This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: November 2020

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Sunday, November 1

Only six free agents are given the $18.9 qualifying offer from their incumbent teams to stick around another year—down from 10 in 2019. Those six players are Cincinnati pitcher Trevor Bauer, San Francisco pitcher Kevin Gausman, New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu, Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto, Houston outfielder George Springer and New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman

We can only see Gausman jumping at the offer; we’re actually surprised that the Giants would think he’s worth $18.9 million. As for the other players? They’re likely going to pass and test the free agent waters, which may be shallow and cold as money’s a bit tight following the financial headaches of the past season. 

Nobody will be shocked to learn that Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton declines his opt-out and is content with earning the remaining $218 million of his current contract. Given that Stanton has played just 41 games over the past two years as injuries continued to pile up—and that he’s averaged less than 120 games played over his nine previous full seasons (2011-19)—cash-strapped teams weren’t likely to offer a deal that exceeds his current pact. 

Monday, November 2

The top three finalists for the upcoming 2020 season awards are announced, with a few surprises in the MVP races. In the National League, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles’ Mookie Betts and San Diego’s Manny Machado are named; conspicuously missing is the Padres’ Fernando Tatis, Jr., who we believe had a more influential year than Machado, and Washington’s Juan Soto, who hit .351 with power for the Washington Nationals. On the American League side, Mike Trout doesn’t make the cut—which is not a huge surprise, but it means that for the second time in nine seasons, the Los Angeles Angels’ star will not finish in the top three of the vote. The MVPs will be announced on November 12.

Tuesday, November 3

The 2020 Gold Gloves are announced, and it’s not exactly filled with household names. Yes, the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts makes the list, as does Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado (nabbing his eighth Glove at third base) and Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, honored for the third straight year. But the awardees also included two rookies (Seattle first baseman Evan White and Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert) and other relative stumpers such as Texas third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Angels pitcher Griffin Canning and St. Louis left fielder Tyler O’Neill. There’s also Kolten Wong, who receives an NL Glove at second base despite being recently released by the Cardinals. The coolest name on the list is Alex Gordon, who receives the AL left-field Glove for the eighth time in his 14th and final year as he has announced his retirement. 

What makes this year’s Gold Gloves list somewhat controversial is that the players are not selected by people, but instead purely through analytics. Typically, the fielding indices devised by SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) are included along with input from managers and coaches—but those later two groups are not included in the vote as regional play in 2020 made it difficult for them to judge players who they never got a chance to see in action. 

Wednesday, November 4

The Curse of the Tampa Bay Rays’ #1 Draft Picks lives on. Brandon Martin, selected by the Rays in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft, is convicted of first-degree murder in the 2015 deaths of his father, uncle and a home security technician who just happened to be the wrong place at the wrong time while trying to make the father’s home safe against Martin. The murders occurred just after Martin was released from an emergency treatment facility in the Riverside, California area after “experiencing unspecified psychiatric issues”; the weapon he used was a bat with his name etched upon it. Two weeks later, Martin will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

The roll call of the Rays’ #1 picks over 20 years has been fraught with notoriety. Josh Hamilton (1999) reached the depths of his substance abuse hell before cleaning up and becoming an MVP ballplayer—for the Texas Rangers. Delmon Young (2003) had serious control issues with umpires (and later, as a member of the Detroit Tigers, with Jewish people). Tim Beckham (2008) was suspended multiple times for steroids. Taylor Guerrieri (2011) was dinged for “substance of abuse.” Josh Sale (2010) was nailed for meth and suspended after bragging on social media that he bullied a stripper. Other failed #1 picks include Wade Townsend (2005) and Richie Shaffer (2012), who fell back onto careers in, respectively, poker and video gaming—which is not notorious, just…interesting. But Martin’s evil doings tops the whole list. 

Friday, November 6

Shame on you, Alex Cora…but hey, welcome back! The Boston Red Sox, who fired Cora in January after his involvement in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal became public, are bringing him back as their manager on a two-year contract with an additional two-year team option. Cora was a bench coach for the 2017 Astros and was considered a primary participant in the team’s sign-stealing scheme while winning the World Series; he was hired by the Red Sox in 2018, and promptly led Boston to a world title of its own—but more allegations of cheating led to MLB handing a light wrist slap upon the team. For his actions with the Astros, MLB suspended the 45-year-old Cora for the 2020 season after his dismissal from Boston. 

As part of the announcement, Cora releases a statement through the Red Sox with apologetic overtones. “Not being a part of the game of baseball, and the pain of bringing negative attention to my family and this organization was extremely difficult,” he said. “I am sorry for the harm my past actions have caused and will work hard to make this organizations and its fans proud.” 

Cora will have his work cut out for him in 2021, taking over a Red Sox team that tanked in 2020 with a 24-36 record minus Mookie Betts and David Price (both traded to the champion Dodgers) and Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery), while those left behind badly underperformed. 

Less than an hour after consummating his $2.4 billion purchase of the Mets, Steve Cohen cleans out the front office—saying goodbye to numerous top execs including general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. Meanwhile, Cohen has brought back as team president Sandy Alderson, Van Wagenen’s predecessor who left in 2018 to focus on (successfully) defeating a publicly unspecified form of cancer. 

Saturday, November 7

If MLB teams are truly losing oodles of money and looking to spend conservatively on players this offseason, you wouldn’t know it from one of the first deals reported yesterday, as the Toronto Blue Jays will bring back pitcher Robbie Ray on a one-year, $8 million deal. While that may not sound like a bank-breaker, consider that the Jays are okay paying Ray that kind of dough after he finished 2020 with a 2-5 record, 6.62 ERA and 45 walks over 51.1 innings combined between Arizona and Toronto. 

Sunday, November 8

Just a day after being named U.S. President-elect, Joe Biden is invited by the Washington Nationals to throw out the first pitch of the 2021 season, extending a tradition in which every sitting president has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch since William Howard Taft in 1910. Every president, that is, except current President Donald Trump—who declined an invitation from the Nationals in 2017. Why? Because he probably knew the hostile reception he’d get from the crowd, a notion confirmed when his presence in a luxury box during the 2019 World Series led to the Nationals Park crowd showering him with boos and chants of “lock him up.” 

Monday, November 9

The first of the major 2020 awards are announced with the naming of the top rookies. American League honors go unanimously to Seattle outfielder Kyle Lewis, who hit .262 with 11 homers, 37 runs scored and 28 knocked in; in a much tighter NL tally, Milwaukee reliever Devin Williams is elected over the Phillies’ Alec Bohm and Padres’ Jordan Cronenworth, who tie for a close second. In 27 innings for the Brewers, Williams allowed just a run on eight hits and nine walks—while striking out 53 for a K-per-9-inning rate of, yes, 17.7

This is the first time since 1984 that both Rookie of the Year honorees are African-American. 

It appears that the White Sox may need to hire a driver to get once-and-current manager Tony La Russa to and from the ballpark. ESPN did a little snooping about and discovered that La Russa was arrested for DUI in Phoenix this past February after he errantly drove his car into a curb. The arrest not go smoothly, as La Russa was “argumentative” with police, gave him the “Do you know who I am” line and showed them one of his World Series rings. Understandably, La Russa is in no mood to talk about the subject when contacted via phone by ESPN, answering, “I have nothing to say,” before hanging up. 

The White Sox apparently were aware of La Russa’s DUI—his second, after an incident in Florida in 2007—before rehiring him, and for now they’ll stand by the Hall-of-Fame skipper. But in this current cancel culture, one never knows how much legs of indignance this story will attract. 

Tuesday, November 10

It’s Florida First in this year’s Manager of the Year vote as Miami’s Don Mattingly and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash are the winners from the NL and AL, respectively. Mattingly oversaw a Marlins team that went from 105 losses in 2019 to an above-.500 finish and a spot in the playoffs, where they knocked off the NL Central-winning Cubs in the short first round before bowing to Atlanta in the NLDS. The Marlins’ surge was all the more impressive considering that they were hampered early in the shortened 2020 regular season by a COVID-19 outbreak that kept the team on ice for eight days. Cash, meanwhile, wins AL honors over second-place (and fired) Chicago White Sox skipper Rick Renteria. In leading the Rays to the AL’s best regular season record and second-ever pennant on a shoestring budget, Cash becomes the second Tampa Bay manager to win Manager of the Year after Joe Maddon (in 2008 and 2011). 

Mac Williamson was tearing the minors apart early in 2018 and, once promoted to the Giants, looked ready to leverage that success. But on April 24, while chasing a pop fly into foul territory at AT&T (now Oracle) Park, he tripped up over a bullpen mound and crashed head-first into the side wall—suffering a concussion that cost him a month of play. Once he returned, he was never the same. Now Williamson is suing “China Basin Ballpark Company LLC”—in other words, the Giants—for his injury and the lingering effects that have essentially killed his career. 

Does Williamson have a chance to win in court? There’s always a chance, but in this case it’s probably not a very good one. The Giants can easily claim that, hey, look, it’s not like Williamson didn’t know the bullpen mound was there since it’s his home park. We’ll see where this goes; it should be noted that the Giants this past season moved the bullpen mounds from foul territory to behind the center-field fence, leaving just two ballparks—the Oakland Coliseum and St. Petersburg’s Tropicana field—with the mounds remaining in foul grounds. 

Wednesday, November 11

After Florida monopolizes the Manager of the Year awards the day before, it’s Ohio’s turn on Wednesday as the Cy Young Awards go, as expected, to Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer

Bieber’s honor is unanimous, with Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda a distant second; conspicuously undervalued in the final tally is the White Sox’ Dallas Keuchel (1.99 ERA), who finished fifth when he should have easily been among the top three, and Kansas City’s Brad Keller (5-3, 2.47 ERA), who didn’t get a single vote. 

Bauer is the first Cincinnati pitcher ever to win a Cy—but had the award been around before 1956, there probably would have been others, such as Dolf Luque (1923) and Bucky Walters (1939 and 1940). Currently a free agent, Bauer notched 27 first-place votes, with the other three going to Chicago’s Yu Darvish. Cy or no Cy, the 2020 season was an impressive return to form for Bauer, who won just two of 10 starts for the Reds with a 6.39 ERA a year ago after a midseason trade from Cleveland. 

Two players have said yes to the $18.9 qualifying offer for 2021. Pitcher Kevin Gausman—he of a career 50-66 record and 4.26 ERA—was probably stunned to receive the offer from the Giants in the first place (frankly, so were we) and jumped at accepting it. More surprisingly, pitcher Marcus Stroman said he would accept the offer and return to the Mets—doing so because he admitted to being jazzed by new owner Steve Cohen’s introductory speech and thus wants to remain part of the team. 

Thursday, November 12

As anticipated, the 2020 MVPs are handed out to Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman and the Chicago White Sox’ Jose Abreu. It’s the first MVP for Freeman, who won NL honors with 28 first-place votes as the seventh Brave to win the award and first since Chipper Jones in 1999. The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts is firmly entrenched in second place, garnering the other two-place nods. 

Abreu’s win in the AL is a tighter result, as he receives 21 first-place votes compared to eight from Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, who finishes second; the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu, who places third, picks up the other #1 vote. AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber is in fourth place—the highest ranking by a pitcher in either league. 

After Abreu, the last White Sox player named to the MVP was Frank Thomas, who won it back-to-back from 1993-94. 

The Los Angeles Angels have a new general manager, and his name is Perry Minasian, the assistant GM at Atlanta over the past six years; before that, he worked in the scouting department for Toronto. The 40-year-old Minasian will be pressured to take a big-budget, Mike Trout-led Angels team back to the postseason, let alone .500—something the Angels haven’t been to achieve since 2015

Friday, November 13

The Miami Marlins make history with the hiring of Kim Ng, the first woman and Asian-American to be given a general manager job on a major pro sports team in North America. It’s not like Ng just came out of nowhere; many within and outside the game have been lobbying for her ascension since she was given the assistant GM job with the New York Yankees in 1998. She’s been in the running for four previous GM jobs but failed to land either one of them; since 2011, she was MLB’s senior VP of baseball ops. And talk about diversity; Ng will join a Marlins front office that already includes a woman (Caroline O’Connor) manning—or should that be womanning?—the COO desk. 

To borrow from a famous cigarette ad way back in the day: You’ve come a long way, baby. From the days when women weren’t allowed in press boxes, when the first female reporters and umpires faced the wrath of chauvinists like Dave Kingman and Bob Knepper, women have made slow advances in baseball—but these past few years have seen the pace pick up. We now have female broadcasters, female coaches, and Ng as our first female GM. And who knows—how long will it be before a young girl like Mo’ne Davis, dreaming of one day starring in the majors, actually realizes that vision? 

Saturday, November 14

Lindy McDaniel, who pitched primarily as a reliever for 21 years and counted teammates ranging from Stan Musial to George Brett, succumbs to COVID-19 in the Dallas area at the age of 84. Over his first few years, the lanky right-hander and devout Christian with an excellent curve evolved into a starter—and just as quickly transformed back into a reliever, making only 15 more starts over the final 16 years of his career. He was at his best in 1960, when he finished 12-4 with a 2.09 ERA and a career-high 27 saves for the Cardinals; for this, he made his only All-Star Game appearance and became the first reliever to receive Cy Young Award votes, placing third. His achievements were rather grand; he set a then-NL record by playing 225 straight games as a pitcher without making an error, and in 1968 retired 32 straight batters to tie an AL mark (since broken). By the time he retired in 1975 as a member of the Kansas City Royals, McDaniel was second only to Hoyt Wilhelm in games played (987) and fourth in all-time saves (174). Few players racked up more years of service without making a postseason appearance. 

Monday, November 16

The ballot for the upcoming Hall of Fame election is officially released, and it’s good news for the three pariahs—Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling—who’ve been inching closer and closer to the magical 75% threshold for enshrinement. That’s because there’s a lack of no-doubt-it-out players new to this year’s list, which in theory means that the three controversial stars will likely get more focus from voters in the form of a checkmark next to their names. For Bonds, Clemens, Schilling—and Sammy Sosa, for that matter—this will be their best shot at getting in. That’s because next year, the 10th and final year of eligibility for each, major star power will be added to the ballot as Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Jimmy Rollins, Prince Fielder and Joe Nathan all make their debuts.  

As for this year’s ballot, is there truly anyone among the first-timers who deserves Cooperstown-worthy attention? In looking at the list, we pause at only one name: Pitcher Tim Hudson, whose 222-133 record and 3.49 ERA should be good for more than just a smattering of votes, especially given the era in which he played. 

Two contract announcements prove that if financially hard-hit MLB teams are ready to be frugal during this pandemic offseason of uncertainty, they’re not showing it. The Braves give vagabond pitcher Drew Smyly, 0-1 with a 3.42 ERA in seven appearances (five starts) in 2020, an $11 million, one-year deal. And in San Diego, the Padres award star pitcher Mike Clevinger with a two-year, $11.5 million pact to cover his final two seasons of arbitration. Sounds team-friendly, right? Maybe, except that the Padres pull the trigger knowing that Clevinger will undergo Tommy John surgery, keeping him out of action for at least half of his contract span. The thinking behind this, apparently, is that the Padres hope to use the deal to establish financial goodwill for a pitcher they’d like to extend for the long term. 

Tuesday, November 17

Theo Epstein, the architect of a Chicago Cubs roster which ended a 108-year championship drought, has decided not to fulfill the final year of his contract as team president and will resign—explaining that the Cubs’ future is more of a long-term issue that he can’t fix before his contract expires. Though Epstein achieved the long-sought world title for the Cubs, there was frustration over the team’s ability to maintain a championship level when it appeared they had the tools to sustain a dynasty. 

Epstein piques our curiosity, however, with an excerpt from his announcement: “(Baseball) is the greatest game in the world, but there are some threats to it just because of the way the game is evolving. I take some responsibility for that. Executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try and optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game in some respects….We need to find a way to get more action in the game, get the ball in play a little more often, allow players to show their athleticism some more…Maybe now that I won’t be with a club anymore, I can find a way to do that in some fashion.” Hey, if he can end two curses, he can also put an end to a mindset that’s increasingly reliant on the three outcomes. 

Wednesday, November 18

So you think you’ve got a good shot at the Hall of Fame because you’ve collected 2,624 hits, 571 doubles, 334 home runs, eight All-Star Game assignments, two Gold Gloves and a career .303 batting average? No problem—until, that is, we throw in two steroid suspensions. Now your odds have been reduced to something akin to a Hail Mary. That’s the predicament that the Mets’ Robinson Cano finds himself in after testing positive for stanozolol. Since it’s his second positive—he was docked 80 games for a first offense in 2018 while employed with the Seattle Mariners—the 38-year-old Cano will be forced to sit out the entire 2021 campaign; he will not earn a penny of the $24 million he was due to receive. Should there be a third offense, he’ll be permanently banned from baseball. Like everyone else who’s been nailed for steroids, Cano pleads ignorance, saying that the stanozolol was “given to me by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment” and that, rather astonishingly, he didn’t realize the drug was banned. 

Cano is contracted with the Mets through 2023; it will be interesting to see how the team and new owner Steve Cohen responds to the suspension, and whether they’ll welcome him back for 2022 and beyond. 

In an interview for Fox News, disgraced all-time hit king Pete Rose says that betting on baseball was the only mistake of his life. Actually, he made at least one other: Denying that he bet on baseball for 14 years before coming clean in 2003 to promote a new book. As for his life now, he says he still bets—but only legally. “That’s why they have casinos.,” he says. What makes the interview all the more curious is that the interviewer is Jim Gray, who created a firestorm in 1999 when, as an NBC sideline reporter, he grilled Rose—walking off the field after a celebration of the century’s greatest ballplayers—on his betting controversy. 

There’s a new lead owner for the San Diego Padres. Ron Fowler, who’s run the team since 2012, has sold a majority of his shares to Peter Seidler, grandson of former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and virtual #2 in command during Fowler’s rule; he and Fowler are basically switching roles. 

Thursday, November 19

It’s a good day, and a bad one, for Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. His three-game ban for throwing a 100-MPH heater at the head of Tampa Bay’s Michael Brosseau on September 2—fortunately, it missed—was reduced to two games. (Brosseau has already served Chapman with his own punishment, hitting the ALDS-winning home run off Chapman in October.) Chapman also sues his financial advisor, accusing him of taking off with $3 million and spending it on, among other things, a Cadillac, Jeep, a Florida home worth $836,000, and money transfers to some of the advisor’s friends including a couple of exotic dancers. Sometimes rich athletes just need to hire a financial advisor to keep tabs…on the other financial advisor. 

The Brewers promote Matt Arnold to the general manager spot, replacing David Stearns—who kicks himself upstairs to become the team’s president of baseball operations. The 41-year-old Arnold joined the Brewers as an assistant GM in 2015

Friday, November 20

Hunter Renfroe is designated for assignment by the Rays, because they continue to wield as much militant discipline for the bottom line as they do analytically-influenced game choices. There is some downside to Renfroe, who holds a lifetime .228 batting average and hit just .159 combined between 2020’s shortened regular season and expanded playoffs—and given that he’s eligible for arbitration for the first time, he’ll certainly want more than the $3.3 million he earned last year. 

Saturday, November 21

First baseman Yonder Alonso steps down from baseball, ending a 10-year career that won’t land him in the Hall of Fame—although he has gotten enshrinement love from the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame, which recently inducted him. The 33-year-old Cuban native is known for two things: Exploding from single-digit home run totals throughout his first seven years to 28 in 2017, earning him his only All-Star roster spot; and a bizarre moment in 2015 when, while playing for San Diego, he was knocked woozy by a flying helmet chucked in anger by teammate Justin Upton. Alonso was signed at the start of this past season by Atlanta, which traded him back to the Padres in August—but he never ended logging any action. 

Tuesday, November 24

One of baseball’s few feel-good stories in 2020 gets coated with a thick brush of sour varnish. Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena, who captivated viewers in October with a record-setting batch of postseason home runs, was arrested in the Yucatan region of Mexico after attempting to abduct his daughter from her mother—and assaulting the woman’s father. Per Mexican law, Arozarena is being detained for a 48-hour period before authorities decide to release him. 

Arozarena could see bigger problems back in the states, because MLB doesn’t take domestic abuse lightly—and he’ll likely receive some sort of suspension. That’s a shame, because fans everywhere were ready to see what this breakout talent was ready to accomplish over a full season. 

More bad news for the Rays: Veteran pitcher Charlie Morton won’t be returning to Tampa Bay next season—unless he’s in the uniform of the Atlanta Braves, who signed him to a one-year, $15 million deal. The 37-year-old right-hander is 47-18 over his last four seasons, the least underwhelming of which was this past year when he went 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA over nine starts.

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