This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: February 2021

Spring Training Returns; Will Normalcy Follow?    Interesting Deal, Trevor Bauer
Don’t Blather Like Mather—Unless You Want to Say the Quiet Part Out Loud

January 2021    Comebacker Index    March 2021

Monday, February 1

As anticipated, the players’ union rejects MLB’s plan to delay the start of both Spring Training and the 2021 regular season by four weeks as concerns linger over whether the COVID-19 pandemic will ease in time for fans to return to ballparks on Opening Day, April 1. MLB had offered a 154-game schedule with a 14-team postseason, and would continue pandemic-era rules such as seven-inning doubleheaders, the universal DH and the extra-inning gift runner on second base.

Dustin Pedroia, who has struggled for three years to return to regular action due to knee injuries, has given up the fight and will retire at age 37. The feisty second baseman finishes a 14-year career with a .299 batting average, 1,805 hits, two All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves and three World Series rings for the Boston Red Sox. After winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2007, Pedroia quickly moved to peak form a year later when he won the AL MVP with a .326 batting average and AL highs in runs (118), hits (213) and doubles (54). On the all-time Red Sox list, Pedroia ranks eighth in hits, ninth in runs and sixth both in doubles and stolen bases.

Los Angeles Angels pitching coach and former New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway has some explaining to do after five women in sports media accuse him of “lewd behavior” either in person, via email or via social media, according to an article in The Athletic. This conduct took place over a five-year period while working with the Mets and before that as Cleveland pitching coach, and his bawdy reputation was “the worst-kept secret in sports,” according to one of the accusers. Callaway responds to the story with an email, which says in part: “Rather than rush to respond to these general allegations,…I look forward to an opportunity to provide more specific responses….my conduct was in no way intended to be disrespectful to any women involved.”

Ten days later, Callaway will be suspended by the Angels, pending the results of an MLB investigation.

Tuesday, February 2

Chris Archer is back to where it all began for him as a major leaguer, as the 32-year-old pitcher signs a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Playing his first six-plus years at St. Petersburg, Archer always seemed to be on the threshold of ace-ness—but despite an impressive array of strikeouts, he struggled to get above the .500 mark. Since a trade to Pittsburgh halfway through the 2018 season, Archer has seen both his ERA and medical rap sheet steadily increase; he missed the entire 2020 campaign to undergo surgery for the dreaded thoracic outlet syndrome.

COVID-19 takes the life of another ex-baseball veteran as Grant Jackson, who pitched 18 years primarily in relief, succumbs to the virus at age 78. The left-handed pitcher made his major league debut in 1965 with the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he was briefly a starter from 1968-69; when that didn’t quite work out, he moved back to the bullpen where he became a far more trusty asset for the teams he pitched for, including the Baltimore Orioles of the mid-1970s and Pittsburgh at decade’s end; he was, in fact, the winning pitcher for the Pirates in Game Seven of the 1979 World Series to help hand the Bucs their last world title to date. Jackson appeared in 692 games, and finished with a career 86-75 record and 3.46 ERA.

Wednesday, February 3

Ageless slugger Nelson Cruz, who averaged 40 home runs per season from 2014-19 and might have added another 40 in 2020 had the season not been severed to 60 games, has re-signed with the Minnesota Twins at one year and $13 million. The 40-year-old Cruz batted .303 and belted 16 homers with 33 RBIs over 53 games last season; he ran back to the Twins once the union said no to a universal DH for 2021, eliminating his options to hook on with a National League team.

The Twins aren’t done on the day. They also pick up Alex Colome, the former White Sox closer who became expendable in Chicago once they signed Liam Hendriks. The Twins could use a good closer after struggling with Trevor May and Sergio Romo last year; the deal for Colome is one year and $6.25 million.

The Arizona Diamondbacks also jump into the closer bargain bin and pluck 36-year-old veteran Joakim Soria for one year and $5.3 million. The right-hander has been used in set-up duty the past two seasons in Oakland but has 223 career saves, most of them coming in his early days with Kansas City.

Potential future Hall of Famer Felix Hernandez will be given a shot in 2021 by the Orioles, who sign him to a minor league deal. Hernandez finished a 15-year tenure with Seattle after 2019 and signed with Atlanta, but opted out of the pandemic-shortened schedule. The 35-year-old’s results have steadily devolved over the past four years; in 2019 with the Mariners, he was 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA.

The Milwaukee Brewers swipe former Cardinal Kolten Wong in a deal said to be worth two years and $18 million, with a club option for a third year. Popular in St. Louis, the 30-year-old Wong batted .265 playing every day in 2020 at second base, where he’s won Gold Gloves each of the past two years.

Thursday, February 4

The Cardinals have traded veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Angels for cash and/or a player to be named later, giving the Halos much-needed outfielding depth. As part of the deal, The Cardinals will help pay a good chunk of Fowler’s $15 million salary as he finishes off the final year of a five-year contract. The 34-year-old Fowler played 31 games for St. Louis in 2020, batting .233 with four home runs and 15 RBIs over 90 at-bats.

Needless to say, baseball salaries went down last year because of the prorated wages brought on by the pandemic-shortened season, but even had the virus never struck and the season had commenced on at full strength, the average salary still would have wound up at $3.89 million—a 4.2% drop from 2019. In fact, the 2020 season represented the third straight year in which salaries decreased among major league players. Part of the reason for last year’s drop is the expansion of rosters to 28 players; those extra employees were at the lower end of the pay scale and helped bring down the average.

Friday, February 5

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ quest to retain their world champion status is considerably sweetened as they sign reigning NL Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 million deal. The contract is hardly long-term; Bauer will receive $40 million this year and $45 million in 2022—making him the highest-paid player per season over each of those two years—but he also has an opt-out clause after each season. This will be something worth watching before his third year, in which he’s due to make a relatively sparse $17 million.

Announcement of a Bauer deal is not a surprise—but many had expected that it would be the Mets, not the Dodgers, that would sign him. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale must have been surprised; a day earlier, he tweeted that Bauer had actually agreed to a deal with the Mets, who were aggressively pursuing him and offered more money. But Bauer, a North Hollywood native, said yes to the Dodgers for less bucks.

It’s pointed out that Bauer will make more money in 2021 than the projected full roster payrolls of Cleveland ($36.5 million), Baltimore ($34.2 million) and Pittsburgh ($30 million).

After the Bauer signing, it doesn’t take long for (arguably) the best remaining free agent to be snapped up as outfielder Marcell Ozuna re-ups with the Atlanta Braves for four years and $64 million; a fifth team option year could make it $80 million. Compared to Bauer’s money, Ozuna is a steal of a deal for the Braves after an explosive 2020 campaign in which he batted .338 with a NL-high 18 home runs and 56 RBIs. Despite those numbers, Ozuna only finished sixth in NL MVP voting.

Saturday, February 6

Two players who have contributed greatly to their incumbent teams are traded for one another as 12-year shortstop Elvis Andrus is dealt from the Texas Rangers to Oakland for slugger Khris Davis. Joining Davis on the ride to Arlington is back-up catcher Jonah Heim and pitcher Dane Acker, while outfielder Aramis Garcia along with $13.5 million go the A’s. Andrus, who has considerable presence in many of the Rangers’ all-time top five offensive charts—including #1 in steals with 305—hit just .194 in part-time play for Texas in 2020 and was considered all but expendable on a roster where rising Gold Glove infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa looks primed to take over at shortstop. Meanwhile, Davis similarly unimpressed—with just two homers over 30 games during the regular season, though he did power up with three more during six postseason games. Still, it’s a far cry from the 40-plus he gathered each year from 2016-18. Though both players are creeping into their mid-30s, they are expected to be everyday starters with their new teams.

Sunday, February 7

Dee Strange-Gordon will try and resurrect his career after signing a minor league deal with Cincinnati. The 2015 NL batting champ and three-time stolen base leader had an ineffectual 2020 campaign for Seattle, batting an even .200 with just one extra-base hit (a double) and three steals over 75 at-bats. At 32, Strange-Gordon will be looking for a new spark.

Monday, February 8

Worried that COVID-19 may still throw Baseball a curve or two in the upcoming season, MLB announces that it will retain two pandemic-era rules for 2021: Doubleheaders consisting of seven-inning games, and the widely assailed gift runner on second base to start every half-inning beyond the ninth. It’s also officially determined that there will, indeed, be no universal DH—with pitchers coming back to bat in the National League. Finally, health and safety protocols are written out for 2021, with a stipulation that all players must wear masks unless they are actively involved in the game. Let’s see if this particular edict gets enforced and punished by fines, unlike last year.

We’ve been clearly on the record about our rabid dislike for the gift runner rule, a hurry-up-and-end-it gimmick that makes a mockery of baseball. That both MLB and the players are agreeing to retain it for a scheduled 162-game season in 2021 says one of two things: That Baseball is truly concerned that the virus will continue to wreak havoc over the next eight months, justifying the need for the gift runner—or that the two sides simply like the rule. We’ll find out in 2022, when all is assumed to return to normal and there won’t be a pandemic to lay blame on for continuing the idea.

It’s also reported that the 2021 baseball will be a little deader than in past years, when home run records were falling like deep flies into the bleachers. Not all of the juice will be sapped from the ball, but the aim is to reduce the flight of a ball up to two feet off a 375-foot drive. That may not sound like much of a difference, but the dent could be noticeable. Additionally, five more unidentified teams will install humidors—which can further cut down on distance—at their home ballparks this coming season, doubling the number of those currently in use to 10.

Yadier Molina is returning to the Cardinals after all. The 38-year-old catcher, who can boast of nine All-Star appearances and eight Gold Gloves, is back in St. Louis on a one-year contract worth $9 million. A reunion didn’t look promising at first, as Molina sniped at the Cardinals as he became a free agent after 2020—apparently upset that the team didn’t immediately reel him back in. This will be Molina’s 18th year in the majors—all of them spent in St. Louis.

The Orioles have agreed to extend their lease at Oriole Park at Camden Yards another two years through 2023, basically creating more breathing room to negotiate for a longer-term deal. It can’t be ignored that some might see this a scheme by the Orioles to move away from the iconic ballpark—but it’s probably more about gaining leverage toward making improvements and financial adjustments that will favor the Orioles’ bottom line over the long haul.

Tuesday, February 9

One of baseball’s more revered pre-Spring Training traditions, the upcoming season’s PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus, are released with a sprinkling of surprises. Spelled out as Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm—but also acronymized as PECOTA in tribute to “average” former major leaguer Bill Pecota—the 2021 predictions call for a return to prominence for the Yankees (with an AL-best 97-65 record) and Astros (AL West-best 93-69), a rise to the top for the Mets (96-66) in the toughened NL East, a surprise NL Central title for Milwaukee (89-73) and yet another NL West crown for the Dodgers, projected to win a MLB-high 103 games. Among the more curious guesses by the PECOTA computers: A drop in the AL Central for the White Sox, finishing third with an 83-79 record behind projected divisional champ Minnesota (91-71); an 80-82 finish for reigning AL West titlist Oakland; a blasé 82-80 mark for defending NL East champ Atlanta; and a very rough year ahead for the Nolan Arenado-less Rockies (60-102).

The day’s transactions include: Veteran reliever Jake McGee signing for two years and $7 million with San Francisco; former Atlanta slugger Adam Duvall, who twice hit three home runs in a game within an eight-day span last September, getting a one-year deal with Miami for near $5 million; second baseman Jonathan Villar latching on with the Mets for one year and $3.55 million; and veteran pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who’s seen better days, getting a chance to rebound to earlier ace form after signing a minor league deal with Milwaukee.

Wednesday, February 10

As new COVID cases spiral downward, vaccinations increase and warmer weather around the corner, MLB teams are looking more at the possibility of having actual fans in the stands to begin the 2021 season. Example given: The State of New York gives the okay to allow up to 10% capacity for Mets and Yankees home games. Other teams are working with state and local governments to devise plans allowing limited numbers of fans into ballparks for the upcoming season.

The Red Sox continue to anger their fans by trading young outfielder Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City as part of a three-team deal involving six other players including outfielder Franchy Cordero, who comes to Boston; the Mets are the third team involved. Benintendi looked to be a star on the rise and may still fulfill that destiny despite some reduction in quality over the past two seasons; he virtually disappeared in 2020, collecting just four hits over 39 at-bats in 14 games before missing the final month with a rib injury. Now, he’s part of a pretty decent outfield in Kansas City, including Whit Merrifield and ex-National Michael Taylor. Meanwhile in Boston, the Red Sox’ entire outfield from their 2018 championship roster—Benintendi, Mookie Betts and current free agent Jackie Bradley Jr.—is gone.

Billy Conigliaro, the younger brother of the late Tony Conigliaro, passes away at age 73. Born two years after Tony, Billy debuted in 1969 and, for his first two seasons, looked to possibly match the highly revered Tony in the power game—hitting a career-high 18 home runs over 398 at-bats in his first full year of 1970. But his numbers quickly fell and, by 1974, he was out of a major league job; he tried a few comebacks but never could get on track. In 1982, Tony suffered a debilitating heart attack while Billy was driving him to the airport; over the next eight years before Tony’s death, Billy went out of his way to become, essentially, a full-time caretaker for his older brother.

Thursday, February 11

Major league Swiss Army knife Marwin Gonzalez signs a one-year deal with Boston for $3 million, giving the Red Sox flexibility within the roster and, maybe, pacifying fans still a bit irate over losing Andrew Benintendi the day before. Gonzalez, who’s played every position except catcher and pitcher, isn’t exactly coming in on high momentum; he batted a career-low .211 last season, wrapping up an underwhelming two-year tenure with Minnesota after raising his stock with a few solid campaigns in Houston.

Friday, February 12

While the numbers and news suggest that we’re on the downside of the pandemic, the baseball world threw out a few reminders that we’re far from out of it.

MLB revises its spring training schedules to reduce travel, a move that will especially affect Grapefruit League teams since they’re more spread out across the southern half of Florida, while the Cactus League is now solely concentrated in the Phoenix area. This information piggybacks onto pandemic-era adjustments spelled out in the 108-page 2021 season scope agreed to by owners and players, which include for the option to end spring games after as few as five innings, and the allowance of players to re-enter games they had earlier exited.

In the ongoing offseason battle between NL West foes Los Angeles and San Diego on who will out-acquire the other, the Padres bring in 35-year-old closer Mark Melancon, who performed well for Atlanta last year (11 saves, 2.78 ERA) but is still not quite the Melancon of 2013-16 when he combined for 147 saves. Your move, Dodgers.

Also representing a blast from the recent past, former ace Jake Arrieta is headed back to the site of his former glory as he and the Chicago Cubs agree to a one-year, $6 million deal for 2021. The right-hander, who turns 35 next month, was at his peak for Chicago in 2015 when he took the NL Cy Young Award and was almost untouchable in that season’s second half. But his game has steadily eroded since; he just finished a three-year turn with Philadelphia in which he posted a 22-23 record and 4.36 ERA.

Saturday, February 13

Popular Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is returning to Los Angeles on a contract said to be worth two years and $34 million. Turner himself breaks the news on Twitter. Though his power has never been a prime selling point (he hit four home runs in 42 regular season games last year), his poise, clubhouse presence and solid batting averages (always hitting around .300) have.

Turner’s signing is the capper for the day’s theme, which is “Take a Chance on a Veteran.”

The Rays bring on pitcher Rich Hill, who turns 41 next month and may still have some gas left in the tank after going 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA in eight starts last season for the Twins. Never the workhorse, Hill should fit right in within a Tampa Bay team that frowns on anyone pitching past the sixth.

Asdrubal Cabrera’s next team will be the Diamondbacks, who sign the 35-year-old shortstop for one year and $1.75 million. Cabrera batted .242 last season for Washington with eight home runs and 31 RBIs.

Signing for a similar length and price tag is 32-year-old Brock Holt, but he’ll have to prove his worth with the Texas Rangers in order to earn the money and a roster spot as he inks a minor league deal. Holt spent part of last year also with the Nationals after stumbling out of the blocks with Milwaukee; overall, he hit .211 with no home runs over 37 games.

Sunday, February 14

Bravo, Big Papi. In an interview with the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz joins the parade of those lamenting the current state of the game as nothing more than a home run derby. “We used to want to develop great hitters,” Ortiz said, “now it’s all strikeouts with some home runs and it’s straight-up f**king boring.” Ortiz continues: “I struck out 100 times in my career and I was (upset). Now everybody does it. I see kids now taking BP and all they work on is running into a home run. Everybody is swinging out of their ass.”

James Paxton is returning to the Seattle Mariners, where he began his career in 2013, by signing a one-year contract for $8.5 million; incentive clauses could raise the total to $10 million. The 32-year-old left-hander spent the last two years with the Yankees, turning in one good year (a 15-6 record in 2019) and one bad (2-3, 6.64 ERA and a bad back in 2020).

Monday, February 15

The Miami Marlins announce that they’ll start the season allowing a maximum 25% capacity at Marlins Park. Yes, we see your jokes walking down the street—the Marlins have seldom drawn 25% of capacity at the nine-year-old ballpark—and yes, it’s Florida, where there’s major denial over virus restrictions. But it’s part of a growing sign that, as new cases plummet and vaccination increases, more teams will begin allowing fans back through the turnstiles.

Tuesday, February 16

The Mets may have lucked into one of offseason’s bigger bargains by signing free agent outfielder Kevin Pillar on a guaranteed $5 million deal with a club option for 2022. Pillar is a solid player both with the bat and glove; he hit a combined .288 with six homers and 26 RBIs between Boston and Colorado last year (rounded out to 162 games, that’s .288-16-80), that on top of a strong 2019 campaign with San Francisco. So why does he keep moving around? Our guess is as good as yours.

Wednesday, February 17

The first day of Spring Training certainly puts an extra spring in the step of Padres wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s rewarded for his early star work with a 14-year, $340 million extension, covering the final four years of his pre-free agency years. For those who think the money is a little premature, let’s remind you of the numbers Tatis has put up so far: In 143 career games, he’s hitting .301 with 39 home runs, 98 RBIs, 111 runs and 27 stolen bases. Yes, the Padres are taking something of a gamble, but they’re also making quite the investment.

It’s estimated that of the $340 million due to Tatis, he’ll only see $127 million of it. State and Federal taxes will knock off roughly half of the total, while smaller amounts will be deducted to take care of agent commission and union dues. Finally, there’s this: When Tatis was in Class-A ball, he made a deal with a group called Big League Advance that “invests” in prospects in exchange for a cut of future earnings at the major league level. One would think that Tatis wouldn’t need the $100,000 or so advanced to him—after all, his father earned up to $17 million in major league wages—but whatever, he did it anyway. Reports are that Tatis’ deal with Big League Advance will net the agency 8%, so there goes another $26 million into the hands of others.

It appears there will be three MLB teams in Florida to start the 2021 season: The Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Dunedin, er, Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays are expected to play at least the first two homestands of the season at Dunedin, their spring camp home. From there, the plan is to move to Buffalo—where the Jays played their entire home schedule last year—through June, with the hope that they can at long last return to Toronto for the season’s second half.

Tim Tebow’s five-year baseball experience has come to an end. The former football star who decided to give this great game a shot is retiring without ever making it to ‘The Show.’ In four years played at the minor league level (he was sidelined along with all other minor leaguers in 2020), Tebow batted .223 with 18 home runs and 107 RBIs over 287 games; he hit just .163 with Triple-A Syracuse in what would be his final activity in 2019.

Thursday, February 18

Virus willing, there will be a minor league baseball season in 2021. It’s announced that the Triple-A circuits will play a 142-game schedule starting on April 6, while the lower levels will engage in 120-game ledgers that begin on May 4. To cut down on travel, every series will be a weekly six-game set, with Mondays off. The press release from MiLB still refers to the various leagues strictly by compass directions (East, West, etc.), not by longstanding names such as the Pacific Coast or International Leagues.

The good news for minor leaguers is that they will be paid more this year. The wages will still be low—from $290 a week at the lowest rungs to $700 at the Triple-A level—but overall it amounts to increases between 38-72% from 2019, the last time these guys even played.

Oakland believes it has found its closer to replace the departed Liam Hendriks, signing Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year deal worth $11 million, to be paid over a three-year period.  The 30-year-old right-hander appeared to get his A-game back in 2020 by saving 11 games with a 1.90 ERA between two teams (Kansas City and San Diego), reassuring progress for a hard-throwing pitcher whose career looked dead and buried following a miserable, injury-induced stretch between 2018-19.

Second baseman Brian Dozier calls it quits at age 33, ending a nine-year career that was steadily regressing before petering out with the Mets last year. At the height of his game, Dozier smacked 42 home runs for the 2016 Twins—31 of those alone over 70 games against the four AL Central opponents. Overall, Dozier hit 192 homers and scored 664 runs, including 100-plus in four straight years (2014-17). In his lone All-Star game appearance in 2015, he belted a home run in his only at-bat to help the AL to a 6-3 win at Cincinnati.

Cleveland pitcher and 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber has contracted COVID-19 and is recovering without major issues. He will arrive at spring camp a week late, fully recovered.

The Detroit Tigers are one of the first teams to begin selling Spring Training tickets—and they are the first to sell out. Within three hours, all available tickets to 15 games are snapped up. The Tigers will allow only 2,000 fans to 8,500-seat Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, roughly a 25% capacity rate that’s being followed at most every other Spring Training facility in Florida and Arizona.

Friday, February 19

Brett Gardner will remain a Yankee after all. The 37-year-old outfielder, who some doubted to be a fit in the Yankees’ short-term plans, nevertheless agrees to a one-year, $4 million deal to return to New York to play his 14th season—all of them in pinstripes. Gardner hit a career-low .223 in 49 games last season for the Yankees, but his .354 on-base percentage (aided by 26 walks) ended up being above his career .343 mark; additionally, he came to life in the postseason, going 7-for-19 with a home run over six playoff games.

Pitcher Taijuan Walker has only won four games over the past three years, but the Mets think highly enough of the 28-year-old right-hander that they sign him to a two-year contract worth $20 million. All four of those wins mentioned above came last year, split between Seattle and Toronto, with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts; the previous two seasons, he dealt with Tommy John surgery.

Sunday, February 21

Colorado outfielder Ian Desmond opted out of the 2020 season—and he doesn’t want anything to do with the 2021 season, either. Desmond becomes the first major leaguer to pass on the coming campaign, stating in an Instagram post that his “desire to be with my family is greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances.” By missing out on both seasons, Desmond will lose nearly $14 million as he wraps up a five-year, $70 million deal he signed with the Rockies in 2017; Colorado has a sixth-year option for $15 million, but will likely grant him a $2 million buy-out instead as he’ll be 36 in 2022.

Pitcher Stan Williams, a rookie during the Dodgers’ first year in Los Angeles who went on to win 109 games over a 14-year career, passes away in Laughlin, Nevada at the age of 84. The big (6’5”, 230 pounds) right-hander was mostly a starter in his five years with the Dodgers but became more of a reliever—and a stingy one at that—in the latter stages of his career as he moved from Cleveland to Minnesota to St. Louis to Boston. Wildness was a career-long issue, and he hit quite a few batters—though some of that came from his intent to pitch inside, something he likely learned from ex-teammate Don Drysdale. He would go on to serve as a pitching coach, on and off, for 14 years between 1975-99, including two pennant winners (the 1975 Red Sox and 1981 Yankees) and a world champion (the 1990 Reds).

Monday, February 22

Cancel culture has caught up to Kevin Mather—but to be honest, Mather canceled himself. The Seattle Mariners’ president and COO did one of those things last week that team execs normally should never do—have a candid conversation with a local civic group thinking that it’s going to be private, except that it won’t. What Mather said to the Rotary Club was, well, a number of things; that he was getting tired of paying interpreters to hang with foreign-born players, bragged about manipulating service time with some of his star prospects, and said that veteran Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager is overrated. This, from a guy already on notice for sexually harassing two women in 2018. (He settled out of court.) Minnesota owner Calvin Griffith got in similar hot water back in 1978 when word leaked of racist comments he blurted during a get-together with the local Lions Club chapter. He wasn’t suspended by MLB or forced to sell the franchise—cancel culture wasn’t quite the thing back then—but it did cost him his best player when Rod Carew, upon hearing Griffith’s comments, bolted via free agency when he got the chance because he said he wasn’t going to be “another nigger on (Griffith’s) plantation.” The Mariners may not lose any players as a result of Mather’s comments, and here’s why: Despite an all-day session of remorse and apology, Mather realizes it wasn’t enough, feels too much heat and resigns.

Deidre Pujols, the wife of 41-year-old Angels slugger Albert Pujols, sends out an Instagram post on Monday declaring that the coming season will be the last for the future Hall of Famer. This leads to a chain reaction of tweets citing tributes and amazing facts about Pujols’ extraordinary career, but then came a little backtracking—something we might have saw coming given the puzzling look on Pujols’ face in the picture accommodating his wife’s initial post. Deidre amends the post by stating that 2021 is the last campaign of Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels—and that he might consider playing past this season after all. So, something of a false alarm.

Wednesday, February 24

Last week, it was the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner that was delayed from arriving at spring camp due to a positive COVID-19 test. Today it’s the AL MVP’s turn. Jose Abreu will stay absent from White Sox camp in Arizona for at least the next few days after testing positive for the virus. He’s said to be “completely asymptomatic” and is “frustrated” by being sidelined. Meanwhile, AL Cy winner Shane Bieber is back at Cleveland camp, apparently recovered from his bout with COVID-19.

Top Minnesota prospect Royce Lewis, the #1 pick in the 2017 MLB amateur draft, will miss a second straight season—not because of the pandemic, but because of a mysterious ACL tear that he recently suffered. When he tore it, he’s not sure—though he did admit to slipping and falling on ice outside during last week’s unusual Texas deep freeze. Lewis was not expected to feature for the Twins this coming season, but there were hopes that he would get much-needed minor league seasoning before making the parent club in 2022. The 21-year-old shortstop last played competitively in the 2019 Arizona Fall League campaign, batting .353 with three home runs and 20 RBIs over 22 games.

Thursday, February 25

Say goodbye to Shin-Soo Choo, who’s returning to his native South Korea to play for the E-Mart Electros—the team formerly known as the SK Wyverns, if you’re keeping track of that sort of thing. At age 38, Choo figures that his best baseball is behind him, so better to return to an environment that won’t bruise his statistical ego. Choo spent the last seven years with Texas; in 2020, he played 33 games and hit .236 with five homers and 15 RBIs.

Sunday, February 28

The first day of exhibition baseball brings some return to normalcy as all 14 games are played in front of actual crowds, ranging from 2,637 in Tampa for the Yankees’ spring opener against Toronto, to 863 out in Scottsdale where the Giants host the Angels. Not all fans are well behaved; one belligerent guy vocally harassing the players and refusing to wear a mask (which is required at spring games) is forcibly removed and ejected by four security officers from the Phillies-Tigers game in Lakeland, Florida—but not before one final display of disobedience when he throws his beer.

Teams are to go as long as they pleased; a pair of games go six innings, three go eight, another two go the full nine, and the other seven run seven frames each. Managers have the option of ending any inning in which one of their pitchers throw more than 20 pitches, but no one enacts on it.

Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of the day takes place in Sarasota, Florida where the Orioles’ Trey Mancini makes his first appearance since undergoing treatment early last year for colon cancer. The crowd of 1,705 gives Mancini, who is back to full health, a standing ovation before his first at-bat; he has a single in two plate appearances against the Pirates in a 6-4 loss.

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