After an off season of scandal, on again off again blockbuster trades, gigantic free agent signings, possible Minor League Baseball contraction, and the Mets being the Mets it is time to return to the diamond. Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, the journey to October begins.
Expectations are high in the Bronx after signing Gerrit Cole. Houston is out to prove they can win without stealing signs, while the rest of baseball is out for revenge. The on again off again trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers showed how far Boston has fallen while searching for financial flexibility. The Red Sox continue searching for a permanent manager to replace Alex Cora after he was swept up in the fallout from Houston. Major League Baseball proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams, which immediately angered the communities potentially impacted, baseball fans, and even Congress.
The Mets once again managed to stay in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yoenis Cespedes reworked his contract after the revelation that his injury was the result of a run in with a wild boar. The Amazin’s General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, Cespedes’ former agent, now had to alter the contract he negotiated, but from the other side of the table. Carlos Beltran never made it to his first workout of Spring Training as Mets Manager. His involvement in the Astros scandal followed him to Queens. The Wilpons were unable to sell the Mets because they wanted to continue making team decisions once they no longer wrote the checks.
The Cincinnati Reds are poised to climb out of the cellar and into contention after an active Winter. (Kareem Elgazzar)
Anthony Rendon got paid by leaving Washington, Stephen Strasburg got paid to stay with the Nationals. Zack Wheeler left Queens for Philadelphia for a chance to win and a large paycheck. Madison Bumgarner left the Bay for the desert, while Hyun-Jin Ryu left sunny Southern California and moved north of the border. Josh Donaldson added his name to the slugging Twins lineup, a new age Murderers’ Row. The White Sox and Reds loaded up on free agents, vaulting themselves into contention. Hundreds of other moves happened. Time will tell which moves helped teams, and which teams will come to regret.
Baseball lost the legendary writer Roger Kahn. Few, if any, possess his ability to write about the game. He was baseball’s writer. His ability to put the passion and beauty of the game into print will be missed.
It was an odd and harrowing off season, but now Pitchers and Catchers are reporting to Spring Training. The world is a little more perfect because we are getting back to baseball.
Walking off the mound CC Sabathia knew he was finished. He had announced his retirement, but now the left arm that took him to the top of the baseball world could take no more. Sabathia had nothing left in his dislocated shoulder. This was the end.
CC Sabathia’s Major League career began on April 8, 2001 in Cleveland against the Orioles. He pitched 5 ⅔ innings of 3 run baseball for a no decision in a 4-3 Cleveland victory. Sabathia made 559 more Regular Season starts across 19 seasons. He compiled a 251-161 record, with a 3.74 ERA, 1.259 WHIP, 38 Complete Games, and 12 Shutouts. He played in six All Star games, won the 2007 American League Cy Young Award, and won the 2009 World Series with the Yankees. Along the way he battled addiction, fighting it when it meant stepping away from baseball in the 2015 Postseason.
Perhaps the greatest pitching run in recent baseball history belongs to CC Sabathia. In July 2008, less than a year after winning the Cy Young, Cleveland traded Sabathia to Milwaukee. The Brewers were chasing the Wild Card. After pitching six innings in his first start, Sabathia threw three consecutive Complete Games. The Brewers won his first four starts, and 12 of his first 13. In 17 starts for the Brewers, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 1.003 WHIP. He threw 130 ⅔ innings, including seven Complete Games and three Shutouts. He was masterful on the mound, posting a 255 ERA+ with Milwaukee.
CC Sabathia was unstoppable in a Brewers uniform. The greatest pitching run in modern baseball history. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Despite his incredible pitching, the Brewers needed more to reach October. Between September 20th and 28th Sabathia started three games on three days rest. He delivered, pitching 21 ⅔ innings, winning twice, including a Game 162 Complete Game allowing the Brewers to squeak into the Postseason. Milwaukee would lose to the eventual World Series Champion Phillies in the Divisional Series. Sabathia put his team above himself, he could have refused to pitch at such an insane pace, by modern standards, as he headed into free agency. Sabathia’s selflessness and brilliance was rewarded by the Yankees with $161 million over seven years.
Sabathia received the financial rewards from his incredible abilities on the mound. He earned the respect of Yankee fans, which was obvious by the ovation the Bronx faithful gave Sabathia after dislocating his shoulder. Despite his success in pinstripes, Sabathia’s incredible run in Milwaukee will remain the defining moment of his career. While Madison Bumgarner would not allow the Giants to lose the 2014 World Series, Sabathia’s run in Milwaukee was a three month grind we are unlikely to see again.
Here we go into a new season where anything can happen. We had a lackluster off-season with a sputtering hot stove that saw some record-breaking contracts but weeks of “Will he or won’t he” that belongs on the Lifetime Channel rather than the MLB news wire. Teams seem willing to bet big on prospects but undervalue proven commodities. This is the same spirit we’re taking when we peer into our cracked crystal ball to make predictions about the 2019 season. We’re going to switch things up starting with the American League and Bernie is going to report on why they will or won’t do what we think they’ll do.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL East||Yankees||Rojo Sox (yeah I said it)||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|Red Sox*||Bandwagoners*||Red Sux*||Red Sox*||Tea Partiers*||Red Sox|
|Blue Jays||Devil Rays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Pajaritos||Blue Jays|
|Orioles||Cal Ripkens||hOribles||Crush Davis Express||Blue Jays||Orioles|
New York Yankees
One hundred wins last season and they end up a Wild Card. They blasted more home runs in a season than any team before. The rotation didn’t quite hold up and the bats went a bit cold in the Postseason. They shored up their pitching rotation in the off-season by trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Masahiro Tanaka may have developed a pitch that could keep him from getting blown up every five games. Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar had a season in the Bronx to settle in and help recreate a new Murderers’ Row.
Giancarlo Stanton will be flipping his bat and trotting around the bases plenty in 2019. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox
They’re the reigning champs and they did it with a collective play that didn’t focus on one player’s excellence. Mookie Betts may be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors and Chris Sale wouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes another case to win the Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel hanging out in free agency does not help shorten games. We have to give the defending champs their due but they also didn’t do much in the off-season. Resting on your laurels while everyone else is re-configuring to beat the champs may not be the most sound strategy.
Tampa Bay Rays
Blake Snell threw the kind of fire that could have started the California wildfires last year. The Rays got him to bite on a 5 year, $50 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. While it’s a big jump for him, it’s not elite ace money. The Rays are trying to win on a budget but that only works when you’ve got an analytical or strategic edge over your competition. You can’t Moneyball when everyone else is reading the statistics the same way. Then again, they probably would run away with the AL Central…
Toronto Blue Jays
There have been a lot of near misses with the Blue Jays’ recent signings. Randal Grichuk, Ken Giles, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz…these are all (or were) solid role players to support a more elite group of players. *cough*Vladimir Guerrero Jr.*cough*
Mark Trumbo’s knee is looking better. Crush Davis is still their best option a first base? No left-handed pitching? Is Trey Mancini the only glimmer of hope on this roster? What happens is Jonathan Villar stays healthy and hits?
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|White Sox||Tigers||Sox||ChiSox||White Sox||White Sox|
The firing of Paul Molitor shows the Twins front office is getting impatient for wins. Rocco Baldelli coached the Rays for a few seasons so he knows how to work with a budget and talent, however Molitor was really the best sort of balance between analytics and gut feeling for the game. Derek and I saw Miguel Sano hit a laser in Detroit during BP that rocked the brick wall beyond the centerfield fence. We agree it would have carried over 500 ft. Perhaps Nelson Cruz can help guide Sano towards his All Star potential. Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Ronald Torreyes are solid pick ups to shore up the infield that’s covered by a great outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. They’ve got the talent to compete but only in their division.
Will Miguel Sano become the star Minnesota is hoping for? (Bruce Kluckhohn-Associated Press)
Cleveland’s lineup is looking a bit battered but they truly do their damage through hustle and pitching. Well, the hustle seems to be worn out. What’s worse is the arms seem to have cooled. A few years ago facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer would have seemed like swinging at ghosts. Now it seems that the only trouble with the rotation is staying alert enough to make contact. There’s still a deep well of talent here, it’s just worn down and needs a refresh.
Chicago White Sox
Eloy Jimenez is not the second coming but that’s because the White Sox’ front office had thought that about Yoan Moncada. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, and Ivan Nova make up a serviceable rotation but let’s be honest, the ChiSox are only getting third because of their divisional competition.
The Tigers are pretty much the White Sox without the prospects.
Kansas City Royals
Danny Duffy has a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder. Salvador Perez is out, getting Tommy John surgery…as a catcher. I have more faith in Bartolo Colon being able to pitch through 9 innings than this team to win more than 50 games.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL West||Astros||Colt .45’s||Stros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|Mariners||Walker Texas Rangers||Mariners||Seattle||Mariners||Mariners|
These guys are a team of superstars that play like a team. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman deliver on such a regular basis that support from guys like Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick coming into a hot streak is just overwhelming for most teams. There’s a certain level of excellence that you have to bring to beat these guys. Few teams have it and fewer can do it as consistently.
This is a team that makes you go “Who is that?” and they consistently outperform the expectations of the “experts”. Just bear in mind that the A’s outperformed Houston in OPS, BA, and HRs last season. Sean Manaea threw a no-no last season and he’s leading a rotation that doesn’t have the same regression potential that Houston has.
Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani isn’t throwing this season. Mike Trout signed a landmark contract that’s prompting players to question the utility of free agency (but really, without Bryce Harper and Manny Machado doing what they did, Trout wouldn’t have gotten his deal). This is team that’s signaling that they want to win but really not showing people that they know how to win. They may end up like the Yankees of the early 2000’s with enormous salaries, big names, cracked lumber…but no hardware to show for it.
Mike Trout got paid, but can the Angels ever put together a winning team? (FTW-USA TODAY Sports)
The Mariners are a lot like a superb AAA with some hot prospects just waiting for a call up. It’s not a rotation but a one-two punch in Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi and I wouldn’t want to go into a boxing match with that combo. King Felix might have a few good games in him this season but that’s not a lot to float by on. The high point of their season is already over, Ichiro played in Japan and then retired.
This is a team full of redemption stories in the making. I’m not holding my breath. New stadium for 2020 might be the most exciting off-season move.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|Phillies*||Bravos*||Harpers*||Marlins* (yeah Jeets!)||Braves*||Braves|
|Marlins||Fish||Minor Lg Team||Mets||Marlins||Marlins|
The Phillies picked up some good talent in Andrew McCutchen who had a bit of a refresh by the Bay and in the Bronx, Jean Segura who’s production and defense are constantly overlooked, and J.T. Realmuto, who’s on-base and slugging continue tracking better every year in the majors. We also saw Aaron Nola turn the corner and take over the mound like an elite ace. Jake Arrieta may not find the stride he had in Chicago but an improved lineup may make his job easier and bolster his confidence to hold things down. Let’s not forget that they also picked up a certain free agent that could amplify all of those previous moves by a huge leap – Bryce Harper.
Bryce Harper moved to Philadelphia, can he win in October? (Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images)
The Braves sort of caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of young prospects in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The signing of Josh Donaldson blocks Johan Camargo from the everyday lineup and puts him into a super utility role. When a young star like Freddie Freeman is one of your elder statesmen and you win the division, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the Braves probably had the largest range of predictions among The Winning Run’s team with first and fourth place finishes.
There’s a lot of killer talent on this team. They might actually be better without Bryce Harper in their outfield. But just like the city they play for, there are a lot of management and clubhouse synergy issues to overcome.
New York Mets
Speaking of management issues…there is still an enviable amount of pitching talent in Queens. The Mets need to stop trying to be the Yankees and embrace the chaos and circus of the New York sports media. Less bro, more fun would go a long way into turning this team into winners. Oh and either fire the entire medical staff or protect their positions and salaries from the front office. Either way, there are too many injuries for this to be anything but incompetence or interference, neither is good.
The Marlins will not do what the Phillies did last year. Kevin’s just doubling down because when it doesn’t work out, he can brush it off as a joke. Derek Jeter may be on track to becoming to baseball ownership/front office management what Michael Jordan has been to basketball.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL Central||Cardinals||Cards||Brewers||Brew Crew||Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Reds||Better Dead than Red||Cubs||Cubbies||Cubs||Reds|
St. Louis Cardinals
I feel like a broken record. This team just reloads. Unlike last year, I think they won the off-season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. They have great players in the rest of their positions or a deep bench to platoon. Yadier Molina is a cyborg because getting into that crouch in your late 30’s is just crazy, or I’m just jealous. Hopefully Molina is wearing a bulletproof cup this year. Regardless, the Cardinals seem to have a range and depth that provides them an edge over the regressing Cubs and volatile Brewers teams.
There’s a lot of hitting potential on this team and they will probably be in the top 5 for HRs by the end of the season. The Brewers outperformed expectations on pitching last year but I think it can be done again. Corey Knebel being hurt is manageable since the bullpen seems infinitely interchangeable.
Yu Darvish was a bust last year. Maybe he’ll turn it around this year. Jon Lester is a #2 guy who’s turning into a #3. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are all a step away from brilliance but it is a risky bet that this is the season they take that step. They’re dangerous on the other side of the ball but something isn’t gelling for them and it’s not likely to fix itself this year.
Yasiel Puig brings his energy to the Reds, can he bring more wins? (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
While Yasiel Puig brings a whole lot of fun energy to southwest Ohio, the bigger story is the pitching rotation. Sonny Gray has mean stuff but the lights in New York were too bright. Alex Wood is an underrated pitcher who keeps his lineups in the game with a 3.29 ERA over six seasons. Puig bringing extra run support could mean good things by the Ohio River.
The NL Central may be the polar opposite of the AL Central in competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is fielding a team that’s contributing to that image.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL West||Dodgers||Coors||Dem Bums||Dodgers||Rockies||Dodgers|
|Rockies*||The Choking Kershaws*||Rockies||Rockies||Dodgers||Rockies|
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have won the division every season since 2013. It doesn’t seem likely to change but they didn’t do a lot in the off-season. The biggest move was to sign A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Much like the Red Sox, this doesn’t portend well. However, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the NL West made the sort of moves that would make them legitimate challengers to that crown.
Nolan Arenado got a big contract and remains one of the most exciting players in the Majors. The departure of DJ LeMahieu was softened by signing Daniel Murphy. So they have the firepower to run up scores on their opponents, but playing in Denver is simply a difficult balance for pitching. Jon Gray seems to be one of the few pitchers that’s unfazed pitching at home or away from that elevation. It’s just hard to develop a rotation and bullpen around that. Especially when you let a guy like Adam Ottavino go to the Yankees.
San Diego Padres
Seriously? How did this happen? Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks sold the house. Hey look Manny Machado.
How long until the Padres are relevant again? Ralph (Freso/ Getty Images)
They sold the house. Zack Greinke cannot be happy that his departure from the Dodgers has left him with the team he has now. Goldschmidt is in St. Louis and Steven Souza Jr. went down with a terrible knee injury and is gone for the season. Can Jake Lamb stay healthy and will Adam Jones find a new home in the desert. They have a good rotation so if the hitting is good, they’re a dangerous team to play spoiler.
San Francisco Giants
How the mighty have fallen. Let’s not forget that the Giants have won three of the last ten World Series titles. But really, that’s all that’s going for them right now. One last trip around the Majors for Bruce Bochy.
|AL Wild Card||Red Sox||Bandwagoners||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|NL Wild Card||Phillies||Bravos||Cards||Cardinals||Brewers||Rockies|
|Rockies||The Choking Kershaws||Phillies||Marlins||Braves||Brewers|
|ALDS 1-4||Red Sox||Rojo Sox||Yankees||Astros||Yankees||Yankees|
|Astros||White Elephants||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|ALDS 2-3||Yankees||Colt .45’s||Astros||Yankees||Athletics||Astros|
|Red Sox||Colt .45’s||Astros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|World Series||Red Sox||Coors||Dodgers||Brewers||Yankees||Cardinals|
Sorry CC Sabathia it is not looking good for you to end your career with a World Series victory. This one’s for you CC. (Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports)
Our apologies to the New York Yankees because our prediction means they’re probably not going to win this year. We have been wrong the last five years, why change now.
BL with DJ, JJ, JB, & KB
I can still hear legendary Yankee Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Derek Jeter for his first at bat on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Jeter walked to the plate while Sheppard’s voice echoed around Yankee Stadium. Jesse, John, and I had flown to New York solely to watch the Yankees play the Orioles in the final game at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built was closing.
Baseball brought me to New York City for the first time. I would later live and work in New York for five years, but that first visit was about baseball. Knowing we only had one game to explore one of the greatest ballparks in baseball we arrived at 161st Street Station in the Bronx around 9:30 am, 11 hours before first pitch. We were greeted by a sea of fans who, like us, we eager to spend the day inside the House That Ruth Built before it closed.
We made it to The House That Ruth Built. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
The crowd outside the Stadium was chaotic, joyous, and a bit solemn all at once. The new Yankee Stadium stood just across the street, and except for a few glances I had little interest in the building. I had come to see THE Stadium, not its replacement. After slowly making our way through the line we finally entered the hallowed stadium. We soon learned our first stop would not happen. Monument Park was at capacity and the Yankees were closing it early. We scrapped our other plans and began exploring every nooks and cranny of the stadium that was accessible. We walked around the cheap seats, the foul lines, behind home plate, everywhere but our seats. Our seats were in the right field bleachers, with the Bleacher Creatures. Once you entered the bleacher area, security would not permit you to return to the rest of the stadium. We explored until our feet ached from the concrete. Once you join the Bleacher Creatures, there is no coming back.
Our first glimpse of the field was from behind home plate. Seeing the most famous baseball field in the world, where so much of the game’s history was made, where so many legends played, felt spiritual. I remember silently standing with Jesse and John gazing at the field, soaking it in. Three baseball fanatics in awe of their surroundings.
The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Breathtaking. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Our day touring Yankee Stadium went by in a flash before we joined the Bleacher Creatures. The pregame festivities included Yankee legends returning to the field one last time. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and other living legends were joined by the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, among others. Fittingly Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the final first pitch in the House That Ruth Built.
Once the actual game began, it was like every Yankee game I would attend while living in New York. The nationally televised game between two teams who would finish the season a combined 36.5 games behind first place began at 8:36 p.m. There were plenty of people, like us, who were not the regulars among the Bleacher Creatures. It was easy to identify the Bleacher Creatures. They are loud, obnoxious, generally know their baseball, and above all are die hard Yankee fans. The chants began in the top of the first, roll call. Every Yankee, except the pitcher and catcher, had their name chanted until they acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures. Some players, like Bobby Abreu, waved quickly, others, like Johnny Damon, made us work for a few minutes before waving. The loudest chant was for the Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter was the man; no one on the field commanded more respect than #2.
Our seats with the Bleacher Creatures. (The Winning Run/JJ)
I remember only pieces of the actual game. We went to the game for the experience, not necessarily the actual game. The Bleacher Creatures did what they do best, being loud. I have clear memories of a chant regarding Hall of Fame player and then ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Joe Morgan, who was broadcasting the game. The chant was simple, “Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks!” Over and over and over. I was never a fan of Morgan’s broadcasting, but the Bleacher Creatures were less bashful in voicing their opinion. Another memory is a different chant “Box Seats Suck! Box Seats Suck!” The metal bleachers in right field were anything but leisurious. They reminded me of the bench at a little league game. The most memorable moment sitting among the Bleacher Creatures happened when people sitting several rows in front of us attempting to start the wave. Yes the wave. Every time they tried to start the wave they were booed and told to “Take That Sh@$ Back To Shea!” Eventually stadium security and the New York Police Department stepped in. This was late in the game after beer could lower people’s inhibitions. Obviously the people threatening those trying to start the wave were removed by security. Wrong. Attempting to start the wave gets you removed to the cheers of the Bleacher Creatures. I might have missed something someone said or did, but I like to think they were arrested for attempting to start the wave at Yankee Stadium.
On the field, Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium with a fourth inning two run shot off Chris Waters to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. The Yankees would stretch out their lead in the sixth inning with a Jason Giambi RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano to score Brett Gardner. The tension was palpable in an otherwise meaningless game. Everyone wanted one last Yankee victory inside the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning.
The guitar riff blasted through the speakers. Metallica’s Enter Sandman filled the stadium. The greatest closer of all time was trotting in from the bullpen. 11 pitches and three groundouts later, Mariano Rivera closed Yankee Stadium.
Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
John and me after the game. Note the mounted police on the field to keep people off.(The Winning Run/JJ)
The celebration was not the World Series many envisioned to close Yankee Stadium, it was still special. Derek Jeter spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans and creating a bridge between the two stadiums. He was brief and to the point before leading the Yankees around the field to say goodbye. Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built and the House That Jeter Closed.
The game ended just before midnight. An era in baseball history was closed. No one wanted to leave. Grown men were tossing empty water bottles to the player’s kids on the warning track, begging them to fill the bottles with dirt before tossing them back. Every nook and cranny inside Yankee Stadium was filled with memories and the thought of never coming back was almost too much for some to bear. Normally at the end of a Major League game the ushers and security are quick to push you out of your seats. This was different, we stayed in our seats for an hour after the final out. The crowd was slow to disperse and the stadium staff did not have the usual urgency to clear the stadium. It was after 1 a.m. when we left Yankee Stadium. No one was in a hurry to leave the ghosts of baseball history alone in a now closed Yankee Stadium.
Stop me if you have heard this before, the Marlins have traded away their star player for peanuts and are once again in the midst of a fire sale. While this fire sale is not as shocking as those following their World Series victories in 1997 and 2003, it remains unsettling that a professional sports franchise could dismantle itself so many times in such a brief history.
Despite playing in a stadium that is only five years old and located near downtown Miami, the Marlins finished dead last in the National League in attendance. Miami drew just 1,583,014 fans, or 20,295 per home game. The ownership of Jeffrey Loria took a toll on the Marlins and their fans, and many hoped the new ownership group, with Yankees legend Derek Jeter as the face, would change the fortunes of the organization. Those hopes have died a quick and unceremonious death. Despite paying over $1 billion for the team, the new ownership group is reportedly seeking to slash the team payroll to from $121 million in 2017 to $55 million in 2018. Jeter and the rest of the ownership group are looking to cut roughly $66 million this offseason.
It is not difficult to trim $66 million from Miami’s payroll, so let’s look at what the team has already done and what is likely still to come to get down to that magical number. The signal by the new ownership to run a barebones operations makes using league minimum salary replacements all but certain any time a player is traded, released, or allowed to become a free agent. The minimum salary for Major League Baseball in 2018 will be $555,000. Drastically reducing salary in 2018, also means fewer committed dollars in the future, thus Miami’s payroll will remain low until the new ownership decides to raise it.
The beginning of Derek Jeter’s tenure with the Miami Marlins has not been smooth. (Jasen Vinlove/ USA TODAY Sports)
Looking at what Miami has already done this offseason, the gutting of the Fish has been quick, yet painful. First, the Marlins allowed three players to walk away in free agency. Veterans Ichiro Suzuki and A.J. Ellis, and reliever Dustin McGowan. While not the superstar he once was, Ichiro was still a productive fourth outfielder and pinch hitter for the Marlins. A.J. Ellis is a veteran backup catcher who can still play off the bench to give J.T. Realmuto (who is reportedly wants to be traded) a day off from time to time. McGowan was a workhorse for the Marlins coming out of the bullpen appearing in 63 games for the Marlins last year. In 2017, Ichiro was paid $2 million, Ellis $2.5 million, and McGowan $1.75 million; totaling $6.25 million. Replacing them with three players at league minimum, the Marlins will save $4.585 million in 2018, bringing the team payroll down to $116.415 million.
Next, Miami traded Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners for three minor league players; Robert Dugger, Nick Neidert, and Christopher Torres. Dugger is a 22 years old pitcher, who briefly pitched at AAA before being sent to A ball without sustaining an injury. Neidert is a 20 years old pitcher with a 6.56 ERA in 23 ⅓ innings at AA. Torres is 19 year old infielder who hit .238 in 52 games with a .895 fielding percentage in 190 chances, while committing 20 errors at low A ball. None of these prospects are Gordon’s replacement in Miami. The Marlins dumped Gordon’s $7.8 million salary to Seattle and saved $7.245 million. Bringing the Marlins payroll down to $109.17 million.
The biggest catch of the offseason was Miami trading Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for two minor leagues and Starlin Castro. Minor league pitcher Jorge Guzman and infielder Jose Devers. Guzman will be 22 at start of the 2018 season, and has never pitched above low A Staten Island. Devers is an 18 years old middle infielder who hit .246 and had a .932 fielding percentage in Rookie ball this season. Neither player is remotely close to making it to the Majors. Castro is a 27 year old middle infielder who can hit, which is a good, but is not a great return for Stanton. In reality he is Gordon’s replacement at second base. However, Castro has two years and $22.7 million left on his contract, with a $1 million buyout before the 2020 season. Most likely the Marlins will either flip Castro for more prospects or buy him out. Even if the Marlins have to pay Castro $10 million to go away by releasing him or paying another team to take him in a trade there is little chance he ever suits up for Miami. Despite an increase in salary over Gordon for 2018, the Marlins will save money moving forward as Castro’s contract is short and Miami avoids paying Stanton long-term, thus the short-term hit makes sense. The Marlins 2018 payroll is up to $119.17 million.
Giancarlo Stanton’s talent did not matter, it was his paycheck that caused him to be traded away from south Florida. (AP Photo/ Wilfredo Lee)
Ultimately the Stanton trade was a salary dump. The new ownership wanting out of potentially paying Stanton $295 million over the next 11 years. Trading their star slugger to the Yankees saved the Marlins a mint. The Yankees will pay $265 million, with the Marlins picking up the remaining $30 million. Stanton made $14.5 million in 2017, and replacing him at league minimum will save the Marlins $13.945 million in 2018. This brings Miami’s payroll down to $105.225 million.
After shipping Stanton to the Bronx for next to nothing Miami traded Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals for four minor leagues. Miami received Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen, and Daniel Castano. Alcantara appeared in 8 games for the Cardinals in 2017, posting a 4.32 ERA over 8 ⅓ innings. Sierra played 22 games for St. Louis in 2017 hitting .317 in 64 Plate Appearances. Gallen moved up from high A to AAA in 2017, posting a 2.93 ERA in 147 ⅔ innings. Castano pitched in low A in 2017 posting a 2.57 ERA in 91 innings. Arguably the Marlins got more in return for Ozuna than for Stanton. Ozuna made $3.5 million in arbitration in 2017, and that number will only going to go up. Ozuna has years of team control left, thus the Marlins were willing to move him before he got more expensive. The Marlins payroll has shrunk to $102.28 million.
Following Ozuna out the Marlins clubhouse was Edinson Volquez. Miami released Volquez, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not pitch until late 2018 if at all. Releasing Volquez as he entered the final year of his contract trimmed another $13 million from the Marlins payroll, bringing them down to $89.835 million.
Trimming the remaining $34.835 million from the Marlins payroll involves several unimaginative moves, none of which are as jolting as the Stanton, Gordon, or Ozuna trades. The next logical move for the tight fisted Marlins would be to trade Martin Prado. Derek Dietrich all but solidified himself as the Marlins third baseman in 2017 after Prado played just 37 games due to injury. Prado is 34 years old with two years left on his contract. He would be inviting for teams looking to win now, who could use a super utility player. Switching Dietrich, $1.7 million, for Prado, $13.5 million, would save Miami $11.8 million and bring their 2018 payroll to $78.035 million.
Injuries in 2017 showed that Derek Dietrich could replace Martin Prado at third for the Marlins and save Miami millions. (Mark Brown/ Getty Images)
The remaining core players in the field at this point are J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich, and Christian Yelich. Realmuto is making only slightly above league minimum entering his third season in the Majors, thus his salary is still low and his value is all but certain to continue to grow before the Marlins can trade him for several prospects, although Realmuto wants out of Miami now. Dietrich is an emerging young player that the Marlins can afford for several more years and the team can point to as hope for the future. While Yelich’s salary goes up to $7 million in 2018, the Marlins know they cannot trade him. Miami signed Yelich through the 2022 season and attempting to trade him this offseason could cause Major League Baseball to step in for the good of baseball. Yelich is not happy with Miami’s offseason fire sale, but there is little he can do. The Marlins can salary dump but they do have to pay someone something and pretend they are trying to win.
Every team wanting to contend needs bullpen depth. The Marlins could cut cost by trading Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to teams looking for bullpen arms. Ziegler appeared in 53 games and Tazawa 55 games. Both showed durability which teams need late in the season. Miami does not need great middle relief with the rest of the team has been gutted, it is best to trade away these arms too. Trading these relievers for prospects would mean shedding $14 million in payroll, and saving $12.89 million. The Marlins would go into the 2018 season with a team payroll of $65.145 million.
The final piece to the tear down would be trading away Wei-Yin Chen. Chen is a solid starter in his early 30’s who could solidify the back-end of a rotation. Teams could take a chance that Chen has a bounce back season in 2018. Miami should expect trade offers on par with Kerry Lightenberg, who the Atlanta Braves received for twelve dozen baseballs and two dozen bats from the Minneapolis Loons. Miami should find takers for Chen, thus saving themselves another $10 million, putting their 2018 payroll at $55.7 million. Trimming that last $700,000 should not be too difficult.
It does not take a wild imagination to create a world where the Marlins have a $55 million payroll at the start of the 2018 season. Allowing older players to walk in free agency, trading current stars for theoretically good prospects, trading solid major league players for prospects, and buying out veterans to not play for you is how you gut a team. The Marlins could be under $55 million if Castro is willing to take less than half what is owed him to walk away from Miami.
This is at least the third time the Marlins have rebuilt since they began play in 1993. It is shameful that Major League Baseball did not do its due diligence in how the new ownership would run the team. The Dodgers got a new owner who was focused on winning after Major League Baseball stepped in and all but forced their old owner to sell after it became clear he was focused on only making money not fielding a competitive team. Why has this not happened in south Florida? Time will tell if Miami will ever have a respectable owner that cares about winning. If early returns are any indication of future results it is not looking great for Marlins fan, if there are any left.
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.
The New York Yankees are at it again. Instead of building their team up through the draft, through trades involving minor leaguers or non-super star major league players, along with the occasional signing of a top tier player, they are just buying high priced talent. The New York Yankees are trying to buy their 28th World Series title and it is ruining baseball. They tried to blind us with a smoke screen that they were going to get below the luxury tax limit of $189 million. We did not fall for it because the Yankees never change. Or have they?
The New York Yankees were able to contain themselves and allowed the Seattle Mariners to sign Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million contract. Instead of maintaining their status quo with an excellent second baseman while not addressing the other holes they have on their roster. They were able to address their need at catcher, starting pitching, and in the outfield. Yes they will take a step back at second base, but overall the team will be improved, which is necessary to stay competitive in the American League East.
Brian Cashman signed Brian McCann 5 year, $85 million. While he will be an improvement at catcher, I unfortunately do not believe McCann is a long term solution at catcher. He has already caught 8820 1/3 inning in his nine year career. He should eventually transition to be a full time DH or first baseman. Even this transition will allow the Yankees to address another need they will have once Mark Teixeira’s contract ends.
The Yankees made Carlos Beltran’s dream come true by signing him to a 3 year $45 million contract. He will be a major upgrade in the outfield for the Bronx Bombers and in their lineup. However, the major concerns regarding Beltran is where time will finally catch up to him. Every time baseball is ready to write him off he comes roaring back, eventually he will not be able to come back at the level he and the Yankees expect. Beltran’s injury history should also make coming back from the injuries that occur throughout the season more and more difficult as the contract goes on. Beltran’s contract could go either way; he could be a steal for the Yankees or his contract could be a short term disaster.
Speed never goes into a slump, however those legs can get hurt. The Yankees are hoping Jacoby Ellsbury and his 7 year, $153 million contract rack up stolen bases and not doctors visits. An outfield of Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, and Ichiro could be a deadly trio if it was five years ago. Soriano has steadily dropped at the plate and hit fielding abilities have never spectacular. Ichiro is on the back half of his legendary career, though I would still ant him on my team even though he will be 40 this coming year. Ellsbury can chase down balls that Soriano and Ichiro can no longer reach and can turn a single into a double or more, plus steal at least 50 bases when he is healthy. Ellsbury is a tremendous upgrade in the outfield, but if he is hampered by leg injuries his greatest weapon and most valuable asset could be compromised.
Masahiro Tanaka and I have something in common. Neither of us has played a single inning in Major League Baseball. However Tanaka has 7 years, $155 million to prove he has more potential between the base lines than I do. Tanaka will face the same pressures that every highly touted rookie faces, can he do it against the best players in the world. The Nippon Professional Baseball is arguable the second best baseball league in the world, even better than AAA in the United States or any domestic league in the Caribbean. Despite dominating in Japan, Tanaka still has doubters concerning his abilities on the mound. Tanaka has plenty to prove and if he can successfully transition to the Bronx the Yankees will have potentially dominate pitchers one through three in their rotation. They can mix and match to get by with a struggling back end of the rotation. However if Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and/ or Hiroki Kuroda struggle the bullpen could be exhausted before the All Star Break and the Bronx faithful could be in for a long summer.
The Yankees are back to being the Yankees, so of. They went out and paid premium players above premium prices to fill in the holes on their roster. They avoided going after the single biggest catch, Robinson Cano, so they could build a team which could and should at minimum remain in the playoff picture until September. The Yankees are aging and without much exceptional talent in their farm system, when compared to their expectations, the Yankees are pushed into paying top dollar for free agents. The Bronx is a destination but eventually the Yankees must begin developing their own talent and at cheaper prices. Signing the best in the game works, but eventually those players age and you are left with a team that cannot spend its way out of aging. The Yankees must begin a youth movement, and that push needs to begin now in earnest both in the Bronx and in their minor league system.