This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: January 2020

The Price of Cheating: MLB Lays Down the Law on the Astros—But is it Enough?
Leave the Cooperstown Voter Who Snubbed Derek Jeter Alone

December 2019    Comebacker Index    February 2020

Wednesday, January 1

The new decade begins with sad news as Don Larsen, who achieved instant legend by throwing a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, dies at the age of 90. A common pitcher with an uncommon personality—his New York Yankee teammates called him “Goony Bird”—Larsen was a journeyman pitcher, playing for seven different teams over a 15-year career and racking up an 81-91 record. Entering Game Five of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Larsen had made two previous Fall Classic starts—allowing nine runs over 5.2 innings. But remarkably, he mowed down 27 straight Dodgers at Yankee Stadium for what became the first perfecto thrown by a major leaguer (regular or postseason) since 1922. But he was largely imperfect throughout his career, often walking more batters than he struck out. One thing generally not known about Larsen: He was a pretty good hitter, batting .242 with 14 home runs and 72 runs batted in over 480 career at-bats.

Thursday, January 2

Top Chicago White Sox prospect Luis Robert, who has yet to play a game in the majors, is given a six-year, $50 million contract with two team options worth $20 million each. The 22-year-old Cuban native was outstanding in 2019 as he moved from Class A+ to AAA—hitting .328 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs, 31 doubles, 11 triples and 36 steals over 122 games. He figures to begin the 2020 season with the parent club.

Yankees pitcher Domingo German, who was two wins shy of 20 in 2019 before being put on a leave of absence following domestic abuse allegations, is given an 81-game suspension by Major League Baseball. The suspension includes 18 games that German served this past season, meaning he’ll miss the first 63 of 2020.

Friday, January 3

If you can beat them, join them. Reliever Will Harris signs a three-year deal worth $24 million with the Washington Nationals, the team he lost to as a member of the Houston Astros in Game Seven of the 2019 World Series.

The Nationals are not done on the day. They also sign veteran infielder Starlin Castro, released by the Miami Marlins despite being their most reliable hitter in 2019. The deal is reported to be two years and $12 million.

Saturday, January 4

The Nationals continue to add—or in today’s case, retain. Veteran infielder Asdrubal Cabrera re-inks with Washington after a superb down-the-stretch effort this past season in which he hit .323 with six homers and 40 RBIs over just 38 games. Before that, Cabrera had spent the season’s first four months with Texas, where he hit a less impressive .235 with 12 homers. The deal is for one year and $2.5 million.

San Diego also brings back reliever Craig Stammen, who’s been reliable in a set-up role for the Padres over the past three years—posting a 18-13 record and 3.06 ERA in 209 total appearances.

Monday, January 6

Yet two more players are newly confirmed for the 2020 roster of the defending world champions Nationals. Reliver Daniel Hudson, who helped stabilize an awful Washington bullpen late in the year with a 1.44 ERA over 24 appearances, is brought back into the Nationals’ fold. Joining D.C. for the first time is 33-year-old slugger Eric Thames, who bashed 25 homers over 396 at-bats for the Brewers in 2019, but also struck out 140 times with a .247 average.

Tuesday, January 7

So now the 2018 Boston Red Sox are accused of cheating their way to a championship. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, the Red Sox sent players to their video review room—located near their dugout—to help identify signals from opposing catchers and then relay them to teammates, according to three different (and anonymous) team sources. Major League Baseball actually tried to put a lid on video room access in the 2018 season, but the Red Sox still managed to get away with it. Already in the process of wrapping up its investigation of the Astros’ alleged cheating during their 2017 championship campaign, MLB says it intends to look into the Red Sox’ allegations.

Let’s face it folks, almost everyone in baseball cheats; there’s focus on the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox because they won. Until baseball comes with fool-proof technology—and harsh penalties—to discourage teams and players, it will most certainly continue.

Catcher Robinson Chirinos, one of the game’s more powerful hitting catchers, takes the I-45 Express back to Arlington—where he spent the 2013-18 seasons with the Texas Rangers—after hitting .238 with 17 home runs for Houston in 2019. The 35-year old signs for one year and $5.75 million.

Veteran reliever Steve Cishek has a shorter move to make, inking for a year and $6 million with the White Sox after spending a year with the Chicago Cubs. Cishek was 4-6 with a healthy 2.95 ERA in 2019, saving seven games.

Wednesday, January 8

Alex Romero, who played with Arizona from 2008-09 and has since been bouncing around the Latin leagues, breaks a major baseball taboo and uses his bat to hit an opposing player during a testy winter game in Venezuela. It all begins when Romero has a pitch thrown behind him—and he immediately turns to catcher Gabriel Lino and, using his bat in an overhand motion, strikes him twice on the back. Needless to say, the benches empty and it leads to a tense (but thankfully brief) fracas with several hot spots quickly put out. Ten players—including Romero and current Minnesota catcher/infielder Willians Astudillo—are ejected from the game.

Romero will be suspended for 20 games by the Venezuelan League for his actions.

Reliever Hector Rondon signs a one-year, $3 million deal with the Diamondbacks. The big right-hander spent the past two years with Houston, after serving with the Cubs as, for a time, their closer.

Thursday, January 9

St. Louis trades outfielder Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay in exchange for top pitching prospect Matt Liberatore; the teams also exchange a minor leaguer and a draft pick. The 31-year-old Martinez hit over .300 from 2017-18 but dropped to a .269 figure in 2019; the 20-year-old Liberatore, the Rays’ first-round draft pick from 2018, finished the 2019 campaign with a 6-2 record and 3.10 ERA at Class A.

Former Kansas City Royals owner and Walmart chief executive David Glass dies at the age of 84 after suffering complications from pneumonia; the news will not be revealed to the general public for another week. Glass was the Royals’ second owner, buying the club from founder Ewing Kauffman in 1993, ultimately paying $96 million for it; he sold it in 2019 for just over a billion dollars. Under his rule, the Royals struggled as a small-market doormat—but a patient build from within yielded a fresh crop of solid players who evolved together and, in 2015, won their second-ever world title.

Friday, January 10

It’s arbitration-avoidance deadline day, with a number of top stars commanding record salaries for their relative years of service. Mookie Betts and the Red Sox agree to a $27 million contract for 2020, edging the mark ($26 million) for any arbitration-eligible player set last year by Nolan Arenado; reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger gets $11.5 million with the Dodgers, the largest sum for any first-time arbitration-eligible player; seven other players receive at least $10 million, including Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor ($17.55 million), Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer ($17.5 million) and, somewhat puzzlingly, Chicago White Sox closer Alex Colome (a generous $10.5 million). In the seven-figure bracket, Mets ace Noah Syndergaard gets $9.7 million, Yankees bopper Aaron Judge earns $8.5 million, AL home run champ Jorge Soler nets $7.3 million with Kansas City, and Pittsburgh 2019 All-Star Josh Bell earns $4.8 million.

Among those who do not settle and will head for arbitration include Houston outfielder George Springer, who wants $5 million more than the $17.5 the Astros are offering; Colorado shortstop Trevor Story (he wants $11.5 million, the Rockies are offering $10.75 million); and Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto, who’s asking $2.5 million over the $10 million the Phillies have suggested.

The Mets dole out the most via arbitration with over $44 million in 2020 wages, but at least they have no players who they still need to go to the mat with. The Dodgers will have to hear from an arbitrator on four different players including sluggers Max Muncy and Joc Pederson, while the Red Sox do not settle with outfielder Andrew Benintendi and 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez—contracts that will certainly raise Boston’s shell-out for 2020 arb-eligible players to well over $50 million.

A number of players avoid arbitration by signing contract extensions. Arizona outfielder David Peralta nets a three-year deal worth $22 million, while Minnesota slugger Miguel Sano also gets a three-year pact, for $30 million.

Sunday, January 12

Veteran infielder Todd Frazier signs a one-year deal with Texas for $5 million. The 33-year-old Frazier clearly has power with 214 career home runs in 1,186 games, but he’s prone to low batting averages; his .251 figure from 2019 was actually his first above the .250 mark since 2015.

The eternally fragile Alex Wood is back with the Dodgers after a particularly down year in Cincinnati, following a trade by Los Angeles. The Dodgers are hoping the southpaw returns to 2017 form, when he recorded a 16-3 record and 2.72 ERA; with the Reds this past season, he was 1-5 with a 5.80 figure. The deal is for one year and $4 million.

Monday, January 13

It’s Black Monday in Houston, where the Astros have the boom lowered upon them for their involvement in a sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 and 2018 seasons—the former of which resulted in their first-ever World Series title. It’s baseball’s biggest beatdown upon a team since the Black Sox Scandal, nearly 100 years earlier.

The sum total of the discipline leveled against the Astros is a year-long suspension for manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow; loss of first- and second-round draft picks from 2020-21; and a $5 million fine, the maximum allowed until MLB rules. Off the hook is owner Jim Crane, because the MLB report outlining their findings states he did not actively participate in the baseball operations side of the ballclub, which had knowledge of the sign-stealing scheme; and any Astros players, because MLB had earlier assigned responsibility for any violation of sign stealing upon the GM and manager based on a 2017 memorandum following a similar (and far less punitive) case involving the Yankees and Red Sox.

Additionally, current Boston manager Alex Cora—who was a bench coach for the Astros in 2017—was prominently named as one of the primary participants in the scheme; his Red Sox are currently also under investigation for an alleged sign-stealing system of their own during their 2018 championship season.

As reported earlier, the Astros’ process went as follows; the team’s video replay room was used as a source for one of the team’s players to look at the signs being given by the opposing catcher to the pitcher. That player would then be used as a “runner” to the dugout to relay the signs to anyone standing on second. At some point, the scheme became cleaner when a monitor was rigged in the dugout hallway, and a team source would use a bat (a massage gun, actually) to bang on a nearby trash can to alert batters at the plate as to whether a fastball or off-speed pitch was coming. It seemed a brazen ploy, considering that opposing pitchers could (and sometimes did) hear the banging.

Contrary to earlier reports, the sign stealing continued into the 2017 postseason—and then into the 2018 campaign minus the dugout monitor and trash can. The lack of those items proved less effective and the players, at some point, decided against using it further.

Luhnow claimed ignorance of the Astros’ scheme, but commissioner Rob Manfred’s publicly released report is skeptical of his claim—and because Manfred specifically placed the burden, with clear communication, upon GMs and managers in 2017 to make sure that no sign stealing systems took place, Luhnow pays the price. (Manfred also cited Luhnow’s reign over a toxic front-office environment.) Hinch, meanwhile, did know of what was going on and disapproved of it—several times, he took a bat to the monitor being used in the plot—but, fatally, he didn’t bother to order his players and staff to stop it. He essentially became, in Manfred’s eyes, the Buck Weaver of this scandal.

Barely an hour after release of the MLB report, Crane holds a press conference—where he announces that both Luhnow and Hinch will be fired, effective immediately. Crane also says that the Astros’ 2017 championship is “absolutely not” tainted.

Will the penalties scare players and teams straight from daring to do this again? Alas, probably not. That no player was disciplined will certainly ease their personal fear of unemployment. With Luhnow and Hinch fired and perhaps radioactive to the point they’ll never be hired again, every GM and manager will make damn sure that no elaborate sign stealing crops up in the future.

By the way, Manfred curiously makes this point in his report: “…it is important to understand that the attempt to decode signs being used by an opposing catcher is not a violation of any Major League Baseball Rule or Regulation. Major League Baseball Regulations do, however, prohibit the use of electronic equipment during games and state that no such equipment ‘may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.’” In other words, it’s okay to steal the old-fashioned way—just don’t use any electronics or other props.

With a similar investigation involving the 2018 Red Sox in the process of wrapping up, the Los Angeles Dodgers—World Series losers to both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox—must feel a sense of being jobbed out of a trophy or two. Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger will say before today’s report is released: “It sucks, man. We were close, but we did it the right way.”

The Dodgers are ordered by MLB not to talk to the media about the Astros or the sign-stealing controversy that possibly robbed them of a title.

The Detroit Tigers agree on a one-year, $1.5 million contract with veteran workhorse Ivan Nova, who co-led the majors with 34 starts—but also led with 225 hits allowed. Still, Nova finished 11-12 in 2019 with a 4.72 ERA and two complete games.

Fausto Segura, a low-level minor league pitcher in the Washington organization, is killed in a traffic accident in his native Dominican Republic. The 23-year-old Segura compiled a 4-6 record and 3.88 ERA over three years in the minors, playing last season with Class A- Auburn.

Tuesday, January 14

The Astros’ cheating scandal claims its next victim as Boston manager Alex Cora, who was continuously implicated in MLB’s report on Houston’s sign-stealing in 2017, is fired by the Red Sox—a team also under investigation for stealing signs using technology in their 2018 championship season. “Given the findings and the commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward,” the Red Sox say in a statement.

Think about it: The managers for the last three AL pennant winners are out of a job, shamed by cheating scandals.

Josh Donaldson earns, easily, the richest contract in Minnesota franchise history as the Twins ink the All-Star third baseman and former MVP to a four-year deal worth $92 million. The previous watermark for total wages given in one contract by the Twins was Ervin Santana, who received a $54 million deal in 2015.

It’s official: The Atlanta Braves will change the name of their recently opened ballpark to Truist Park. The name reflects the recent buyout by the North Carolina-based bank of SunTrust Bank, which formerly had its name on the three-year-old venue; Truist will assume the existing naming rights deal, which lasts through 2042.

Thursday, January 16

Carlos Beltran’s tenure as New York Mets manager is over before it ever gets started, as he becomes the latest domino to fall in the Astros’ cheating scandal. The former All-Star player, who played his final season with Houston in 2017, comes to a mutual decision with the Mets that it’s best he step down and allow the team to avoid dealing with the unwanted P.R. and distraction he was sure to carry like baggage throughout the upcoming season. Though he was not implicated in the MLB report which disciplines the Astros, Beltran’s association with the team was enough to spook the Mets.

There is some non-scandal news involving the Astros to report—and that’s good news. Outfielder George Springer, who appeared headed for arbitration with Houston, settles for a $21 million contract; he is slated to become a free agent at the end of this upcoming season.

San Francisco hires Alyssa Nakken to be the majors’ first-ever full-time female coach, serving as an assistant to new Giants manager Gabe Kapler. Other women have taken on coaching duties with major league teams in the past, but they were either part-time or within the organization at a lower level.

Not surprisingly, Nakken’s hiring brings the Cro-Magnon bloggers out of the closet, including former Giant and current right-wing nutcase Aubrey Huff, who tweets that he “couldn’t imagine taking instruction from an ex female softball player.”

Saturday, January 18

It’s Fan Fest at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, and Astros players awkwardly walk the tightrope between light-hearted banter with fans and the mute button in regards to the sign-stealing scandal that’s crippled the franchise. Star players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are verbose about denying a trending theory that they wore buzzers hidden inside their jerseys to quietly let them know what pitch was coming—but when it comes to the proven sign-stealing details, they clam up. Asked what it’s liked to be called a cheater, Altuve responds: “I have two options: One is cry, or one is to go out there and play the game to help my team.”

Sunday, January 19

Say it still ain’t so, Joe. A few days after MLB clarifies that anyone on the ineligible list who dies no longer is declared as such, baseball’s Hall of Fame declares that it will continue to bar ineligibles—living or dead—from consideration for eligibility. MLB’s stance had given hope to lobbyists for members of the 1919 Black Sox—a group that includes Shoeless Joe Jackson and star pitcher Eddie Cicotte—that Cooperstown would declare them eligible for future Hall votes. “The (ineligible) designation remains in place after an individual’s passing,” Hall of Fame spokesman Jon Shestakofsky tells ESPN.

For living players on the banned list, there may be a heartless quality to any idea that the Hall would make you eligible for induction only after your passing. Imagine Pete Rose being told, “Oh, you’ll get into Cooperstown…when you’re dead.”

Four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters is returning to St. Louis on a one-year, $2 million contract. The 33-year-old backstop hit 11 homers over 168 at-bats in 2019 for the Cardinals, and will continue to serve as a back-up for Yadier Molina.

Monday, January 20

Former Seattle ace Felix Hernandez gets a restart in Atlanta. The Braves give King Felix a minor league contract with a carrot stick of $1 million if he makes the 40-man roster. Hernandez has precipitously declined over the past few years, but the Braves hope that the 33-year old has a rejuvenation in him.

Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich tells the Denver Post that they have pulled Nolan Arenado out of trade talks, but the All-Star third baseman is nonetheless displeased with the fact that he was on the block to begin with. “There’s a lot of disrespect from people (in Colorado) that I don’t want to be a part of,” Arenado texts to’s Thomas Harding. “You can quote that.” He also decrees that he’ll retain his loyalty to his Rockies teammates and fans, but no one else.

Arenado’s eight-year, $260 million contract includes an opt-out clause after 2021. If he continues to play as well as he has, and unless relations warm between him and the Colorado front office, expect him to act on it.

Tuesday, January 21

Baseball’s Hall of Fame welcomes Derek Jeter and Larry Walker as the vote for this year’s class is revealed. Jeter gets in on all but one of 397 ballots; Walker, in his 10th and last year of eligibility, eclipses the 75% approval threshold with five votes to spare. Just short of 75% is Curt Schilling (70%), Roger Clemens (61%) and Barry Bonds (60.7%), all of whom are in their eighth year of eligibility. Omar Vizquel, in just his third year of balloting, jumps to 52.6%. Besides Jeter, the only first-year name who gets at least 5% of the vote (and thus remains on the ballot for 2021) is Bobby Abreu, at 5.5%. Those who are one and down include Jason Giambi (1.5%), Paul Konerko (2.5%), Eric Chavez and Cliff Lee (0.5%—or two votes each).

The question was not so much whether Jeter would be enshrined on his first ballot, but whether he’d make it unanimously as did his teammate Mariano Rivera a year ago. Following the announcement that Jeter fell a vote shy of 100%, many on social media predictably wanted to find out who that one voter was. A note to those people: Let it go and leave him (or her) be. Someone who was qualified enough in the eyes of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to join its ranks gave an honest opinion from their perspective. As the world currently and plainly is showing us, nobody agrees on anything. So put the pitchforks away and sleep well.

As for Walker, he had been trending by HOF trackers as falling just short of enshrinement—so it came as a pleasant surprise to him that he made it in. From our viewpoint, we’re in the minority; Walker was a genuine talent, but the Coors Field effect was too great for us to consider him. His career .313 average drops to .282 when you take out the 597 games he played at mile-high Coors—where he batted .381. Injuries were also a factor; only four times did he log at least 140 games. Trust us; had Walker played those 10 years at Denver somewhere else like, say, Kansas City, he would not have been voted in. Nevertheless, congratulations to both Walker and Jeter.

Walker will go in as a Colorado Rockie—making him the first Hall of Famer to officially represent the franchise.

With next year’s roster of first-time eligibles lacking that no-doubt-about-it appeal such as Jeter or Rivera, opportunity becomes greater for Schilling, Clemens, Bonds and Vizquel to make get more votes. Though it sounds silly to say this because it has nothing to do with how he played, Schilling—known for his right-wing conservative viewpoints that have dismayed fans and media alike—will need to stay relatively mum these next 12 months and refrain from saying anything overtly controversial. (With this being an election year, good luck.) Otherwise, it will give voters who are borderline on his resume—and, unfortunately, clearly against his politics—an excuse not to check his box on the next ballot.

Slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna signs a one-year, $18 million deal with Atlanta. After an explosive (.312 average, 37 homers, 124 RBIs) season with Miami in 2017, Ozuna has put together two far more restrained collection of numbers at St. Louis, batting .262 with a seasonal average of 26 homers and 89 RBIs for the Cardinals from 2018-19.

In a political and purely symbolic move, the Los Angeles City Council votes to ask MLB to strip away the championship titles for both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox and hand them over to the Dodgers, who lost both World Series. Though their pleas echo those of other (mostly Dodgers) fans and even some media members, MLB officially states a day later that the request will not be granted.

The Milwaukee Brewers announce that Miller Park will be renamed American Family Field starting in 2021. Miller’s original naming rights deal expires this season; it had paid $40 million over 20 years. American Family Insurance’s deal is for 15 years and is expected to be in the $60 million range.

Wednesday, January 22

The Mets announce their replacement for would-be manager Carlos Beltran by naming Luis Rojas as the new skipper. The 38-year-old Rojas, with all of 125 rookie league at-bats to his professional baseball playing career, managed in the Mets’ minor league chain for eight years before spending last season in the front office.

Rojas is the brother of former major leaguer Moises Alou—which leads to this question: How does he have a different last name? Rojas goes by the last name of his father, while Alou—along with the other well-known members of his family—go by his mother’s.

Alex Gordon, denied a $20 million option by the Royals for 2020, re-signs with Kansas City at a discounted rate of $4 million. This will be Gordon’s 13th major league season, all with the Royals; in our list of the franchise’s five greatest hitters, he ranks in the Top Five in home runs, doubles and walks—and will likely join the runs list this season as well.

Thursday, January 23

We already have our first major injury of the year, three weeks before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Seattle outfielder Mitch Haniger undergoes core muscle surgery after hurting himself during an offseason workout; he is expected to miss Opening Day. The surgery could be an extension of another injury from last year, when Haniger missed the final three months with—altogether now—a ruptured testicle.

Friday, January 24

Two months after having an $18 million team option for 2020 rejected by the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman will return to Washington on a much lower $2 million salary. The 35-year-old Zimmerman has appeared in all 15 seasons that the Nationals have played in Washington since moving from Montreal, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in most productive offensive categories including hits, home runs and RBIs.

The Rockies buy out the final two years of arbitration for shortstop Trevor Story, paying him a total of $27.5 million for 2020-21. In four years with Colorado, Story has batted .276 with a seasonal average of 31 homers and 86 RBIs.

Saturday, January 25

The Dodgers hold their annual Fan Fest in Los Angeles, with some of the players breaking the MLB-imposed gag order on the Astros’ cheating scandal and sounding off. Kiké Hernandez tells attendees, “(The Astros) cheated. They got away with it. They got a ring out of it….We won a game in Houston when they knew every pitch that was coming.” Pitcher Ross Stripling commented that the Astros’ 2017 title “already has an asterisk next to it.” Finally, there’s third baseman Justin Turner, who tells Sports Illustrated: “We don’t want a fake banner hanging in our stadium.”

Sunday, January 26

A helicopter crash near Calabasas, California claims all nine lives on board including former basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Also onboard is John Altobelli, the longtime coach of the Orange Coast College baseball team. The 56-year-old Altobelli also did summer work for a camp that included future major league stars Aaron Judge and Jeff McNeil. (Altobelli was not related to former major league manager Joe Altobelli.)

Monday, January 27

The Pittsburgh Pirates trade veteran outfielder Starling Marte to Arizona for two prospects and $250,000 in international pool money. Marte, who’s played all eight of his major league years with the Pirates, arguably had his strongest season yet in 2019—batting .295 with career highs in 23 home runs, 82 RBIs and 97 runs scored. He leaves Pittsburgh ranked seventh all-time on the Pirates’ franchise list in stolen bases, with 239.

Marte’s departure lowers the Pirates’ payroll for 2020 to a relatively scant $43.8 million—or just $6 million more than the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout is slated to earn all by himself.

Nick Castellanos, who’s emerged as one of the game’s more underrated players, gets an underwhelming payday as the 27-year-old free agent signs a four-year, $64 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Last season, Castellanos hit .289 with 27 homers, 73 RBIs, 100 runs and a major league-leading 58 doubles—the most by any player since Todd Helton’s 59 in 2000—between the Tigers and Cubs. Though some expected Castellanos to get more, it’s still the largest free-agent contract the Reds have ever given.

Wednesday, January 29

As had been widely rumored, 70-year-old Dusty Baker becomes the new manager of the Astros, replacing scandal-tainted A.J. Hinch. It’s hoped that Baker will bring a father-figure presence, and if anything else will count toward P.R. points for the Houston organization. More personally for Baker, it’s his chance to lead a strong club to October and exercise some of the postseason demons of the past, as he’s lost nine of 12 playoff series over his managerial career.

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant loses a grievance he filed for lost service time. In 2015, the Cubs brought Bryant up on April 17, as the plan had been all along—in part because calling him up earlier would have cost the team one year of ownership over him before hitting free agency. It’s a similar tactic used by Tampa Bay on Evan Longoria in 2008, Atlanta on Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2018 and Toronto on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. just last year. If Bryant had won his grievance, he would have become a free agent after the 2020 season; now, he’ll have to wait until the end of 2021.

The ruling likely increases the odds of a work stoppage after the 2021 season, when the current Basic Agreement expires—unless players and management can agree to abolish this nakedly apparent stalling tactic.

Major League Baseball, which earlier voted to increase active big-league rosters to 26 for 2020, adds a note that is sure to not get lost in the fine print: Of those 26 players, no more than 13 can be pitchers. This provision is surely intended to limit relief pitchers, thus leading to fewer pitching changes on the mound, thus leading to shorter time of games in theory.

Thursday, January 30

The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal gets some analytical love from a Houston fan who pores over a combination of pitch data and available game audio/video to determine that, unofficially, the Astros banged the trash can near their dugout 1,143 times during the 2017 regular season. The results are incomplete because the fan, Tony Adams, could only peruse through 58 of the Astros’ 81 home games. That said, here’s the most interesting conclusions from his findings: The banging became far more frequent starting on May 28; Marwin Gonzalez got the most bangs (147), followed closely by George Springer (139) and Carlos Beltran (138); Jose Altuve rarely participated, being given 24 bangs (or 2.8% of all pitches); and of the 27 games Adams logged in which there were a total of at least 20 bangs, the Astros only won 14 of them—suggesting that they typically went to the bang except when they held a healthy lead.

Friday, January 31

Three-time All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson decides to hang ‘em up at age 38. Granderson played part-time last season with Miami, hitting just .183 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs; since departing from the Mets in 2016, he bounced around a number of teams, managing to get decent traction in terms of playing time even if the results were not productive. Overall, Granderson hit .249 over a 16-year career with 1,800 hits, 344 home runs and 1,217 runs scored; he was a two-time leader in triples, including an astonishing 23 in 2007—only Kiki Cuyler, with 26 in 1925, collected more in a season since the end of the Deadball Era.

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