This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: November 2019

Sign Stealing of the Times: Is the Astros’ Legacy Tarnished?
MLB Awards Season Brings Tight Results    Baseball: Not For Men Only

October 2019    Comebacker Index    December 2019

Friday, November 1

Carlos Beltran, once a star player for the New York Mets, is now their manager. The team hires the 42-year-old former outfielder, who played for the Mets from 2005-11, to lead them despite having no official coaching experience. Beltran had been a source of interest from other teams, but he publicly insisted that he had no interest in piloting anyone but the Mets—and all but lobbied for the job.

The Milwaukee Brewers lose—perhaps temporarily—two of their bigger bats from this past season as third baseman Mike Moustakas and catcher Yasmani Grandal opt out of their current contracts and become free agents. Moustakas hit .257 but punctuated that figure with punch, smacking 35 home runs; Grandal batted .246 with 28 homers, yet with 109 walks raised his on-base average to a respectable .380.

Saturday, November 2

On the day the Washington Nationals celebrate their first World Series title with a D.C parade attracting an estimated 500,000, two decisions are made that very possibly end the run of the team’s two most tenured players. Ace and Fall Classic MVP Stephen Strasburg decides that he will opt out of his current contract, which would pay him $100 million over the next four seasons; and Ryan Zimmerman, a member of the team in each of the 15 years it’s called Washington home since its move from Montreal, has an $18 million 2020 option declined by the Nationals. This does not necessarily mean that they won’t be in Washington uniforms next season; as free agents, they can resign with the Nats.

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman also opts out of his current deal that would have paid him $30 million over the next two years, but he quickly re-ups with New York for three years and $48 million. The $16 million per year average ties the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen for the highest among closers in baseball.

Sunday, November 3

Awards season begins with the announcement of the 2019 Gold Gloves. Heading the list are two players each earning their seventh career honors: Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado and Kansas City outfielder Alex Gordon. While the American League outfield is represented by repeat defenders (Gordon, Boston’s Mookie Betts and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermeier), the National League features three first-timers: Los Angeles’ Cody Bellinger, Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain and Arizona’s David Peralta. The Diamondbacks get the most honors with four players, though somewhat technically; Peralta, shortstop Nick Ahmed and pitcher Zack Greinke, who played the final third of the year in Houston, officially get the nod as Arizona players, though Seattle’s Mike Leake, who finished the year with the Diamondbacks, gets AL pitching honors.

For the first time, the Gold Gloves voters include analytics from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), using its defensive index that comprises 25% of the vote. Managers and coaches represent the rest of the voting bloc.

Winning his seventh Gold Glove is the good news for Alex Gordon. Here’s his bad news: The Royals say no to Gordon returning for a 14th season, declining his $20 million option for 2020—preferring to give him a $4 million buyout to look elsewhere. Gordon, who turns 36 this winter, hit .266 with 13 homers and 76 RBIs for the Royals this past season.

Also declined a 2020 option is infielder Starlin Castro, the Miami Marlins’ most steady offensive performer this past season as he set career highs with 22 homers and 86 RBIs. Due $16 million next year, he’ll instead get a $1 million buyout.

Among those remaining for 2020 with their incumbent teams are Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo for the Chicago Cubs, and Jake Arrieta for the Philadelphia Phillies, as they or their teams activate options for them to stay.

Monday, November 4

Optionmania continues as more players stay and others are let go. In what’s probably the day’s biggest surprise, Boston slugger J.D. Martinez opts to stick with the Red Sox, believing he’s good with the $62 million owed to him over the next three years. Elsewhere, Texas veteran Elvis Andrus also elects to stay with the Rangers; the Pirates exercise their 2020 options on pitcher Chris Archer and outfielder Starling Marte; and the Los Angeles Angels decline a $14 million option on outfielder Kole Calhoun, ending his eight-year stay at Anaheim despite setting career highs with 33 homers and 92 runs scored in 2019.

The Nationals are given their day at the White House as they are congratulated for their World Series title by President Donald Trump. Eight players skip on the proceedings, most notably closer Sean Doolittle—who says in the days before that he doesn’t “want to hang out with somebody who talks like that,” referring to Trump’s bully-like personality.

The Hall of Fame’s Modern Era committee—part of Cooperstown’s segmented Veterans Committee group—announces 10 finalists to be voted on December 8. The group, consisting of individuals active primarily from 1970-87, include Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Lou Whitaker and former union head Marvin Miller.

If it were up to us, we’d select Garvey and Miller. We’d also throw in another name, related to John’s status: Frank Jobe, the doctor who performed the first ligament replacement surgery on John—thus the reason the procedure is named after the ex-pitcher.

Tuesday, November 5

St. Louis manager Mike Shildt, general manager Mike Girsch and team president John Mozeliak are rewarded for the Cardinals’ recent successes with contract extensions. Shildt and Girsch are now contracted through 2022, Mozeliak through 2023. Shildt gave the Cardinals a spark late in 2018 after taking over for Mike Matheny, and in 2019 took the team to the NLCS where it bowed to the eventual champion Nationals.

Wednesday, November 6

For those who’ve been suspecting modern-day collusion regarding free agency, they’ve found a new bogeyman in Alex Anthopoulos. The Atlanta general manager makes this comment: “Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs—obviously the Astros and (Nationals) being in the World Series, they were tied up—but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades.” It’s easy to read into Anthopoulos’ comments and conclude that collusion is at work, but it can also be easily explained away. To get to the bottom of it, however, Major League Baseball has launched an investigation to see exactly what Anthopoulos actually meant.

Thursday, November 7

The Houston Astros continue to make front office news, not entirely in the best light. Owner Jim Crane announces that he’s promoting his son Jared to take over in an executive role while demoting Reid Ryan from team president to executive adviser of business relations. In perhaps a related note, Reid’s father—one Nolan Ryan—severs his ties with the Astros as executive adviser. The Hall-of-Fame pitcher texts confirmation of his departure to a local Houston TV station, adding, “Will leave it at that.”

Friday, November 8

The San Francisco Giants publicly acknowledge that they are making the first field dimension shift at Oracle Park since the venue’s 2000 opening. The straight cut from left-center to right-center will be moved in some six feet, while the height of that section of the wall will be shortened from eight feet to seven. Additionally, bullpens that had been stationed along the foul lines will be relocated behind the center-field wall, which will result in the removal of 400 seats. This move leaves the Oakland Coliseum and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg as the only two MLB facilities left where the bullpens are in play down the lines.

All players should be happy with the removal of the bullpen mounds, which has caused more than a few injuries over the years at San Francisco. But hitters may not be appeased enough by the modest fence reduction in center; the big hurdle—the tall brick wall in right field—remains in place, and triples will likely continue to be a fact of life at the yard.

Baseball’s defensive best of the best are named as two third basemen—Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Oakland’s Matt Chapman—receive the Platinum Glove awards for the best defensive player in the NL and AL, respectively. For Arenado, it’s his third such honor, all consecutively; it’s the second straight (and second overall) for Chapman.

Trivia tidbit: Both Arenado and Chapman were teammates at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California.

Sunday, November 10

The Giants, who officially were without a general manager this past year, put one in the post as they hire Scott Harris away from the Chicago Cubs. The 32-year-old Harris was the assistant GM for the Cubs since 2017, serving for five previous years before that as Chicago’s director of baseball operations; he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Monday, November 11

The Mets’ Pete Alonso and Astros’ Yordan Alvarez take home the prizes as (respectively) NL and AL Rookies of the Year for 2019. Alonso gets all but one first-place vote, with the other going to second-place Atlanta pitcher Mike Soroka; the New York slugger belted a rookie-record 53 home runs and becomes the first ROY recipient to lead the majors in homers. Alvarez, who didn’t even debut until June 9, made an immediate impression with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in just 87 games for Houston and secured all 30 first-place votes; finishing a distant second in the AL vote is Baltimore pitcher John Means.

Alonso is the sixth Met to win the honor; the others are Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Jacob deGrom. Alvarez is the third Astro to win, following Jeff Bagwell and Carlos Correa.

Tuesday, November 12

What will evolve into one of baseball’s largest scandals is ignited when former Houston (and current Oakland) pitcher Mike Fiers blows the whistle on the Astros’ 2017 championship campaign. Speaking to reporters from The Athletic, Fiers claims that the team used the combination of a camera behind the outfield wall, a monitor in the hallway between the dugout and clubhouse, and a trash can that would be banged a number of times to determine the type of pitch coming that could be heard by the hitter. “That’s not playing the game the right way,” says Fiers. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.” Four other Astros employees, all speaking anonymously, confirm the scheme—though their recollections of whether it was used into the 2017 postseason differs, with some saying it stopped at the end of the regular season because the noise of playoff crowds would drown out the banging of the trash can. The Astros comment by not commenting—stating only that MLB has begun an investigation into the matter.

The article’s writers, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, point out that the Astros’ scheme may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of rampant sign-stealing within MLB, writing: “One Astros source was adamant: The team should not become the poster child for sign stealing. Not when so much is going on with other clubs that MLB has not stopped, they said.”

If true, this is sweet revenge for Fiers, who started 28 games for the 2017 Astros but was left off the postseason roster after finishing the regular season with a 5.22 ERA—particularly falling off the cliff in September with a string of bad starts punctuated by a five-game suspension for throwing behind the head of an opposing player.

If MLB is to start an investigation that goes beyond the Astros and decides to act, now or in the future, here’s a thought that might scare teams straight: Draconian-level penalties that would include, say, total forfeiture of participation in the following year’s amateur draft, heavy suspension for managers or front office personnel, or—gulp—forfeiture of victories while any scheme was operating. That will do it.

Manager of the Year awards are given out to Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli (AL) and St. Louis’ Mike Shildt (NL). Baldelli is only the second first-year manager to win AL honors (it’s happened six times in the NL) and barely outlasts the Yankees’ Aaron Boone in the voting point total, 106-96; both managers each get 13 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, while the other three go to third-place Kevin Cash of Tampa Bay. Shildt gets the nod despite getting less first-place votes (10) than Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell (13), who places second overall with 88 total points vs. Shildt’s 95. Third-place Brian Snitker gets three first-place votes, and fourth-place Dave Roberts gets four in a very tight poll.

Hopefully Baldelli will fare better in the long run than Paul Molitor, the Twins’ previous recipient back in 2017; Molitor was fired just a year later.

The Giants name Bruce Bochy’s replacement as former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is chosen to take over in the dugout for 2020. Kapler gets the reins despite a somewhat turbulent and ultimately unsuccessful two-year stint at Philadelphia, plagued early on by failure to perform simple managerial tasks and at the end by a failure to take a talent-heavy squad to a winning record (the Phillies wrapped at 81-81 in 2019).

Adam Wainwright is returning to the Cardinals for a 15th season. The tall right-handed veteran signs a one-year deal to play the 2020 season in St. Louis for $5 million, with the opportunity to double that in bonuses. Wainwright had a mild comeback to form in 2019, furnishing a 14-10 record (his most wins since 2014) and a 4.19 ERA.

Wednesday, November 13

It feels like the second time for this year’s Cy Young Award winners, as the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Astros’ Justin Verlander earn honors after having previously won it once. It’s a second straight Cy for deGrom, who easily (and surprisingly) breezes in the vote count with 29 of 30 first-place nods while early-season favorite Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers is a distant second, securing the other first-place vote. The AL vote is much tighter, with Verlander and Astros teammate Gerrit Cole essentially a toss-up; they both monopolize the top two slots on everyone’s ballot and become the first AL teammates to finish 1-2 in the vote, with Verlander taking 17 of 30 first-place nods. Verlander last won the Cy with Detroit in 2011.

There were 42 pitchers who won more games than deGrom from 2018-19, and yet he emerges as the Cy recipient in both. Voters obviously see past his 21-17 record, but not his 2.05 ERA—easily the majors’ best during this time.

Thursday, November 14

It’s the Daily Double for Southland baseball fans as the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and Angels’ Mike Trout win the NL and AL 2019 MVP, respectively. Bellinger prevails in a somewhat tight vote in which he outlasts Milwaukee outfielder and 2018 MVP Christian Yelich (who gets 10 first-place votes compared to Bellinger’s 19). Third-place Anthony Rendon of the Nationals gets the other first-place nod. Trout gains his third career MVP by an even closer margin; in a mirror-imaged outcome of the AL Cy Young vote the day before, the Anaheim-based superstar gets 17 first-place and 13 second-place votes, while second-place Alex Bregman of Houston has 13 first-place and 17 second-place nods.

It’s interesting to note: Gerrit Cole, who finished second to Justin Verlander in the Cy vote, actually gains more MVP points (61, to Verlander’s 56).

Minnesota’s Jake Odorizzi and the Chicago White Sox’ Jose Abreu decide to accept the $17.8 million qualifying offer to stay one more year with their incumbent teams. Odorizzi set a career high with 15 wins and posted a 3.51 ERA in 2019; Abreu bounced back from a statistically humble 2018 effort with a .284 average, 33 homers and personal-best 123 RBIs.

One of the eight players who decline the qualifying offer wastes no team in landing a new team. Closer Will Smith, who saved 34 of 38 opportunities with a 2.76 ERA this past season for San Francisco, inks a three-year deal worth $39 million for the Atlanta Braves. The move fixes a fairly large hole for the Braves, who lacked a bona fide closer in 2019.

Friday, November 15

The Pirates hire Ben Cherington as their new general manager, replacing the recently fired Neal Huntington. Cherington followed Theo Epstein as the Red Sox’ GM and oversaw Boston’s 2013 world title, but left two years later; he since had been the Toronto Blue Jays’ vice president of baseball operations.

Monday, November 18

The ballot for the upcoming 2020 Hall of Fame election is released with several prominent new names including Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Paul Konerko and Alfonso Soriano. Back to try again are steroids poster children Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, alongside Curt Schilling and Larry Walker—the latter attempting to get into Cooperstown on his 10th and final try of eligibility.

Who would we pick, if we had a vote in the BBWAA? Eric Gouldsberry opts for Bonds, Clemens, Jeter and Omar Vizquel. Ed Attanasio checks off Bonds, Clemens and Jeter.

Ryan Costello, a minor leaguer for the past three seasons in the Minnesota Twins’ organization, dies in his sleep at the age of 23 in a New Zealand hotel room just days before beginning winter play in the Australian Baseball League. Drafted by Seattle in the 31st round of the 2017 amateur draft, Costello mostly played first and third base in the minors and had a career .256 average with modest power.

The Yokohama Bay Stars of Japan’s Central League allows slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to become available for MLB teams. The 27-year-old Tsutsugo has 205 career homers in Japan over a 10-year career, but 139 of those have come in just the last four seasons—including 44 in 2016.

Tuesday, November 19

A few days after signing Will Smith, the Braves further bolster their bullpen by re-signing Chris Martin, who was acquired from Texas midway through 2019 and produced an overall 3.40 ERA in 58 appearances this past season.

Wednesday, November 20

The Yankees decide it’s not going to be worth it to keep outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, even though they still owe him $26 million over the next two seasons. The 36-year-old outfielder, second among active players in career steals with 343, is designated for assignment as he hasn’t even played since 2017, with injuries to his oblique, back and foot keeping him out of action. He’s owed $21 million in 2020 and is guaranteed $5 million as a buyout if the Yankees decline a 2021 option.

It’s later learned that the Yankees have filed a grievance against Ellsbury to get some of the owed money back because he used an “outside facility,” apparently unsanctioned by the team, to have rehab performed on him.

Other players are also DFA’d as MLB teams retool their 40-man rosters in advance of the upcoming Rule 5 draft. The Yankees also release slugger/first baseman Greg Bird, who had flashes of brilliance but could never stay healthy, while Miami releases pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, once considered the top dog in the Marlins’ rotation but instead has only gone 11-19 over four years; he is owed $22 million for 2020.

The Baby Shark is turning Japanese. Outfielder Gerardo Parra, who became something of a sidebar sensation as the Washington Nationals forged their way to their first world title in 2019, is headed to the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League. Parra hit .250 with eight homers and 42 RBIs this past season, split between the Nationals and Giants.

Thursday, November 21

The Chicago White Sox, considered to be one the teams seriously looking to take that next giant leap forward from mediocrity to playoff contention, sign catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. In his one and only year with Milwaukee this past season, Grandal hit .247 but set career highs with 28 home runs, 77 RBIs and 109 walks—all while making the NL All-Star team and finishing 15th in the NL MVP vote.

Friday, November 22

A day after signing Grandal, the White Sox re-up with veteran slugger Jose Abreu for three years and $50 million. The new deal wipes away the $17.8 million qualifying offer Abreu had agreed to for 2020. Given today’s high paydays and Abreu’s productivity—including a resurgent 2019 campaign—this comes off as a steal of a deal, relatively speaking. The counter to that is Abreu will turn 33 this winter and isn’t getting younger.

In a most curious move, the Seattle Mariners hand a six-year, $24 million contract to first baseman Evan White, who’s yet to play a game at the major league level and has all of 230 games in the minors to his credit—less than 100 of those above the Single-A level. This past season, White hit .293 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs over 92 games for Double-A Arkansas—but the Mariners are betting that he’ll be their regular first baseman sooner than later, given his power potential and solid defense. Maximization of bonuses within the contract could considerably sweeten White’s contract to $55 million.

International signings excluded, this is said to be the largest contract ever given to a player no higher than Double-A.

Saturday, November 23

Major League Baseball isn’t just a man’s game anymore. On a slow news day, several media outlets spotlight multiple recent hires of female coaches to MLB teams. The Yankees bring on board Rachel Balkovec, who’s worked previously with the St. Louis and Houston organizations, to become their roving minor league hitting instructor. And the Chicago Cubs hire Rachel Folden, who like Balkovec is age 32, to be the “lead hitting lab tech and fourth” coach for the organization’s Rookie League Mesa team. These aren’t the first female coaches ever to be hired by MLB teams, but it shows that momentum is building—surely if not slowly—for women to take more of a prominent role within a game that at one time, many eons earlier, wouldn’t even allow women in the press box.

Sunday, November 24

Like the White Sox, the Braves aren’t wasting time building their roster up for 2020. Atlanta commits to a third free agent signing by tapping catcher Travis d’Arnaud to two years and $16 million. The 30-year-old former top prospect in the Mets’ organization never quite became the Next Big Thing as advertised in New York, but found late-season solace in Tampa Bay with a .263 average and 16 home runs over 92 games in 2019.

Monday, November 25

Despite a rough year in which he hit .165—lowest among anyone with 250 or more at-bats in 2019—catcher Mike Zunino is re-upped by the Rays for one year and $4.5 million, avoiding arbitration. The 28-year-old Zunino hit nine homers but also struck out 98 times over 266 at-bats—all representing a major dropdown from a career-best .251-25-64 package for Seattle in 2017. Only four other Rays at current are set to make more money in 2020.

It only seems apt that Rich Hill’s free agent status is complicated due to yet another injury. The veteran pitcher who turns 40 next spring, is reported to have undergone surgery on his pitching elbow and will likely be unable to throw in a competitive game until next June—that is, if any MLB team is willing to give him the chance. Hill’s four-year tenure with the Dodgers was riddled with various stays on the shelf, averaging just 90 innings per season—though he was sharp when healthy, producing a 30-16 record and 3.16 ERA.

Tuesday, November 26

There’s a couple of minor signings that may not be so minor should the involved players get back on track. In Arizona, veteran catcher Stephen Vogt signs a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks after hitting 10 home runs with 40 RBIs in 99 games for the Giants. And pitcher Kendall Graveman, who hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since May 2018 as he since underwent Tommy John surgery, inks for one year and $2 million with Seattle.

Wednesday, November 27

The Rangers add another solid mid-rotation arm by signing former Twin Kyle Gibson to a three-year, $30 million contract, Gibson compiled a 67-68 record and 4.52 ERA over seven years in Minnesota, and was always good for 150-200 innings; he’ll join Mike Minor and Lance Lynn in a Texas rotation that has craved stability in recent years.

Also emigrating from Minnesota is bench coach Derek Shelton, who becomes Clint Hurdle’s replacement as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 41-year-old Shelton spent the last two years with the Twins; before that, he spent 13 previous seasons mostly as hitting coach for Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

The San Diego Padres are busy on Thanksgiving Eve. They sign free agent pitcher Drew Pomeranz, who shined in the Milwaukee bullpen late last season after bombing as a starter for San Francisco; he previously threw for the Padres in 2016, going 8-7 with a stellar 2.47 ERA before being sent to Boston at midseason.

Next, the Padres acquire another arm from the Brewers, trading for promising but oft-injured starter Zach Davies along with young outfielder Trent Grisham (he of the eighth-inning fielding blunder against Washington in the 2019 NL wild card game). Headed Milwaukee’s way in the deal is pitcher Eric Lauer (14-17 with a 4.40 ERA over two seasons in San Diego) and 22-year-old infielder Luis Urias.

Seattle inks former Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to one year and $950,000. Edwards was a prime bullpen cog for the Cubs in their 2016 championship run, but was beat up this past season by injury and inefficiency, posting an 8.47 ERA over 22 games combined between Chicago and San Diego.

Thursday, November 28

One ex-Washington free agent has decided to return to Washington; sorry, Nats fans, it’s not Stephen Strasburg or Anthony Rendon (not yet, anyway). Veteran catcher Yan Gomes, who hit .223 with 12 homers for the Nationals this past season, returns to D.C. for two years and $10 million.

Friday, November 29

Will Justin Bour become the latest Gorija in Japan? The 31-year-old slugger who’s fallen on hard times after a promising early career has left the States in search of a new start with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. In 2019, Bour hit an anemic .172 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs over 52 games for the Los Angeles Angels.

Seymour Siwoff dies at the age of 99—which will lead many of you to ask: Who? In 1952, Siwoff purchased the revered Elias Sports Bureau and owned it for 66 years—selling the sport statistics company, started by the Elias brothers in 1913, to his grandson in 2018. Elias is the official statistician for every major U.S.-based sports league; the National League became its first client in 1919.

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