty of major exhaling in the San Francisco front office—and much regret in Arlington, where the Rangers obviously got the worse end of the deal. Tis a shame for Moore, who looked so sharp as recently as two years back when he was tossing gems for the Giants. This year with Texas, he was tossing lemons. Moore had an 8.02 ERA as a starter before the Rangers couldn’t take it anymore and demoted him to the bullpen—where he was only a little better. The Rangers have the option to bring him back for $10 million in 2019; here’s guessing that they probably won’t bite on that.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
1-14 106.1 141 82 72 33 1 2 2 75 6.09

On the 10-year anniversary of naming the lefty from La Grange, Texas as our pick for the NL’s worst pitcher, we do it again. And it’s not just because we feel like picking on him; for all we know, he’s a nice guy and we’ve been to La Grange—it’s a pleasant town. But the numbers are too just painful to ignore. This number is the most painful: 1-19. That’s the Reds’ record when Bailey started. The last time a team suffered such a funk from one pitcher was when the 1899 Cleveland Spiders also went 1-19 with Frank Bates on the mound. When you reference the Spiders (who finished 20-134), you know this is bad. Whatever magic Bailey had to earn a six-year, $105 million contract back in 2014 has long since vanished; like the Orioles with Chris Davis, the Reds are counting the days until they can stop sending checks to this guy.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Boston Red Sox (108-54)

Boston chalked up its third straight AL East title with hammer-like force, riding the league’s best offense and an effective (if patched-together) rotation to a franchise record 108 wins—though the 1912, 1915 and 1946 editions, who played fewer games, have this squad beat on percentage points. Nevertheless, this was a star-studded affair, with not one but two legitimate MVP candidates (Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez), a Cy Young Award-level performance from ace Chris Sale and 42 more saves from Craig Kimbrel. That they made winning the division look easy even as the rival Yankees won 100 games made their achievement all the more impressive. The benefactor of all of this is first-year manager Alex Cora, who earned more victories by a rookie pilot than all but the Yankees’ Ralph Houk in 1961.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Milwaukee Brewers (96-67)

Not so long ago, we ribbed the Brewers for being fast, loose and sloppy. They still are; in 2018, they were at or near the top of the charts in steals, batter strikeouts and errors. But this year, they finally piled up enough positives to offset some of the negatives—or else they wouldn’t have finished the season with the NL’s best record. Part of it was the emergence of a monstrous bullpen that got better with each passing month and bailed out a fractured rotation (Jhoulys Chacin was the only pitcher with 10 or more wins). But clearly sweetening the Miller Park pot was likely NL MVP Christian Yelich, once-and-current Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain, and a breakout campaign for slugger Jesus Aguilar (35 homers). So they remain fast, they remain loose—in a good way—and they’d like to think that the only thing they’re sloppy at is clubhouse champagne celebrations.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Baltimore Orioles (47-115)

When the Red Sox’ Andrew Benintendi made a flying catch in front of the AL East standings posted on Fenway Park’s Green Monster during the World Series, TV viewers nationwide couldn’t help but focus at those standings and blurt out, “Were the Orioles really that bad?” Just about everything that could go wrong did for the O-No’s, from eleven losing streaks of five or more games to Chris Davis’ crash-and-burn to Dylan Bundy’s 41 homers allowed—and on and on and on. Almost nobody stepped up, except those (Manny Machado, Zach Britton) who got traded and avoided having to play out the whole nightmare. All of this added to a franchise-record 115 losses—yes, that history includes the god-awful St. Louis Browns—and front-office cries of “off with their heads!” aimed at manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette, who had stabilized the team until this nuclear implosion. Here’s the question for 2019: Is there a long enough ladder to help rescue this ballclub from the abyss?


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (63-98)

After an offseason purge of basically anyone with established talent—those left behind were essentially banging on the door to join the exodus—the Marlins’ slogan for 2018 might as well have been, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.” Marlins fans got the message, which is why they didn’t show up; the sub-million gate was the first by a major league team since the lame-duck Montreal Expos of 2004. Besides attendance, the Marlins were also dead last in the NL in ERA, runs scored and slugging percentage. As tanking dictates, the Marlins should be able to only go up from here. The question is whether the fans, so scarred by Wayne Huizenga, Jeffrey Loria and now this, will even give a rat’s you-know-what when things get better.


Wild Pitches

Yes, They Can’t Believe This Really Happened
(November 2018 Edition)

Beware the Woo Wave
In a vote separate from the official balloting taking place on Election Day, people in Worcester, Massachusetts—where the Red Sox’ Triple-A team has moved to—were asked to decide on whether the team should be called the Red Sox or the WooSox. (As of upload time, the team has yet to call the election in either favor.)

Will it Stick This Time?
Mallex Smith’s trade to the Mariners was actually the second time he was dealt to Seattle. His first stay with the M’s, in 2017, lasted little more than an hour before he was traded again, to Tampa Bay—where he played before returning to the Northwest.

Everything a Champion Touches…
An 84-year-old Massachusetts man won $100,000 in the state lottery after picking a combination of Red Sox jersey numbers.

Odds and Sod Poodles
The San Antonio Missions of the Texas League moved to Amarillo, where they’ll now be called…the Sod Poodles. Which leads one outside of Amarillo to ask: What exactly is a sod poodle? It’s a local slang term for a prairie dog.

Lucky Sevens
It was noted that the day after Joe Mauer—who wore #7 for the Twins—retired, the temperature in Minneapolis at seven in the morning was seven degrees.

Holy Kendrys Morales!
Braves prospect Braxton Davidson broke his foot somewhere between third base and home after connecting on a game-winning homer for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League championship game.

You’re No Mr. Marlin
Griffin Conine, the son of former Marlins fan favorite Jeff Conine, will miss the first 50 games of the 2019 minor league season after testing positive for an illegal PED.

It’s All for the Pest
A Canadian scientist (and apparent Blue Jays fan) paid tribute to former Toronto great Jose Bautista by naming a newly discovered species of beetle after him.

A Dog’s Best Friend
Former reliever Jeremy Affeldt tweeted that he saved his dog’s life when, after it began choking on some food, he gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.





Thursday, November 1
Former major league pitcher Justin Wayne, a member of the champion 2003 Florida Marlins—though he only pitched twice that year and did not appear in the playoffs—is sentenced to four years on insurance fraud. His brother Hawkeye Wayne is sentenced to 63 months for also being part of the scheme. Over his three years with the Marlins from 2002-04, Wayne compiled a 5-8 record and 6.13 ERA

Friday, November 2
To almost no one’s surprise, Clayton Kershaw will remain a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite being owed $70 million over the next two seasons, Kershaw decides to opt out of his current contract—but re-ups with the Dodgers for three years and $93 million, essentially adding one year and $23 million.

Seven soon-to-be free agents receive qualifying offers of $17.9 million from their incumbent teams, the formal last-gasp effort by those teams to retain their players for an extra year. Among them are Washington star slugger Bryce Harper, Boston closer Craig Kimbrel and Houston pitcher Dallas Keuchel, all of whom are sure to decline the offer; the other four are outfielder A.J. Pollock and pitcher Patrick Corbin of Arizona, and pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and catcher Yasmami Grandal of the Dodgers. By giving these players the offer, the teams will receive compensatory draft picks should they opt for free agency instead.

The Chicago Cubs accept a $20 million team option for pitcher Cole Hamels for 2019. After a terrible (5-9, 4.72 ERA) start with Texas, Hamels was dealt to Chicago at the trading deadline and became a different and much better pitcher, producing a 2.36 ERA to go with a 4-3 mark.

The Rangers, meanwhile, trade for a former Cubs pitcher as they acquire Drew Smyly—who’s only pitched one game (at the minor league level) since 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Texas also declines team options on four players including catcher Robinson Chirinos and pitchers Matt Moore and Martin Perez. Shortstop Elvis Andrus declines an opt-out clause and will remain with the Rangers as part of his eight-year, $120 million deal.

Saturday, November 3
It’s happened again in the Dominican Republic: A professional baseball player is killed in a car accident. Nineteen-year-old reliever Jairo Capellan, who played last year within the Cincinnati organization in the Dominican Summer League, dies in the accident. Two other occupants of the vehicle, both Capellan’s teammates, are injured; pitcher Raul Hernandez is listed in critical condition, and outfielder Emilio Garcia is in stable condition.

The Rangers hire Chris Woodward, a utility major leaguer of 12 seasons and base coach the past three years with the Dodgers, to be their manager. The 42-year-old Woodward receives a three-year contract with a 2022 club option.

Former St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal, who missed the entire 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery, signs a one-year deal with the Nationals at a base of $7 million plus performance incentives. Rosenthal impressed the Nationals with a recent showcase in which his velocity reached up to 100 MPH .

Sunday, November 4
Six first-time recipients of the Gold Gloves are revealed to go along with veterans looking to make more space on the trophy shelf. Taking the award for defensive excellence at their various positions for the first time are Oakland’s two Matts, first baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman; Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.; Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed; Pittsburgh outfielder Corey Dickerson; and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, who shares honors at first base in the NL with the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina nabs his ninth Gold Glove, while Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado and Kansas City outfielder Alex Gordon each win their sixth. The Red Sox and Braves each have three players winning hardware—though for Boston it’s really 2½, as second baseman Ian Kinsler split the season between the Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels.

Monday, November 5
Cooperstown announces its list of Veteran Committee candidates, which currently rotates by era, to be chosen for submission into the Hall of Fame on December 9. Among those on the list is former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, managers Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson and players Albert Belle, Will Clark and Orel Hershiser. A panel of 16 people will decide; as with the general Hall of Fame election, a 75% approval vote is needed to get one into the Hall.

If we were on that panel, our one and only pick would be Steinbrenner. Love him or hate him—many prefer the latter—there’s no denying his influence on the game and on a Yankees franchise that was moribund when he purchased it from CBS in 1973. It’s now one of the world’s top sporting entities—along with football’s Dallas Cowboys and soccer’s Manchester United.

Tuesday, November 6
The Giants, whose old-school philosophy of pitching and defense hasn’t merited more success in recent years, decide to jump on the analytics bandwagon. They sign former Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi to become the team’s head of baseball operations. The 41-year-old Zaidi began his baseball life with the analytics-heavy Oakland A’s before being lured away by the Dodgers in 2014.

Houston pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. will undergo Tommy John surgery and likely miss the entire 2019 season. The 25-year-old right-hander was 10-6 for the Astros with a 3.86 ERA in 2018, and posted a 1.80 figure in five playoff relief appearances despite suffering from elbow discomfort.

Wednesday, November 7
A day after agreeing on a one-year deal worth $8 million to stay with the New York Yankees, 38-year-old pitcher CC Sabathia announces that 2019 will be his last season, tweeting, “This will be it.” The burly southpaw will need 13 wins to reach 250, and 154 strikeouts to become the 17th pitcher to reach 3,000.

Thursday, November 8
In a deal that will give the Seattle Mariners an abundance of speed, Mallex Smith is sent to the Northwest from Tampa Bay in exchange for veteran catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia; two minor leaguers are also dealt (one to each team) in the trade. Smith stole 40 bases and co-led the majors with 10 triples, and he’ll join new teammates Dee Gordon and Jean Segura—who combined for 50 thefts last season for Seattle.

The Silver Slugger awards, named for the best hitters at each position, are announced—and interestingly, Boston’s J.D. Martinez wins the award at two different positions: Outfield and designated hitter. It’s the first time that a player has won twice in a single season since the award was established in 1980.

Here’s another reason one shouldn’t get involved in debates on Twitter. Bill James, statistical guru and special advisor to the Red Sox, claims while in the midst of a social media argument with CBS Sports writer Chris Towers that the value of major leaguers are insignificant to the point that they “are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.” The debate is for all of the two men’s combined 50,000 followers to see, and spills out to the mainstream—where players union chief Tony Clark is not amused by James’ comments, calling them “reckless” and “insulting.” The Red Sox even distance themselves from James, releasing a statement condemning his comments. “Our championships would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players—they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry,” the team states. “To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”

Friday, November 9
In a decision that had been telegraphed since the regular season’s final week, Joe Mauer retires after a 15-year career that yielded six All-Star appearances, three batting titles, the 2009 AL MVP and a lifetime .306 batting average. Mauer played his entire career for the Minnesota Twins, first as a top-flight catcher and then a first baseman/DH after concussion issues forced him away from behind the plate. His hitting peaked in 2009 when he set career highs with a .365 average, 28 home runs (he never hit more than 13 in any other one season) and 96 RBIs in the Twins’ last year at the Metrodome. To the end, he stayed popular among Twins fans while remaining relatively under the radar outside of Minnesota.

Will Mauer get a spot in Cooperstown? It’s a close call. Statistically, he’s not quite there—but catchers typically do not get held to the same numerical scrutiny because of the rugged daily grind of being a backstop. Plus, being a lifer—playing his entire career for one team—usually resonates well with Hall-of-Fame voters.

Ken Howell, who played five of his seven years with the Dodgers and then coached within the organization for 14 years—serving as Los Angeles’ pitching coach from 2013-15—dies at the age of 57 of complications from diabetes. As a pitcher, Howell was a reliever who occasionally closed, saving 31 games for the Dodgers. In his final two years on the mound, he was a starter for the Philadelphia Phillies, going 12-12 with a 3.44 ERA in 1989.

Saturday, November 10
Nearly 70 years after his death, Babe Ruth keeps racking up awards. Ruth is one of seven recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, part of a star-studded selection which also includes Elvis Presley and former football stars Roger Staubach and Alan Page. The White House justifies Ruth’s inclusion for the award based on a “legacy” that “has never been eclipsed,” and that he created “The Babe Ruth Foundation and tirelessly raised funds for the war effort during the Second World War.”

Monday, November 12
Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, the two players considered consensus Rookies of the Year favorites before Opening Day, both receive said awards. It could be argued that the NL honor should have gone to Washington’s Juan Soto, who placed second and analytically had a better year, but Acuna Jr. was considered the flashier presence and received more attention as the Braves sprinted toward the postseason over the Nationals. Ohtani, meanwhile, takes the AL prize based on his ability to both hit (.285 average, 22 homers and 61 RBIs in 326 at-bats) and pitch (4-2, 3.31 ERA in 10 starts) in an impressive yet injury-plagued debut. The Yankees’ Miguel Andujar, who had a more complete season (.297 average, 47 doubles, 27 homers, 92 RBIs) but whose defense at third base was a modest liability, places a somewhat distant second in the vote.

Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu is the only player to accept his incumbent team’s qualifying offer of $17.9 million for 2019 to delay his free agency by a year. Six other players throughout the majors, including Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, reject the offers given to them and thus are officially on the open market.

A series of intense late-season wildfires in California claims the Malibu home of Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler. He and his family are safe, and he later says that “Everything is replaceable…We’re good. Our family is good. There are a lot of other families who are not.”

Tuesday, November 13
Manager of the Year awards are handed out in the NL to the Braves’ Brian Snitker and in the AL to Oakland’s Bob Melvin. It’s the first such honor for Snitker, who quickly revived an Atlanta team from the near-dead after Fredi Gonzalez’s dreadful 9-28 start in 2016; within two years, he had his team winning the NL East. Melvin, who took the A’s to a blindsiding 97-65 effort in 2018, wins for the third time—having also been named in 2007 for Arizona and 2012 for the A’s. Only Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox have won Manager of the Year as many as four times.

Wednesday, November 14
The recipients of the 2018 Cy Young Awards continues to show that this is not your father’s game. The New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom is the NL winner with a 10-9 record—the fewest wins by a starting pitcher ever to snag the honor, and five full wins lower than the previous NL low of 15 by Tim Lincecum in 2009—but his 1.70 ERA makes him an easy choice, with 29 of 30 first-place votes going to him. Washington’s Max Scherzer, who gets the only other first-place nod and 29 second-place votes, is second, followed by Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s John Maffei, who casts the lone first-place vote for Scherzer, is ambushed the next day on an on-air phone call with New York’s WFAN’s Steve Somers. After Somers asks one question (“Can you look yourself in the mirror?”) and makes one comment (“You’re looking for 15 minutes of fame and attention”), Maffei says thanks and hangs up.

The AL Cy goes to Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, who finished the 2018 season at 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA and did so in just 180.2 innings—the fewest ever thrown by a starting pitcher winning the award. Snell picks up 17 of 30 first-place votes, with the other 13 going to Houston’s Justin Verlander, who finishes a close second (169-154) in the point count. It’s the third time Verlander has finished second in a Cy vote, also finishing runner-up in 2012 and 2016.

Verlander’s biggest defender—supermodel wife Kate Upton—criticizes the vote, tweeting in “joking” fashion that she won’t be going to Tampa anytime soon. Memo to Kate: The Rays play in St. Petersburg.

The Baltimore Orioles, picking up the pieces of an absolutely awful 47-115 campaign in 2018, name Mike Elias as their new general manager. Elias was previously the assistant GM at Houston; his departure from the Astros is the latest to whittle down a front office that embraced analytics to build their championship-caliber roster. Also gone are Sig Mejdal, the team’s head of analytics who was released after his contract expired, and “senior technical architect” Ryan Hallahan.

Thursday, November 15
Baseball’s MVPs for 2018 are awarded to Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich (NL) and Boston’s Mookie Betts (AL). Both are first-time winners, taking the honors with ease in the vote; Yelich gets 29 of 30 first-place votes (Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, who finishes fifth overall in the vote, snares the other), while Betts gets 28 of the top nods, with the Angels’ Mike Trout and Betts’ teammate J.D. Martinez getting one each. The Cubs’ Javier Baez is second to Yelich in the NL vote; Trout finishes second in the AL, the fourth time he’s been given runner-up status—tying Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols for the most times placing second.

Yelich is the second NL player—after Boston Braves third baseman Bob Elliott in 1947—to be named MVP in his first year after getting traded; Elliott spent the year before with Pittsburgh.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on either list is the #7 placement of Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman, one spot ahead of teammate and MLB home run leader Khris Davis. Chapman hit .278 with 24 home runs, but added 42 doubles, 100 runs and was given the Platinum Glove by fans as the AL’s best defensive player regardless of position.

Baseball’s owners apparently like the job that commissioner Rob Manfred is doing. The 60-year-old Manfred gets a five-year extension via a unanimous vote of all 30 lords—a much easier ride than in 2014, when he had to sweat out three ballots before being named Bud Selig’s successor.

The owners also like the TV coverage it’s getting from Fox—and the money the network is paying for the rights. MLB extends its current deal with Fox for an additional seven years through 2028 for $5.1 billion. Fox has been the primary broadcaster of national MLB games since 1996.

We’re fine with Fox continuing with its coverage of baseball—so long as it doesn’t use FS1 for LCS games.

And finally, the owners are okay with loosening up the rules regarding player footwear. After some controversy during the middle of this past year in which players defied MLB’s strict rules on what shoe colors they could wear, owners announce that there will be “increased flexibility” in terms of what players can exhibit. These allowances now include black, white, gray, any colors displayed on the uniform worn by the player, and any additional colors “designated by the Player’s Club.”

Best and Worst of the WeekThe Miami Marlins present a new logo (right) and uniform for 2019, a more modest and traditional variation of the modern, bright tri-tones in use since 2012. The primary logo is, in particular, a delightful upgrade, with a curling, abstract marlin interactively doing a dance of sorts with the red stitches of a baseball.

Friday, November 16
World Series hero Steve Pearce will return to the Red Sox in 2019 after signing a one-year deal for $6.25 million. The 35-year-old veteran could receive more via numerous bonus clauses—such as the one for winning the World Series MVP, which gained him an extra $150,000 in 2018. Pearce will refer to his decision to return to Boston as a “no-brainer.”

Saturday, November 17
Infielder Aledmys Diaz, a .300 rookie in 2016 who since has softened closer to the .260 mark, is traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to Houston for minor league pitcher Trent Thornton. The Astros are hoping that Diaz will provide more flexibility to the infielding depth chart—and also hoping to see his average rebound to the .300 level.

Monday, November 19
The offseason’s first big trade has the Yankees acquiring Seattle pitcher James Paxton, whose 3.42 ERA is the second lowest in Mariners franchise history (minimum of 500 innings thrown). In return, New York gives the Mariners three prospects including highly-touted pitcher Justus Sheffield. Paxton gives the Yankees good rotation backbone, but don’t expect the second coming of Andy Pettitte; in six seasons with the Mariners, he’s never thrown enough innings to qualify for an ERA title. Yet he did lead the majors in complete games in 2018 (albeit with only two), one of them a no-hitter on May 8 at Toronto.

Besides his chronic fragility, Seattle fans might wonder why Paxton, the team’s most effective starter, is being shipped. The answer requires a bigger picture; the Mariners finished with a respectable—but overachieving—89-73 record in 2018 despite a -34 run differential. That telegraphs to the front office that the roster at current cannot compete and that a shakedown may be on the way.

Tuesday, November 20
Adrian Beltre calls it a career, ending a 21-year journey in which he racked up 3,166 hits (16th on the all-time list), 636 doubles (11th), 1,707 RBIs (24th), 477 home runs and a .286 average. The four-time All-Star played principally for three teams, and was a steady if not sensational performer offensively. With the Dodgers in his first seven years, he put together mildly solid numbers until an out-of-body final campaign in 2004 when he busted out with a .334 average, 48 homers and 121 RBIs. That parlayed to a big contract with Seattle, where he resumed his pre-2004 modesty in numbers, hitting .266 with 103 homers over five seasons. Beltre then spent his final nine years (one with Boston, eight with Texas) with an uptick in production, frequently hitting over .300 while four times each clearing 30 homers and 100 RBIs in more relatively hitter-friendly ballparks. He had a flair for the dramatic, often dropping to a knee on the follow-through of his home run swing—and a flair for the bizarre in that he hated being patted on the head. Toward the end, Beltre seemed to enjoy the game more and more—and displayed a sense of humor best remembered in a 2017 game when, asked by umpires to get back in the on-deck circle, he responded by moving the circle closer to home. (A humorless Gerry Davis ejected him.)

Is Beltre a Hall of Famer? With all those hits, he’s likely to get in—even though he was not the year-in, year-out, no-doubt-about-it superstar like, say, Ken Griffey Jr. He never won an MVP, never won a World Series (reaching only once, with the 2011 Rangers), and led the majors in a major offensive department only twice (48 homers in 2004, 199 hits in 2013). One might say that his output mirrors that of Rafael Palmeiro, who’s still not in Cooperstown—but Palmeiro was a confirmed steroid user while Beltre appears to have played it clean. (But what was up with that 2004 “salary walk” season?)

Beltre’s retirement leaves the majors with no active player who began his career before the turn of the millennium—unless Bartolo Colon (who debuted in 1997) gets a roster spot somewhere in 2019.

A couple of unsung power hitters from 2018 are designated for assignment by their teams. C.J. Cron, who hit a team-high 30 homers for Tampa Bay, is released by the Rays rather than be paid a minimum of $5 million he likely would have received via arbitration. Out in San Diego, the Padres sell the rights of Christian Villenueva—who slumped after a hot start this past year but still went deep 20 times in 384 at-bats—to Japan’s Yomiuri Giants.

Cron will find a home a week later when the Minnesota Twins pick him up. Hopefully he’ll give the Twins a better return on their expectations than the last ex-Tampa Bay bopper they snared, Logan Morrison—whose home run output shrank from 38 with the Rays in 2017 to just 15 (with a horrid .186 average) this past season.

Why does it seem that the Rays penalize players for mashing home runs? Last year, the team traded or released three players (Evan Longoria, Steven Souza and Corey Dickerson) who combined for 77 home runs in 2017.

The Red Sox’ David Price and Atlanta’s Jonny Venters win Comeback Player of the Year awards in the AL and NL, respectively. Price finished 16-7 after an injury-marred 6-3 mark in 2017, while Venters—pitching in the majors for the first time in six years—appeared in 28 games for the Braves with a 4-1 record and 3.54 record after starting the year with Tampa Bay, competing in another 22 games.

We get that Price didn’t put in a full season in 2017, but how does he get this honor when his ERA was worse (3.58, compared to 3.38 in 2017) this season? Look at Oakland outfielder Stephen Piscotty; he hit .267 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs for the A’s after floundering to a .235 average and nine homers in 107 games for St. Louis the year before. Now that’s a comeback.

Wednesday, November 21
The Cincinnati Reds upgrade closer Raisel Iglesias’ contract, giving him $24 million over the next three years to lock down financial certainty as he becomes arbitration-eligible. Iglesias converted 30 of 34 save opportunities for the Reds last year with a 2.38 ERA.

Friday, November 23
Former St. Louis manager Mike Matheny is hired by the Kansas City Royals as a special advisor for player development, a title which carries so much skepticism that one wonders what he’s really on board for. Some believe he’s been brought on as a possible successor for current Royals manager Ned Yost, who at age 64 is 16 years older.

Saturday, November 24
It’s revealed that MLB has made $10,000 in donations to Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith, whose campaign has been dogged by racially-tinged controversy which has made her the latest self-made political pariah. (This, despite the fact that she’s ahead in the polls, because…Mississippi.) After being slammed by a cascade of tweets for having the audacity to support such a candidate while embracing the legacy of Jackie Robinson, MLB the next day will request that the donations be returned—claiming that a lobbying firm they hired was responsible for the donations, and that they were made before Hyde-Smith had made a controversial remark in which she would be given a front seat at a “public hanging” if asked to by a friend. That last part is partly and factually incorrect; a $5,000 donation was actually made several days after the comment made news.

So why would MLB want to throw its support behind Hyde-Smith in a state where there’s no major league teams? Because it’s unnerved by the possibility that politicians would force minor league teams—two of which are based in Mississippi—to start paying its players higher wages than the ridiculously paltry amounts they currently receive. And of course, MLB throws its money at any politician who’s willing to maintain baseball’s hallowed antitrust exemption.

If MLB is hoping to find ways to encourage Millennials and other younger fans to embrace the game—something which has proven difficult of late—this will not be one of them. Many on social media say they will cancel their mlb.tv subscriptions, and/or not see another game. Of course, we’ll see about that.

This revelation comes on the heels of news of a similar donation made by San Francisco Giants majority investor Charles Johnson—which rattled fans in a city and region known for its left-leaning and inclusive politics. His lawyer will later claim that Johnson likely had a financial assistant make the donation on his behalf.

Monday, November 26
The Atlanta Braves, feeling frisky after unexpectedly taking the NL East in 2018, power up their roster with a pair of high-profile veteran signings. Third baseman Josh Donaldson, the former Blue Jays star and 2015 AL MVP, inks for one year and $23 million; also (back) on board is catcher Brian McCann, who currently ranks 10th on the Braves’ all-time list for doubles and RBIs. The 34-year-old McCann returns to Atlanta after a five-year absence spent with the Astros and Yankees, signing a one-year, $2 million pact.

Tuesday, November 27
MLB announces that it has entered into a partnership with MGM Resorts, giving the gaming giant exclusive access to statistics that will help determine odds on major league games while being allowed to engage in various forms of cross-marketing. Like everything else for baseball, it’s all about the money, which they will receive quite a bit of as a result of the deal. This follows similar moves by the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, who also have partnered with MGM.

Some may see hypocrisy on this deal, given that MLB has banned all-time hit king Pete Rose from baseball because of betting—but this deal doesn’t end the golden rule barring players and managers from betting on games, especially those they’re involved in—as Rose did during the late 1980s.

Wednesday, November 28
Union head Tony Clark has his contract extended through 2022. This means that Clark will be the head union guy for negotiations on the next Basic Agreement late in 2020, which many believe may be the most contentious since the 1994-95 players’ strike.

The Oakland A’s release conceptual drawings for their latest new ballpark site, this time a waterfront venue in historic Jack London Square. Designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels Group, the 34,000-seat park is envisioned to be surrounded atop the upper deck by a living roof of grass and trees, an aerial gondola that will ferry fans all the way from the railroad tracks across Interstate 880, and will be flanked on three sides by a series of wedge-shaped business structures that reminds one of the opening titles background for Basic Instinct. How would the A’s pay for this without the public’s help? By acquiring the existing Coliseum land and turning it into a potentially lucrative mixed-used development with tech businesses, retail, a lopped-off stadium (leaving only the playing field and the first deck) and retainment of the Oracle Arena, which would continue to hold concerts and other events. All of this is hoped to be ready by 2023, but don’t hold your breath—consider this Chapter Four, at least, in the search for a new A’s ballpark (after Fremont, San Jose and nearby Laney College).

Some people look at the renderings and wonder why the ballpark would turn its back on the bay and a potentially beautiful view of downtown San Francisco. That’s because doing so would expose fans to the same chilly winds that bedeviled Giants fans at Candlestick Park once upon a time.

Thursday, November 29
Pitcher Garrett Richards, who looked to be the real deal with the Angels in the mid-2010s before injuries turned him into a big, annual question mark, signs a two-year deal worth $15 million with the San Diego Padres. In 2014, Richards was closing in on a 20-win campaign when he tore up his knee covering first base; then his arm began causing him severe turbulence in 2016, and he’s only made 28 starts over the last three seasons.

A day after the A’s release drawings of their possible new ballpark, the city of Portland, Oregon releases renderings of its own. Portland’s vision is a riverfront facility on the north side of downtown with a curved ballpark bowl a la Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, adding a translucent half-shell to protect fans from northwest rains. And in what appears to be a trend among ballpark architects this week, the drawings show gondolas shipping fans in and out of the venue. Much needs to be done to make a Portland park a reality; it needs approval from the Port of Portland, it needs to find $1 billion or more to build it, and most importantly it needs a team, which may cost another $1 billion if done through the MLB expansion route.

Friday, November 30
It’s non-tender day as MLB teams restructure their 40-man rosters and release some notable names in the process. Among them are speedy Cincinnati outfielder Billy Hamilton, Oakland pitchers Kendall Graveman and Mike Fiers, Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia, New York Mets infielder Wilmer Flores, Toronto infielder Yangervis Solarte, Milwaukee infielder Jonathan Schoop, Philadelphia first baseman Justin Bour, San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland and Arizona reliever Brad Boxberger. In another closely watched move, the Cubs decide not to non-tender shortstop Addison Russell, who’s been accused of domestic assault on his ex-wife.

The Cleveland Indians, rumored to be on the cusp of breaking up their postseason-worthy roster, trade All-Star catcher Yan Gomes to Washington for three minor leaguers. Gomes is a career .248 hitter with fair power, but his excellent defense is probably what the Nationals are most interested in.


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