This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: January 2021

Why, Mr. Reaper? Fond Farewells to Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton
HOF Voters Throw a Shutout    What do the Rockies Have Against Nolan Arenado?

December 2020    Comebacker Index    February 2021

Sunday, January 3

An article by The Athletic’s Evan Drellich opines on MLB’s statement that the 2021 spring camps are still scheduled to open on time in six weeks. That doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone; should the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic worsen as some are expecting, there could be a delay. Foggier still is the clarity on whether the 2021 regular season will begin on April 1. Like we ourselves have been saying for almost the past year, that depends on the virus…and the vaccine.

One note in Drellich’s article stops us cold. In discussing the vaccines that will hopefully get us back to normal, he writes: “MLB players are highly unlikely to agree to mandatory vaccines, keeping the risk for outbreaks higher and mitigating the impact of a delay.” Our response to that: Cue the Scooby Doo “Wut!” face. Why would players not want to take the vaccine? Are they afraid of any side effects, or drunk on conspiracy theories, or what? Not too many people are fans of MLB for always taking the hardline stance, whether it’s upon the union, the minors, or people like us wanting simple access to daily game notes. But if MLB tells its players: “Take the vaccine or prepare to sit out without pay until you do,” then we’d be all behind it.

Monday, January 4

Sandra Scully, the 76-year-old wife of legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, passes away after a battle with ALS. The two were married for 47 years; she was Scully’s second wife, after his first, Joan Crawford (not the movie actress), died from an accidental overdose in 1972. Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten says in a statement that Sandra was “Vin’s biggest fan and was always there in loving support of him at Dodger Stadium until she began her battle with ALS. She was truly Vin’s and the Scully family’s rock, and she will be dearly missed.”

Tuesday, January 5

Outfielder Robbie Grossman, whose eight home runs for Oakland in 2020 came within three of a career high—never mind that he played only 51 games during the shortened season—signs a two-year, $10 million pact with Detroit.

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers re-up reliever Blake Treinen for two years and $17.5 million. The former Oakland closer was 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA over 27 relief appearances for Los Angeles in 2020; in 11 postseason innings to follow, he surrendered six runs.

Wednesday, January 6

On a day when COVID-19 claims the most lives yet in America (with over 4,000 dead), it’s revealed that former pitcher and TGG interview subject Tommy John has been dealing with the virus for the past three weeks. Though the 77-year-old John currently lives in Southern California—a portion of the country getting completely socked by the virus—he suggests that he picked up the virus shortly after returning from a trip to Nashville. Outside of weakness in his legs, john says he’s doing okay.

Thursday, January 7

After trending at the top of the trade rumor mill for what seemed an eternity, All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor is finally dealt by Cleveland along with veteran pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets for shortstop Amed Rosario, back-up infielder Andres Gimenez and two minor league prospects. Lindor has a year of arbitration left before becoming a free agent—but the Indians, after paying him a prorated portion of $17 million in 2020, were not ready to shell out more and finally let him go. A strong combination of power, productivity and speed, Lindor has hit .285 with a 162-game average of 29 home runs, 86 RBIs, 106 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. His offense dropped off in 2020—as it did for many players through MLB—but at 27, he potentially still has his best years ahead of him.

Friday, January 8

Perhaps no one person was more loyal to a team he identified with than Tommy Lasorda, who passes away at age 93. To Lasorda, the Dodgers were more than just a long-time employer; they were a religion, one which the fiery former pitcher, coach and manager led him to insist that he bled Dodger blue.

Lasorda began his pro baseball career with a brief stint for the Phillies’ Class-D club in 1945. After two years in the military, Lasorda was brought into the Dodgers’ fold in 1949, struggling to make his way to the major league level; when he did, the brash, cocky southpaw struggled even more, posting a career 0-4 record and 6.48 ERA over 26 games. In his only start for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, he lasted one inning—allowing a run on no hits, two walks and three wild pitches. Lasorda was briefly torn away from Brooklyn, first to the Kansas City A’s and then the Yankees, before returning to the Dodgers—for whom he ultimately began a more profitable life as a manager, starting with the Dodgers’ rookie league affiliate in 1965 before guiding the Triple-A unit from 1969-72. He landed a coaching role with the parent club in 1973, and although his boisterous attitude was in sharp contrast to the taciturn nature of long-time Dodgers manager Walter Alston, he was nevertheless groomed as the next in line to manage at Chavez Ravine.

Taking over for Alston in 1977, Lasorda carried on the Dodgers’ winning tradition, collecting five NL pennants and two world titles—the last in 1988 thanks to Orel Hershiser’s magnificent pitching and Kirk Gibson’s legendary pinch-hit home run to set the tone against the highly favored Oakland A’s. He was a magnet for attention, getting in the face of umpires and fans, and hanging out in an office decorated like a Hollywood Italian restaurant, with autographed photos of stars/friends including Frank Sinatra, while postgame plates of pasta were always at the ready—contributing to Lasorda’s ever-expanding pouch.

The eating regimen did Lasorda’s health no good; he suffered one heart attack in 1996—hastening his departure as Dodgers manager—and another in 2012, requiring the installation of a pacemaker. It didn’t stop him from working; he managed the U.S. Olympic baseball team to a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and remained a special advisor to the Dodgers, always a regular near the Dodgers’ dugout at games. He was recently hospitalized for a long period toward the end of last year—but after his release, he suffered a third, and this time fatal, heart attack.

Lasorda’s passing leaves Willie Mays, who will turn 90 in May, as the oldest living Hall of Famer.

Saturday, January 9

After being released by the Chicago Cubs at the end of last season, slugger Kyle Schwarber has signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Washington Nationals with a mutual 2022 option for an additional $11.5 million (or $3 million buyout). Schwarber roared onto the scene for the Cubs late in 2015 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs in 69 at-bats, and had his best year in 2019 when he stroked 38 taters with 92 RBIs. But he struggled in 2020, batting just .188 despite powering out 11 homers—or close to 30 when paced to a 162-game schedule.

Monday, January 11

The Chicago White Sox have a pretty good closer in Alex Colome—but now they have two, as Liam Hendriks inks a four-year deal worth $54 million. The funny thing about Hendriks’ contract is that the fourth year is a team option worth $15 million, which could be declined with a buyout of…$15 million. So what’s the point of declining if, either way, you have to pay him $15 million? According to the deal, the $15 million via buyout would be spread across multiple years.

So who closes in Chicago? Must be Hendriks, since he’s the guy who’ll be making more bucks. (Of course, the White Sox can see Colome as a luxury and use him as a trading chip.)

Is Hendriks the highest paid Australian-born athlete? The answer is no. Formula One racing driver Daniel Ricciardo makes nearly $30 million a year, NBA star Ben Simmons is in the midst of a $242 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, and golfer Jason Day will probably rival Hendriks’ pay in terms of earnings and endorsements. One thing is for sure; if you’re Australian and you want to make it really big, you have to jump off the continent. Of the nation’s big-time domestic circuits such as Australian rules football, the highest annual salaries barely eclipse $1 million.

MLB has informed its 30 teams that, for now, fans will be allowed in ballparks to start the regular season, though likely not at 100% seating but, instead, in the same reduced configuration as was done during last year’s NLCS and World Series at Arlington’s Globe Life Field. It will be left up to teams to use tougher restrictions—and of course, some of those teams will be at the mercy of local or state health agencies, which will have their own say. California, for instance, will not only will bar from sporting events, it may not even let the teams in to play. That’s how bad the pandemic currently is in the Golden State.

Wednesday, January 13

The world champion Dodgers have one less pitcher, and the Astros one more. Reliever Pedro Baez, who’s pitched the last seven years for Los Angeles, signs a two-year deal with Houston said to be in the “$12-14 million” range. The bulky Baez has been a solid if sometimes infuriating performer, always registering ERAs around 3.00 but always taking his sweet time on the mound; it’s been joked that his absence from the sport could alone cut down the average time of game by a couple of minutes.

A week after angry pro-Donald Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to, basically, overthrow the government, MLB has suspended all political donations—to both Republicans and Democrats—until further notice. Since 2016, MLB has donated $669,375 to Congressional candidates, with 52% of the loot going toward Republicans—including embattled Texas Senator Ted Cruz and House minority speaker Kevin McCarthy from California. MLB is part of a growing trend of corporations across the country suspending donations for re-evaluation.

Thursday, January 14

Relievers and inexpensive, injury-prone starters continue to be in high demand by MLB teams this offseason while far more talented, potentially pricey star free agents continue to wait by their silent iPhones. The Philadelphia Phillies bring in Archie Bradley, seen last year splitting time between Arizona and Cincinnati, for one year and $6 million; the 28-year-old right-hander was 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in 2020. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants sign fragile veteran starter Alex Wood, who just turned 30, to a one-year pact worth $3 million—though he would get incentive-based raises based on starts in which he records at least 10 outs, so yes—once you get past 3.1 innings, congrats. Wood has only made 16 appearances (nine starts) over the past two years with great struggle, though his career ERA comes in at a nifty 3.45.

Last year, a Mike Trout rookie card sold for $3.9 million, making it the most expensive purchase of a sports trading card, ever. That is now old news; actor Ron Gough bids an astonishing $5.2 million on a Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps rookie card—one of just six such cards with a “9 PSA” rating for card conditions (within a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best condition). The card was last sold nearly three years ago for $2.88 million.

Friday, January 15

It’s a very good day for the New York Yankees. While everyone else is finalizing salaries for arbitration-level players, the Yankees take care of business on the free-agent front by retaining infielder DJ LeMahieu and signing pitcher/Comeback Player of the Year candidate Corey Kluber. Highly sought on the market, LeMahieu re-ups with the Yankees at surprisingly low cost: Six years, $90 million. That the two-time batting champ, who had his most productive season yet last year, turns 33 in July might have tempered thoughts of long-term megadeals, But the deal with the Yankees is still something of a bargain for a player who’s been a top-5 MVP candidate in his past two years.

Kluber, meanwhile, is in the odd position of having to re-prove himself after injuries scuttled his past couple of seasons. The two-time Cy Young Award winner inks for just one year at $11 million—but that’s exactly what the 34-year-old Kluber wants, as he’s hoping to leverage potential success in 2021 to a richer, longer-team deal for 2022 and beyond.

Thirteen arbitration-eligible players do not agree to terms on a 2021 salary, meaning an independent authority will have to decide whether to grant the wages requested by the player or team. The priciest of these players is Houston’s Carlos Correa, who thinks he deserves $12.5 million—while the Astros believe he’s worth $9.75 million. Other players requesting higher amounts include young St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty, the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler, and Atlanta pitcher Mike Soroka and infielder Dansby Swanson.

Among those who do agree to terms, none break last year’s arbitration-level record of $27 million given to the Red Sox’ Mookie Betts—just before his trade to the Dodgers. This year’s highest such salary is $22.3 million to Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, followed by $19.5 million to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. Both are currently eligible for free agency after this coming season.

Saturday, January 16

The Tri-City ValleyCats, one of 40 teams axed from minor-league affiliation, becomes the second team to sue MLB, asking for $15 million in damages. Though the ValleyCats remain in business after being jettisoned from the now-defunct New York-Penn League—joining the independent Frontier League—it claims the franchise’s value will greatly diminish without affiliation, thus the lawsuit. The ValleyCats were actually a strong draw over the last 10 years, averaging 4,000 fans per game in a Class-A circuit.

Sunday, January 17

The Boston Red Sox re-sign pitcher Martin Perez to a one-year contract worth $4.5 million with a team option for a second year at $6 million (or a $500,000 buyout). The left-hander who turns 30 shortly after the ‘scheduled until further notice’ Opening Day of April 1 was 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 2020—numbers which aren’t far off line from his career totals of 56-61 and 4.71.

Monday, January 18

The San Diego Padres continue to prove that you can never have enough pitching. Already stoked with a solid rotation thanks to recent trades for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, the Friars pick up Pittsburgh’s Joe Musgrove as part of a three-team deal that also involves the Mets, who get San Diego pitcher Joey Lucchesi; the Pirates will receive catching prospect Endy Rodriguez from the Mets. The 28-year-old Musgrove was 1-5 for a very bad Pirates team in 2020, but his ERA checked in at a decent 3.86.

Veteran lefty Jon Lester, recently let go by the Cubs after five-plus years at Wrigley Field, has signed a one-year deal with Washington, where he’ll join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to form one of the game’s more marquee-driven rotations. Lester needs seven wins to reach 200 for his career; only Justin Verlander (226) and Zack Greinke (208) have more victories among active pitchers.

Tuesday, January 19

Death is taking no break to start 2021. After losing seven Hall of Famers in 2020, baseball has already lost two within the first three weeks of the new year: Tommy Lasorda back on January 8, and today it’s pitcher Don Sutton, the 324-game winner who Lasorda managed at Los Angeles from 1976-80 and 1988. Sutton passes away in his sleep at age 75.

Accumulatively, Sutton’s baseball résumé is impressive; he’s tied with Nolan Ryan for 10th in victories among modern-era pitchers, and is first on the Dodgers’ post-1900 list in wins (233), shutouts (52), innings (3,816.1) and strikeouts (2,696). While he was consistently solid for so many years, he was never dominant; only once did he win 20 games, only once did he win an ERA title, never won a Cy Young Award, and was named to only four All-Star teams over a 23-year career. As we mention in our list of the 10 greatest Dodgers pitchers, Sutton was essentially “the Rafael Palmeiro of pitchers.”

Caution need be heeded when approaching Sutton. He was abrasively opinionated and sometimes in-your-face; he physically wrestled with fellow Dodgers star Steve Garvey in 1978, threatened to sue baseball that same season over a suspension levied against him for allegedly scuffing a ball during a game at St. Louis, and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind as a broadcast analyst. His competitive nature and passion for the game, combined with his eternal pitching skills, led to a deserving spot in Cooperstown.

The Toronto Blue Jays finally get into the transaction pool—not by dipping in their feet but, instead, diving in head-first. They sign former Houston outfielder George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract, giving added slugging bulk to a young and promising lineup; additionally, they also bring in closer Kirby Yates, who saved a major league-leading 41 games for the 2019 Padres before struggling through injury last season.

Whether they play in Toronto, Buffalo or Dunedin this coming year—that depends on the virus and the vaccine—the Blue Jays should make for fun viewing in 2021.

Also inking a new pact is veteran pitcher Jose Quintana, who after nine years split between the two Chicago teams signs for one year and $8 million with the Angels. The 31-year-old lefty adds much-needed depth to a slowly improving (but still iffy) Angels rotation.

Getting fired by the Mets right after being hired by the Mets has become something of a recent thing. About this time last year, it was Carlos Beltran, dismissed by New York before he managed a game once he became heavily tied to the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal. Now, it’s Jared Porter’s turn. The 41-year-old general manager, hired just a month ago by the Mets, is fired after admitting to sending 60 texts, many of them said to be sexually suggestive, to an unidentified female reporter while working with the Cubs in 2016. New Mets owner Steve Cohen promised zero tolerance for this kind of behavior and, accordingly, axes Porter.

Wednesday, January 20

Veteran outfielder Michael Brantley apparently was happy enough playing the last couple of seasons in Houston. He’s decided to come back for two more, signing a new pact with the Astros for $32 million. The 33-year-old Brantley was one of the few Astros not to underperform in 2020, hitting .300 with five home runs and 22 RBIs; having just lost George Springer to Toronto, the Astros likely feel more urgency to retain Brantley and not lose more outfielding talent.

Minnesota brings on 38-year-old pitcher J.A. Happ for one year at $8 million, after the southpaw pitched admirably over the last two-plus years for the Yankees with an aggregate 21-10 record in 51 appearances (50 starts). Happ was 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA over nine starts in 2020.

It’s beginning to seem like old times in the Kansas City bullpen; last year they brought back closer Greg Holland for a successful reunion, and now they’ve convinced former Royals set-up guy Wade Davis, last seen closing for Colorado, to return to K.C. on a minor league deal.

Now if the Royals can snare Kelvin Herrera, who’s a free agent, that bullpen could have the look and feel of 2015 all over again.

Thursday, January 21

A week before the Hall of Fame announces its results from the 2021 general election, it’s reported that one or more voters have asked if they could rescind their votes for Curt Schilling, who many believe has the best chance at induction—but is also a well-known ultra-conservative who recently voiced his support for the storming of the U.S. Capitol building by insurrectionists on January 6. The Hall declines the request, concerned that allowing voters to uncheck the checked boxes could set an unwanted precedent.

This brings up the debate over whether a player should be voted in regardless of what he may have done after his baseball days are done. The Baseball Writers Association of America, whose members vote on Hall of Fame candidates, has a simple criteria: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” But does it take into account just the timespan of when the candidate played, or does it include his time afterward? As awful as Schilling’s political views are to so many people, what does it have to do with his baseball career? This is something voters must wrestle with, and with increasing frequency as cancel culture has a bigger effect on public forums these days.

Catcher Jason Castro, who toiled through some rotten years for the Houston Astros when they stank up the standings in the early 2010s—and left the team just in time for them to be very, very, good—is returning to Minute Maid Park on a two-year, $7 million deal.

Friday, January 22

“Hammerin’” Hank Aaron, who reigned as baseball’s all-time home run king from 1974-2007—and is still imagined by many as the ‘legitimate’ or ‘clean’ leader—dies in his sleep at age 87. No cause of death is given, with the assumption that it has nothing to do with COVID-19; Aaron was one of the first people to receive a vaccine against the virus on January 4.

Aaron was more than just a great baseball icon; he was an ambassador to the game and incredibly well liked. That was not the case nearly 50 years ago, when he endured the most relentless onslaught of racist hatred since Jackie Robinson as he closed in on the hallowed career home run mark of 714 held by Babe Ruth, an iconic and, yes, white, legend. Aaron remained remarkably calm and steady throughout this pressure-packed period, somehow hiding this elephant-sized burden of anxiety within him. Atlanta teammates certainly understood—especially after Aaron told him not to sit near him in the dugout, out of fear they could be unintentional victims of a sniper attack he’d been warned about.

After a brief turn in the Negro Leagues, Aaron was brought on by the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 and, at age 20, lucked into a starting role in the outfield when projected starter Bobby Thomson broke his leg. After a mild rookie effort, Aaron in 1955 improved and made the National League All-Star team; it would be 1976 before the Midsummer Classic would again be without his representation.

After belting his record-setting 715th home run early in the 1974 season, he pushed on and added 40 more jacks, finishing his career with two seasons as a designated hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers, back where he began his career with the Braves. Aaron finished his career with a lifetime .305 average, a record 2,297 RBIs and 6,856 total bases, and remains fourth all-time in runs scored (2,174) and third in hits (3,771).

In retirement, Aaron remained a quietly friendly presence to all who met him. That calm patience was tested in 2007 when he struggled to endorse Barry Bonds, the man chasing his record, after the BALCO scandal exposed him as a steroid user. Aaron refused to be present on-site for the eventual moment Bonds surpassed him—in part because he didn’t want to dredge up harrowing memories of chasing Ruth’s record—but he did record a gracious congratulations video that aired on the scoreboard in San Francisco on the night of Bonds’ 756th homer.

It still boggles the mind that nine Hall-of-Fame voters did not check Aaron’s box in his first year of eligibility in 1982. Four hundred and six others said, “Yeah, of course,” and rightfully placed him in Cooperstown. 

Of all the Twitter comments we see on Aaron’s passing, this one warrants lobbying: Someone suggests changing Atlanta’s team name from the Braves—a moniker currently under siege—to the Hammers. We would second the motion.

It appears that the Padres just want to sign everyone. After bulging up their rotation with multiple Cy Young Award threats, they retain Jurickson Profar for three years and $21 million. The once highly-touted Rangers prospect, whose progress was slowed by two full years (2014-15) missed to injury, had his most pleasing overall set of numbers in 2020, even if accrued in a short season; over 56 games, Profar his .278 with seven home runs, 25 RBIs and seven steals. The investment put in by the Padres shows that they definitely have him in their short-term future plans.

Ryan Zimmerman is still a Washington National. The veteran first baseman, who opted out of the 2020 campaign, is returning for a 16th year with a one-year deal worth $1 million. Outside of last season, he’s played every one of the Nationals’ campaigns since the team moved from Montreal in 2005.

Saturday, January 23

After the Yankees and Blue Jays enjoyed their days in the transactional sun, it’s the Boston Red Sox’ turn to have their say in the approaching AL East race. In separate deals, the Red Sox agree to terms with former Dodgers infielder Enrique “Kiké” Hernandez and ex-San Diego pitcher Garrett Richards. Though these are hardly blockbuster moves—Hernandez gets two years at $14 million, Richards one year at $10 million—it could help to modestly fortify the Red Sox after a rough (24-36) 2020 campaign.

Sunday, January 24

The Yankees acquire pitcher Jameson Taillon from Pittsburgh for young reliever Miguel Yajure—who made news last summer by becoming the first major leaguer to wear uniform #89—and three prospects who’ve never advanced any higher than the Class-A level. Taillon hasn’t pitched since early 2019 when he underwent his second Tommy John procedure, but the Yankees are crossing their fingers that he can assume earlier form, such as in 2018 when he finished 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for the Pirates.

Monday, January 25

The big boat that is Spring Training 2021 may be starting to show a few leaks. Local mayors and other community leaders in the Phoenix area, where the 15 major league teams participate in the Cactus League, send a joint letter to MLB asking that the start of Spring Training be delayed three weeks while the region struggles to recover from the winter wave of COVID-19 cases. Such a delay could cause problems for opening the regular season on time, and handicap teams training in Arizona while the 15 other teams holding spring camp in Florida look to carry on without delay. MLB responds with an indirect reply, stating that it would continue to do its due diligence in making sure that spring games are played on without risk—which, when deciphered, sounds like it would rather not be delayed at this point.

It’s reported the next day by The Athletic that MLB actually asked those behind the letter to put it together to put pressure on the players’ union to step back and accept the delay—thus causing a delay in the regular season, thus causing a shortened season, thus leading to reduced wages for players. In a response, MLB “categorically” denies the story. However, it’s interesting that local officials are so concerned about Spring Training when they’re allowing fans to watch the NFL Cardinals and NHL Coyotes in person, albeit at heavily reduced sizes.

The NL East continues to improve by the day as teams continue to bulk up on talent. The Washington Nationals carry on the trend by signing former Cleveland closer Brad Hand to a one-year deal worth $10.5 million. Hand led the majors last year with 16 saves, not blowing one opportunity.

The Yankees make a rare trade with the archrival Red Sox, sending 35-year-old reliever Adam Ottavino along with a minor leaguer to Boston for cash or a player to be named later. The deal is done to allow the Yankees to purge payroll and stay under the luxury tax cap, as Ottavino is owed $8 million in 2021; New York will help the Red Sox pay $850,000 of that total.

Tuesday, January 26

For only the third time in the last 60 years, no one is elected to enter the Hall of Fame via its general election. A weak slate of first-year eligibles had given hope to carryover candidates who’ve been slowly inching toward the 75% threshold for induction, but none manage to get there. That includes pitcher Curt Schilling, who gathers 71.1% of voters’ checkmarks, and steroid-tarnished legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—both of whom are selected on roughly 61% of the ballots. For all three of those players—and PED-branded, three-time 60-homer slugger Sammy Sosa—next year’s ballot will be their last shot in the general election.

To that end, Schilling says no thanks. In a statement released after the results are announced, he asks the Hall to remove him from next year’s ballot—preferring to be considered down the line by the Veterans’ Committee, which he describes as a group of “men whose opinions actually matter and who are in position to actually judge a player.”

It’s no secret that Schilling and the sportswriters are anything but pals at this point; they have called out his increasingly fiery, conservative view; he even leant support to those who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. What this directly has to do with baseball is a head-scratcher, but Hall-of-Fame voters do feel the responsibility of electing players with a high pedigree of ethics, both on and off the field. Which thus explains why Bonds and Clemens also still haven’t gotten over the threshold.

As for the other candidates, some interesting notes: Billy Wagner and Scott Rolen continue impressive rises, jumping up to just under 50% of the vote after registering around 17% just two years ago; Omar Vizquel drops from 52.6% to 49.1%, perhaps in light of recent accusations of domestic abuse; Manny Ramirez reaps 28% of the vote in his fifth year of eligibility; Sosa, 17% in his ninth; and among the first-timers, the only three who survive to live on another ballot include Mark Buehrle (11%), Torii Hunter (9.5%) and Tim Hudson (5.2%). Eight other first-year candidates receive 1% or less, meaning they’re one-and-done on the ballot.

Scratch a few more high-profile free agents off the available list. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is returning to the Phillies with a five-year, $115.5 million deal; his $23.1 million annual wage is the highest ever for a catcher, barely eclipsing the old mark held by Joe Mauer. Realmuto, who turns 30 in March, hit .266 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs last year in the shortened season.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, scoop up former Oakland infielder Marcus Semien on a one-year deal worth $18 million. After an MVP-worth 2019 campaign, Semien tailed off in 2020—batting just .223 with seven homers and 23 RBIs.

Cleveland re-ups second baseman Cesar Hernandez for one year at $5 million, with a club option for 2022. The 31-year-old Hernandez hit .283 in 2020 with an AL-best 20 doubles, while picking up his first Gold Glove in eight years of play.

Wednesday, January 27

The Twins wrap up a one-year deal worth $10.5 million for four-time Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose rate of quality has tailed off over the past couple of seasons. Though Simmons batted .297 for the Angels last year, he only got in 30 games due to chronic knee issues.

Continuing with its active offseason, the Mets get rid of one pitcher and pick up another. They trade six-year veteran Steven Matz, who was just plain awful in 2020 (nine appearances, six starts, a 0-5 record and 9.68 ERA), to Toronto in exchange for three common/minor league players, while agreeing to a deal with 33-year-old reliever Aaron Loup, who authored a solid 2.52 ERA over 24 appearances last year with Tampa Bay.

Thursday, January 28

His seven-year, $155 million tenure with the Yankees behind him, pitcher Masahiro Tanaka announces that he’s leaving the States to go back to Japan and the Rakuten Eagles, the team he pitched for prior to donning pinstripes. With the Yankees, the right-hander won 78 games, lost 46, posted a 3.74 ERA and made two All-Star rosters; he was 5-4 in postseason competition with a 3.33 figure.

Nice try, Jeffrey Loria. The former Marlins lord, one of baseball’s most reviled owners, promised local officials that he would share with them some of the profits from a sale of the franchise, part of a bigger deal from which Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami agreed to in order to help finance Marlins Park. But when Loria sold in 2017, he claimed there were no such profits—saying that he lost money on the deal due to taxes he had to pay. City and county officials, already feeling screwed for having piled in so much money into the ballpark while Loria pled poverty, didn’t believe for a second that Loria came away with no net on a $1.2 billion sale price—and sued to get some of that money. And now they’ve got it; a deal is struck between the two sides in which Loria will pay out $4.2 million.

Hopefully this is the final despicable act of an untrusting man who ruined baseball in Montreal (as the deceitful owner of the Expos) and nearly did the same in Miami.

Friday, January 29

One of the more bizarre chapters in Colorado Rockies history comes to a close as perennial All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado is traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. In exchange, the Rockies receive five players, the most notable of which is left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber, he of 43 career appearances and 15 starts. The Rockies will send $50 million to the Cardinals, covering nearly a quarter of the $199 million still owed to Arenado.

That contract, which in full is eight years at $260 million, was completed as a sign that the Rockies were fully committed not just to the popular Arenado but to winning in Denver. But almost as soon as the ink had dried on the pact, the Rockies began making noises about trading him—infuriating not just Arenado, but a good chunk of Rockies fans who really came to enjoy his outstanding play both at the plate and at third base with his Gold Glove-level defense. Those rumors continued into this current offseason, and became reality with the trade to the Cardinals.

Arenado follows another former NL West star, ex-Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, to St. Louis; he is said to be almost as thrilled at playing in a Cardinals uniform as he is to get out of Denver after feeling major disrespect from the Rockies’ front office. Perhaps the Rockies were beginning to feel concerned that Arenado, who turns 30 in April, is on the downside of a peak period (2015-19) in which he batted .300 with an annual average of 40 homers and 124 RBIs; those concerns might have been warranted after Arenado relatively struggled in 2020, hitting .253 with eight homers and 26 RBIs—the latter two numbers pacing out to 21 and 70 over a full 162-game schedule. In St. Louis, it will be a challenge for Arenado to match his peak numbers since Busch Stadium does not sit at 5,280 feet above sea level; not surprisingly, his career numbers outside of Coors Field consist of a .263 batting average and .793 OPS —as opposed to .322 and .985, respectively, in Denver.

Arenado’s top-notch defensive skills will not be affected by elevation, so those do remain—and his arrival in St. Louis is bound to inject momentum and postseason aspirations into a Cardinals team that surely now looks to be the class of the NL Central, especially given the moribund state of the other four teams that have done little to improve during this offseason. Meanwhile back in Denver, the Arenado trade is bound to label the Rockies as a team in philosophical retreat; and as bad as this seems for Colorado fans, it could get worse as shortstop/slugger Trevor Story readies for his final year before hitting free agency.

The Arenado deal is not the only transaction thrilling Cardinals fans. The team also announces that it’s bringing back veteran ace Adam Wainwright for one more year at $8 million. The tall right-hander with a career 167-98 record was exceptional in 2020, going 5-3 with a 3.15 ERA over 10 starts; he turns 40 in August.

Wainwright’s long-time batterymate, future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina, is rumored to be more inclined to return to St. Louis now that both Arenado and Wainwright are in the fold.

There’s a flurry of other signings on the day. The Cubs bring in ex-Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson for one year at $7 million, filling the hole left by Washington-bound Kyle Schwarber. Cleveland snags solid-hitting Eddie Rosario—whose 2020 numbers for Minnesota padded out to 35 home runs and 113 RBIs under a 162-game schedule—for a relative bargain at one year at $8 million, helping to plug a major outfielding deficiency for the Indians. Detroit brings on veteran catcher Wilson Ramos on a $2 million, one-year deal; and pitcher Matt Moore, whose career looked to flame out in Texas a couple of years back before righting himself in Japan last season, is given a shot at major league redemption in Philadelphia as the Phillies sign him to a one-year, $3 million deal.

Twelve-year veteran and three-time All-Star Daniel Murphy decides to step away from what he calls “this beautiful game,” announcing his retirement at age 35. The infielder became a free agent after a 2020 season in which his numbers depreciated (.236 average, three home runs, 16 RBIs). That’s a far cry from Murphy’s peak period, which began in 2015 when he starred in the Mets’ postseason run with seven homers over just 38 at-bats in the first two playoff series before drying out in New York’s World Series loss to Kansas City. Nevertheless, Murphy leveraged his overall postseason performance to a nice contract with Washington, where he delivered; he led the NL in doubles in each of his first two years with the Nationals, and finished second in the 2016 NL MVP vote after batting .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs, before being traded to the Cubs two and a half years into his tenure. He’ll idly make $6 million this year after having his 2021 option bought out by the Rockies.

Saturday, January 30

Shortstop Didi Gregorius is returning to the Phillies on a two-year, $28 million deal. The 30-year-old Gregorius had a strong first year at Philadelphia in 2020, hitting .284 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs—or, translated to a full 162-game schedule, 27 and 108. The deal means that the Phillies will retain their top two potential free-agent departures in Gregorius and catcher J.T. Realmuto (and that’s with all due apologies to Jake Arrieta, who remains available—even if he’s nowhere near the ace of mid-2010s lore).

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