The Month That Was in Baseball: November 2021
Monday, November 1
When Houston reliever Kendall Graveman struck out in the top of the ninth inning during the fifth game of the World Series at Atlanta, many wondered aloud if it would be the last time we ever see a pitcher hit in a major league game.
It is widely assumed that the 2022 season will see a permanent return of the designated hitter in the National League after it was used in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season; it still seems funky that the NL decided to go back to having pitchers hit in 2021 when many expected the DH to remain.
The fate of the pitcher as hitter is still a bit cloudy. The offseason will likely be dominated by negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between players and owners which are expected to be at their most contentious since the devastating 1994 strike that wiped out a third of that season and the entire postseason to follow (plus, a little bit of 1995). What alterations or rule changes (if any) come out of an agreement is anyone’s guess, but most are anticipating the DH’s return to the NL, joining the American League as it readies for its 50th season using the hitters-only role.
But there’s another angle. Chatter has intensified about the “hook rule,” one of many experimental rules tried out at the minor league level this past season. Here’s how it works: A team starts with a DH—but once the starting pitcher is removed, the DH must also go, with the new pitcher batting in his place (unless he’s pinch-hit for). The hook rule is an intriguing thought, meant to encourage teams to get more mileage out of the rotation and discourage bullpen games with ‘openers.’ And talk about funky: While starting pitchers won’t have to worry about spending time in the batting cage, relievers would. Of course, all of the above would be moot if every starting pitcher in baseball could hit like Shohei Ohtani.
The New York Mets are cutting ties with GM Zack Scott, more than two months after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. The first-year Mets exec, formerly an assistant GM with the Red Sox, has pled not guilty to the charge; his case is scheduled to go to trial on December 8. Whoever the Mets hire as a replacement, fingers are crossed that he or she will behave; Scott replaced Jared Porter, who was kicked out after accusations of sexual harassment.
Tuesday, November 2
For the fourth time in franchise history, the Atlanta Braves are champions of baseball, railroading over the Astros at Houston in Game Six, 7-0. They do it by proving that the MLB postseason truly is a wholly different campaign—winning it all despite having the worst record (88-73) of all 10 playoff participants.
The bottom of the first inning is weird and momentarily frightening for the Braves, as starting pitcher Max Fried had his ankle stomped on by the Astros’ Michael Brantley as he awkwardly falls back after taking a lob from first baseman Freddie Freeman; neither player touches the bag and, inexplicably, the Braves don’t challenge the safe call after Fried finally connects the bag with his glove. More fortunate, Fried survives Brantley’s accidental stomping—and pitches six shutout innings, allowing four hits and no walks to gain credit for the win.
Houston starter Luis Garcia—working on three days’ rest—looks sharp early on as he retires the first six Atlanta hitters. Then it all blows up on him in the third when, with two on and two outs, Jorge Soler booms a monumental 446-foot shot on the other side of the Minute Maid Park locomotive track behind left field, giving the Braves a 3-0 lead. They’ll never look back.
Dansby Swanson adds a two-run homer in the fifth, followed later in the inning with an RBI double from Freeman—who caps the scoring in the seventh with his fifth homer of the postseason to tie a Braves playoff record.
Soler wins the Series MVP with a 6-for-20 performance, packed with a double and three homers—all of them go-ahead shots. He’s the second Cuban-born player to win the MVP, after Florida Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez in 1997.
Atlanta’s triumph will earn long-overdue championship rings for manager Brian Snitker, in his 45th year within the Braves’ organization, and 69-year-old third base coach Ron Washington, who began his professional baseball career back in 1971.
In the end, a potent Houston offense wilts against the Braves. The Astros hit .224 with a weak .596 OPS; they bang out only two homers (both by Jose Altuve) while the Braves crush 11 in the six-game series.
For the second time in three years, the Astros sadly watch the other team celebrate on their own home field; in fact, not since the Boston Red Sox in 2013 has a World Series-winning team clinched in front of their own fans.
Houston has lost three of four World Series in franchise history, with the only triumph drenched in controversy after it was revealed that the team cheated to elevate its chances.
Odd stat: Altuve was 14-for-67 (.209) over the entire postseason—but scored 21 runs.
Jim McIngvale, the Mattress King of Houston, may have to take out a loan. This past June, while the Astros were given roughly 10-1 odds to win the World Series, McIngvale plunked down $3.2 million at four separate sportsbooks. If Houston won, he would have received a staggering $35.6 million; sources say $22 million of that would have come from a single bet, reportedly making it the single largest payout ever on a U.S. sporting event. This is not McIngvale’s biggest setback at the books; he also lost $13 million in 2019 when he bet on the Astros, who lost the World Series to the Washington Nationals.
Wednesday, November 3
All-Star catcher Buster Posey announces his retirement from the San Francisco Giants. After battling back from back issues over the last few years and sitting out the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19, Posey had a bounceback 2021 campaign, batting .304 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs over 113 games. Defensively, he was one of the best, not just with an above-average throwing arm but as a brilliant artist at framing pitches and stealing called strikes from hitters.
Some say that Posey’s chances of making the Hall of Fame are borderline. But after 12 years, seven All-Star appearances, a .302 career average and three World Series rings—not to mention a likeably grounded attitude—we think he’s in. Maybe even on the first ballot.
Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos, who grabbed up all those mid-level outfielders at the trading deadline that ended up making a huge difference in the Braves’ title run, couldn’t join the team in Houston for the World Series celebration and will likely stay home as the team publicly rejoices back in Georgia. Reason? He has tested positive for COVID-19.
The 2021 World Series on Fox averaged 11.75 million viewers, with the clinching Game Six attracting 14.3 million. While that’s up from last year’s average of 9.7 million between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays in the pandemic Fall Classic, it’s still down from the average of 13 million from two years ago between the Astros and Nationals; that series’ Game Seven finale drew 23 million viewers.
Thursday, November 4
All-Star outfielder Nick Castellanos has three years left on a contract with the Cincinnati Reds that will pay him $52 million—but he thinks he can do better than that. The deal allows Castellanos to opt out, starting now—and he’s done just that, declaring himself a free agent. The 29-year old put together his best set of numbers this past season, batting .309 with 34 home runs, 100 RBIs and 38 doubles. Only two other players— Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Atlanta’s Austin Riley—went at least .300-30-100 in 2021.
The four primary regular season awards—the MVP, Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year—have yet to be named by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), but the alternative IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) announced its honorees this week and provided a reading of the tea leaves in what the BBWAA might behold. IBWAA’s MVPs were bestowed upon the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani (AL) and, in a remarkably close vote, Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper in the NL, barely outdistancing San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. and Washington’s Juan Soto. In IBWAA’s version of the Cy, the winners were Toronto’s Robbie Ray (AL) and the Dodgers’ Max Scherzer (NL); top manager honors went to Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash (AL) and San Francisco’ Gabe Kapler (NL), while the Rays’ Randy Arozarena (AL) and Cincinnati’s Jonathan India (NL) were anointed as top rookies.
Founded by sportswriter/TGG friend Howard Cole, IBWAA currently is run by Daniel R. Epstein and Jonathan Becker, who are doing a marvelous job in the couple years since Cole stepped down. (Full disclosure: TGG was initially offered the gig, but we graciously turned it down knowing we wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to keep it successful. Epstein and Becker stepped forward and have done an excellent job expanding both membership and activity.) Current members range from well-known baseball journalists (some of whom double as BBWAA members) to podcasters and folks like us. Give it a look.
Friday, November 5
It’s not on par with the five million that flooded Chicago to celebrate the Cubs’ long-overdue World Series title in 2016, but that doesn’t matter to the roughly 400,000 who attend the Braves’ celebration parade that starts in downtown Atlanta and finishes at Truist Park. The crowd estimate is provided by the police; Braves officials believe it’s closer to a million. It’s not like anyone else has anything to do in Atlanta; the city declares the day a holiday so school kids and employees can enjoy the celebration.
The players soaked the day in. Outfielder Joc Pederson—who, by the way, just declared himself a free agent—wears shorts on the chilly day, smokes cigars and throws out pearl necklaces. A curiously funny video shows the team bus traveling a little too fast past celebrating fans, and when it slows down enough to allow reliever Tyler Matzek, wearing an unbuttoned jersey, to jump off and walk alongside near the fans, he is briefly detained by police who think he’s a fan who has trespassed onto the street.
The Reds decline pitcher Wade Miley’s $10 million option for 2022, which evokes head-scratching everywhere. The 34-year old had one of his finest years in 2021, taking 12 of 19 decisions—including a no-hitter in May against Cleveland—and posted a team-best 3.37 ERA. Rumor has it that the Reds are trying to cut back on payroll, but $10 million for a pitcher of this caliber, in this day and age, is too much?
Miley isn’t on the block for long. The Chicago Cubs quickly snap him up.
The Astros announce that Dusty Baker will return as their manager for 2022, his third season in Houston. At the age of 72, Baker will get another shot to, at long last, win a world title as skipper. (He does own one World Series ring as player, performing for the 1981 Dodgers.)
One of Japan’s top players is making himself available to MLB teams. Seiya Suzuki, a 27-year-old outfielder, has played the last nine years for the Hiroshima Carp, whose caps look suspiciously like those worn by the Reds. (This does not mean that Cincinnati has the inside track on Suzuki—especially since the Reds don’t appear to want spend any money at the moment.). Though Suzuki share’s the same last name and uniform number of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, Seiya is no singles machine. In 131 games for the Carp this past year, he belted a career-hit 38 home runs with 88 RBIs and a .319 batting average that resulted in an outstanding 1.079 OPS. Just as impressively, Suzuki accumulated more walks (87) than strikeouts (86).
Two Hall-of-Fame “Era” committees name finalists that will be chosen for possible induction into Cooperstown. The “early days” (pre-1950) list contains 11 players including seven Negro Leaguers; familiar names include Lefty O’Doul, Allie Reynolds and Buck O’Neil. The “Golden Era” (1950-69) ballot consists of Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minnie Minoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills.
As with the general vote, these players need to earn 75% approval from the committees, made up of writers, historians and people within the game.
Saturday, November 6
Even though Liam Hendriks remains the Chicago White Sox’ closer—and deservedly so, after a strong (38 saves, 2.54 ERA, 8-3 record) season, the team decides to exercise the $16 million option for Craig Kimbrel in 2022. Kimbrel started the 2021 season on the north side of town with the Cubs and performed exceptionally well, posting a 0.49 ERA. With the White Sox, he remains a set-up guy and insurance policy should Hendriks fall to injury or long-term slump.
Sunday, November 7
The revealing of the 2021 Gold Gloves shows another reason why the St. Louis Cardinals were strong enough to make it to the postseason. A record five Redbirds snare the prestigious award honoring MLB’s best defensive players of the past season, including first-year Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado (winning the ninth of his career), first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, second baseman Tommy Edman and outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader. The other NL awards go to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, who wins his fourth Gold Glove; two members of the world champion Braves (pitcher Max Fried and right fielder Adam Duvall); and catcher Jacob Stallings for the 101-loss Pittsburgh Pirates.
The wealth is spread more among AL recipients. Three teams each have a pair of honorees; the Astros (first baseman Yuli Gurriel and shortstop Carlos Correa), the Oakland A’s (catcher Sean Murphy and third baseman Matt Chapman) and the Kansas City Royals (outfielders Andrew Benintendi and Michael Taylor). Other AL awards go to White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel, Toronto second baseman Marcus Semien and Rangers/Yankees outfielder Joey Gallo.
The previous record of one team winning four Gold Gloves in a season was set many times. The 1963 Cardinals were the first to do so, followed by the Baltimore Orioles (who had four recipients five times over a seven-year stretch from 1969-75), the 1974-77 Reds, the Phillies in 1978-79 and 1981, the 1993 Giants, the 2002-03 Cardinals and the 2003 Mariners.
The Dodgers hand out qualifying offers to potential free agents Corey Seager and Chris Taylor—but not all-time franchise pitching great Clayton Kershaw, further suggesting that the team may be ready to part ways with the 33-year-old ace after 14 seasons. Some opine that the Dodgers are confident that they can lure Kershaw back to Los Angeles for less than the qualifying offer’s value of $18.4 million.
Also out of Los Angeles comes word that pitcher Trevor Bauer, still on administrative leave due to legal issues stemming from sexual abuse charges, has unsurpisingly chosen not to opt out of his current three-year contract. (You probably wouldn’t either if your salary for next season was priced at $45 million.) Bauer has another opt-out after next year, but his contract calls for his wages to suddenly shoot down to $17 million in 2023.
Others choosing not to opt out of their current deals are Boston slugger J.D. Martinez, St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado, veteran Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon and San Diego’s Jurickson Profar.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, will not exercise 2022 options on two long-time players: infielder Matt Carpenter and pitcher Carlos Martinez. Carpenter was due to make $12 million but will instead receive a $2 million buyout; Martinez would have made $17 million, but he’ll get paid $500,000 to go look for a new job elsewhere.
Monday, November 8
The three nominees for each of the four prime postseason awards are announced with few if any surprises. The NL MVP finalists—Bryce Harper, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr.—are likely to sweat out a very close vote, while the presumed two-man AL MVP race pitting Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could (but likely won’t) be crashed by the third finalist, Toronto second baseman Marcus Semien. It’s the second time in three years that Semien has made it to the final three.
On the Cy Young side, Max Scherzer, Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler are finalists for the NL prize; Walker Buehler, our pick for the league’s top ace, doesn’t make the cut. In the AL, the nominees are Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray and Lance Lynn.
Two Tampa Bay Rays highlight the AL rookie trio, with Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena joined by Astros pitcher Luis Garcia. Likely NL winner Jonathan India is accommodated on the final list with Miami’s Trevor Rogers and St. Louis outfielder Dylan Carlson.
Finally, among the managers, there’s a curious nominee in Mike Shildt, recently fired by the Cardinals; his competition for the award is Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell and odds-on favorite Gabe Kapler of the Giants. The AL list includes reigning winner Kevin Cash of the Rays, Seattle’s Scott Servais and the Astros’ Dusty Baker.
The Dodgers take a chance on pitcher Andrew Heaney, signing the 30-year-old southpaw on a one-year, $8.5 million deal. In eight years at the big-league level, Heaney has never won 10 games, only three times pitched over 100 innings and owns a career 4.72 ERA. This past season, he was 6-7 with a 5.27 ERA over 18 starts with the Angels before being traded to the Yankees—where he fared far worse (2-2, 7.32). Heaney became a free agent when he refused the Yankees’ request to report to the minors.
Pedro Feliciano, who pitched nine years for the New York Mets and averaged 89 appearances per season from 2008-10—earning the nickname “Perpetual Pedro”—dies in his sleep at the age of 45. No word yet on what caused Feliciano’s death, but his family states that he had been jet skiing the day before; it’s also known that he had a small hole in his heart and diagnosed with ventricular noncompaction, a rare genetic condition. The Puerto Rico-born Feliciano had three separate stays with the Mets; from 2002-04, before being sold to Japan; a triumphant return from 2006-10 as he emerged as the majors’ most durable reliever; and a one-year stint in 2013 after two years grounded by shoulder problems, all after signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the crosstown Yankees. Overall, the left-hander made 484 appearances (throwing 383.2 innings), owning a career 22-21 record and 3.33 ERA.
Wednesday, November 10
In advance of the prime regular season awards to be announced next week, MLB hands out honors to the top relievers from each league. The NL award, officially named after Hall-of-Fame closer Trevor Hoffman, is given to Milwaukee’s Josh Hader; the AL trophy, named after fellow Hall occupant Mariano Rivera, goes to the White Sox’ Liam Hendriks. For Hader, it’s his third win over the last four seasons; for Hendriks, it’s his second straight.
This award is chosen not by sportswriters but, instead, by a group of seven famed ex-relievers: Hoffman, Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, John Franco, Lee Smith and Billy Wagner. All but Wagner and Franco are in Cooperstown.
Thursday, November 11
The 2021 Silver Sluggers are announced with the Blue Jays and Braves leading the way in their respective leagues. In the AL, Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (first base), Marcus Semien (second base) and Teoscar Hernandez (outfield) each grab silver bats; Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez and Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts each earn honors for the fourth time, while the Red Sox’ Rafael Devers (third base), Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins (outfield) and Angels DH Shohei Ohtani join Guerrero and Semien in capturing their first such trophy. The Braves led all MLB teams with four players capturing Sluggers: First baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Ozzie Albies, third baseman Austin Riley and pitcher Max Fried. Also of note: retiring Giants catcher Buster Posey wins for the fifth time, while Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper earns only his second Slugger.
Reliever Joakim Soria is hanging them up after 14 major league seasons and 229 saves, fifth highest among active pitchers; his 162 for the Royals ranks as the third highest in franchise history, trailing Jeff Montgomery (304) and Dan Quisenberry (238). In recent years, Soria had become a set-up/mop-up guy; this past season, he split his time between Arizona and Toronto, posting a 1-4 record and 5.06 ERA in 41 appearances.
Friday, November 12
Gabe Kapler, just three days away from being named NL Manager of the Year, is rewarded for piloting the Giants to a franchise-record 107 wins in 2021 by being given an extension through the 2024 season. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Saturday, November 13
The Milwaukee Brewers are hoping to forge another resurgence from an ex-Tampa Bay player after trading a minor league pitcher to the Rays for infielder Mike Brosseau. Like Willie Adames, who slumped for the Rays early in 2021 before sparking a revival with the Brewers, Brosseau comes to Milwaukee on a down slide, batting .187 over 57 games for Tampa Bay before being sent down to Triple-A Durham—where he continued his struggles. And while he lacks Adames’ career pedigree, Brousseau has had his moments—especially in 2020, when his tie-breaking solo home run in the eighth inning of ALDS Game Five against the Yankees and closer Aroldis Chapman helped propel the Rays to the ALCS.
Veteran pitcher Jhoulys Chacin has signed on for a 14th major league season, as he’ll be paid $1.25 million plus bonus incentives with Colorado. As a reliever with the Rockies, Chacin posted a 3-2 record and 4.34 ERA over 46 appearances in 2021. He owns a career 81-89 record.
Sunday, November 14
A day after getting rid of infielder Michael Brosseau (to Milwaukee), the Rays go back on the trade block and deal reliever Louis Head to the Marlins for either a player to be named later or cash. Granted, that Head didn’t finally make it to the majors until after his 31st birthday might be cause for skepticism, but he pitched awfully well in 2021—going 2-0 with a 2.31 and a 0.857 WHIP over 35 innings.
Monday, November 15
Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena and Cincinnati’s Jonathan India are named winners of, respectively, the AL and NL Rookie of the Year award. Arozarena was certainly a known quality before the 2021 season, having thrived with a record-setting postseason performance for the Rays in 2020 after limited play during the regular season; in 529 at-bats this past season, he batted .274 with 94 runs, 32 doubles, 20 home runs, 69 RBIs and 20 steals. The fourth Tampa Bay player to win rookie honors after Evan Longoria (2008), Jeremy Hellickson (2011) and Wil Myers (2013), Arozarena collected 22 of 30 first-place votes in the tally conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Houston pitcher Luis Garcia placed second, followed by Arozarena teammate Wander Franco.
India is a near-unanimous choice in the NL vote with 29 first-place nods; the other goes to Miami pitcher Trevor Rogers (chosen, ironically, by Dan Szymborski from the Cincinnati BBWAA chapter). The Reds’ second baseman, playing as a true rookie with no previous major league experience entering the season, put together statistics almost on a par with Arozarena; he batted .269 with 98 runs, 34 doubles, 21 home runs, 69 RBIs and 12 steals. India is the eighth Red to win the award, and the first since Scott Williamson in 1999.
We have our first big free-agent signing of the offseason. The Detroit Tigers, sniffing a more go-for-it attitude as 2022 nears, sign former Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez for a reported five years and $77 million. The 28-year-old left-hander is 45-19 in his last three active seasons, having sat out the 2020 campaign due to a heart condition he did not want exacerbated by COVID-19. Rodriguez finished 13-8 this past year for Boston with a 4.74 ERA that many deep statistical analysts consider deceptively high. Rodriguez is expected to front a Detroit rotation that includes rising arms in former #1 pick Casey Mize and no-hit author Spencer Turnbull.
The New York Mets finally have themselves a new general manager. Billy Eppler takes over for the recently fired Zack Scott (in the middle of overcoming DUI charges), ending an exhausting search by the Mets in which they struggled to find anyone even interested in the prestigious but high-stress New York job. Eppler worked this past season as assistant GM across town with the Yankees; in the six years prior, he served as the Angels’ GM.
A day before his 46th birthday, former shortstop Julio Lugo dies of a heart attack, according to a statement from his family to ESPN. A tenacious hitter with a career .269 average and 198 stolen bases, Lugo played for seven different teams over 12 seasons, most memorably with the 2007 world champion Red Sox, batting .271 during that postseason. Just as memorably—though not in a good way—Lugo was released early in his fourth season by his first team, the Astros, after being arrested for assaulting his first wife. He later remarried and had two children.
Tuesday, November 16
As expected, Gabe Kapler is named NL Manager of the Year after leading the Giants to a franchise-record 107 wins and their first postseason berth (let alone their first winning record) since 2016. Though Kapler is a runaway winner, it’s not a unanimous vote; Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell and recently fired Cardinals skipper Mike Shildt each receive a first-place vote and finished second and third, respectively. Kapler is the second Giants manager to win this honor; the other was Dusty Baker, who claimed the prize three times.
The AL Manager of the Year award goes to Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, making him the first skipper in AL history to earn the honor in consecutive seasons. This vote is closer, with four other managers receiving first-place votes; Seattle’s Scott Servais, who receives five, finishes second in the vote, followed by the aforementioned Baker, currently piloting the Astros. Cash joins Joe Maddon (2008 and 2011) as the only Tampa Bay managers to win the award.
The Toronto Blue Jays take care of offseason pitching business by re-upping Jose Berrios to a seven-year, $131 million deal. The 27-year-old Puerto Rico native was traded during the summer to the Jays from Minnesota, where he spent his first five-plus major league seasons; overall on the year, Berrios finished 12-9 with a 3.52 ERA, striking out a career-high 204 batters. With Robbie Ray likely gone to free agency and a rising star on the mound in Alek Manoah, the Jays look to place their big-money focus on reeling Berrios back into the rotational fold.
The Los Angeles Angels, meanwhile, decide to take their chances and sign former Mets ace Noah Syndegaard to a one-year deal worth $21 million. The 29-year old with long blonde hair (hence the nickname “Thor”) underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020; the two innings he threw on the last week of the regular season are the only two he’s thrown since 2019.
Shortly after the signing, Syndergaard says that one of the reasons he left New York was because the Mets were “distracted” with trying to find a new general manager.
The Cleveland Indians can become the Cleveland Guardians after they come to an “amicable resolution” with the other Cleveland Guardians—the roller hockey team which threatened to take the baseball team to court over copyright infringement. No other terms of the resolution are announced, but you can bet that the roller hockey Guardians didn’t just sit back and say, “Sure, you can be the Guardians, too” without having their beaks wettened.
Wednesday, November 17
It’s a tale of two votes in the announcing of the 2021 Cy Young Awards, with Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes winning a very tight race for NL honors while Toronto’s Robbie Ray breezes to his first Cy.
Burnes and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler each receive 12 first-place votes, but the key to Burnes’ win is the second-place tally; he receives 14 to Wheeler’s nine. In terms of total voting points, Burnes collects 151 to Wheeler’s 141. Max Scherzer, who split his time between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers this past season, isn’t far behind in third with 113 points, grabbing the remaining six first-place nods. Just two years after we bestowed him as the NL’s worst pitcher, Burnes proved that his 2020 turnaround was no fluke; over the last two seasons, he’s produced a combined 15-6 record in 40 appearances (37 starts) with a 2.34 ERA and 322 strikeouts over 226.2 innings.
Burnes is the third Milwaukee pitcher to win the Cy, following Rollie Fingers (1981) and Pete Vuckovich (1982). Only Jacob deGrom in 2018 won fewer victories as a starting pitcher winning the Cy (10) than Burnes, who earned credit for 11 in 2021; his 167.1 innings are the fewest racked up by a starter winning the Cy during a full season.
Ray’s win in the AL is a more one-sided affair, as he gains all but one of 30 first-place votes; Gerrit Cole receives the other. (Both pitchers were the top two names on all 30 ballots.) Though we picked Cole as our top pitcher in the AL, it’s understandable to see why voters prefer Ray; he led the AL with a 2.84 ERA, 193.1 innings, 248 strikeouts and a 1.045 WHIP. His 13 wins are tied for the fewest by an AL Cy recipient, matching Felix Hernandez in 2010. Not bad for a pitcher who was only 14-13 with a 4.86 ERA from 2019-20—and well-timed, as he hits the free agent market this winter. The 30-year-old left-hander is the fourth Toronto pitcher to win the Cy, following Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens (who did it twice) and Roy Halladay.
Justin Verlander is returning to the Astros for one year and $25 million—with a player option for another $25 million in 2023. The leader in career victories among active players with 226, the 39-year-old Verlander has essentially missed the last two seasons due to injuries that led to Tommy John surgery.
Brandon Belt is back with the Giants after being the only one of 14 players to accept the $18.4 million qualifying offer. The 33-year-old first baseman perhaps sensed competition among other players at his position on the free-agent market this winter (including Freddie Freeman), and he’s also more assured of full-time play in 2021 now that Buster Posey, who was being prepped to play more first base in 2022, has instead retired. Belt has been at his best over the past two seasons, combining to hit .285 with 38 home runs, 89 RBIs and 78 walks over 148 games. His only problem during this period has been injuries.
Thursday, November 18
The NL MVP vote doesn’t quite pack all of the anticipated nail-biting suspense, as Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper emerges with a fairly definitive second career award, following on his 2015 season with Washington. As in that earlier MVP season, Harper led the majors in both slugging percentage (.615) and OPS (1.044), while also co-leading MLB with 42 doubles. He’s the fourth player to win the MVP for multiple teams, joining Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson and Alex Rodriguez, and he’s the sixth Phillie to win the award. Harper’s 17 first-place votes easily outpaces the six earned by second-place Juan Soto; although San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. finishes third in the vote, he has fewer first-place nods (two) than the fourth-place Brandon Crawford (four) of the Giants.
In the easier award to predict, the AL MVP goes to the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, who thrived both at the plate (46 home runs, 100 RBIs, 26 steals, 96 walks), on the basepaths (26 steals) and on the mound (9-2, 3.18 ERA in 23 starts). The dual-threat success helps catapult him over second-place Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays; in fact, he’s the 11th player in AL MVP history to earn all 30 first-place votes. Guerrero receives 29 of 30 second-place nods, the other going to Kansas City’s Salvador Perez thanks to a vote from, naturally, Kansas City Star reporter Lynn Worthy. Ohtani is the fourth Angels player to win the MVP—Don Baylor, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and Mike Trout are the others—and the second Japanese-born MVP, following Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki (2001).
Despite the impressive offensive numbers, Ohtani’s .257 batting average is the lowest by an MVP who was not exclusively a pitcher; the old mark was held by the Cardinals’ Marty Marion (.267) in 1944.
The Rockies extend catcher Elias Diaz for three years and $14.5 million, taking care of his final season of arbitration and his first two of free-agent eligibility. The 31-year-old Venezuelan native hit .246 for Colorado this past year but also provided sock (18 homers over 106 games) and solid defense, rubbing out an MLB-high 42% of attempted basestealers.
Friday, November 19
The Cleveland Indians officially becomes the Guardians, as the name becomes prominent on the team’s web site, social media platforms and at the team store at Progressive Field, where a long line of fans await the opening hour to rush in and be the first to buy Guardians swag. By our count, this is the fourth nickname given to the franchise, following the Blues (1901-04), Naps (1905-14) and, of course, Indians (1915-2021). Some have it differently; a press release from the Guardians claims the team was the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903-14. Our historical sources say that Bronchos (or Broncos, per other sources) was more of an informal name, and that “Naps” didn’t come along until star player Nap Lajoie took over managerial duties starting in 1905.
Despite losing 101 games this past season, the Texas Rangers have enough faith in manager Chris Woodward that they have extended his contract through 2023 with a team option for a 2024 season. Woodward has piloted the Rangers over the last three years with increasingly worse results as the roster goes through a rebuild; it is hoped that the 45-year-old pilot will provide stability and progress toward a return to respectability. Some of the Rangers’ upcoming big-name signings will also help.
Sunday, November 21
The Brewers bring in catcher Pedro Severino, outrighted a couple of weeks ago by Baltimore, on a one-year, $1.9 million deal with an additional $400,000 possible through incentives. Severino, who batted .248 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs over 113 games in 2021, figures to backup Omar Narvaez in 2022.
Monday, November 22
Long-time reliever/closer Doug Jones, whose odd assortment of change-ups, slow fastballs and screwballs confounded opposing hitters during an erratic 16-year career, dies at the age of 64 in Arizona. The official cause of death is not known, but former teammate Greg Swindell, the first person to break the news, says it was due to complications from COVID-19. Jones had a nasty habit of putting together an All-Star-level campaign followed by a complete U-turn into mediocrity or worse the next. He did manage to string together three straight solid years with Cleveland in the late 1980s—earning his first three of five career All-Star placements—but tumbled badly in 1990 with a 5.54 ERA. Signing as a free agent with Houston in 1992, Jones turned his fortunes on a dime once more with arguably his finest season—going 11-8 with a stellar 1.85 ERA and 36 saves over 80 appearances for the Astros. Then, kerplop—he was 4-10 with a 4.54 ERA the following year. The hot-and cold routine lasted pretty much through the remainder of his career, working for a total of seven MLB teams.
Let the annual wintertime Hall-of-Fame debate begin. This year’s ballot has been released with no surprises, since everyone knew who was going to be on it months and months ago. This year’s vote will be particularly interesting on a number of fronts. First-year eligibles include a possible first-ballot inductee in David Ortiz; a steroid-tainted superstar in Alex Rodriguez, who would have been a no-brainer checkmark were it not for his multiple PED confessions; pitcher Tim Lincecum, he of the two Cy Young Awards, two no-hitters, three World Series rings and barely 100 career wins; and former MVP Ryan Howard. On the carryovers, four controversial stars—Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling—are each on their 10th and final ballot. And there no doubt will continue to be intense lobbying for sub-borderline nominees, including Todd Helton, Jeff Kent and Omar Vizquel, while they could be joined by first-year eligibles Joe Nathan, Jimmy Rollins and Prince Fielder.
MLB hands out its Comeback Player of the Year awards, with retiring Giants catcher Buster Posey winning NL honors while cancer survivor Trey Mancini gives the Orioles something to cheer about in an otherwise dreadful (52-110) 2021 campaign by winning the AL trophy. For Posey, it’s his second Comeback award; he also won the honor in 2012 after his previous year ended early on a brutal home-plate collision.
The Red Sox are apparently happy enough with manager Alex Cora to keep him on a few extra years. Cora’s 2023 and 2024 team options were exercised by Boston, ensuring that he’ll be at least paid for six total seasons by the Red Sox; he took the team to a world title in his first year managing the club in 2018, and came within a couple of games of returning to the Fall Classic this past year. Cora was suspended in 2020 for his role in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal—and without him, the Red Sox crashed to last place in the AL East during the pandemic-shortened season. (Yes—even Baltimore was better.)
The Giants retain two-fifths of their 2021 rotation by re-signing Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. DeSclafani enjoyed a career-best 13-7 record and 3.17 ERA in 31 starts this past season, with an MLB-high two shutouts; Wood, in his latest hike on the comeback trail, wrapped at 10-4 with a 3.83 ERA and 152 strikeouts over 138.2 innings.
Ex-New Yorkers are finding a popular landing spot in Anaheim. The Angels sign ex-Mets reliever Aaron Loup, who had an outstanding 2021 season (6-0, 0.95 ERA over 65 appearances), for two years and $17 million; he’ll rejoin Noah Syndergaard, who also recently signed with the Halos from the Mets. Meanwhile, the Angels snag reserve speedster Tyler Wade from the Yankees via a trade; Wade hit .268 over 127 at-bats in 2021 while stealing 17 bases.
Tuesday, November 23
Half a season is enough to convince the Tampa Bay Rays that Wander Franco is worth a lifetime of partnership. The 20-year-old shortstop receives a 12-year deal that guarantees him $185 million, and could max out at $223 million. It’s the largest contract given to any major leaguer after one season of play, and the largest ever given out by the Rays, period; in fact, the $223 million, if realized, will nearly equal the entire Tampa Bay payroll of the last four years combined.
There’s a number of Twitter users who sound off on Franco’s deal, saying he was “robbed.” They point to the $100 million deals given to Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, among others, which in theory provides financial peace of mind while sacrificing the potential to earn as much as two or three times that amount if they stuck to arbitration before striking it rich on the free agent market. To those on the pro-robbery theory side, let us ask you this: If you were 20 years of age and told you could be guaranteed nearly $200 million rather than wait it out five years at the risk of a career-ending or career-altering injury somewhere along the way, would you take it? Of course you would.
Pitcher Steven Matz signs a four-year, $44 million deal with St. Louis after a solid (14-7, 3.82 ERA) 2021 campaign with Toronto. The 30-year-old right-hander will provide stability for a Cardinals rotation that’s fronted by a 40-year-old ace (Adam Wainwright) and an injury-riddled star on the rise (Jack Flaherty).
The Mets, Matz’s employer of his first six major league seasons, were in the mix to sign him—and feel they were misled by Matz agent Rob Martin, who they claim would give them the last chance to bid. Mets owner Steven Cohen tweets: “I’m not happy this morning. I’ve never seen such unprofessional behavior exhibited by a player’s agent. I guess words and promises don’t matter.” Rumor has it that Matz didn’t want to be part of the Mets’ dysfunctional circus, and Cohen’s public Twittyfit only confirms that notion.
The Chicago White Sox reel in Kendall Graveman for three years and $24 million. Once projected as a potential ace, Graveman settled in this past season as a superb reliever, combining to go 5-1 with 10 saves and a 1.77 ERA between Seattle and Houston. Chatter suggests that Graveman’s presence as a set-up man for White Sox closer Liam Hendriks makes it likely that Chicago will seek to trade Craig Kimbrel, who bowed to Hendriks and took the set-up role after a midseason trade from the Cubs.
Bill Virdon, the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year and two-time Manager of the Year (1974 Yankees, 1980 Astros), passes at the age of 90. As a center fielder, Virdon played all 14 of his seasons with the Pirates, featuring as a member of the 1960 Bucs that won a dramatic seven-game World Series over the Yankees; he batted .267 with almost as many triples (81) as home runs (91), thanks in part to the spacious confines of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. As a manager, Virdon posted a career 995-922 record for four teams (the Pirates, Yankees, Astros and Montreal Expos) and always oversaw competitive rosters—though he suffered the frustration of losing his only three postseason series by three-to-two counts.
Wednesday, November 24
Unable to return to the stellar form that made him one of the top closers of the mid-2010s, Wade Davis retires at the age of 36. The right-hander began his major league career as an average starter for Tampa Bay, but after being switched to the bullpen became a far better pitcher; after being traded to Kansas City in the massive deal that also brought James Shields to the Royals in exchange for, among others, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, he was strangely converted back to a starter—where he flopped again—before returning to the pen and shining anew. Davis was never better than from 2014-17, when he combined to post a 23-6 record, 1.45 ERA and 79 saves while emerging as a premier closer; in one stretch, he didn’t allow a home run over 125.1 innings, and successfully converted 38 straight saves in another. He was highly instrumental in the postseason as the Royals achieved back-to-back AL pennants from 2014-15, securing a 3-0 record and four saves while allowing a single earned run over 26 innings. A free agent after 2017, Davis was made the highest annually paid reliever to date by Colorado—and like most Rockies pitchers, he struggled to retain his earlier stellar numbers, though he did lead the NL with 43 saves in 2018. But he crashed over the next two years, and a return to the Royals and sea level this past year did not result in the hoped-for comeback year, furnishing a 6.75 ERA over 40 appearances.
Friday, November 26
The Mets are finally able to convince a couple quality free agents to sign on. Early in the day, they ink infielder Eduardo Escobar for two years and $20 million—then follow late in the evening by bringing on outfielder Starling Marte, who flourished late with Oakland after a midseason trade from Miami, for four years and $78 million. The switch-hitting Escobar, who turns 33 next January, combined to belt 28 home runs with 90 RBIs between Arizona and Milwaukee this past season, in the process earning his first All-Star roster spot. Marte, meanwhile, batted .310 and stole an MLB-leading 47 bases—being caught just five times.
Saturday, November 27
All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier finds his third home in less than a year, traded to Seattle from San Diego for two minor leaguers. The 29-year-old Frazier, who batted .305 combined between Pittsburgh and the Padres this past year, will fill in a big hole at second base for the Mariners—and provide discipline to a Seattle lineup that hit .226 as a team and featured six players who struck out at least 100 times.
The Astros sign reliever Hector Neris for two years and $17 million. The veteran right-hander was an off-and-on closer for the Phillies over the last five seasons, saving 12 games this past year with a 4-7 record and 3.63 ERA; he figures to fill in the shoes of set-up man Kendall Graveman, who recently signed with the White Sox.
Sunday, November 28
As a lockout looms a few days before the expiration of the current Basic Agreement between players and owners, activity begins to ramp up on free agent signings.
The Texas Rangers, losers of 102 games this past season, make the biggest splashes on the day. They hook infielder Marcus Semien on a seven-year deal worth $175 million, giving the Rangers a much-needed All-Star/MVP presence that’s been missing since the retirement of Adrian Beltre. They later sign Jon Gray, the 30-year-old right-hander who’s 53-49 over seven previous seasons with the Rockies, to four years and $56 million. Finally, the Rangers bulk up their outfield with a one-year deal for 34-year-old veteran Kole Calhoun, who belted 33 homers in 2019 for the Angels and 16 for Arizona during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign before browning out in an injury-riddled season just completed.
After losing Semien, the Toronto Blue Jays make up by inking pitcher Kevin Gausman on a five-year, $110 million pact. After struggling to succeed with numerous teams through his first seven major league seasons, the 30-year-old Gausman enjoyed breakthrough success in two years at San Francisco, thriving particularly this past season with a 14-6 record and 2.81 ERA. The Jays hope to fill the shoes of AL Cy Young Award winner/free agent Robbie Ray, who is likely to sign elsewhere.
Minnesota takes a look-term chance on outfielder Byron Buxton, who’s been an injury-prone enigma with flashes of brilliance through his first seven seasons since joining the Twins as an elite blue-chip prospect. A year before he’s due to become a free agent, Buxton is locked up for the next seven years at a guaranteed $100 million—but incentive clauses for accruing certain plate appearance thresholds and winning the MVP could raise that figure significantly. Despite missing 100 games this past year, Buxton still clubbed 19 home runs and 23 doubles, scored 50 runs and batted .306.
The Miami Marlins are hardly quiet as well, signing underrated outfielder Avisail Garcia for four years and $53 million while work reportedly is all but finished extending ace pitcher Sandy Alcantara for five years and $56 million. The 30-year-old Garcia thrived in Milwaukee during the 2021 campaign, batting .262 with 29 homers and 86 RBIs; he’s always been underpaid relative to similar MLB talents, and the lack of respect continued when the Brewers bought out the second year of his contract and let him go.
Veteran pitcher and two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is calling Tampa Bay his next home, signing a one-year contract for $8 million. The deal includes incentives that could raise his salary to $13 million—but if any of those incentives involve exceeding a certain number of innings, don’t count on the max payout as the Rays never met an ace pitcher they allowed to go more than five innings. The 35-year-old Kluber was 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA this past season with the Yankees, a campaign highlighted with a no-hitter against Texas on May 19.
Monday, November 29
Max Scherzer strikes it rich with the Mets, agreeing to a three-year deal that will pay him $130 million, or a whopping $43.3 million per year—easily besting the old record for a per-year figure held by Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million). More interestingly, the three years will cover Scherzer’s age 37-39 seasons, and will put the Mets in front as, for now, the team with the highest payroll entering the 2022 season. The right-handed ace will give the Mets a potentially devastating one-two punch at the top of their rotation, should he and Jacob deGrom stay healthy; Scherzer also hopes to nab at least 10 wins and thus become the fourth active pitcher to reach 200 for a career.
Scherzer isn’t the only free-agent loss suffered by the Dodgers on the day, as the Rangers ink Shortstop Corey Seager for a franchise-record 10-year, $325 million contract. Seager’s move to Arlington seems to make sense; he thrived at Globe Life Field in 2020 as the new ballpark became a neutral postseason host for the Dodgers. During that year’s NLCS and World Series, he batted .349 and belted seven home runs over 49 at-bats. Seager will feature as half of a potential All-Star middle infield, across the way from second baseman and fellow recent Texas pick-up Marcus Semien.
The Marlins continue to quietly build toward contention by trading three players (including two minor leaguers) to Pittsburgh in exchange for Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings. The intimidating (6’5”, 225 pounds) Stallings is hardly an offensive dynamo, but his defensive expertise should come in handy in helping to nurture a young but potentially explosive Miami rotation.
Kirby Yates, the majors’ top closer in 2019 with a 1.19 ERA and MLB-high 41 saves for San Diego before succumbing to bone chips in 2020—and Tommy John surgery earlier this year—has signed a two-year, $7 million deal with Atlanta. The contract includes a 2024 team option for $5.75 million. Is it assumed that Yates will not be ready to pitch at full strength for the Braves until midway through the 2022 campaign.
The Cleveland City Council gives the okay to a lease extension for the Guardians at Progressive Field, keeping the team at the 27-year-old ballpark through 2036. The deal also includes $435 million in upgrades to the facility, most of which will be paid for by the city and Cuyahoga County.
Tuesday, November 30
AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray has a new home in Seattle, signing a five-year, $115 million deal with an opt-out after three seasons. The 30-year-old southpaw who’s absorbed an up-and-down career capitalized on a strong 2021 campaign to earn his future riches; the Mariners are hoping he can stabilize his output and remain a top arm.
The biggest signing of the day doesn’t belong to Ray but, instead, to shortstop Javier Baez, who on the eve of his 29th birthday inks with Detroit for six years and $140 million. Baez will be counted upon to provide some sizzle to a Tigers lineup that’s been on the anonymous side over the past few years; combined between the Cubs and Mets this past season, the Puerto Rico native batted .265 with 31 home runs, 87 RBIs and 18 steals—but he also walked just 28 times while leading the NL with 184 strikeouts in 547 plate appearances.
The Marlins continue to make offseason noise, trading first-round draft pick Kameron Misner to the Rays for All-Star infielder Joey Wendle, a sound (if not potentially explosive) talent who batted .265 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs this past season. To make room for Wendle, the Marlins DFA two-time TGG NL Worst Hitter of the Year Lewis Brinson, another first-round pick who has struggled (.199 career average) to elevate his potential in the majors.
The Giants add to their rotation by bringing in Alex Cobb on a two-year, $20 million deal. Cobb actually has roughly the same career record and slightly better lifetime ERA (3.87) than Robbie Ray above, but recent returns haven’t been as impressive; still, in 18 starts with the Angels this past season, he was 8-3 with a 3.76 ERA.
While the Angels lost Cobb, they do re-up closer Raisel Iglesias for four years and $58 million. The 31-year-old Cuban native saved 34 games with a 2.57 and 7-5 record for the Halos in 2021, and has 140 career saves over seven seasons.
The original Brazilian major leaguer relocates to Chicago, as catcher Yan Gomes signs a two-year, $13 million contract with the Cubs. A veteran of 10 MLB seasons, Gomes batted .252 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs split between Washington and Oakland in 2021.
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