Baseball never stops. It would be easy to fill your day with everything baseball; the games, injuries, trade rumors, player transactions. The amount of information coming out of baseball every day is difficult to fully ingest. Returning from a three week vacation with no internet or cell reception requires you to play catch up. I am not complaining about venturing into the woods and mountains of the western United States and Canada, only it makes keeping track of baseball impossible.
Living off the informational grid for a few weeks is refreshing. As much as I wanted to know the daily scores, it was nice not hearing my phone pinging with emails and notifications about things that ultimately do not matter. Baseball also fades into the background, after all it is just a game.
Upon returning to the world of internet access and cell service I bombarded myself with the news I missed. The All Star Game and the Home Run Derby. I wanted to know who won the Derby. I missed the “controversy” surrounding Bryce Harper hitting too quickly; I was not sorry to miss that part of the Derby.
Hiking a trail up a mountain to get away from the tourists gives you these types of views of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Injuries were another thing I missed while in the woods. The first text I received after asking my friends what I missed was the Mets were in first…for the draft. The obvious next question regarding the Amazin’s was had they called up Tim Tebow, because the Mets do weird things. Nope, broke his hand. I also found out about Aaron Judge’s broken wrist. The most surprising news was Noah Syndergaard contracting Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Easily the most Mets reason ever for a trip to the disabled list. There were other injuries I missed but these were the primary ones I heard about upon my return to the world of information; sorrow from my friends who are Yankee fans and collective laughter about the Mets.
The major news I missed was the run up to the trade deadline. Plenty of trade rumors but coming home, turning on a game and seeing Mike Moustakas in a Brewers uniform was strange, especially as this was how I learned he was traded. The big news of Manny Machado going to the Dodgers was everywhere, but Jeurys Familia to the Athletics? Interesting. The Mets trading Asdrubal Cabrera to Phillies or the Rangers trading Cole Hamels to Cubs. Sure. Even Brad Hand going from the Padres to the Indians and Zach Britton from the Orioles to the Yankees were strange. Adjusting to players in new uniforms takes time. It is even more jarring when you learn they change teams by seeing them in a new uniform.
Baseball never stops, it keeps moving regardless of what is happening in your world. It is difficult to keep up with the daily transactions, games, and news. It is impossible when you miss three weeks. Playing catch up with baseball is a Sisyphean task. The more you know about the game, the less you know. A midseason break makes it difficult to stay up to date on the major stories in the game. My vacation was a reminder that getting away from the chaos of daily life does not mean the rest of the world stops. You can only hope you have people willing to fill you in on what you missed when you return to the real world.
It has been 20 years since the dawn of the 1998 baseball season. The season would see one of the great teams of all time as the Yankees marched towards the World Series, meanwhile Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the single season home run record. Knowing what we know now about many of the players who helped revive baseball that summer does diminish some of the fondness. However as Mark McGwire famously said before Congress, “I am not here to talk about the past.”
The 1994 players strike severely damaged baseball. The cancellation of the World Series and the delayed start of the 1995 season saw fans turn their backs on the game. Arguing who is blame, the players or the owners, for this dark time in baseball is for another day, what mattered then was how would the game win back the fans it lost. Some fans still see 1994 as the death of baseball, don’t believe me check out this Facebook group which has more than 22,000 members. Right or wrong baseball needed a season to get its fans back.
Cal Ripken Jr. gave baseball a moment it needed to draw fans back to the game. (REUTERS/ Gary Hershorn/Files)
Baseball got a much needed boost when Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. This was a moment baseball desperately needed showing the good of the game. It was however, a moment. Baseball needed more than one night of glory, it needed a season of suspense and wonderment.
The 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Boston Red Sox won 92 games, yet finished 22 games behind the Yankees in the division. The Yankees finished the season 114-48. The Bronx Bombers had eight players with at least 17 home runs, five players with at least 84 RBI, and eight players with 21 or more doubles. The Yankees hit .288 as a team. On the mound, all five Yankee starters had at least 12 wins, a team ERA of 3.82, with the starters averaging 6 ⅔ inning per start, plus Mariano Rivera nailing down 36 saves out of the bullpen. In the Playoffs, the Yankees swept the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series three games to none, allowing only one run. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees dispatched the Cleveland Indians in six games. In the World Series, New York swept the San Diego Padres in four games. The 98 win Padres were no match for the Yankees. The biggest team in baseball helped put the game back into people’s lives as they rolled through the season and playoffs. Yankee dominance helped, but the primary attraction was in the National League.
There was little drama as the Yankees swept the World Series. (Jeff Haynes/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa later became the poster children for what was wrong with baseball, but in the summer of 1998 they were what made baseball relevant again for much of the country. Divisional rivals on two of the most prominent teams in the sport, McGwire and Sosa embarked on a home run race that captured the attention of the country. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth, there was backlash. People felt Ruth’s record should be left alone. When Maris ultimately hit home run number 61 in 1961 he did it in game 162, which many believe meant his record deserved an asterisk as he took more games than Ruth’s 154 game schedule in 1927. If McGwire, Sosa, or some other slugger could hit 60 home runs fewer than 154 games they would hold the record.
McGwire hit 11 home runs by the end of April, only to hit 16 in May to bring his season total to 27 as the calendar turned to June. On May 22nd, Sosa had only 9 home runs against McGwire’s 24. Over the next six weeks Sosa got red hot, hitting 24 home runs. Heading into the All Star Break, McGwire lead Sosa 37 home runs to 33. The race for 62 was on. McGwire hit his 50th home run of the season on August 20th, Sosa followed with his 50th three days later on August 23rd. However in between a whirlwind began on August 22nd regarding McGwire’s use of Androstenedione. McGwire maintained his use of Andro was legal and it did not give him any added benefits on the field. This is perhaps the clearest beginning of the steroid era entering public knowledge. The use of Andro did little to distract the public from the frenzy of the home run chase. September 8th saw McGwire hit his shortest home run of the season, 341 feet, just clearing the left field wall in Busch Stadium. McGwire and the Cardinals were hosting Sosa and the Cubs that night. After initially missing first base in the midst of his joy, quickly retreating to touch the missed base, McGwire rounded the bases to officially set the new single season home run mark at 62. Sosa would tie McGwire at 62 home runs on September 13th. As the 1998 season wound down the question turned to how high McGwire and Sosa would push the home run record. For the only time all season Sosa took the lead on September 25th, when he hit his 66th and final home run of the season. McGwire would finish with a flurry, hitting five home runs in the last three games of the season to finish with 70 home runs.
The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped revive baseball one home run at a time. (AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)
There was no doubt both McGwire and Sosa broke the single season home run record, Ruth’s and Maris’. Sosa would be named the National League Most Valuable Player, while McGwire got his name in the record books. The summer of chasing Ruth and Maris brought baseball the excitement back it lost in the 1994 players strike. The chase between McGwire and Sosa, coupled with the total dominance of the Yankees gave baseball the season it needed to win back fans and rebuild trust.
20 years have passed since the summer of 1998. We have learned so much about the men who played that summer. Far too many had their abilities aided by steroids and other performance enhancers. The steroid era was on full display, we just did not know it yet. The revival of baseball was both helped and hurt by the steroid era, many players have since fallen from grace. The game continues to grow and much of the magic I remember as a kid has returned. The summer of 1998 helped revive baseball, and yet my most vivid memory from that summer is having no interest in any of it. 1998 was my last season playing organized baseball. I had a coach who took the fun out of the game. He would scream and yell when the players, myself included, did not get a hit. He changed my batting stance over and over again. I came to dread going to baseball practice and games. The joy of playing baseball was gone. A year or so later I wanted to play for a travel team, but I was late to the tryout we did not get out of the car. This is how my baseball career ended. I am under no illusion I was good enough to play professionally, maybe not even in high school. However, one person ruined baseball, it took years for my love of the game to return. I hope he still remembers how great those handful of victories were for our Spring 11/12U rec league team 20 years ago.
Ozzie Smith was a wizard with the glove, he could do everything on the field defensively. The same could be said for Omar Vizquel. If it was possible defensively, one or both of these men could do it on a baseball diamond. The impossible dive, catch, or throw; they could do it all. Andrelton Simmons seems to have taken up their torch. Simmons is only in his sixth season, yet he is already drawing comparisons to these legendary players.
Omar Vizquel played for six teams during his 24 year career, all in the American League except a four year stint with the Giants. A magician with the glove, Vizquel ranks first in career games played at shortstop, fourth in career dWAR, appeared in three All Star games, and won 11 Gold Gloves. Beginning in 1993, Vizquel won the American League Gold Glove for shortstop every year until 2001. His defensive dominance continued late into his career, as he won his 11th and final Gold Glove as a 39 year old shortstop for the Giants in 2006.
Ozzie Smith was fearless with a glove in his hand. (www.si.com)
Ozzie Smith played for the Padres and the Cardinals during his 19 year career. The Wizard ranks fourth in career games at shortstop, first in career dWAR, appeared in 15 All Star games, and won consecutive 13 Gold Gloves. He is the only player to win a National League Gold Glove at shortstop in the 1980s, winning every year from 1980 until 1992.
Vizquel and Smith were the premier defensive shortstops from 1989 to 1996; collectively winning eight of the 16 Gold Gloves awarded by Major League Baseball. Two men, two leagues, winning half of all Gold Gloves.
Omar Vizquel could do it all with the glove. (www.mlb.com/indians)
The absurd defensive capabilities of both Vizquel and Smith did not translate into hitting prowess. They each hit .300 or better only once in their careers. Vizquel and Smith were the traditional light hitting shortstop that rarely exists in baseball today. Every player is expected to help the team offensively, even defensive legends. The offensive ability of Andrelton Simmons could be what separates him from the two legends he resembles defensively.
Watching Simmons play shortstop is like watching an unscripted ballet. Every night he does something amazing. A throw that catches a sleeping runner. A dive to stop a ball getting to the outfield, thus stopping a runner from grabbing another bag. A catch that normally would fall in for a base hit. Every batter knows they have to hustle on any ball in the infield because Simmons can appear out of nowhere to field the ball and unleash his cannon arm to take another hit away. If Omar Vizquel was a magician and Ozzie Smith was the Wizard, let’s call Andrelton Simmons a sorcerer.
Andrelton Simmons will leave you speechless with his glove every night, and could become the greatest shortstop ever. (AP/ Mark J. Terrill)
Simmons is only 27 years old, his peak years should be ahead of him. This season he is breaking out offensively, as he is on pace to set career highs in Plate Appearances, Home Runs, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, On-Base Plus Slugging, Total Bases, Defensive Innings and Errors. (Defensive errors can be a sign of greater range or instincts, thus reaching more balls and creating more chances to make a play. The more chances the more opportunity for mistakes. More aggressive defense does have ceiling however.) He has already set career highs in Hits, Doubles, Walks, RBI, Stolen Bases, and Sacrifice Flies, and we have a few more weeks left in the season.
No one is under any illusion that Simmons is the next slugging shortstop, like Alex Rodriguez or Cal Ripken Jr. He is rather a once in a generation defensive player. If he continues to improve offensively, while retaining his defensive skills, he should enjoy a long career. He has the skills with the glove to become the greatest shortstop to ever field the position. Improving his ability with the bat could put Andrelton Simmons in the conversation for the greatest shortstop ever.
Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team.
We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.
|1st||Washington Nationals||New York Muttz||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals|
|2nd||New York Mets*||Washington Gnats||Atlanta Braves||New York Mets|
|3rd||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Bravos||New York Mets||Miami Marlins|
|4th||Atlanta Braves||Miami Fish||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Braves|
|5th||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Follies||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies|
Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.
New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.
Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.
Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.
Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
|1st||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|2nd||Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh Buckos*||St. Louis Cardinals*||St. Louis Cardinals*|
|3rd||St. Louis Cardinals||Cincinnati Fighting Vottos||Pittsburgh Pirates||Milwaukee Brewers|
|4th||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Dreadbirds||Milwaukee Brewers||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|5th||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewniversity||Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati Reds|
Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.
Milwaukee Brewers – I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.
Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.
Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.
|1st||Los Angeles Dodgers||Colorado Silver Bullets||Los Angeles Dodgers||San Francisco Giants|
|2nd||San Francisco Giants*||Los Angeles Vin Scullys*||Colorado Rockies*||Los Angeles Dodgers*|
|3rd||Colorado Rockies||San Padres Big Macs||San Francisco Giants||Colorado Rockies|
|4th||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Trouser Snakes||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|5th||San Diego Padres||San Francisco Gigantors||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres|
San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.
Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.
Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.
San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)
|1st||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox|
|2nd||Toronto Blue Jays*||New York Spankees||New York Yankees*||New York Yankees*|
|3rd||New York Yankees||Baltimore Riots||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles*|
|4th||Baltimore Orioles||Steve Irwin Killers||Tampa Bay Rays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|5th||Tampa Bay Rays||Boston Dead Sux||Baltimore Orioles||Tampa Bay Rays|
Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.
New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.
Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…
Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
|1st||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Indians|
|2nd||Detroit Tigers||Cleveland Up Three Games To None*||Detroit Tigers||Kansas City Royals|
|3rd||Kansas City Royals||Chicago Black Sox||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers|
|4th||Minnesota Twins||Minnesota Twinkies||Kansas City Royals||Minnesota Twins|
|5th||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Militarized Zone||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox|
Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.
Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.
Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games. It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.
Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.
Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.
|1st||Houston Astros||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros|
|2nd||Seattle Mariners*||Houston Colt 45s*||Houston Astros*||Seattle Mariners|
|3rd||Texas Rangers||Oakland White Elephants||Texas Rangers||Texas Rangers|
|4th||Los Angeles Angels||Texas Dangers||Los Angeles Angels||Los Angeles Angels|
|5th||Oakland Athletics||Seattle Seamen||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.
Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.
Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.
Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.
Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)
My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)
NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Loser||New York Mets||Los Angeles Vin Scullys||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Colt 45s||New York Yankees||Baltimore Orioles|
|Winner (1-4)||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Chicago Cubs – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals – 1|
|Winner (1-4)||Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||New York Yankees – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Cleveland Indians||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Marines||Boston Red Sox – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Houston Astros||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros – 2|
|Winner||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants – 4|
|Loser||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Winner||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Seattle Mariners||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox – 2|
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)
|Winner||Washington Nationals – 4||Colorado Silver Bullets – 4||Seattle Mariners – 4||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox – 3||Kansas City Monarchs – 2||Washington Nationals – 2||San Francisco Giants – 3|
Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.
DJ, JJ, JB, and BL
So it’s a lovely midsummer afternoon and I am enjoying a fine matchup between the Mariners and the Cubs. I receive a little writing inspiration as I watch Aroldis Chapman come on to save a 1-0 game for the Cubbies. Now this time last year Chapman was playing for the Reds and was a division rival of these same Cubs, a lot can happen in a year. The concentration of moves at the trade deadline makes the end of July one of the best parts of the season.
The Difference a year makes, Aroldis Chapman will be trying to save games against, instead of for the Reds. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Yes it is trade deadline season, and if you are following this blog and MLB in general you get the idea behind all the moves. But how does it affect you and I the fans? How are we supposed to feel when a star slugger or fireball closer are sent off to a rival team or a team in the other league entirely? Well let’s look at Chapman for perspective. The Yankees acquired him from the Reds this offseason to bolster their bullpen. The Yankees had high hopes for this season and thought a closer with 105 mph heat could help them, even with Chapman missing the first month of the season due to suspension. The Cubs went into the season with a lineup stacked with power hitters and great starting pitching. The Cubs went into the season with Hector Rendon as their closer, not a bad closer but still not one you ride to the World Series. Well as they say everything looks good on paper and that’s why you play the games. The Yankees season has not turned out well, surprise surprise, and the Cubs still have a shot at winning the World Series. So with the magic of owners and agents, Chapman was traded to the Cubs and here I am watching him come on from the bullpen wearing different pinstripes.
Going once, going twice, sold to the Texas Rangers. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Now I am all for teams being allowed to trade, it mixes things up and gives me something to look forward to between the All-Star Game and September call ups. It also gives you a little chuckle when you watch Chapman blow the save opportunity and allow 3 runs with a wild pitch thrown in. That’s part of the fun. I don’t wish many players, outside of Boston, any ill will or harm but seeing Chapman get roughed up for another team is entertaining. Other teams have been and still are looking for arms to finish games. As I write the Nationals acquired Pirates closer Mark Melancon seemingly ending the Pirates hope of the postseason. The Brewers benched their catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and then traded him not once but twice.
It’s exciting to think about all the possible trades during the weekend of the trade deadline. I can just imagine every front office was reenacting the scene from Moneyball where Brad Pitt and Johan Hill are working the phones to get the players they want at the price they are willing to pay. Meanwhile I’m sitting here watching baseball hoping someone will stocks my beer fridge for two years. Happy Trade Deadline.
The 2013 MLB All-Star Game was hosted by the New York Mets. Despite working in New York I could not attend the festivities (Bernie did though and one of our mutual friends got to attend the game because of a promotion at the Fan Fest). The 2015 MLB All-Star Game was hosted by the Cincinnati Reds, but I could not attend as I moved to Cincinnati about a week after the festivities ended. However, 2016 is the year I finally made it to the All Star Game, not in San Diego but the South Atlantic League Single A All-Star Game hosted by the Lexington Legends. Not what you may have expected.
Great seats for a great game. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Obviously these players are not household names, but I recognized a few of them. Luke Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra, plays for the Rome Braves. Mariano Rivera Jr., son of Mariano Rivera, plays for Hagerstown Suns. Tate Matheny, son of Mike Matheny, plays for the Greenville Drive. Every player selected to this All Star game has a ways to go before leaving a lasting legacy on the game.
The game itself produced some great baseball. Diving catches, beautifully played ground balls, and excellent pitching. The game featured 22 strikeouts, 11 for each team. Each of the 15 pitchers who pitched a complete inning had at least one strike out, with Jake Cosart of the Greenville Drive striking out the side during his inning of work. The game itself was fun and the players and fans were clearly enjoying the experience. The weather was perfect for the 8,126 fans who watched a crisp game played in under two and a half hours. The casual fun that has always characterized minor league baseball meant wacky promotions and being able to sit close to the field. It gives a sense of closeness and intimacy in contrast to attending a Major League game that has an air of reverence. Sort of like comparing your friend’s backyard barbeque to corporate sponsored tailgate. Both are fun but feel radically different.
A beautiful night for baseball at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. (The Winning Run/DJ)
P.J. Colon of the Columbia Fireflies started for the South team. Colon was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and grew up in California. There are not many baseball players to come from Europe, much less Northern Ireland, so those who do are key to continuing the international growth of the game. Opposing Colon was the North team’s starter, Mitch Keller of the West Virginia Power. Keller would earn the victory and Colon would receive the loss as Max Schrock of the Hagerstown Suns drove in the first of his two RBI during the first inning. Schrock won the MVP award by finishing the game 2 for 3, with 2 RBI and a double.
Baseball is better with family, especially the soon to be sister-in-law. (The Winning Run/ KCL)
Baseball can be a fickle sport. Most likely not every player on the field during the All Star game will reach the Major Leagues. Seeing talent that is making its way through the Minor Leagues towards MLB is exciting. Although these players are still developing, you can already see how they will help propel the game forward. The next great star is not simple to spot, but on that field were the potential MLB All Star players of the future who will delight fans for years to come. I have seen the future of baseball, and it is good.
So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.
Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)
Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:
Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.
His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)
The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.
Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)
The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.
The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)
The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.
Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)
We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.
Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)
The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.
$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.
The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.