This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: February 2024

The Shape of Ballparks to Come in Kansas City and Chicago
Why Las Vegas’ Mayor Wants the A’s to Stay in Oakland    Transparent Tunics

January 2024    Comebacker Index 

Thursday, February 1

The outgoing Angelos regime in Baltimore gives incoming new ownership a sparkling welcome gift as the Orioles trade for All-Star ace Corbin Burnes from Milwaukee. In exchange, the Brewers receive shortstop Joey Ortiz—rated #6 on the Orioles’ prospect chart—left-handed reliever DL Hall, and the #34 draft pick in this year’s amateur draft. Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, is currently due for free agency at the end of this coming season. New Orioles ownership, still to be approved by MLB, may feel heady enough to give him an extension. 

The deal for Burnes will certainly solidify the Orioles’ odds of repeating as AL East champions, with room for even further improvement. They now have a top anchor on a rotation that already includes the evolving Grayson Rodriguez and expected full-season return of John Means, the only solid pitcher from days not long ago when Baltimore was losing 100-plus games; they have the majors’ top minor-league prospect in infielder Jackson Holliday; and they still have one of the majors’ lowest payrolls. 

Friday, February 2

Three teams in regional sports network limbo—the world champion Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians—reach broadcast agreements for the 2024 season with Diamond Sports Group, which declared bankruptcy last year and was recently bailed out in part thanks to an infusion/investment from Amazon. The agreements with the three teams are for one year each, are not a continuation of the contracts that the teams had with Diamond before the bankruptcy, and will not include any streaming rights. 

Now that the Twins know they’ll have some extra revenue coming in from Diamond, they use a little bit of it to sign veteran first baseman Carlos Santana to a one-year, $5.25 million contract. Between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee last year, the 37-year-old Santana batted .240 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs; Minnesota will be his sixth team since 2020.

Former curse-breaker and current MLB rules consultant Theo Epstein is returning to Boston as a minority owner and part-time consultant with the Red Sox’ parent company, Fenway Sports Group—which besides the Red Sox also owns hockey’s Pittsburgh Penguins, Liverpool in soccer’s Premier League, and RFK Racing in NASCAR. 

The New York Mets bring on two more relievers, signing one-year deals with Jake Diekman and Shintaro Fujinami. Diekman, who just turned 37, was terrific (2.18 ERA) in 50 appearances with Tampa Bay in 2023 after being released a month into the season by the Chicago White Sox, for whom he had a poor start with. Fujinami, meanwhile, had a disastrous first-year experience with Oakland, posting an 8.57 ERA over 34 appearances (including seven starts) with the A’s before being sent to Baltimore—where he fared better, yet still meh, with the Orioles (4.85 ERA in 30 apps). 

The A’s announce the acquisition of two starting pitchers from across the bay. Southpaw Alex Wood, who recorded a 5-5 record and 4.33 ERA as a hybrid starter/reliever with San Francisco last season, signs for one year and $8.5 million; Oakland also trades for Ross Stripling, who stumbled in his one year with the Giants by going 0-5 with a 5.36 ERA. While the deals aren’t expected to turn the lowly A’s around, they’ll at least give the young team some veteran backbone within its rotation. 

Saturday, February 3

Reliever Keynan Middleton, who publicly ratted on a disjointed White Sox clubhouse last summer after a late-season trade to the Yankees, agrees to a one-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals worth $6 million. The deal includes a team option for a second season that could push the total package to $11 million. Middleton appeared in 51 games between the White Sox and Yankees last season, posting a 2-2 record and 3.38 ERA. 

Another reliever becomes a former White Sock as Chicago deals Gregory Santos to Seattle for two prospects and a future draft pick. The 24-year-old right-hander appeared in 60 games for the White Sox last year, producing numbers very similar (2-2, 3.39 ERA) to those of Middleton above. 

Sunday, February 4

Former reliever Pat Mahomes, father of NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes—whose Kansas City Chiefs are a week away from playing in the Super Bowl—is arrested on a DUI charge in Tyler, Texas. Sadly, this is the second DUI for the 53-year-old Mahomes, having served a 40-day sentence for his first offense in 2018. If he is convicted for this latest charge, he could spend a maximum of 10 years in prison. 

Monday, February 5

Feeling financially frisky with a new ballpark looking to be on the way, the Kansas City Royals lock up young star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. with an 11-year, $288 million contract—easily the biggest in franchise history, and the 16th largest to any MLB player. The deal does provide Witt with opt-outs after the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th years of the contract—but if he sticks around, the Royals have a team option to add three more years at an additional cost of $89 million. Playing in the obscurity of a 100-loss Royals team last season, the 23-year-old Witt batted .276 with 30 home runs, 96 RBIs, an MLB-high 11 triples and 49 stolen bases; he finished seventh in the AL MVP vote. 

Witt’s deal is four times the previous total outlay for a Royals player, when Alex Gordon signed a four-year, $72 million deal in 2016. This leaves the White Sox and A’s as the only two MLB teams to have never given any player a nine-figure contract. 

Tuesday, February 6

Clayton Kershaw will remain a Dodger. The future Hall-of-Fame ace, spotted at the top of our list of the Dodgers’ 10 greatest pitchers, has agreed to a one-year deal with Los Angeles with a player option for 2025. He is guaranteed $10 million for 2024, but the entire package (including the 2025 option) could max out at $37 million. The 35-year-old southpaw, whose 210-92 career record currently makes him the only major league pitcher ever with more than 200 wins and less than 100 losses, is recovering from an offseason shoulder operation and won’t be available to the Dodgers until the second half of the coming campaign. 

As Kershaw looks to play his whole career with the Dodgers, so it is for Jose Altuve with the Astros. The eight-time All-Star, due for free agency after this season, is given a five-year, $125 million extension that will take keep him in Houston through 2029—when he turns 39 years of age. Should Altuve—who has 2,047 career hits—remain an everyday player through the length of the extension, he has a good shot at becoming the Astros’ second player with 3,000—and perhaps could surpass Craig Biggio (3,060) for the most in franchise history. 

The Las Vegas A’s political bandwagon apparently doesn’t have the city’s own mayor on board. Appearing on a podcast hosted by Front Office Sports, Carolyn Goodman has her doubts on a planned Las Vegas Strip ballpark for the A’s, saying that it “doesn’t make sense” while wondering whether the new facility is “going to fit” within the small space allotted. If that’s not enough, Mayor Goodman adds this: “I personally think (the A’s have) got to figure out a way to stay in Oakland to make their dream come true,” suggesting that the team really wants to “be on the water.” Not long afterwards, Goodman—likely taking some heat from various political actors within the state—takes to social media for some clarifying. “I want to be clear that I am excited about the prospect of Major League Baseball in Las Vegas,” she tweets on X. But Goodman doesn’t downplay her belief that “in their perfect world the ownership of the A’s would like to have a new ballpark on the water in Oakland and that the ownership and government there should listen to their great fans and try to make that dream come true.” 

It should be noted that the site of the proposed A’s ballpark is not officially in Las Vegas, but in unincorporated land within Clark County. 

Wednesday, February 7

It must have been the MLB The Show cover. An arbitration panel sides with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and agrees with his 2024 salary request of $19.9 million over the $18.05 million offered by the Toronto Blue Jays. The wages reset the bar for the largest salary ever given to a player via arbitration. After all, you can’t deny an arbitration win to a player who is this year’s cover subject for baseball’s most popular video game, right? 

Netflix suddenly has a thing for the Boston Red Sox. The Bay Area-based streaming giant announces that it will do not just one, but two documentary series on the Red Sox. One will focus on the 2004 team that shockingly came back from the dead in the ALCS against the archrival Yankees, eventually winning their first World Series in 86 years; the other will concentrate on the coming season, following the team a la HBO’s Hard Knocks series featuring the behind-the-scenes drama of a selected NFL team. 

Thursday, February 8

Renderings for a proposed new ballpark for the White Sox, located just south of downtown Chicago, are revealed by local real estate developer Related Midwest. The detailed concepts show a structure and surrounding development with heavy echoes of San Diego’s Petco Park, displaying a similar ballpark layout, a park-like area behind left field and mixed-use hi-rises beyond. What is different is the sleek, glass-like feel of the structure and a vibrant scene off to the third-base side along the adjacent Chicago River, imagining ferries shuttling fans to the ballpark. To let everyone know that Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox’ current home, won’t be left behind to rust and rot, additional renderings show how that expanse would be renewed—with the ballpark converted into a smaller soccer stadium (perhaps a possible new home for MLS’ Chicago Fire) surrounded by residential development. 

The Rangers and their young star slugger Adolis Garcia come together on a two-year, $14 million deal that avoids arbitration, as the team and player were $1.9 million apart—the biggest disparity of any player facing arbitration this winter. In helping to lead Texas to its first-ever world championship last year, Garcia (playoffs included) blasted 44 home runs and 129 RBIs in 163 games; his 22 RBIs in October set a postseason record. The contract covers two of Garcia’s three arbitration-eligible years, before he becomes a free agent in 2027. 

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash and president of baseball ops Erik Neander both receive extensions that reportedly will keep them contracted with the Rays through 2028, when a new ballpark is scheduled to be ready in St. Petersburg. The 46-year-old Cash is readying for his 10th season as the Rays’ pilot, having made five postseason appearances, two AL East titles, two AL Manager of the Year awards and an AL pennant; he needs just 16 wins to surpass Joe Maddon as the franchise’s winningest manager. 

Friday, February 9

Corey Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who was on a path to the Hall of Fame before injuries badly curtailed his career starting in 2019, announces his retirement from the game at the age of 37. The Alabama-born right-hander was one of baseball’s best aces in the late 2010s, winning Cys in 2014 and 2017 before winning 20 games for the first (and only) time in 2018. A rough start to 2019 only got worse when he suffered a season-ending broken arm on a line drive struck back at him. Traded to Texas the following season for two players including rising star closer Emmanuel Clase, Kluber pitched just one inning before tearing a back muscle, ending his year there. Over the past three years, Kluber bounced about, from the Yankees to Tampa Bay to Boston, with underwhelming results. He finishes his career with a 116-77 record, 3.44 ERA and 1,725 strikeouts. 

Cincinnati second baseman Jonathan India avoids arbitration and inks for two years and $8.8 million with the Reds, for whom he won 2021 NL Rookie of the Year honors. India batted .244 with 17 home runs, 61 RBIs and 14 steals for the Reds last season. 

If former Mets GM Billy Eppler is looking for a new job within baseball, he’s going to have to wait. That’s because he’s been banned by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred through the upcoming season after an investigation concluded that he reported a dozen Mets players as being injured when, in fact, they weren’t. The scheme basically allowed Eppler, who served as New York’s GM from 2022-23, to bring up players he felt might serve the Mets better in the short term, at the expense of relatively healthy players placed on the Injured List. 

Monday, February 12

Will the lady be a major league umpire? Jen Pawol will work some Spring Training games in the next month as she readies for her ninth year working in the minors as a crew chief at the Triple-A level. The 47-year-old Pawol will be the first female arbiter to do at least spring games featuring MLB teams since 2007—and she’s necessarily not alone; she’s one of nine women set to umpire in the minors in 2024, though she has the highest rank among all of them. It’s quite possible that Pawol, at some point this year, will show up to work an MLB regular season game—making her the first woman to do so. Ed Hickox and Jeff Nelson, two veteran MLB umpires working since the 1990s, have each announced their retirement, and while Clint Vondrak and Ryan Wills have been named as their replacements, there’s always the possibility that Pawol can be squeezed in as a substitute due to an injury or paid time off by one of the regulars. 

Veteran catcher Yasmani Grandal locks on with the Pittsburgh Pirates for one year and $2.5 million. The native Cuban’s best years looks to be behind him at age 35, finishing off a wobbly four-year tenure with the White Sox in which he batted .226 with a mediocre .718 OPS while his defensive skills—never considered close to elite—have slipped. But the switch-hitter does retain some pop, having hit 20 or more home runs five times in his career—most recently in 2021

Jurickson Profar keeps making for a long career, almost in spite of himself. Long ago considered the majors’ top prospect when the Rangers brought him up, the 30-year-old Profar has signed on for his 11th MLB season for a cool million bucks with San Diego. It’s a big drop from the $8.8 million deal he inked with Colorado last year, but he played well enough with San Diego (.295 average, one home run in 44 at-bats) after being released by the Rockies that the Padres felt inclined to retain him—likely for his ability to come off the bench and play practically any position. 

Tuesday, February 13

They’ve caught the guy who kidnapped and demolished the Jackie Robinson statue in Wichita, Kansas on January 26. Apparently, 45-year-old Ricky Alderete didn’t steal the statue out of spite or racism; according to local police, he was “motivated by the financial gain of scrapping common metal.” CNN reported that Alderete was already in custody for multiple charges, including kidnapping (this one of an actual person, not a sculpture). The charges related to the Robinson statue case include felony theft, aggravated criminal damage to property, identity theft and making false information. 

There’s some feel-good news announced from the team least expected to provide it: The Oakland A’s. Jenny Cavnar, who’s been doing back-up play-by-play for the Colorado Rockies over the last 12 years, has been hired as the A’s primary TV voice—making her the first woman to have such a position for an MLB team. She replaces Glen Kuiper, who was fired midway through last season for (accidentally, perhaps) blurting out the N-word on air while referencing the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. 

The Giants finally have someone who can mash the ball. But they’re going to have to hope that Jorge Soler, who signs with the team for three years and $42 million, can remain on the warm side of his yo-yo-like hot-and-cold career. Soler led the AL with 48 home runs in 2019 and belted 36 last year for Miami, but he’s never hit more than 13 in any of eight other MLB seasons—plus, he holds a subpar career batting mark of .243 and strikes out at a rate of 173 per 162 games played. The question thus becomes: Which Soler will show up in San Francisco? 

The Royals provide details on their proposed new ballpark, which will be situated east of downtown on the other side of Interstate 670 from the T-Mobile Center Arena and the hip Power & Light District. Revealed is a compact web site about the project, including four detailed renderings that show how the ballpark will link with the north side of I-670 by basically building a long, park-like land bridge over the sunken freeway for seven blocks.  Capacity is currently set at 34,000, about 3,000 smaller than their current home at Kauffman Stadium. Voters still have to vote to approve public funding for the $2 billion project, which also includes surrounding development; that referendum will take place on April 2. 

Wednesday, February 14

In an age of workhorse aces, Don Gullett, who passes away at the age of 73, came across as an anomaly from the future—a future like now, when no pitcher seems to get through a year without injury. Drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Reds in 1969, Gullett made his major league debut a year later, just three months after turning 19. He would go on to play nine seasons, posting a 109-50 record between the Reds and Yankees; no pitcher with more than 100 wins during the 1970s had a higher winning percentage than his .686. Astonishingly, Gullett never made an All-Star team—perhaps due to the era’s surfeit of top pitchers who seemed unusually durable, particularly in comparison to Gullett’s later years when he struggled to pitch above 150 innings a season. He completely fell apart early in 1978, when he was diagnosed with not one but two rotator cuff tears. At 27, he would never pitch again. 

Winning batting titles in back-to-back years with different ballclubs apparently isn’t good enough for arbitrators, who side with the Miami Marlins’ request of a $10.6 million salary this season for Luis Arraez—who asked for $12 million. The 26-year-old second baseman was batting above .400 as late as June 24 last year before becoming more mortal in the season’s second half, finishing the year with a .354 average. 

Thursday, February 15

For all of you Rob Manfred haters, there’s good news and bad news. The good news: the MLB commissioner will be stepping down. The bad: It won’t happen for another five years. The 65-year-old Manfred tells reporters in Tampa that he’ll retire from the commissioner’s office at the end of his third (and present) five-year term, meaning he’ll have served 15 years as the head man at MLB. He’s worked within the game since 1987 and as commissioner has overseen the game’s most liberal rule changes since the 1800s, struggled with the roller-coaster saga of regional sports networks, and underwhelmed (to many) in administering justice to those involved in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal. Over his final term, Manfred hopes to get new ballparks built for the A’s and Rays, add two expansion teams, and oversee another Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players before the 2027 season. 

Once again, spring camps are opening with a myriad of players already struggling to stay healthy despite four months off (give or take a few weeks). Nowhere is the pain more deeply felt than at Baltimore camp, where starting pitchers Kyle Bradish (sprained UCL) and John Means (elbow) are likely to miss the start of the regular season. The severity of the injury to Bradish, the Orioles’ best pitcher last season with a sparkling 2.83 ERA, is such that general manager Mike Elias has to make an assurance that he expects Bradish to be back…sometime during the 2024 campaign. 

Lenny Dykstra, whose wild MLB career has been more than matched by his turbulent post-baseball life, is recovering at a Los Angeles hospital from a stroke he suffered last week, as reported by the New York Post. The 61-year-old Dykstra, a three-time All-Star center fielder with the Mets and Phillies in a 12-year career, was visited by former teammates Darryl Strawberry and Kevin Mitchell, who told the Post, “He’s laying down, but he is being Lenny.” Since leaving the game, Dykstra has run afoul of the law multiple times and spent half a year in jail in 2012 for bankruptcy fraud, money laundering, grand theft auto and false financial statements. He’s also served as a borderline ‘wack packer’ on Howard Stern’s Sirius radio channel. 

Friday, February 16

Veteran second baseman Whit Merrifield signs on with the Phillies for one year and $8 million; a team option for 2025 worth another $8 million is tagged onto the deal. Playing for Toronto last season, Merrifield managed to make the All-Star roster for the third time despite a blasé set of numbers that included a .272 average, 11 home runs, 67 RBIs and 26 steals—a bit of a far cry from his early years with Kansas City, when he led the majors three times in steals, twice in hits, and once in doubles and triples each. As it looks right now, the 35-year-old Merrifield will likely serve as a valuable utility player for the Phillies. 

Saturday, February 17

Veteran outfielder Randal Grichuk, who batted .267 with 16 home runs and 44 RBIs split between the Rockies and Dodgers in 2023, stays within the NL West by signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Arizona. The contract includes a $6 million mutual option for 2025. 

The Red Sox trade John Schreiber, a solid reliever for Boston over the past two years, to Kansas City in exchange for minor-league pitching prospect David Sandlin. The soon-to-be 30-year-old Schreiber posted a 2-1 record and 3.86 ERA over 46 appearances last season. 

Sunday, February 18

A few days back, we posted on TGG’s X account about how, despite the opening of MLB camps for Spring Training, there were still five prominent free agents unsigned: Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Jordan Montgomery and J.D. Martinez. One of our followers responded with a poser: “What do all five players have in common?” The answer: They’re all clients of Scott Boras, the super-agent who remains one of the game’s more powerful figures. What is it about these five players of his, and why haven’t they signed? Is he asking for too much? Do teams not want to deal with him because of his tactics, such as that ‘mystery team’ he’ll occasionally reference to create artificial leverage? 

The reason for all of this is Boras. He’s in no hurry to get these players signed in December or January, or even February. He’s had top clients sign during Spring Training before, most notably Bryce Harper back in 2019. And it’s not like the five players are sitting around rusting without any baseball activity; Boras is wealthy enough that he can have these players work out, pitch and hit at multiple facilities he actually owns. It’s basically a parallel training universe. One would imagine that this dam will break in the next month as exhibition games start taking place, while teams are not so breathless to be offering Boras and his five free agents the world. The question becomes, who will blink first? To answer that question, check back in late March and see if Boras is still smiling. 

Monday, February 19

Two free-agent pitchers on the mend—as in, they likely won’t pitch in 2024 while recovering from recent surgery—nevertheless manage to snag two-year contracts. 

In Boston, the Red Sox ink former White Sox closer Liam Hendriks as he bounces back from both Tommy John surgery and cancer; the deal is estimated at a minimum of $10 million. 

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, the Brewers re-up with Brandon Woodruff, who’s been excellent when healthy—but that’s been the trick for the 31-year-old right-hander who, despite being the franchise’s all-time leader in ERA (3.10) and win percentage (.639) among those with 500+ career innings, has only started 30 games in a season once. After undergoing shoulder surgery in October, he’s not expected to return until 2025. Woodruff’s deal is worth $17.5 million. 

Duke Snider once infuriated Brooklyn Dodgers fans by stating that he played baseball for the money, not for the love of the game. That comment is not far off from what Anthony Rendon mentions when pressed by the media at Angels camp. The veteran third baseman, scarred by injuries that’s led to underperformance and venomous fan reaction, says that baseball has “never been a top priority for me.” He adds, “This is a job. I do this to make a living. My faith, my family come first before this job. So if those things come before it, I’m leaving.” 

Some Angels fans feel that Rendon has already checked out of a contract with the Angels that’s paying him $245 million over seven years. He performed well in his first year at Anaheim, batting .286 with nine homers and 31 RBIs in the shortened (60 games) COVID-impacted 2020 season. In the three years since, Rendon’s missed far more games (338) than he’s played (148), batting .235 with 13 homers in 148 contests. 

Tuesday, February 20

The A’s may yet again stink it up on the field this season with veteran cast-offs and young green talent not yet turned gold, but their broadcast booth will at least be interesting. The team announces the appointment of Chris Caray, the great grandson of the legendary Harry Caray, as part of a TV pairing with Jenny Cavnar, the majors’ first full-time female play-by-play lead hired earlier in the month. Chris represents a fourth generation of the Caray family on the air; his father, Chip Caray, does current play-by-play for the Cardinals, while his grandfather, Skip Caray, was well known as the voice of the Braves during their WTBS era of the 1980s and beyond. 

Shortstop Amed Rosario, a starter for the past six seasons with the Mets, Guardians and Dodgers, signs with the Tampa Bay Rays on a relative one-year bargain of $1.5 million. It’s not sure if he’ll get at-bats on a regular basis, but the Rays could use infield depth with banishment increasingly likely for star second baseman Wander Franco

Wednesday, February 21

Fading in recent years, four-time Gold Glove-winning first baseman Eric Hosmer has decided to call it quits at the age of 34. The South Miami native was at his best during the 2010s with Kansas City, earning one All-Star roster spot (in 2016) while helping to lead the Royals to their second-ever world title in 2015. Hosmer looked good in the first three years of his tenure with San Diego (2018-20) but his numbers began to regress afterward, leading to nomad treatment over the past two seasons with brief looks at Boston and in Chicago with the Cubs. 

Another veteran whose seen better times manages to plod along. Catcher Gary Sanchez, who’s wandered about after seven years with the Yankees, signs for one year with a mutual 2025 option for a guaranteed $7 million with Milwaukee. After a short stay with the New York Mets early in 2023, Sanchez found a more willing taker in the Padres, for whom he smacked 19 home runs with 46 RBIs over 234 at-bats. 

Thursday, February 22

Play ball! The Spring Training schedule opens up with the Dodgers and Padres—two teams that will play a pair of early regular season games in Korea from March 20-21—getting things started in Arizona. The Dodgers start fast, notching eight runs in the first inning on their way to a 14-1 rout without Shohei Ohtani, who says he will try and get in at least 50 Spring Training at-bats before the start of the regular season. Four games, all based in the Cactus League, are slated for Friday; the Grapefruit League in Florida begins exhibition play on Saturday. 

Nike and Fanatics have teamed up to provide new uniforms for all MLB teams—and nobody likes them. Among the myriad of complaints is that the players’ names on the backs look small—almost like those seen on knock-off giveaway jerseys—and that the pants appear to have a see-through appearance. (Also: There aren’t enough pants.) In his tour of spring camps in Arizona, union head Tony Clark has sounded the alarm that MLB needs to fix all the issues. A spokesperson for MLB says that the league is listening and that adjustments will be made to better suit the players. 

Former batting champ Tim Anderson, who had an awful 2023 campaign at the plate (MLB-worst .582 OPS), at shortstop (MLB -worst minus-16), and in the proverbial boxing ring (being knocked out by Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez), signs a one-year, $5 million deal with Miami. The White Sox, Anderson’s team of eight previous seasons, declined a $14 million option on him for 2024. 

The Pirates liked Mitch Keller’s 2023 performance so well, they’re giving the 27-year-old right-hander a five-year, $77 million extension. Despite an okay-at-best 4.21 ERA, Keller finished with a 13-9 record over 194.1 innings last season; it’s the most wins by a Pirates pitcher since 2019

The signing comes a day after an article in The Athletic slams the Pirates’ organization as “comfortable being mediocre.” 

 Kodai Senga, the right-handed pitcher whose first-year performance was one of the few things to go right for the Mets in the midst of an otherwise miserable season, will begin the 2024 regular season on the IL after he was diagnosed with a moderate capsule strain in his throwing shoulder. The announcement comes a day after Senga complained of having a fatigued arm. 

To quote a Mets fan on X: “Now we have Senga with a fatigued arm after months of doing…nothing?” 

After a decade playing in MLB, Hyun-jin Ryu is returning to his native Korea to pitch for the Hanwha Eagles, the team he pitched for from 2006-12. The eight-year, $12.8 million contract is the largest ever, both in terms of years and money, for a player in the Korean Baseball Organization. Ryu will be 44 when the pact expires; between his time in the KBO and MLB, he’s posted a 176-100 record and 3.02 ERA. 

Sunday, February 25

One of the top remaining free agents—and arguably the best hitter available this entire offseason, after Shohei Ohtani—finally gets a new contract as first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger returns to the Cubs for three years and $80 million. The deal includes opt-outs after each of the first two seasons, which means he’ll likely test the market if he continues his return to form from 2023 when he batted .307 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs. Or, the Cubs will be stuck with a high-priced player if he regresses to his awful output of the three previous years before that (.203 average, .648 OPS). 

Monday, February 26

Veteran shortstop Brandon Crawford will put on a uniform other than the Giants for the first time since entering the majors in 2011, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as they seek infield depth. The 37-year-old Crawford is a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove recipient; as recently as 2021, he finished fourth in the NL MVP vote—but injuries have badly hampered his overall performance since. 

Replacing Crawford on the Giants’ depth chart at shortstop is Nick Ahmed, who won two Gold Gloves at the position while playing the last 10 seasons with Arizona. He strikes a minor-league deal with San Francisco after batting just .212 over 72 games in 2023, before his release from the Diamondbacks in early September. 

Swiss Army knife Kike Hernandez is returning to the Dodgers on a one-year, $4 million contract, a year after he returned to Los Angeles in a late-season trade from Boston. Between the Red Sox and Dodgers, the 32-year-old Hernandez batted .237 with 11 home runs and 61 RBIs in 2023. 

On the move away from Los Angeles is outfielder Manuel Margot, who never got to play for the Dodgers after the team traded for him from Tampa Bay in December. Margot is sent to Minnesota for two minor league shortstops; in 99 games for the Rays last season, he batted .264 with four homers, 38 RBIs and nine steals. 

Jose DeLeon, who was a much better pitcher than his 86-119 career record suggests, dies in his native Dominican Republic at the age of 63. Twice, the right-hander came within a single loss of 20 in a season, but he also had some strong campaigns, particularly in a brief tenure with the Cardinals in the late 1980s, peaking in 1989 with a 16-12 record, 3.05 ERA and NL-best 201 strikeouts. 

Tuesday, February 27

The first two at-bats of Shohei Ohtani’s tenure as a Dodger—in Spring Training, at least—doesn’t go according to plan; he strikes out looking his first time up, then hits into a double play in his second AB. But the third time is the charm, as Ohtani launches an opposite-field, two-run homer in the fifth inning before departing for the afternoon in Los Angeles’ 9-6 win against the White Sox at Glendale, Arizona. 

It’s early in the exhibition season as we still have two days left to February, but it’s a bit surprising that Ohtani’s debut draws only 6,678—barely half of Camelback Ranch’s capacity—in what is home base for both the Dodgers and White Sox. 

Wednesday, February 28

A day after Shohei Ohtani’s spring debut with the Dodgers, another eagerly-awaited talent makes his first appearance for Los Angeles. Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches the first two innings for the Dodgers against the Rangers, allowing just one baserunner (a single by Evan Carter, erased on a double play, moments later) over two innings while striking out three; he throws 19 pitches, 16 for strikes. The Dodgers will ultimately lose the game, 6-4, but the 25-year-old Yamamoto looks to be, albeit after one short spring outing, the real deal. 

Heartbreak, on top of heartbreak: Five months after former knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield died of brain cancer, his wife, Stacy Wakefield, has passed due to pancreatic cancer at the age of 53. Tim and Stacy were married in 2002 and had two children, both of whom are just under 20 years of age today. 

Thursday, February 29

MLB salaries continue to ascend after stagnating from 2016-21, rising 7.1% to an all-time-high average of $4.525,719 last year in figures revealed in the annual report for the players’ union. The jump comes on top of an even bigger (14.8%) increase in 2022

It will be curious to see if the trend continues into 2024, with several high-profile free agents yet to sign and many teams financially handcuffed by the bankruptcy of regional sports network Bally Sports. 

Future historians might want to take note of a matchup in the first inning of a spring game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore in Florida. Starting on the mound for the Pirates is Paul Skenes, last year’s #1 pick in the amateur draft; the first batter he faces is the Orioles’ Jackson Holliday, currently considered the majors’ top prospect. Skenes wins the battle, inducing a ground out from Holliday as part of a 1-2-3 inning, which includes fastball velocities of 102 MPH, before stepping down for the rest of the day. Holliday will continue on with a triple, single and an RBI over four total at-bats in the Orioles’ 9-8 win.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits  Take a look back at the daily doings of baseball with the TGG Comebacker archive.