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.
Single season records can be reached without the need for a career filled with success. Players only need to have a single magical season to reach these marks. Think Roger Maris in 1961 or even a career year like Mark Fidrych in 1976. The toughest record to beat now may be the single season hits record. Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits in 2004, finally topping George Sisler’s single season record of 257 hits that had stood since 1920. There have been 530 individual efforts where a player collected at least 200 hits in a season. Many players have had multiple 200 hit seasons, with Ichiro and Pete Rose holding the record with ten 200 hit seasons.
200 hits in a single season is not a rare accomplishment. We’ve seen, over the last several seasons, a handful of players collecting 200 hits. However, the Houston Astros have the talent to potentially do something no team has ever done by having four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season. Only three times in Major League history has a team had three teammates collect 200 hits in the same season, but never a fourth. The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1991 Texas Rangers had three teammates collect 200 hits. Teammates who are able to consistently hit and get on base does not necessarily translate to success. The 1963 Cardinals finished 2nd in the National League, 6 games behind the Dodgers for the Pennant. The 1982 Brewers lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. The 1991 Rangers finished 3rd in the American League West, 10 games behind the Twins. Success in baseball is a team effort. Simply having a third or more of your lineup hitting all season does not mean you can be lackluster elsewhere.
Jose Altuve is Houston’s best hitter. 200 hits a season is close to automatic. (Elaine Thompson, STF)
The 2017 Houston Astros could be the first team to have four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season thanks to the ABC’S. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Jose Altuve is a hitting machine, for whom not collecting 200 hits in a season would make it a down year. Altuve has collected at least 200 hits in three out of five full seasons in the Majors. Bregman has hit at every level in college and in the minors and should continue to develop into an outstanding consistent bat in the Houston lineup. Bregman played in only 146 minor league games after being drafted by Houston out of LSU. Starting at A Ball, Bregman batted .259, High A .319, AA .297, and AAA .333. Bregman can hit and he is starting to settle in with the Astros. Correa is a do it all super star in the making. Entering his third full season in the Majors, Correa continues to improve his strikeout to walk rate. Correa is still learning to hit at the Major League level and his strikeout rate should continue to decline. George Springer is an everyday player who can reach 200 hits simply by cutting down on his strikeouts and focusing on hitting singles and doubles instead of swinging for the fences. In 2016, his first full healthy season in the Majors, Springer hit 29 doubles and 29 home runs with 88 walks and 178 strikeouts. If he can combine plate discipline to draw more walks and cutting down on his big swings to strike out less, perhaps down to 125 times a season, that may translate to 50 more balls in play each season. Springer collected 168 hits against those 178 strikeouts. 50 more balls in play could mean collecting 200 hits.
Alex Bregman is still getting comfortable in the Majors, but he has shown from college through the minors and in Houstn that he can hit. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The ability to hit and get on base will become slightly easier as opposing teams may prefer to face Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and/or Springer than give up crushing scores to the big bats behind them in the lineup. Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann can all launch a baseball over the fence with cautionary frequency. Every night at least two of the three power bats will be protecting Houston’s hit parade. Every night is a new nightmare for opposing pitchers. They’re faced with either a swift destruction from power or the drowning quicksand from a constant stream of singles here and doubles there.
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch has had George Springer leading off, setting the stage for Jose Altuve batting third and Carlos Correa batting fourth. Once the speed and contact have put the pressure on opposing pitchers Hinch has had Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and/or Evan Gattis batting fourth or fifth in nearly every game. Alex Bregman has most often worked to reset the stage by batting eighth, but he also has the second most at bats in the Astros lineup batting second or sixth. Bregman appears to be the utility batter for Houston as he can help the Astros turn the batting order over or he can fill in to help set the stage for Altuve, Correa, or the power of Beltran, McCann, or Gattis.
Is there anything Carlos Correa can’t do on the diamond? (Brace Hemmelgam/Getty Images)
There are three major factors that may hamper the quest for four single-season, 200-hit teammates for the 2017 Astros. First is the relative youth of Bregman, Correa, and Springer. Slumps and growing pains are often a matter of when, not if, especially for younger hitters. Every batter struggles at one point in their career in some way, past success does not guarantee future success. Second, injuries. The Major League season is a 162 game grind that breaks down even the strongest and toughest players in the world. The Astros are not immune to injuries and missing even a week or more could put 200 hits out of reach for a player. Third, Houston currently has an 8 game lead in the American League West over the Angels and the Rangers. Any sized lead can disappear over the next four months, but with each passing day the Astros make it a little more difficult to be caught. If the Astros run away with the West, A.J. Hinch could decide to rest his players down the stretch, meaning losing at bats and potential hits to rest them for the playoffs.
George Springer can hit plenty of home runs, but his greatest value for the Astros might be getting on base ahead of Houston’s sluggers. (AP Photo/ David J. Phillip)
There are plenty of ifs peppered in the scenario of the Astros having four teammates collect 200 hits in 2017. The Astros’ core is young, the years of tanking have finally provided Houston the draft positioning to get the team they sought all along. A young, dynamic team that is built to win both now and in the future. The quartet of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Springer may never collect 200 hits in a season, but 2017 seems to be the first real opportunity for them to make a run at this particular landmark record. The hit parade in Houston is fun to watch and so far has resulted in plenty of wins for the Astros. The hits record would be nice, but the Astros are only concerned with winning their first World Series.
One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.
Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)
Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.
I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.
Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.
There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.
The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)
Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.
Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)
Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.
Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?
What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)
Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.
2015 has been a wonderful year for baseball. Baseball has been everywhere from Spring Training and Opening Day to playing catch in the backyard and playing a friendly season of fantasy. The big moments like the Royals winning the World Series can be just as special as feeling the pop of the ball when it hits your glove. Everyone experiences baseball differently. As 2015 comes to an end the staff of The Winning Run wanted to share our best moments from baseball in 2015.
Spending three days going through the National Baseball Hall of Fame was the highlight of 2015 for me. I literally moved inch by inch through the museum, reading every plaque and sign, look at every picture and artifact on display. Seeing everything from the baseball used in the first game in which spectators had to pay to watch, to the glove used by Willie Mays to make The Catch, to the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery. Three days and at least 24 hours may seem like an extraordinarily long time to spend inside of a museum, however when it was time to leave Cooperstown I found myself rushing to finish seeing everything.
Visiting Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame only increased my passion for the game. While the museum is just a building and Cooperstown is just a small town, there is something magical about both. 2015 has been a year of transitions for me personally and professionally. Visiting Cooperstown allowed me to be a kid again, even for a weekend. Walking through the Hall of Fame with the same wide eyes I have had since I first fell in love with the game only solidified why baseball is and forever will be special.
Fantasy baseball. I was mesmerized by Madison Bumgardner and the SF Giants in the 2014 World Series and was really excited to get back into watching baseball in 2015. Fantasy was such a pleasure because it helped me keep on track with news and yet had to pace myself to get through the week and season. There were plenty of great baseball moments but the overall winner that made the experiences more enjoyable started with playing fantasy baseball this season.
So 2015 is almost over and we think back on what a year it was. That’s a tough assignment when I’m sitting outside grilling in shorts in the last week of December. I should have a baseball game on instead of Christmas lights. But this does aid in recapping my best memory of baseball this season.
This season was my year of watching it on tv. I did not get a chance to travel and catch any games and only saw a handful of Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves games. A lot happened around the league but I’m going to share a personal trip to a Gwinnett Braves game in June. I remember the day because I was stuck on the stairs watching Max Sherzer flirt with perfection. I took the family to what turned out to be Back to the Future Night at the stadium so it was fairly attended. I got us seats down the first base line but in the outfield part that juts back into the field. I brought my glove this time and was determined to catch a foul even with the pessimist behind me ho thought no baseball could make it that far. As luck would have it a foul came my way in the fourth and I made a pretty spectacular play in my opinion and snagged in on the fly while crashing onto someone who ran into our row. I high fived and showed the girls our souvenir much to their non-caring.
By the seventh they mentioned the silent auction going on for the jerseys the home team was wearing for the promotion, so after conferring with our other writer Jesse, who’s as much a Back to the Future fan as a baseball fan, I decided to try my luck. I brought the older child and found a relief pitcher with no bids. I bid with a few minutes left and had the child stand in front and smile at other potential bidders. This guy was ours. We won, paid and were told to come back so we could go on the field to aquire our winnings. I brought the family unit down, hung out til the final out, and then was allowed on field to wait for our guy and his “game worn” jersey that did all of allowing him into the bullpen without credentials. He autographed the jersey for the girls and even signed my fly ball from earlier.
Even though the game was only seen by the crowd in attendance and didn’t help the standings at all, it brought memories and a story I can share for many years to come. I believe baseball is more than just what is happening in the majors or in the headlines. It’s about experiences and sharing your enjoyment of the sport with the ones you love. I am happy that my best memory of 2015 was personal and shared with my family. Happy New Year.
The best things that I ended up doing and/or experiencing baseball related in the year of our Lord, two thousand and fifteen are as follows (dates and order are questionable at best) Any pics that aren’t noted as being borrowed from the internets were taken myself or another member of the Winning Run. Enjoy.
For such a small town, the amount of fun that I had there was better than I could have expected. Only thing I’m disappointed about is that I didn’t see the ball that Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez busted the guts out of.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York (The Winning Run)
Walking among the legends of baeball. (The Winning Run)
Otsego Lake, a short walk from Main Street and the Hall of Fame. (The Winning Run)
Baseball game for my Dad’s birthday
Managed to score some pretty low seats at the Braves on the 3rd base side for my dad’s birthday. Just went with my mom and dad. We were low enough that we were able to see Ron Gant a few rows in front of us. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to check his Twitter account very often. I was hoping to get a pic of him and Dad together.
Jesse enjoying a Braves game with the parents on Dad’s birthday. (The Winning Run)
In a quote I picked up the pages of history (not sure if it comes from Napoleon or Stalin, don’t care) “quantity has a quality all its own.” Thanks to the beauty of online retail and a secondary ticket market, I was able to see a MUCH larger number of MLB games this year. Yay internets.
Thunder and lightning on and off the diamond in Atlanta. (The Winning Run)
The sky was on fire. (The Winning Run)
It is never a bad day if it is spent at the ballpark. (The Winning Run)
The Force is strong with these Tomahawks. (The Winning Run)
After working in an unairconditioned shop in the middle of summer near the exact center of the Everglades (the place was exactly 2 hours from EVERYWHERE in Florida, a true geographic anomaly), I decided to drive to Miami and look for Will Smith. I didn’t run into him, sadly, but I did manage to go to a Marlins game and have very low seats. I was probably as close to Ichiro as I’ll ever be, and that was titillating all on its own. Also, if for nothing else, the bobblehead museum is worth the ticket price.
Inside Marlins Park, watching Ichiro up close and personal. (The Winning Run)
The Bobblehead Museum at Marlins Park in all its glory. (The Winning Run)
Minor League Baseball
Minor League Baseball is my jam. I love the stuff. I can’t say that there is a better bang for your buck in the entertainment world. This year I managed to sit directly behind the net at the local team (the Gwinnett Braves), thanks to buying an A/C, I saw a dog act as ball boy AND run the bases (Myrtle Beach Pelicans), and I walked up to a craft beer and unlimited hot dog night (Chattanooga Lookouts). That was a fun night on the Twitters. It was a good thing that I was only walking two blocks back to the hotel that night.
The batboy for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans at work. (The Winning Run)
Watching the Chattanooga Lookouts play on a warm summer eveing. (The Winning Run)
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans shoot to thrill. (The Winning Run)
Baseball, beer, and hot dogs. What more do you need? (The Winning Run)
Enjoying a lookouts game and a beer. (The Winning Run)
No food is more baseball than hot dogs. (The Winning Run)
Fantasy Baseball has become a great way to sit and talk about the minutia of the day’s baseball awesomeness. This year I managed to get my girlfriend, and now wife, talked into playing. Once she got the basics of what should be going on, she became dangerous. Dammit.
I’ve only watched a few college games live, but this year’s first game was at Gardner-Webb University. Yay baseball’s back.
The 2015 playoffs were some of the most enjoyable to watch in a long time. I simultaneously wanted the Cubbies to win to fulfil their Back to the Future density (yes I meant “density”. Watch Back to the Future if you don’t get it), but I longed for the curse to stay in tact at the same time. Daniel Murphy seemed to be able to do no wrong (until the WS at least). Then there was the “slide” Take a look at the pic, you’ll remember it.
My now son/stepson/boogerface (still working on the naming conventions) confided in me that his favorite team wasn’t the Braves. Mind you that he isn’t much for baseball, of which I intend to learn him in the ways of the base on balls, but he came to me in a bit of a quiet tone to inform me that he liked the Marlins. I was a little take aback, UNTIL I heard the reasoning. His favorite player is Ichiro. He likes the way he tugs at his shirt when he comes to the plate. Sounds like a great reason to me.
Hell Froze Over
Citi Field. It was cold. We were in the nosebleed. It was cold. We rode the 7 train. It was cold. It was cold.
I found a complete set of Fleer baseball cards from 1989 at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (kinda like a Goodwill for non clothing stuff). Welcome to the Bigs Mr.Griffey. Also, I sadly got the edited version of Billy Ripken’s card. So close.
My First True Doubleheader
Manage to make it to my first true MLB doubleheader on the last day of the regular season. That seems like an awesome way to go into the dark dreary non baseball time of year.
It’s a beautiful day for baseball, let’s play two. Lots of fans came dressed as empty seats. (The Winning Run)
I got a baseball signed by Matt Cain to go along with my ticket from my perfect game. Time to make a display for that awesomeness.
The Nationals didn’t win.
2015 was the most exciting and successful year for The Winning Run. There was so much in and around baseball that we were able to experience. Baseball is special in that you can always feel like a kid even when you have played, watched, and followed the game for decades. While it is impossible to see and experience everything that makes baseball wonderful, we will not stop in our quest to achieve the impossible. We hope our efforts in sharing our love and knowledge of the game have added to your enjoyment of baseball in 2015.
Happy New Year,
The Winning Run
Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch. Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players. Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch. These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in. Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.
The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older. Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays. It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field. There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays. Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.
These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few. Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness. When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions. Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one. He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium. While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception. It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions. Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium. I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented. Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.
I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special. Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates. Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me. Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me. If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it. The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.
The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye. He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate. He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it. Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be. He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it. He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed. Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them. If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm. Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary. Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner. Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood. A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.
I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television. The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero. Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person. There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.
The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta. This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year. Interleague play did not start until 1997. This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone. Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds. There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up. So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds. I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey. His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries. Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field. Jeter was New York cool, suave. Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric. His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did. Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size. You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind. Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him. As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.
Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not. Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos. Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did. It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town. Not sure why, just the way it worked out. Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm. The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them. Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit. It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends. If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see. Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield. He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate. Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball. Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well. The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm. There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners. Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well. What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless. He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach. Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.
The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open. You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions. Baseball is a team sport played by individuals. These individuals are what make the game great. Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs. Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing. Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town. Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory. There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play. No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch. Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person. We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.
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.