The Winning Run is back again with another attempt at predicting the outcome of the upcoming MLB season. The last two seasons we have tried and failed miserably to accurately predict what would happen. We have failed much more than we have found success, much like in real baseball. These predictions are not designed to jinx particular players or teams. These are honest predictions, designed to predict how we collectively see the 2016 season playing out. We can say without a doubt that our only perfect prediction is that reality is better than fiction.
Carnac the Magnificent knew what was going to happen, The Winning Run not so much. (The Tonght Show with Johnny Carson)
Here’s the breakdown of how we each think the divisions and playoffs will end up. Our final standings, based on the average placement between the four of us, will also include a brief scouting report from Bernie, as to what he sees in each team heading into the 2016 MLB season. His personal predictions were close to the collective predictions, and we have noted where they vary greatly.
Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.
*Note* An exclamation point (!) after a team name denotes a Wild Card berth.
|1||New York Mets||New York Mets||New York Mets||New York Mets|
|2||Washington Nationals – !||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals||Miami Marlins|
|3||Miami Marlins||Miami Marlins||Miami Marlins||Washington Nationals|
|4||Atlanta Braves||Atlanta Braves||Philadelphia Phillies||Atlanta Braves|
|5||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies||Atlanta Braves||Philadelphia Phillies|
- New York Mets:
The Mets shored up their interior defense by getting Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. If you watched last season’s playoff games, the Mets’ rotation always seemed to get beaten up the middle. Those guys will also likely provide a lot more consistent offense than Wilmer Flores or Daniel Murphy. The Mets are looking to play deep into October and I think they could do it.
2. Washington Nationals:
The Nationals are really the team equivalent of their star player, Bryce Harper; supremely talented, but mentally dysfunctional. There is a serious lack of team discipline and I don’t think Dusty Baker is the one to bring it. This is the major hurdle to the Nationals winning the division.
The question is will Dusty baker help the Nationals reach their potential. (Logan Bowles- USA Today Sports)
3. Miami Marlins:
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract has me believing that the Marlins are in it to win it now. They’ve always been good at developing talent so Manager Don Mattingly should have something to work with and collect some wins.
4. Atlanta Braves:
The Braves did some house cleaning, clearing the way for the wealth of talent in the minors. I’ve got to question whether they can generate any more runs this year than they did last year though. But they won’t be in last place.
5. Philadelphia Phillies:
I really shouldn’t have to say anything about this. No real change to expect anything better this year.
|1||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|2||Pittsburgh Pirates||St. Louis Cardinals – !||Pittsburgh Pirates – !||Chicago Cubs – !|
|3||St. Louis Cardinals||Pittsburgh Pirates||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
|4||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewers||Cinncinati Reds||Cinncinati Reds|
|5||Milwaukee Brewers||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewers||Milwaukee Brewers|
- Chicago Cubs:
Let’s be honest, they’re the Cubs. If they’re going to win it, it’s as Cinderella (Bernie has them going into the playoffs as a Wild Card). Chicago needs that storyline. I really like their rotation and bullpen but they overworked Jake Arrieta because they didn’t trust enough of their other players. That’s got to change.
- Pittsburgh Pirates – !:
I liked the way AJ Burnett found himself in Pittsburgh and I think Jonathon Niese may very well have the same sort of fortune in the Steel City. Michael Morse was a fun guy to watch in Washington, I’m going out on a limb to say he finds himself again and becomes a solid 1B for the Pirates this season. I’m still puzzled how these guys didn’t win the division last season.
- St. Louis Cardinals:
Last year, El Birdos found the fountain of youth for their stars. If it happens again this year, then the zombie apocalypse has started with Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. Or maybe they need to be checked out for cybernetic implants.
Kris Bryant is heping lead the strongest Cubs team since those uniforms were not retro. (Jonathan Danil/ Getty Images)
- Cincinnati Reds:
The Cincinnati Reds may have done some house cleaning having traded away Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman. They still have some talent that I wouldn’t count out. What they definitely aren’t doing is wallowing.
- Milwaukee Brewers:
Speaking of wallowing…you’ve got to wonder about the Brewers’ pitching. Like at what point do you ask whether you’d have better luck regularly shuffling up from your AAA squads just to give you opponents less time to scout out your pitchers.
|1||San Francisco Giants||Los Angeles Dodgers||Los Angeles Dodgers||San Francisco Giants|
|2||Los Angeles Dodgers – !||Arizona Diamondbacks -!||Arizona Diamondbacks – !||Arizona Diamondbacks – !|
|3||Arizona Diamondbacks||San Francisco Giants||San Francisco Giants||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|4||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres|
|5||Colorado Rockies||Colorado Rockies||Colorado Rockies||Colorado Rockies|
- Los Angeles Dodgers:
I’m not sure what the Dodgers were thinking during the off-season. What I am certain of is that letting Zack Greinke go and shuffling the management is not a good thing to do for some of the young guns on the team like Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. If they had kept everything the same, I would have put them in first place for the division. (Bernie predicted the Dodgers to finish 3rd)
- San Francisco Giants – !:
I don’t really think pitching was their weakest issue last season but I think they are going into 2016 with one of the most enviable rotations a manager could ask for. I’m not completely sold on Santiago Casilla and bullpen. If Denard Span can stay healthy, he’s a great addition to a strong lineup that is capable of getting the ball in play and moving around the bases.
- Arizona Diamondbacks:
Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt. Shelby Miller will get the run support he needed in Atlanta. But I don’t see enough depth here to remain consistent through the season. The bullpen can probably step in to help out the back end of the rotation. The lineup is young. Maybe they’re more disciplined and hungry than I think and could be a definite Wild Card contender.
Were the Dodgers Crazy to let Zack Greinke leave Los Angeles? (Rick Scuteri- USA Today Sports)
- San Diego Padres:
The only reason I’m putting the Padres over the Rockies is that they made some interesting pushes last season that indicate to me they could get it together. Doesn’t mean there’s enough talent here to make the playoffs though.
- Colorado Rockies:
The worst team ERA in 2015 and that’s with a pretty talented defensive infield. I’m surprised the fielders have enough gas in the tank to swing a bat when they’ve got to run around chasing hits all the time.
|1||Toronto Blue Jays||Toronto Blue Jays||New York Yankees||Toronto Blue Jays|
|2||Boston Red Sox – !||Tampa Bay Rays||Boston Red Sox||Baltimore Orioles – !|
|3||New York Yankees||New York Yankees||Toronto Blue Jays||Boston Red Sox|
|4||Tampa Bay Rays||Baltimore Orioles||Baltimore Orioles||New York Yankees|
|5||Baltimore Orioles||Boston Red Sox||Tampa Bay Rays||Tampa Bay Rays|
The American League East was the hardest division to predict, as an argument could be made for each team winning the Division. Here are Bernie’s thoughts.
- Toronto Blue Jays:
Biggest run differential of the 2015 season. Picking up Drew Storen was a great move to support their starting rotation. This team has what it takes on paper.
- New York Yankees:
There’s no point in having three of the best relief pitchers in the league when you don’t have a strong enough rotation to have them shortening the games. Lots of experience but not the cohesiveness you see in the Cardinals. But these predictions are supposed to go wildly wrong and, in this case, I sincerely hope I am. (Bernie has the Yankees finishing 4th)
- Boston Red Sox:
Ugh…I feel sick doing this. The Red Sox needed some serious pitching help. Clay Bucholz simply isn’t an ace. So they got one in David Price. They also picked up Craig Kimbrel so they’ve a good bullpen punch with him and Koji Uehara. As David Ortiz will be riding into the sunset this season, the Red Sox will be a good team to watch.
Can David Ortiz deliver one last magical run into October? (Elsa/ Getty Images)
- Baltimore Orioles:
There’s a lot of great talent on this team. They’ve got a great rotation and bullpen with two highly competent catchers. I would somewhat question their interior defense but with Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and new addition, Mark Trumbo, the Orioles have got a lot of heavy bats to knock in runs.
- Tampa Bay Rays:
This is a well-balanced pitching and defensive team but nothing exciting enough to write home about on the offensive side.
|1||Kansas City Royals||Kansas City Royals||Minnesota Twins||Kansas City Royals|
|2||Detroit Tigers – !||Cleveland Indians – !||Kansas City Royals – !||Cleveland Indians – !|
|3||Cleveland Indians||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers||Detroit Tigers|
|4||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Tigers||Cleveland Indians||Minnesota Twins|
|5||Minnesota Twins||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox|
- Kansas City Royals:
They’re the champs so it’s sort of needed to give them the nod for their division. Plus, the 2015 squad wasn’t made up of veterans in the twilight of their careers reaching deep down for that extra something to win it all. They’re young and agile. They get on base. They aggressively move around the bases. No one’s yet figured out how to stop them or slow them down.
- Cleveland Indians – !:
These guys have a surprisingly good rotation with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Cody Anderson. When I say surprisingly, I’m saying that how did they not win more? Francisco Lindor is young and if he’s coming into form, then we could be seeing a Wild Card contender here.
Francisco Lindor could help the Indians win a tough American League Central. (www.cleveland.com)
- Detroit Tigers:
Jordan Zimmermann is not David Price and I’ll let you figure out whether that’s a good or bad thing. I actually think Justin Upton was a good pick up for the Tigers but I’m not convinced they can make the jump from bottom of the division to much higher.
- Minnesota Twins:
I want to put this team higher but I think their second place divisional finish last season was more due to mishaps from other teams than their own solid play. Don’t get me wrong though, they’re on the right track. Just not this season.
- Chicago White Sox:
The addition of Todd Frazier will help them generate some more offense. But is the increased offense a wash after losing the veteran leadership of Adam LaRoche to early retirement (more on that later)? Whenever issues involving a front-office exec doing something about the locker room make the news, you just know there’s some serious dysfunction going on.
|1||Houston Astros||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Houston Astros||Houston Astros|
|2||Texas Rangers||Houston Astros – !||Texas Rangers – !||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim|
|3||Seattle Mariners||Seattle Mariners||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Texas Rangers|
|4||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
|5||Oakland Athletics||Texas Rangers||Seattle Mariners||Seattle Mariners|
- Houston Astros:
I was really impressed by how the Houston Astros finished off the 2015 season. Something clicked and I think they’re going to ride this wave. Adding Ken Giles to the backend of the bullpen already featuring Luke Gregerson makes up a dangerous one-two punch to shorten games.
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – !:
I think the bigger reason I’m putting the Angels here instead of the Rangers is more on Rangers. I think Albert Pujols will still be remarkably dangerous in the batter’s box. Something about the balance on this team with Mike Trout’s hustle gives me a good feeling.
Can any one challenge Mike Trout for AL MVP? (www.nbcsports.com)
- Texas Rangers:
The Rangers are not going to take the proper steps to recover. I’m calling that they’re going to try starting the season hot and aggressive. By the All-Star break, this team will be on life support and need some serious therapy. But in reality, they look a better version on the Angels and since this prediction will be wildly off, they may very well win the division again.
- Seattle Mariners:
Nori Aoki was a good pick up to strengthen their outfield and improve getting on base. They’re going to rely too heavily on their rotation to go deep to win games and that’s not good for Felix Hernandez nor Hisashi Iwakuma.
- Oakland Athletics:
If Marcus Semien were a better fielder, I’d have more faith in this infield. On paper, this team would be a solid 2nd place team in the division. I just can’t make that call.
October is special, as the best baseball is on display and tensions continually grow throughout the month. The playoffs begin with the Wild Card games, which are a one game winner take all showdown. Wild Card teams better bring everything they have, or they will be on vacation.
|NL Winner||NL Loser||AL Winner||AL Loser|
|Derek||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers||Boston Red Sox||Detroit Tigers|
|Jesse||Arizona Diamondback||St. Louis Cardinals||Cleveland Indians||Houston Astros|
|John||Pittsburgh Pirates||Arizona Diamondbacks||Kansas City Royals||Texas Rangers|
|Bernie||Chicago Cubs||Arizona Diamondbacks||Cleveland Indians||Baltimore Orioles|
|The Winning Run||Pittsburgh Pirates||San Francisco Giants||Cleveland Indians||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim|
In the National League, the Pirates will finally get out of the Wild Card round. Gerrit Cole will have carried the pitching staff throughout the season, so why not one more game. In the American League, the Indians strong starting rotation will have saved the Cleveland bullpen and allow fresh arms to come out of the pen and dominate the Angels hitters when the pressure is on.
Garrit Cole will lead the Pirates charge into the playoffs. (Peter Diana- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
American League Divisional Series
|ALDS 1/4 Winner||ALDS 1/4 Loser||ALDS 2/3 Winner||ALDS 2/3 Loser|
|Derek||Houston Astros||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Blue Jays||Kansas City Royals|
|Jesse||Kansas City Royals||Cleveland Indians||Toronto Blue Jays||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim|
|John||Minnesota Twins||Kansas City Royals||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|Bernie||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Royals||Houston Astros||Toronto Blue Jays|
|The Winning Run||Toronto Blue Jays||Cleveland Indians||Houston Astros||Kansas City Royals|
National League Divisional Series
|NLDS 1/4 Winner||NLDS 1/4 Loser||NLDS 2/3 Winner||NLDS 2/3 Loser|
|Derek||San Francisco Giants||Washington Nationals||Chicago Cubs||New York Mets|
|Jesse||New York Mets||Arizona Diamondbacks||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|John||New York Mets||Pittsburgh Pirates||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Bernie||San Francisco Giants||New York Mets||Pittsburgh Pirates||Chicago Cubs|
|The Winning Run||Chicago Cubs||Pittsburgh Pirates||New York Mets||Los Angeles Dodgers|
In the National League, the Pirates will not be able to overtake the Cubs. The Pirates are a great team, but they have the misfortune of playing in the NL Central where the best team in baseball, the Cubs, also plays. The young arms from Queens and a more predictable offense will lead the Mets past the Dodgers who will miss Zack Greinke more in October than during the regular season. In the American League, the Astros will continue to play complete baseball and overcome the Royals, who after back to back trips to the World Series will finally run out of gas. While Cleveland’s pitching led them to the playoffs, it will be no match for the offensive power of the Blue Jays. Josh Donaldson is the reigning AL MVP, and yet he is most likely not the chief offensive threat for Toronto, as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista can launch a baseball with the best in the game.
Byron Buxton and the Twins could make some noise, potentially even make the playoffs. (Scott Kane- Associated Press)
American League Championship Series
|ALCS Winner||ALCS Loser|
|Derek||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Astros|
|Jesse||Toronto Blue Jays||Kansas City Royals|
|John||Houston Astros||Minnesota Twins|
|Bernie||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians|
|The Winning Run||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Astros|
National League Championship Series
|NLCS Winner||NLCS Loser|
|Derek||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants|
|Jesse||New York Mets||Chicago Cubs|
|John||Chicago Cubs||New York Mets|
|Bernie||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|The Winning Run||Chicago Cubs||New York Mets|
A rematch of the 2015 NLCS. Two great teams, but the Cubs finally get over the hump and return to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs are a year older and wiser and have extraordinary talent at bat and on the mound. The Mets are a great team, but they lack the offensive prowess to overcome the Cubs. In the American League, Toronto will find out that teams cannot rely on power to guide them to a championship, there has to be a backup plan. The Blue Jays are not flexible enough to meet this challenge. The Astros have built a potential juggernaut in Houston, which relies on power, pitching, speed, defense, and hustle. Houston wins by the sum of its parts.
|World Series Winner||World Series Loser|
|Derek||Toronto Blue Jays||Chicago Cubs|
|Jesse||Toronto Blue Jays||New York Mets|
|John||Chicago Cubs||Houston Astros|
|Bernie||San Francisco Giants||Houston Astros|
|The Winning Run||Houston Astros||Chicago Cubs|
Sorry Cub fans, you will have to wait until next year…again. The Astros win it all in 2016. The speed of Jose Altuve, the power of Evan Gattis, the starting pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the bullpen of Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson, the all-around ability of Carlos Correa, not to mention George Springer and Carlos Gomez puts Houston over the top. The Cubs have everything to win. The young core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, plus Javier Baez all can continue to grow with a solid rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey. However, the Cubs are missing that it factor. Joe Madden will get the Cubs o click eventually, but in 2016 they will come one game short of that ever elusive World Series Championship.
It will be time to celebrate in Houston this October. (Houston Chronicle)
So there they are, the 2016 predictions by The Winning Run. Are we right about all our predictions, doubtful. Only time will tell how right or wrong we were with these predictions. Welcome to the 2016 MLB season, enjoy another great season of baseball.
DJ, JJ, JB, & BL
Every time a major free agent signs with a new team the fans celebrate and begin dreaming about the future possibilities of the team. If you read the newspapers or internet after every blockbuster free agency signing, it would be difficult to believe anything other than that team is now destined to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. This is especially true when starting pitchers sign major deals. While the debate over what the future holds for the player and their new team should ignite the passions of the fans and media, this offseason feels as though there is an additional layer to the hype and excitement.
The fans buying tickets, jerseys, hats, television packages, etc. are the driving force for the business of baseball. If fans were not willing to spend $10 for the cheap seats or hundreds of dollars for premium seats, not to mention food, clothing, and media, the players and owners would not see the financial benefits they do. Every free agent dreams of cashing in on their years of hard work for a contract like the one David Price has with the Red Sox. Price signed for seven years, $217 million contract. He does not have to worry about working another day in his life. The same is true for Jason Heyward with the Cubs (eight years, $184 million), Johnny Cueto with the Giants (six years, $130 million), and Justin Upton with the Tigers (six years, $132.75 million). Their talent on the diamond has more than secured each of their financial future.
Justin Upton looks to turn the Tigers around quickly. (www.rollingstone.com)
Financial security also exists for those players not in the upper echelon of free agents. Non-ace starting pitchers can often dictate whether a team contends for a World Series, or even for the playoffs, as much as an ace like Felix Hernandez can. Excellent pitchers like Scott Kazmir can dictate how a team plays throughout the season. This reality has resulted in Scott Kazmir signing with the Dodgers (three years, $48 million). Fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the north side of Chicago should all rejoice in the talent their teams’ have signed during this offseason.
Before those dreams of World Series championships and parades permanently ingrain themselves into their minds, it would be best to temper those dreams. This offseason has shown that both the teams and the players want to win and win now. Owners are using deferred money to soften the burden of paying large contracts. Consider Chris Davis’ contract with the Orioles. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, with $42 million of the contract deferred. The Orioles will continue paying Davis until 2037. The financial deferment will enable the Orioles to spend money elsewhere in the hopes of winning more games and hopefully a World Series.
Scott Kazmir proves the opt-out clause is not reserved strictly for top free agents. (Colin E. Braley/ AP)
Ownership is not alone in this win now mentality. Players understand they only have a small window to win at least one World Series during their career and they prefer not to waste valuable years playing for teams that have no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning a World Series. The no trade clause has long been the means by which players protected themselves against a trade to a terrible team. However, what if the team they are playing is that terrible team?
Not every player will want to opt out of their contract. Even some elite players may decide it is best to remain with a team despite not consistently contending for the playoffs. If Todd Helton had an opt-out clause in the nine year, $141.5 million contract that he signed in 2001, few would have blamed him if he had left the Rockies before the end of the contract. During Helton’s 17-year career, Colorado had five winning season, made the playoffs twice, getting swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS. Helton remained an elite player throughout his career, but he rarely played for a team that had a hope of making the playoffs. While Helton is a Rockies legend, having spent his entire career playing in Colorado, he could have moved on from the Rockies later in his career if he felt a better situation for winning was available. Given the option to leave the Rockies does not mean Helton would have left, but it could have pushed management to field a more competitive team in the short term instead of waiting for the team to rebuild through homegrown talent.
Would Todd Helton’s career be remembered differently if he could have opted out of Colorado? (www.beforeitwasnews.com)
Opt-out clauses seems to have gained enormous steam this offseason. Players will nearly always accept the large contracts from teams for their services, as they should. There does come a point for every player, when their financial future is secure, that enables them to prioritize winning and extending their careers. The opt-out clause empowers players to have more control regarding their career arc. They are no longer stuck with a team if the team’s plan for winning does not materialize. Players also gain time as they do not have to spend prime playing years waiting to become a free agent and lose interest from contending teams.
We may not see Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, Scott Kazmir, David Price, or Justin Upton fulfill the full length of their new contracts from free agency. Each player has an opt-out clause, enabling them to return to free agency in pursuit of a larger payday or joining another team they see as a better fit. All the big free agent signings of this offseason could be back on the market following the 2018 season.
|Team||Years||Contract Amount (Millions)||Opt Out After||Pre Opt-Out Seasons||
Pre Opt-Out Salary (Millions)
|David Price||Red Sox||
The excitement from these free agent signings may only last a few seasons. The opt-out clause in these contracts could act as a player friendly way to rent their services to a new team, much like teams trading away soon-to-be free agents to contenders. Players are in a win-win situation with these contracts, as they can now maximize their potential to earn money, play for winning teams, and have longer careers. The focus has long been on the downside for the team when they sign players like Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano to long and expensive contracts. The final years of these contracts result in players receiving higher annual salaries than their abilities would garner them if they were up for a new contract. Such long contracts also handcuff most teams in their efforts to field a contending team. The Texas Rangers would have remained irrelevant had they not traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Rodriguez contract (10 years, $252 million) was too large for the team to handle financially. Beyond the financial aspects, the rise in opt-out clauses means players have the opportunity to leave a team if they believe a better contract and situation exists for them elsewhere.
The contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton last offseason quietly signaled the shift away from gigantic contracts to shorter contracts that are more player friendly. The Marlins, aside from needing to regain some credibility with baseball fans in south Florida, solidified Stanton as the foundation they would use to build a contender. Stanton’s contract blended the old and new approaches to signing big free agent talent. Miami wanted to prevent Stanton from ever reaching free agency and signed him to a 13 year, $325 million contract. This means Stanton should be playing in South Florida until he is 37, maybe 38 if the Marlins exercise a team option for the 2028 season. The years and the money are comparable to the contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. These 10+ year contracts lock down a player well beyond their productive seasons. While this contract may not seem like a move away from those other massive contracts, the inclusion of an opt-out clause was striking. However, Stanton received an opt-out clause following year six, the 2020 season. At the age of 30, Stanton could still command an enormous contract on the free agent market. The opt-out also prevents Stanton from playing the vast majority of his career for the Marlins, if ownership is not willing or able to put a winning product on the field. The Giancarlo Stanton contract gave the Marlins, and their fans, the stability of having their player signed long term yet it gave the player the ability to hold the team accountable.
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract ushered in a new era of mega contracts but with an opt-out clause. (www.grantland.com)
The ability to opt out of a contract may transform the way free agency operates. Players now have the ability to hold their team accountable. Opting out means a team cannot place all of its faith in building a winning team in a single player, or simply building for the future. Baseball is a team sport and players expect and demand that management works to build a winning team. This new approach to signing players to contracts allows successful teams to sign premium players for the long-term, while giving players the ability to leave a team for a better situation or payday if they desire. No player wants to make less than they are worth or languish with a team going nowhere for their entire career. Fans must understand until a player decides not to opt out of the contract the new free agent has in reality signed for only a few years. Opt-out clauses create two contracts out of one. The player holds all the cards in deciding if the second contract comes into effect. Fans can dream, but their dreams need to focus more on short-term results instead of building a dynasty with their newly signed free agent.
Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and the other men and women who worked tirelessly to not only create a space for African-Americans to play baseball, but also to successfully integrate Major League Baseball, are critical to the sports success. African-American players have never made up a majority of the players in Major League Baseball; topping out at 19% according to SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member and researcher Mark Armour. However, only 8.5% of the players on Major League rosters were African-American on Opening Day in 2013. The dwindling numbers were a call to action for baseball to stop the loss of interest in the game by the African-American community.
Major League Baseball has taken action. The creation of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB Urban Youth Academy have been instrumental in bringing baseball to kids who might otherwise be prevented from playing due to a host of obstacles. John Young, a former Major League Baseball player and scout, started RBI in 1989 in Los Angeles. RBI aims to give disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game of baseball. Initially RBI was directed at 13 to 16 year olds, with the aim of both expanding the baseball talent pool in urban areas and creating a positive place for kids to learn and grow both mentally and physically away from the streets. Today, RBI has expanded to include all kids from age 5 to 19 and the organization operates in more than 200 cities, reaching more than 200,000 urban boys and girls.
The MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA) began in 2006 in Compton, California. UYA seeks to instruct and groom baseball and softball players through open workouts. Participants are taught fundamentals, theories in baseball, and their education in the classroom that extend beyond baseball. UYA seeks to prepare urban students for playing beyond high school, either in college or professionally. Like RBI, UYA focuses on opening up the game of baseball to urban youth, and those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to play the game.
The efforts of Major League Baseball to increase the participation of African-Americans in baseball are paying dividends. In the 26 years since its founding, RBI has sent several players to the Majors. RBI alumni include CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, James Loney, Carl Crawford, BJ (Melvin Jr.) Upton, Justin Upton, Julio Borbon, Efren Navarro, Rickey Romero, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Young, and James McDonald. While this list of RBI alumni who have played in the Majors is not pages long, it does speak to the success of the program. These 13 Major League players are only a part of the success. It is not out of the question that for each player who makes the Majors there is another who played in the Minors, bringing the total to 26. Easily more than 100 alumni could be current or former collegiate baseball or softball players, and countless more could have stayed in school throughout high school so they could play baseball or softball. RBI and UYA have positively influenced countless young men and women. The proof of RBI and UYA’s success has gone beyond the baseball or softball diamond, and into the lives of the alumni. The alumni have gained self-confidence, physical fitness, life skills, and an education that can propel them to greater heights.
Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is one among many African-American players that RBI and UYA participants can see themselves in and aspire to emulate. RBI and UYA are addressing the problems that traditionally create obstacles to African-Americans. McCutchen wrote in The Players Tribune about the biggest hurdle he faced, money. Youth baseball has become expensive, as travel teams have become how players garner attention. The expenses to be a member of the team, the travel costs, and so on prevent players who come from families who are not financially well off. In McCutchen’s case, he was able to gain the assistance of people who put him in the right place at the right time. However, not everyone will be as lucky as McCutchen. How many great players is baseball losing due to the financial barrier that disadvantaged youth cannot overcome?
Major League Baseball is addressing the decline in African-American participation in baseball. While it will take time to reverse, RBI and UYA are producing results on and off the field. Efforts must continue to open up the game of baseball to disadvantaged youth and to provide role models in and around the game to these kids. The next generation of African-American baseball fans and players is dependent upon everyone involved with baseball continuing the legacy of Jackie Robinson in which everyone has the opportunity to play baseball regardless of their ethnic, economic, or social background.
Arguably the best hitter of the last 30 years has left us far too soon. Tony Gwynn passed away at 54 from cancer. For 20 seasons, Tony Gwynn put on a clinic for what it meant to be a professional hitter. He always had the ear-to-ear smile that many, including myself, fell in love with from the first time you saw him play. Gwynn hit .289 in 1982, after he was called up from AAA in July. This was the only season in which he would bat below .300 in his 20 year career. A career .338 hitter, Gwynn won the National League Batting Title eight times. He flirted with .400 in 1994, when he finished the strike shortened season with a .394 average. Gwynn collected 200 or more hits five times. It would have been seven if not for the 1994 players strike. He has 165 hits through 110 games in 1994 and finished the shortened 1995 season with 197 hits in 135 games. There could have been more if not for injuries which reduced his playing time during his 30’s.
What Gwynn lacked in power he made up with always being on base. He hit 135 career home runs, topping out at 17 in 1997. He walked 790 times against 434 strike outs in his career. His career 1.82 walks per strike out is unimaginable today. In 1987, Gwynn struck out a career high 82 times; both Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, of the Atlanta Braves have already surpassed this make this season. This “high number of strike outs” for Gwynn was an aberration, he would not strike out more than 59 times in any other season in his career. Despite his “high” strike out total, the 1987 season was not a down year for Gwynn, he still hit .370. during his career, Gwynn won seven Silver Slugger Awards, five Gold Gloves, elected to 15 All Star games, was the recipient of the 1995 Branch Rickey Award (in recognition for his exceptional community service), the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (awarded to the player who best exhibits the character of Lou Gehrig both on and off the field), the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award (player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team), and was elected by the BBWAA to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with the seventh highest vote total ever (97.61%) in his first year of eligibility.
Michael Young, who holds the record for most hits for the Texas Rangers, reacted to the sudden and sad news of Tony Gwynn’s death simply, “Ted Williams gets to talk hitting again.” This sums up the relationship between Williams and Gwynn perfectly. Listening to both men discuss their approach to and the science of hitting are both legendary and a fascinating listen. Both possessed the skills which went well beyond simply see the ball, hit the ball. They were students of the game who worked hard at their craft. The 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park was a showcase for Ted Williams, and through the entire memorable evening Tony Gwynn was his trusty sidekick. When the rest of the All Stars crowded around the golf cart Williams rode around Fenway in, the camera seemed to always have both Williams and Gwynn in the frame together. The ceremonial first pitch left these two Hall of Fame hitters and friends in front of the pitcher’s mound together and alone. When Ted Williams asked “where’s he at?” referring to the catcher, Gwynn pointed and showed his friend and mentor the way while flashing his famous boyish smile.
Forever a San Diego man, Tony Gwynn returned to his alma mater San Diego State in 2002 as a volunteer coach and in 2003 as the Head Baseball Coach for the Aztecs. Gwynn remained the Head Coach of the Aztecs until his death. Even when his playing career was over, Gwynn was not through with baseball. Under Gwynn the Aztecs won one regular season Mountain West title, two Mountain West Tournament Championships, and made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The transition from playing to coaching is often difficult for the greats, but Gwynn seemed to thrive on the challenge and was building a successful program. Unfortunately we will never see what he could have built with more seasons as a Head Coach either at San Diego State or even with the Padres.
Tony Gwynn lived a full baseball life. He was and always will be Mr. Padre and Captain Video. Despite the hours of hard work looking to get every last once of talent out of his body, Gwynn never stopped smiling. That smile we all fell in love with, the smile that exuded the boyish pleasure Gwynn got from playing the game. That smile is gone too soon due to cancer. Cancer which Gwynn himself admits was caused by decades of using chewing tobacco, usually more than a can a day. All the smiles and laughter that made Tony Gwynn also had a protruding lip stuffed with dip.
Gone too soon. Thank you Tony Gwynn for reminding us all that you can be a contact hitter, trying to go through the 5.5 hole, one of the true legends in the history of the game all without the power to hit 500 foot home runs which became so common place during his career. Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, a great all around baseball player, but he was an even better person. Mr. Padre will be missed in San Diego and anywhere people play baseball.