This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: January 2024

MLB’s Wintertime Asian Invasion    The End of the Angelos Era in Baltimore
Amazon Rescues Bally Sports—But Will That Please MLB?

December 2023    Comebacker Index 


Monday, January 1

They’ve finally found Wander Franco, as the star Tampa Bay Rays infielder finally makes an appearance in front of authorities in his native Dominican Republic; he’s placed under arrest, not for the crimes he’s alleged to have committed (relationships with minors) but for failing to show up for a hearing the previous week. Franco claims he was a no-show because he sacked his legal team and had to find new representation, but that’s not good enough for prosecutors.

While many primary free agents remain available on the market, the more recent active trend of players in need or resurrecting their careers continue. Case in point: The Los Angeles Angels sign pitcher Zach Plesac, whose career over the past two seasons has gone sideways with a 4-13 record and 4.76 ERA in 30 appearances (29 starts), along with an even worse experience at Triple-A this past spring before being released by Cleveland. The Angels’ contract with Plesac is one year and $1 million.

T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Mariners, becomes this year’s MLB ballpark to host hockey’s New Year’s Day outdoor Winter Classic contest, between the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights. A sellout crowd of 47,313 watches as the home team prevails, 3-0, before an open roof and temperatures in the 40s.

Tuesday, January 2

More details are revealed about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ contract for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Japanese phenom who signed a 12-year, $325 million deal—the richest ever for any pitcher, regardless of origin. Interestingly, it’s written in Yamamoto’s contract that if he has Tommy John surgery—or is on the injured list for 134 straight days—anytime between 2024-29, he can opt out after the 2031 and/or 2033 World Series. If he stays healthy, the opt-outs will be moved up two years, after 2029 and 2031. Unlike the much smaller contract the San Diego Padres drew up for reliever Yuki Matsui, the Dodgers do not have an opt-out of their own should he get hurt.

Japanese pitchers who’ve moved on to America have historically broken down at a much more frequent rate than their American counterparts, in part because in Japan they pitch every six or seven days instead of the traditional five in MLB.

Wednesday, January 3

The Asian Invasion continues as the Padres bring on another reliever from across the Pacific. Woo Suk Go, who saved 139 games with a career 3.18 ERA over seven years at Korea, signs a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. Some believe the 25-year-old right-hander will take over for the departed Josh Hader as the team’s closer, though it serves to remind that the level of play in the Korean Baseball Organization is no better than Triple-A—maybe less—when compared to MLB.

Interesting sidenote about Go: He’s married to the sister of Jung Hoo Lee, the center fielder who recently signed a much bigger pact with San Francisco.

Thursday, January 4

Trevor Bauer looks like he’s ready to make peace with MLB and return to America—that is, if anyone over here wants him. Exiled to Japan after being let go by the Dodgers after accusations of sexual abuse from several women, Bauer goes on Fox News and admits past failings without declaring total guilt. “I agreed to do things I shouldn’t have,” he says, “It was reckless. It hurt a lot of people along the way. It made things very difficult for Major League Baseball, for the Dodgers, my teammates, friends, family, people close to me.” The 33-year-old right-hander is not backing down on his claim that his carnal activities with women accusing him of assault was consensual; he still has a civil case pending against one of the accusers.

While Bauer appears willing to come back to MLB after pitching his way to a 10-4 record and 2.76 ERA with Japan’s Yokohama Bay Stars last year, it’s not likely that the love will be returned from potential MLB suitors. Any team that signs him runs the risk of a potential PR headache, as his overtly physical past is bound to rankle a good number of fans.

A week after trading for injury-prone Boston ace Chris Sale, the Atlanta Braves buy out the remaining year of his contract and hand the lanky lefty a two-year deal worth $38 million, with an $18 million club option for 2026. The Braves may be looking at Sale as an insurance policy as the team’s two other veteran starters may stick around for only another year; Max Fried is on track for free agency while Charlie Morton, at age 40, may decide to step down.

The New York Mets sign part-time outfielder Harrison Bader to a one-year, $10.5 million contract. Last year, split between the Yankees and (briefly) Cincinnati Reds, Bader batted .232 with seven home runs, 40 RBIs and a career-high 20 steals over 98 games. Injuries kept him from logging a full season.

Friday, January 5

Hopefully the Giants will have better luck with Robbie Ray than the Mariners, who send the former Cy Young Award winner to San Francisco in exchange for outfielder Mitch Haniger and pitcher Anthony DeSclafani. In the two years since leveraging his 2021 Cy into a five-year, $115 million deal with Seattle, Ray is 12-13 with a 3.79 ERA—and missed virtually all of the 2023 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is not expected to make his Giants debut until this coming midseason.

Haniger, meanwhile, returns to Seattle and with the hope of regaining the form that had him belting 39 home runs for the Mariners in 2021. Injuries and ineffectiveness scuttled his San Francisco debut last year, batting a weak .209 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 61 games.

The Mariners are not done on the day; they ship infielder Jose Cabellero to Tampa Bay for outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley, who batted .249 with 19 homers, 49 RBIs and 14 steals over 118 games last year.

The Rays are not done on the day, either. They deal reliever Andrew Kittredge, who’s made only 31 appearances over the past two seasons, to St. Louis for young outfielder Richie Palacios—who belted six homers over just 93 at-bats last year for the Cardinals.

Wander Franco is a free man, for the moment. A Dominican judge ordered the troubled Rays infielder to be released from custody after failing to appear at a hearing a week earlier. But the Judge warned Franco to stick around. Some of the allegations against Franco have apparently seen the light of public display; he’s being investigated for having a relationship with a 14-year-old girl—and paying the girl’s mother “thousands of dollars” along with a new car as a gift. As such, the mother is in legal trouble for accepting.

As his 37th birthday nears this spring, Michael Brantley has decided to call it quits after 15 years as one of the game’s more underrated players. The left-handed hitting outfielder from Bellevue, Washington never had that historic moment or record-breaking feat to brag about, but he was counted upon as one of the game’s most reliable players—when he was healthy, which was a trick in the latter half of his career. Only four other players had a better career average (.298) than Brantley in as many at-bats during his playing time, and in an era where everyone was striking out, he never whiffed more than 76 times in a season. A five-time All-Star (once as a starter) who placed as high as third in the AL MVP vote in 2014, Brantley is not Hall-of-Fame material, but he’ll probably be one of those guys who gets a few nods on his first and (likely) only ballot in 2029.

Sunday, January 7

Already having dominated the free agent market this winter, the Dodgers are not resting—bringing on outfielder Teoscar Hernandez for one year and $23.5 million. The 31-year-old Dominican native batted .258 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs for Seattle this past year, after making an impact for five-plus years in Toronto. His only liability, for what it’s worth these days, is his strikeout rate; in 2023, he whiffed 211 times.

Sean Manaea signs on with the New York Mets on a two-year deal worth $28 million, a pact which includes an opt-out after the first year. The southpaw opted out of a two-year deal after one season with San Francisco, finishing 7-6 with a 4.44 ERA performing mostly as a long reliever. He’s expected to be a full-time starter with the Mets for 2024.

Monday, January 8

The Cardinals hire Chaim Bloom, the former chief baseball officer of the Boston Red Sox, as a special adviser in their front office. Bloom served in Boston for four years and finished last three times within a highly competitive division where even the Baltimore Orioles have become a force to be reckoned with. During the one year that the Red Sox didn’t finish last under Bloom’s watch, in 2021, they made it all the way to the ALCS before bowing to Houston in six games. With the Cardinals, Bloom will be asked to provide sage backbone to a team that finished last in its division/league for only the second time over the last 105 years.

Tuesday, January 9

Felony charges against former Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias have been dropped by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, as it’s determined that the evidence isn’t strong enough to warrant such a charge. The incident, which took place last September between Urias and his wife following a Major League Soccer match in Los Angeles, was the second that the left-hander has been arrested for—having also been nabbed in 2019 for domestic battery. Urias could still face a misdemeanor charge for this latest confrontation—and, worse, could feel the sting of a suspension from MLB longer than the 20 games he served after the 2019 incident. All of this has greatly deflated Urias’ value on the market, as he currently is a free agent.

Wednesday, January 10

Another Japanese talent has ascended to MLB as pitcher Shota Imanaga is signed by the Chicago Cubs to a four-year, $53 million contract with a fifth-year club option that could push the total package to $80 million. On top of that, the Cubs will pay a $9.8 million posting fee to Imanaga’s former Japan-based team, the Yokohama Bay Stars. The 30-year-old southpaw was 64-50 in eight seasons with a 3.18 ERA for Yokohama; he started the 2023 World Baseball Classic final against the United States, allowing a run over two innings in a game ultimately won by Japan.

Thursday, January 11

The Yankees are counting on Marcus Stroman to fortify a rotation that struggled outside of Gerrit Cole last season, signing the 32-year-old right-hander to a two-year, $37 million contract, with a third-year player option for another $18 million. Stroman had a sharp start last season with the Cubs that earned him his second All-Star selection, but hip and rib woes curtailed his effectiveness in the second half and he finished the year with a 10-9 record and 3.95 ERA.

On the day arbitration-eligible players must agree to a contract for 2024 or likely face an arbitrator to decide their salaries, Juan Soto and the Yankees commit to a $31 million payday—topping, by $1 million, the previous pre-free agency mark established last year by Shohei Ohtani. Topping out the top five arbitration-avoiding salaries for 2024 are Mets slugger Pete Alonso ($20.5 million), Milwaukee ace Corbin Burnes ($15.6 million), Atlanta pitcher Max Fried ($15 million) and Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres ($14.2 million). Among those not agreeing to terms and facing arbitration are Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who wants $19.9 million while the Blue Jays are offering $18 million; Texas postseason hero Adolis Garcia, who’s asking for $6.9 million in contrast to the Rangers’ $5 million offer; and two-time batting champ Luis Arraez, with a $12 million request against the Marlins’ $10.6 million counteroffer.

Two-time All-Star shortstop Bud Harrelson, a long-time fixture in the early years of the New York Mets, passes away at the age of 79 after an extended struggle with Alzheimer’s. The Bay Area-born Harrelson played his first 13 years with the Mets, experiencing the worst of times (the early, Casey Stengel-led years when the team customarily lost over 100 games) and the best of times—as a starting member for the world champion 1969 team and as third-base coach for the 1986 champions. His defense carried him through a 16-year career, but not his bat—with a lifetime .236 batting average and just seven home runs over 4,744 at-bats. Harrelson’s reference to his tin-hitting offensive abilities led to his most memorable moment, when he got into a dust-up with the Reds’ Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS; he had infuriated Cincinnati players by comparing his hitting game to those of the Reds’ struggling offense during that series, which the Mets—heavy underdogs at 82-79—won in five games. Harrelson and Rose would wind up being teammates with the 1979 Phillies, managing to co-exist for one year.

Friday, January 12

The Giants sign former St. Louis closer Jordan Hicks to a four-year, $44 million contract, with the plan to convert him into a starter. The 27-year-old Hicks, who split his time last season between the Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays, appeared in 65 games with a 3-9 record, 3.29 ERA and 12 saves; he averaged 100 MPH on his fastball, but we’ll see if that comes down as he looks to spread his energy over more innings.

Monday, January 15

This year’s international signing period starts with over 470 players finalizing contracts—including 47 of mlb.com’s top 50 eligible prospects. Seventeen-year-old shortstop Leo De Vries from the Dominican Republic, listed at #1, signs a $4.2 million deal with San Diego; but Atlanta spends the most money ($5 million) for one player, Venezuelan shortstop Jose Perdomo—who’s ranked #3 on the same list.

Of note is the signing of Vladi Guerrero, son of Hall-of-Fame slugger Vladimir Guerrero and half-brother of current Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., by the New York Mets.

Tuesday, January 16

The Houston Astros will have one less veteran reliever this coming season as it’s announced that Kendall Graveman underwent shoulder surgery last week, and is expected to miss the 2024 campaign. The 33-year-old right-hander furnished a 3.12 ERA and nine saves in 68 games combined between the White Sox and Astros last season; he missed the postseason as shoulder pains intensified.

Wednesday, January 17

Amazon throws a lifeline to Diamond Sports Group, which declared bankruptcy last year and imperiled the regional sports contracts for nearly half of MLB’s teams whose games are carried by Diamond-owned Bally Sports. The $100 million infusion by Amazon also ends litigation against Sinclair, which owns Diamond. While the remaining 11 teams carried by Bally Sports will continue with their current contracts, the streaming rights for five of those teams—Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay—will revert to Amazon Prime starting in 2025. The Amazon agreement likely won’t thrill MLB, which has designs to create its own streaming empire for virtually all teams.

Teams continue to poach talent from Japan—but in the latest move, the Toronto Blue Jays acquire a Cuban, reliever Yariel Rodriguez, who played at the club level for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan from 2020-22. The 26-year right-hander skipped out on the 2023 season after requesting—and being denied—a move to MLB. Most recently, Rodriguiez started two games for the Cuban WBC team last year, posting a 2.45 ERA with 10 strikeouts over 7.1 innings. Rodriguez’s contract with the Blue Jays is for $32 million over four years.

Thursday, January 18

Not that it’s going to break anyone’s heart, but Guaranteed Rate Field may become a former ballpark in the near future as the White Sox are looking at a 62-acre plot of land just south of downtown Chicago to build a new baseball-only venue. It would have access to the elevated “L” line, the Chicago River and Interstate 90.

The White Sox’ lease on Guaranteed Rate Field, which opened in 1991, expires at the end of the 2029 season—hence the team is looking to get a potential head start on a new facility. For those recalling the angst over the team nearly leaving for St. Petersburg before being given the current ballpark, it should be noted that the White Sox are insisting that a move out of town is not an option—not yet, anyway.

Friday, January 19

Josh Hader, the top closer available in this year’s free-agent class, signs a five-year, $95 million deal with the Houston Astros. After a very rocky 2022 campaign split between Milwaukee and San Diego that included a midseason crash-and-burn, Hader returned to top form in 2023, posting a 1.28 ERA and 33 saves for the Padres. With the Astros, Hader will anchor a tough bullpen with last year’s closer Ryan Pressly likely to be bumped into a set-up role.

Sunday, January 21

The Los Angeles Angels, desperate to make over a bullpen that languished last season, ink southpaw reliever Robert Stephenson to a three-year, $33 million contract. That seems like a lot of dough for a player with a career 4.64 ERA, but the Angels are crossing their fingers that they’ll get the Stephenson who furnished a 2.35 figure in the final four months of last season with Tampa Bay, after a June 2 trade from Pittsburgh.

Monday, January 22

Coming off a bounce-back season that restored his credibility (though not at an All-Star level), reliever Aroldis Chapman signs a one-year, $10.5 million contract with Pittsburgh. At the age of 35 last season, the left-handed Chapman still wielded good zip on a fastball that averaged 99 MPH, but he remained prone to fits of wildness that kept his second team of 2023, the world champion Rangers, from moving him into the closer’s role. With the Pirates, Chapman will likely be utilized as a set-up man to David Bednar, who had a terrific (2.00 ERA, NL-high 39 saves) 2023 campaign.

A majority of legislators from Jackson County, Missouri, vote to override a veto and will place an initiative to extend the lifespan of a 3/8-cent sales tax to fund a new ballpark for the Kansas City Royals. The earlier veto was empowered by county executive Frank White—yes, the same Frank White who played 18 years at second base for the Royals and amassed 2,006 hits and five All-Star roster spots.

While allowing citizens to vote on a ballpark is typically far from ideal for MLB teams, the optics on this move are really not what you might think. White and many residents are concerned that, while a yes vote will provide funds for a new yard to replace Kauffman Stadium, it will be done so without critical details being filled in—thus ceding the Royals with potential carte blanche power on dictating ballpark terms. The conspiracy is that voters won’t do their homework and opt yes for the measure without reading between the lines. Stay tuned.

Hall-of-Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg announces on Instagram that he has been stricken with prostate cancer. “I have begun treatment, and I am surrounded by my loving wife Margaret, our incredibly supportive family, the best medical care team, and our dear friends,” the 64-year-old Sandberg posts. “We will continue to be positive, strong, and fight to beat this.” The Cubs are planning to unveil a Wrigley Field statue of Sandberg on June 23, 40 years to the day of what’s remembered as “The Sandberg Game” when he collected five hits—including game-tying home runs in the ninth and 10th innings—along with seven RBIs as the Cubs defeated the Cardinals at Chicago, 12-11.

Tuesday, January 23

The Baseball Hall of Fame announces three new members from its 2024 general election: Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton and Joe Mauer.

Beltre, who collected 3,166 hits and 477 home runs over 21 seasons, confirms his status as a shoo-in by being named on 95.1% of all ballots. Outside of a tremendous 2004 season (.334 average, 48 home runs and 121 RBIs) with the Dodgers, Beltre didn’t appear to be on track for a HOF career until the 2010s, when his numbers begin to strengthen—first with a one-year tenure with Boston, and then over his final eight seasons with Texas, where his batting averages frequently surpassed .300 with solid power. It’s assumed that he will go into Cooperstown wearing a Texas cap, though his career was all but evenly split into three parts between the Dodgers, Seattle, and Rangers (excusing his one year with the Red Sox).

Helton, in finally reaching the 75% threshold (at 79.1%) in his sixth year of eligibility, had to overcome the stigma of playing half of his games at mile-high Coors Field—where his career OPS registered at a highly impressive 1.048. That contrasted with a road OPS of .855—still good, but arguably not HOF-worthy. The 17-year first baseman lived a tale of two careers; the early portion with incredible offensive numbers (batting .372 in 2000, compiling over 400 total bases each year from 2000-01), and the latter eight years in which back issues muted his power despite remaining a difficult out. Quite frankly, his career provides a parallel to Don Mattingly, who has yet to be admitted into the Hall. Helton joins Larry Walker as the only Hall of Famers who principally wore the uniform of the Colorado Rockies.

Finally, Mauer’s inclusion on his first ballot is somewhat of a surprise, as many suspected he would be a second- or third-ballot Hall of Famer. But he squeaks in at 76.1% as voters respect a resume that includes three batting titles, an MVP (2009), six All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves at the catcher spot. Concussion issues ended his backstop career after 2013, playing his final five years at Minnesota as either a first baseman or DH.

In the close-but-no-cigar category, closer Billy Wagner gets, well, closer to 75%, finishing up on 73.8% of all ballots; he has one last year of eligibility, but he’ll have new competition on the ballot in Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez. Meanwhile for Gary Sheffield, he’s 10 and out—getting named on 63.9% of all ballots in his final year of eligibility. He’ll now have to sweat out votes from the Veterans Committee branch of the Hall. Speaking of steroid-tainted stars, both Alex Rodriguez (third ballot) and Manny Ramirez (eighth ballot) remain stuck in the low 30s, with little movement from past results. After Beltre and Mauer, the first-year eligible with the highest rate of checked boxes is Chase Utley at 28.8%. David Wright, the long-time star third baseman for the Mets, debuts at an unexpectedly weak 6.2%—barely keeping him eligible for next year’s ballot. Below him, Jose Bautista, Bartolo Colon, Victor Martinez and Matt Holliday are all one-and-done, failing to reach the 5% needed to stay on future ballots; Jose Reyes and James Shields are the only two players from this year’s ballot unable to snare a single vote.

Interestingly, no blank ballots were sent in this year.

The Washington Nationals are the latest team to take a swing at all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo, signing the outfielder to a one-year deal worth $5 million. This will be the fifth team in four seasons for Gallo, who last season batted .177 with 21 home runs and 142 strikeouts in 282 at-bats for the Twins.

The Dodgers continue to stock up on much-needed veteran starting pitchers, bringing on 35-year-old southpaw James Paxton for one year and $11 million. The Canadian native achieved a moral victory in just staying relatively healthy in 2023 after making just six appearances in the three previous seasons; in 19 starts for Boston, Paxton was 7-5 with a 4.50 ERA.

A week later, the contract will be restructured with the guaranteed salary being lowered by $4 million. Paxton can still make the maximum $13 million originally called for—so long as he is healthy at the start of the year and makes 20 starts during the season.

Wednesday, January 24

Recovered from an ACL injury that cost him the entire 2023 season, first baseman Rhys Hoskins signs a two-year, $34 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers; the pact includes an opt-out after the first season. The 30-year-old slugger has 148 home runs to vouch for over six previous years with Philadelphia, constantly batting below .250 with a preponderance of walks and strikeouts—in other words, he’s a prototypical three-outcomes hitter. Hoskins felt the need to move from the Phillies now that the team has given the first-base job to Bryce Harper.

Thursday, January 25

Former Giants and Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson moves to another NL West camp, signing a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. An All-Star in 2022, Pederson last year dropped to a .235 average with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

The world champion Rangers, having lost former closers Aroldis Chapman and Will Smith to free agency this winter, sign on 39-year-old David Robertson to a one-year deal “in the $11 million-$12 million range,” according to ESPN. Robertson saved 14 games (with a nice 2.06 ERA) in place of injured Mets closer Edwin Diaz last year before being dealt to Miami at the trade deadline; with the Marlins, he struggled with four saves in seven opportunities and a 5.06 ERA.

Friday, January 26

Former Giants reliever John Brebbia, last seen in late September playing hide-and-seek with manager Gabe Kapler—who San Francisco fired a couple days later—has agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the White Sox. The 33-year-old right-hander pitched in 40 games this past season—down from a NL-leading 76 in 2022—and posted a 3.99 ERA. 

There are six statues of Jackie Robinson across America, and one of them is missing. Thieves in Wichita, Kansas sever a statue of the legendary Dodger in the well-lit dark of the night (as video surveillance cameras show) from its feet at a public park, hauling it off in the back of a pick-up truck. Authorities are promising up to $5,000 for anyone who can provide tips that lead to the recovery of the statue, erected in 2021.

Four days later, the statue will be found—in pieces, burning in a trash can set afire.

Saturday, January 27

Second baseman Adam Frazier, a hot commodity just two years ago after batting .305 in an All-Star 2021 season, has signed on to his fourth team since then with a one-year, $4 million contract with Kansas City. The 32-year-old Georgia native smacked a career-high 13 home runs last season with Baltimore, but batted just .240—a figure somewhat par for the course since his trade from the Pirates midway through the 2021 season—and was 0-for-5 in the Orioles’ three-and-out ALDS loss to Texas.

The Chicago Cubs strengthen their bullpen by brining on reliever Hector Neris to a one-year deal worth $9 million. The right-hander was excellent for the Astros at the age of 33 last season, appearing in 71 games and furnishing a career-best 1.71 ERA—though he struggled in the postseason, allowing six runs on six hits and five walks over 8.1 innings.

Carlos Carrasco is returning to Cleveland after three up-and-down seasons with the Mets, signing a minor league contract with the Guardians. After going 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 2022, the 36-year-old righty plummeted last year with three wins in 11 decisions along with a 6.80 ERA. Carrasco spent his first 12 seasons with Cleveland, posting an 88-73 record.

Sunday, January 28

In a transaction that’s still unusual but nevertheless trending among MLB teams, the Detroit Tigers hand out a six-year, $28.6 million contract to a player who’s never appeared in a major league game. Third baseman Colt Keith, drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 amateur draft, will be guaranteed that cash and perhaps an additional $35 million if the Tigers trigger three team options from 2030-32. In play split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023, the 22-year-old Keith batted .306 with 27 home runs and 101 RBIs over 126 games. The Tigers’ third-base depth chart currently lists at the top Zach McKinstry, who holds mild power with a career .221 batting average. In other words, he’s keeping the spot warm for Keith.

Monday, January 29

The Twins trade long-time infielder Jorge Polanco to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for four players, including veteran starter Anthony DeSclafani and reliever Justin Topa. The 30-year-old Polanco has spent each of his previous 10 seasons with the Twins, and was one of a record-breaking five players to hit at least 30 homers for Minnesota in 2019, the year the Twins set the MLB season record for team homers with 307. Last year, injuries restricted Polanco to 80 games, batting .255 with 14 jacks and 48 RBIs.

Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who bombed out of the starting gate for the Yankees before finding some late-season redemption with Baltimore, signs a one-year deal for the minimum MLB salary ($740,000) with the Los Angeles Angels. He will still be paid $19 million over the next two seasons by the Yankees, who released him midway through last year after betting .188 with a single home run over 69 at-bats; with the Orioles, he hit .275 with seven homers over 200 at-bats.

Jimy Williams, who managed three teams and won AL Manager of the Year honors in 1999 while piloting the Red Sox to a 94-68 record, passes away at the age of 80. As a player, Williams gathered only three career hits from 1966-67 for the Cardinals, leading him to later say, “I can remember my first big league hit—but when you only get three you can remember them all.” After failing as a player, Williams worked his way up the minor league ranks and scored his first major league managership, leading the Blue Jays of the late 1980s to three successive winning campaigns; he was fired in 1989 after a 12-24 start, replaced by Cito Gaston—who rebounded the Jays to an AL East title. Williams returned to managing the Red Sox from 1997-2001, producing more winning records but little postseason success; he then guided the Astros for two and a half seasons, from 2002-04. Overall, he finished 910-790 as a manager.

Tuesday, January 30

The Angelos Era is coming to an end in Baltimore. Reports state that the Orioles are being sold to a group led by 74-year-old lawyer David Rubenstein, a former member of the Jimmy Carter administration and head of the Carlyle Group equity firm. The sale price is said to be $1.725 billion—roughly 10 times what Peter Angelos paid for the team in 1993. In recent years, the team has been run by Angelos’ son John, as his 94-year-old father is battling dementia. Despite impressively building up a roster that won 101 games last season, John Angelos has stirred controversy for not spending more on players, engaging in a public family feud with his brother over ownership, and testy relations with the local press and fans. It’s hoped that Rubenstein will provide Orioles fans with a collective sigh of relief.

Among those in the new ownership group is Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former basketball star Grant Hill.

Texas star second baseman and AL MVP runner-up Corey Seager will miss the bulk of spring training as he undergoes surgery for a sports hernia. The issue cropped up during last season’s victorious postseason for the Rangers, when Seager batted .318 with six homers and won World Series MVP honors; it was hoped that the injury would heal in time for the start of camp, but instead it has persisted to the point that it required a procedure.

Veteran infielder/DH Justin Turner is moving within the AL East, signing a one-year, $13 million contract with Toronto after spending the 2023 season with Boston—batting .276 with 23 home runs and a career-high 96 RBIs. The 39-year-old Turner is expected to be the Blue Jays’ DH this year.

Wednesday, January 31

On the 105th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s birth, donations for a replacement sculpture for the one stolen at a park in Wichita spike to nearly double the intended $75,000 goal. This, a day after the original sculpture was found in pieces and on fire in a trash can. The truck used in the theft last Friday has been found abandoned; as such, arrests in the case are hopefully imminent.

After three solid years with the Yankees, veteran reliever Wandy Peralta signs a four-year deal worth $16.5 million with San Diego. The southpaw’s career seemed to be headed into obscurity early in 2021 when the Giants traded him to New York; ever since, he’s pitched wonderfully for the Yankees, compiling a 2.82 ERA, 10-9 record and 11 saves over 165 appearances in pinstripes. The contract includes an opt-out after each season.

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