People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.
Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.
The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:
“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:
(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”
It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.
The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.
The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.
Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)
Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)
The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.
There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.
After four seasons of attempting to predict how the Major League season will play out, one would think we would improve. Instead we were pitiful once again. The only consistency continues to be we are individually and collectively terrible at predicting the baseball future. Below is all the proof you need.
National League East
|1st||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals||New York Muttz||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals|
|2nd||Miami Marlins||New York Mets*||Washington Gnats||Atlanta Braves||New York Mets|
|3rd||Atlanta Braves||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Bravos||New York Mets||Miami Marlins|
|4th||New York Mets||Atlanta Braves||Miami Fish||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Braves|
|5th||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Follies||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies|
National League Central
|1st||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|2nd||Milwaukee Brewers||Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh Buckos*||St. Louis Cardinals*||St. Louis Cardinals*|
|3rd||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals||Cincinnati Fighting Vottos||Pittsburgh Pirates||Milwaukee Brewers|
|4th||Pittsburgh Pirates||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Deadbirds||Milwaukee Brewers||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|5th||Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewniversity||Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati Reds|
National League West
|1st||Los Angeles Dodgers||Los Angeles Dodgers||Colorado Silver Bullets||Los Angeles Dodgers||San Francisco Giants|
|2nd||Arizona Diamondbacks||San Francisco Giants*||Los Angeles Vin Scullys*||Colorado Rockies*||Los Angeles Dodgers*|
|3rd||Colorado Rockies||Colorado Rockies||San Padres Big Macs||San Francisco Giants||Colorado Rockies|
|4th||San Diego Padres||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Trouser Snakes||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|5th||San Francisco Giants||San Diego Padres||San Francisco Gigantors||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres|
Justin Turner and the Dodgers won the National League Pennant, we didn’t see that coming for some reason. (Richard Mackson- USA TODAY Sports)
American League East
|1st||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox|
|2nd||New York Yankees||Toronto Blue Jays*||New York Spankees||New York Yankees*||New York Yankees*|
|3rd||Tampa Bay Rays||New York Yankees||Baltimore Riots||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles|
|4th||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles||Steve Irwin Killers||Tampa Bay Rays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|5th||Baltimore Orioles||Tampa Bay Rays||Boston Dead Sux||Baltimore Orioles||Tampa Bay Rays|
American League Central
|1st||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Indians|
|2nd||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers||Cleveland Up Three Games To None*||Detroit Tigers||Kansas City Royals|
|3rd||Kansas City Royals||Kansas City Royals||Chicago Black Sox||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers|
|4th||Chicago White Sox||Minnesota Twins||Minnesota Twinkies||Kansas City Royals||Minnesota Twins|
|5th||Detroit Tigers||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Militarized Zone||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox|
American League West
|1st||Houston Astros||Houston Astros||The Acute Angels of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros|
|2nd||Los Angeles Angels||Seattle Mariners*||Houston Colt 45s*||Houston Astros*||Seattle Mariners|
|3rd||Seattle Mariners||Texas Rangers||Oakland White Elephants||Texas Rangers||Texas Rangers|
|4th||Texas Rangers||Los Angeles Angels||Texas Dangers||Los Angeles Angels||Los Angeles Angels|
|5th||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics||Seattle Seamen||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
The Yankees were a surprise in 2017, which seems weird to say now. (Ben Solomon- New York Times)
National League Wild Card
|Winner||Arizona Diamondbacks||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Loser||Colorado Rockies||New York Mets||Los Angeles Vin Scullys||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
American League Wild Card
|Winner||New York Yankees||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Minnesota Twins||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Colt 45s||New York Yankees||Baltimore Orioles|
National League Divisional Series
|Winner||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Loser||Arizona Diamondbacks||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Chicago Cubs|
|Winner||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants|
|Loser||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals|
American League Divisional Series
|Winner||New York Yankees||Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Cleveland Indians||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians|
|Winner||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians||The Acute Angels of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners||Boston Red Sox|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros|
National League Championship Series
|Winner||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants|
|Loser||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers|
American League Championship Series
|Winner||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Seattle Mariners||New York Yankees|
|Loser||New York Yankees||Boston Red Sox||The Acute Angels of Anaheim||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox|
|Winner||Houston Astros||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Seattle Mariners||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Los Angeles Dodgers||Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Monarchs||Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants|
Some how none of us had the Astros in the World Series, much less winning it. WHY???!!!! (Eugene Garcia/ European Pressphoto Agency)
Breaking down how we did individually shows some bright spots here and there, but overall we were terrible. Here is a breakdown of everything we correctly predicted before last season began.
Jesse was the worst at predicting the season. He correctly predicted the final regular season standings of just seven teams, a sad showing at 23%. His correct predictions focused primarily on which teams would not contend. He was correct twice in the National League East, his best division, predicting the Braves would finish third and the Phillies would finish last. In the National League Central, he found his only correct prediction with the Cubs winning the division. Jesse looked into his crystal ball and saw the Giants finishing last in the National League West long before the rest of us. Moving over to the American League, the Yankees produced the second place finish he foresaw last April. In the Central, the Tigers followed through by finishing last. Finally, in the American League West, Jesse nailed it with his prediction of the Rangers finishing in fourth place. None of his playoff predictions were correct, and thus Jesse finished last in The Winning Run’s prediction standings.
Derek managed to finish with the bronze medal based on his predictions for the 2017 season. He predicted the final regular season standings for 12 teams, an impressive 40%, tied for the most. His predictions included picking every division winner before the season started. Consistency is the key to success in playing and predicting baseball. Derek was correct on the Nationals winning and the Phillies finishing last in the National League East. In the Central, Derek showed his prediction prowess as he was spot on with the Cubs winning, the Cardinals finishing third, and the Reds finishing last in the division. In the National League West, the Dodgers and Rockies came through finishing first and third respectively. The American League East was the weakest division for Derek, as he was correct only in predicting the Red Sox would win the division. The Indians and the Royals made Derek’s predictions true by finishing first and third in the American League Central. He was correct that the Astros would dominate and the Athletics would be left behind in the American League West. Success during the regular season is great, but as any Nationals fan know, success in the playoffs is what matters. Derek managed only two correct predictions in the playoffs, both concerned the Cubs. He was correct in predicting the Cubs would win their matchup in the National League Divisional Series and would lose in the National League Championship Series. Success in the playoffs is what matters, he will have to wait until next year to see if he climb higher on the podium.
Coming in second place, just missing the gold medal was John. While John managed only 10 correct regular season predictions, a respectable 33%, against Derek’s 12, his success in the playoffs earned him the silver medal. John got off to a good start with the Nationals winning and the Phillies finishing last in the National League East. His success continued in the Central as he again bookended the division with the Cubs and the Reds. The National League West saw him only predict the Dodgers winning the division. Moving over to the American League East we found John’s strength. He correctly predicting the Red Sox winning the division, the Yankees finishing second, and the Orioles finishing last. The rest of the American League was not as easy. In the Central, John managed to only predict the Indians winning. In the West he only correct prediction was the Athletics finishing last. However, once the calendar rolled over to October John made up for last time. He was correct, like Derek, in predicting the Cubs would win their matchup in the National League Divisional Series only to lose in the National League Championship Series. However, John predicted the Red Sox would be kicked out of the playoffs by losing in the American League Divisional Series. While his regular season predictions were a step behind, John was able to make up for his mistakes and use his predicting power to take silver with a solid playoff showing.
All four of us missed the most obvious sign to pick the Astros to win the World Series last season. (Sports Illustrated)
This leaves Bernie alone at the top of the podium. His success in the regular season and the playoffs earned Bernie the gold medal in predicting the 2017 Major League season. Bernie tied with Derek by correctly predicting the final regular season standings for 12 teams, 40%. In the National League East he had the Nationals winning with the Phillies bringing up the rear. The Central was his strength in the National League, as Bernie was spot on with the Cubs winning, the Pirates finishing fourth, and the Reds finishing last in the division. In the West Bernie found success with the Rockies finishing third. Once again the American League East was a source of strength, as Bernie had the Red Sox winning, the Yankees second, and the Blue Jays finishing fourth in the division. The Central was an easy pick at the top with the Indians, but below Cleveland his predictions missed. In the American League West, the Astros and Athletics finished as predicted first and last for Bernie. A strong regular season only gave way to an even strong playoff run. Bernie was correct in predicting the Yankees would win the American League Wild Card game. He was also correct in picking the Dodgers to win and the Nationals to lose in the National League Divisional Series. The gold medal winning push came in the American League Divisional Series. Bernie was perfect in predicting the four teams who would meet. He predicted the Yankees winning and the Indians losing in this round. If Bernie had only flipped his prediction to have the Astros winning over the Red Sox, he would have been perfect. Bernie found success in the playoffs while the rest of us faltered. The irony is Bernie lives in Washington D.C. and his local team is the Nationals, who are known for failing in the playoffs after a great regular season.
Collectively The Winning Run showed once again the more you know about baseball the less you know. Each of us love baseball and follow it religiously, yet we are terrible at these predictions. We all had the Cubs winning the National League Central and the Phillies finishing last in the National League West. Collectively, we failed at everything else. We failed to predict either the Dodgers or Astros would play in the World Series, even though we recognized both teams would be a force in 2017. We fail at predicting the baseball season every year, so why should this past season be any different?
DJ, JJ, JB, & BL
Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training is without a doubt the most exciting time on the sports calendar where absolutely nothing happens. Literally it is a group of men reporting to the first day of work. They just show up and nothing, publicly, happens. There are no games, no monumental moments, just people walking in the door. Usually the free agents have been signed and introduced to the team and public, the draft picks have been around for almost a full year, nothing special is going on. Pitchers and catchers reporting is the most anticlimactic moment possible in sports, and yet baseball fans mark it down on their calendars every year.
We’re here. Now what do you want us to do? (www.dodgersphotog.mlblogs.com)
It is not what is happening, rather it is what could happen. This could be the first step teams take towards winning the World Series. This is the day baseball tells the world that summer and warm weather are coming soon. Players know this is when all their off-season work will begin to show. Umpires too. Fans know the sounds of baseball will soon return to their lives. The crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, the roar of the crowd, the static on the radio. The smells of baseball will return too. The fresh cut grass, hot dogs, beer, the smell of your glove. Every day until Halloween you can escape for a few hours and lose yourself in the game. Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training is anticlimactic, however what will follow is not.
Once again Major League Baseball is worrying about pace of play during games. Commissioner Rob Manfred and Executive Director of the Player’s Association Tony Clark have gone back and forth about proposed rule changes to speed up games in 2018. The latest round of pace of play rules include limiting catchers to one mound visit per inning per pitcher, a 20 second pitch clock, and raising the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top. All of these changes have been rejected by the Player’s Association, yet MLB could still institute them unilaterally for the 2018 season. The average game in 2017 lasted three hours and five minutes, which is longer than before the last round of pace of play rules were instituted. So with longer games comes more tinkering.
Baseball, like all sports, will have slow boring games from time to time, this is just reality. Instead of trying to change the game, why not take some steps that would improve fan interaction with baseball. Shorten commercial breaks for those watching at home. All the talk is about pace of play, what about when fans cannot even see the game. Obviously baseball makes a great deal of money off commercials, so raise the price of those commercials. How can you raise the price of commercials throughout the year? Market the players more. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and many more should be as well know as the top football and basketball players. If MLB marketed the players more aggressively, they could charge advertisers more for commercials and partnerships as the endorsement of these players would have greater weight nationally. Increased revenue from advertising would mean shorter commercial breaks during games. Take away one 30 second commercial from each break and you have saved close to 10 minutes during each game.
Baseball should focus on eliminating down time not necessarily the time needed to complete a game. Shorter commercial breaks are a great place to start. (Chuck Solomon/ Sports Illistrated)
The pitch clock, which is already used in the minor leagues, and does not do much. I have not seen nor heard of any pitcher getting charged a ball for taking too long. It is a friendly reminder to get on with the next pitch, but little else. Limiting mound visits could minimally speed up the game, however multiple mound visits in an inning usually only occurs in late game, high leverage moments. Let the players play. Speed the game up in when little is happening, not when the game is on the line.
This off season has also seen an incredibly slow free agent market. Call it what you want: collusion, low balling the players, players and agents having unrealistic salary expectations. Whatever. Yes, both sides, owners and players, want to make as much money as possible. Owners want a return on their financial investments, players want to maximize their earnings during their playing careers. However, when agents like Brodie Van Wagenen start floating ideas like players boycotting Spring Training this makes baseball look bad. Baseball has had labor peace for almost a quarter century, one slow off season and you are ready to blow it up? The Strike in 1994 did major, lasting damage to baseball. Lots of fans lost interest and it took years for the game to come back. Cal Ripken Jr. passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring many fans back, but not all of them. Is another scandalous era like the steroid era really in baseball’s best interest?
Baseball needs to market itself and the players more aggressively. If people are interested, they will not care that a game lasts a little over three hours. Give the fans something to be interested in, even if the game itself is not great. Start games a little earlier so kids can watch more of a game, or the whole game before they have to go to bed. Starting a game at 6:45 pm instead of 7:05 pm would give a kid twenty more minutes of baseball, or roughly a full inning of baseball. Getting kids and young adults interested in baseball will grow baseball to new heights. Shaving a minute or two off the average length of a game ultimately does not matter if the sport itself is not drawing and holding the attention of an ever growing audience. Pace of play is important, but not if people were never interested in the first place. Put the game and players on display, not the advertisers.
Teams with large payrolls are not guaranteed to win championships. In sports the more talented the player, the more expensive their services become once they reach free agency, thus teams with large payrolls are filled with players who are, or at one time were, extremely talented at their chosen profession. The road to a championship requires a commitment to excellence, and for the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers that journey was just beginning.
The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight explores the transition of the Dodgers from the disastrous ownership tenure of Frank McCourt to the new ownership of Mark Walter. Knight explores the team on the field, in the front office, and the world around them. Major League Baseball understood the value of ensuring the transition from McCourt to Walter went smoothly and acted in the best interest of baseball.
*Spoilers beyond this point.*
Knight does an excellent job of examining the players on and off the field. The Dodgers to securing their ace, Clayton Kershaw, for the long term was critical to the health of the team. If Kershaw was able to walk away from the Dodgers, like Zack Greinke eventually did, the immediate future for the team would have been about building towards division not World Series titles. Los Angeles’ front office knew their fans would turn on the team if Kershaw was allowed to walk. Resigning Kershaw was as much a baseball move as it was a public relations move. Contrasting the focus and dominance of Kershaw was the explosion of Yasiel Puig. The willingness to sign a relatively unknown talent was a risk, however the excitement Puig brought with him to the Dodgers out weighed the risk in the eyes of the fans. Puig’s experience with his teammates and the insight Knight provides shows the difficulty many Latin American players have in adjusting to life in the United States, especially Cuban players. Puig’s near instant success meant he found some of the pitfalls that caused other superstars stumble. While electrifying on the field, Puig’s antics off the field and in the clubhouse rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way. This left manager Don Mattingly with the delicate job of keeping Puig happy while not alienating the rest of the team. This challenge was made even more difficult as the Dodgers showed little faith in Mattingly, who never felt secure in his job while in Los Angeles. This constant balancing act in the clubhouse made performing on the field more difficult than normal. The internal drama was overshadowed as the ownership regime of Frank McCourt came crashing down all around Dodger Stadium.
The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse (Simon & Schuster)
Prior to owning the Dodgers, Frank McCourt owned a parking lot in south Boston. He attempted to buy the Red Sox and move them to a new stadium that he would construct on his parking lot. When this plan failed he turned his attention to the Dodgers. McCourt had bigger dreams than bank accounts, but was able to purchase the Dodgers with loans he secured by putting the parking lot up as collateral. Eventually the loans went unpaid and the parking lot was seized. Ultimately the Dodgers were sold to McCourt for a parking lot in south Boston.
McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground. He had little interest in the team beyond how they could make him richer. As his personal life went up in flames he attempted to hold onto the Dodgers through a television deal that would pay him enough to remain owner after his divorce was finalized. Major League Baseball was forced to step in to prevent the deal. His divorce turning nasty and dragging on, McCourt was ordered to sell the team. The Dodger fan base was skeptical of new owner Mark Walter. However, Walter was only interested in winning. Signing fan favorite Andre Ethier to an over priced contract was more of a public relations deal than a smart baseball deal. Walter understood he had to win back the fans after many had rightly walked away under McCourt. Winning was the most important thing, money would solve some problems but not everything.
The early building blocks of the perennial contender the Dodgers have become were laid in 2013. Molly Knight examines the circumstances surround the team during this critical time, yet she also helps the reader understand why the rebirth of the Dodgers is so important to baseball. She does an excellent job of exposing the personalities on the team that made the team successful and struggle. Sports teams are often not seen as being made up of people, but Knight makes you see the quirks and craziness that each player brings to the Dodger clubhouse. Molly Knight’s work in The Best Team Money Can Buy is as critical to the understanding of baseball’s current state as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Money does not guarantee championships, as baseball cannot be bought and sold, but it does not hurt.
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.
The playoffs are when the best from every sport is on full display. The best teams play each other, which often leads to games full of drama that only further entices new fans to continue watching. Unfortunately Major League Baseball has hidden some of the best games of the year from many fans in how it broadcasts the playoffs. Avid fans miss out on great games, but baseball also misses the opportunity to draw in new fans as the majority of games before the World Series are broadcast on cable networks.
The airing of playoff baseball on TBS, Fox Sports 1, the MLB Network, and ESPN has shut out many people from watching great baseball. Yes, plenty of people have access to all or some of these channels to watch the games, but those who do not have to make a choice. They can find a radio station broadcasting the game (personally I love listening to baseball on the radio), go to a restaurant, bar, or friend’s house that is showing the game, or generally miss out except for updates. Going out several nights a week for a few weeks gets expensive quickly, thus pricing many more people out, thus radio or the updates are the most likely options for many people. I am fully aware, as I have stated many times, baseball is a business. Major League Baseball signed contracts with these broadcasters for enormous sums of money for the rights to these games. However, there needs to be a balance between television revenue and making the best weeks on the baseball calendar available to all fans. Broadcasters like ABC (which owns ESPN), NBC, and CBS might have passed on the rights to broadcast playoff baseball. Fox will once again broadcast the World Series, yet it is a shame that for some they will not see a single game of baseball on television from the last day of the regular season until Game 1 of the World Series.
Major League Baseball continuously stresses the importance of growing the game, reaching a younger and more diverse audience. Reaching out through promotions like Players Weekend, programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), and highlighting some of the best players like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Jose Altuve are great, but Major League Baseball hurts its own efforts to reach a larger audience by hiding the playoffs from those who choose to not have cable or satellite television and/or those who cannot afford it. If I can only watch sports on the basic channels and the majority of the games I see are football, why would I wait for weeks to see a few games at the end of October when the NFL season is in full swing? Even during the regular season the availability of baseball games is rather spartan.
Major League Baseball has signed contracts with broadcasters and for now can do little to change how the playoffs are broadcast. However, at the end of these contracts a hard look must be taken at whether only premium channels get the games before the World Series is the best for the future of the sport. Major League Baseball should be paid handsomely for the product it provides to broadcasters, but there could be a middle ground where baseball is paid well, yet does not shut out many fans and potential fans from the best games of the year. Baseball needs to be the sport of everyone, not just those that can afford television packages. No one likes blackout rules.