Get the Net…

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I am glad that all of MLB’s 30 teams have extended the safety netting at their ballparks for the 2016 season. Why? Because I don’t believe that attending a baseball game should be a contact sport.

Okay, okay. I know that it is a spectator’s responsibility to pay attention at all times. It says so in the disclaimer on the back of every game ticket. It is announced at the beginning of every baseball game at every stadium. It would also seem that it is just plain common sense that if there is a possibility of a baseball or a shattered bat making a bee-line for your unprotected melon, that you might want to pay attention. But that is not the world in which we now live.

How many times does the average person look at their center-of-their-universe cell phone over the course of their day? Think about it. The answer is astonishing. I actually researched this question and found that the number landed somewhere between 110 to 150 times per day. That’s incredible, right? People are so wrapped up in text messages, e-mail, Instagram, Snap Chat, and Facebook that it is a wonder that they have time for anything else. That is our world of today. Social Media rules the day, and sadly for so many people, it has replaced the real world. With that said, the average length of a MLB game is 2 hours and 58 minutes. In our social media-text message centered world, how many people do you know that can simply shut the damn phone off for almost three hours? If you are honest with yourself, you will find that the answer is probably close to zero.

That is hardly the only distraction at the old ballgame. If you made the trip to the ball park with your family in tow, guess what? You have that distraction! Did you notice the huge, new multi-million dollar scoreboard? Distraction. Do you like peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jacks (or hot dogs, beer, ice cream, or…), or the person carting them around? Distraction.

There is yet another factor, and it is this…there is the possibility that even if you are paying attention, you may not be agile enough to protect yourself against flying objects from the field. How many times have we seen a batted ball or a broken bat go sailing into the stands and strike a fan who was paying attention? Quite a bit, I’m afraid. A foul ball is still a batted ball, and a ball can leave the MLB bat at well over 100 MPH. Is the average fan quick enough to get out of the way? Maybe, or maybe not. We have all seen both.

My point in all of this is that for most people, it is not as easy as ‘just pay attention’. It really isn’t, so with that said do MLB venues have a responsibility to ensure fan safety? No organization wants to have an unsafe environment where fans are afraid to attend the games. There is no revenue in empty seats, so isn’t in MLB’s best interests to make things as safe as possible? Even if there is no legal obligation to do so, I believe that they should. If MLB is all about the ‘fan experience’, shouldn’t fan safety be a part of the experience?

Lastly, about the netting…Does anybody really believe that it will somehow degrade the view? I submit that if you are not sitting in the very first row with the netting tickling your nose, the netting will make absolutely no difference in your ability to see the action on the field. If you are sitting 20 rows back, is the average fan even going to notice? Even if you did notice the nets when you first got there, the nets will quickly just fade into the visual background.

People ultimately have the responsibility for their own safety, and a huge part of that is being aware of your surroundings, and people should be prepared to react to the ever-changing landscape. However, sometimes they are not. I think that it is prudent and reasonable for MLB and it’s teams to do whatever they can to keep the game safe for the fans.

The 2015 MLB All-Star Game…There must be a conspiracy!

I want to discuss the Major League Baseball All-Star Game (to hereby be referred to as the ASG for the sake of my typing fingers…). Actually, it is the ASG voting that I want to talk about. I was raised on the principle of ‘One person…one vote’. Sounds fair. Sounds like democracy in action. Then I was reminded of the somewhat amusing quip  of ‘Vote early and vote often…’ Sigh. Isn’t that somewhat counter-intuitive? It has occurred to me that the voting for the ASG is more closely reminiscent latter. An individual may submit up to 35 votes. Yes kids, 35 VOTES! Why? The whole voting process has become convoluted. I read a comment (actually several comments) lamenting the selection of 6 Kansas City Royals to the 2015 ASG. The comments were let’s say, idiotic. They reeked of the nonsense that only a conspiracy theorist can spew out. Let’s take a look at a few, shall we?

‘The people from Kansas City must have found a way to cheat…’

Those Kansas City Royal fans must have found a way to hack the computer system!’

‘Major League Baseball wants as many Royals in the game as possible because they went to the World Series Last year. They want to cash in on the popularity of the Royals…’

‘They will do anything to keep A-Rod out of the ASG…’

‘I heard that the fans in Kansas City and St. Louis teamed up to get as many Royals and Cardinals in as they could!…’

Have you ever heard of such ridiculous drivel? While I do not agree with this 35-votes-per-person format. I prefer the one vote per person paradigm. With that said I would also say this. If people are so cranked up about Royals fans allegedly stuffing the ballot box, then do something about it. Consider the  2013 population of the Kansas City metro area is roughly 475,000 people. The 2013 population of New York City and its 5 boroughs is roughly 8,406,000. How is it that the Kansas City fans could outvote the New York fans? Each and every person who cared to do so could vote 35 times. Do the math. As I said earlier, the argument is more sour grapes than factual. If you wanted your guys in the ASG, then get out and cast your 35 votes! If you didn’t, than stop whining. There is no conspiracy. There is only a fanbase that is so enamored of its team that they got up, got out, and got their Royals in the game. Here is a dollar…go buy some tissues while I call the waaaahhhhmbulance for your hurt feelings. Next year, get out and  exercise your right to vote…35 times!

MLB…Crawl Out From The Fallout

Boom. Or, BOOM! The Washington Nationals dropped ‘The Big One’ and signed RHP Max Scherzer to a 7 year / $210M contract. Like I said…BOOM! Now let’s look at the effect of this megadeal on the baseball landscape.
I want to start first with the Washington Nationals. They are about to tie up $210M, in one player, for 7 years. I always thought that the contract given to Alex Rodriguez by the Texas Rangers (10 years / $252M) was, at the time, the biggest contract I had ever seen. I think that this one, right along with the 7 year /$215M that the Los Angeles Dodgers gave to Clayton Kershaw, may be bigger. This is essentially a $30M per year contract, but it really isn’t. The reason that it is not is that a huge chunk of this contract is in deferred money. Max Scherzer will be getting $15M per year for 14 years. This means that he will be getting checks from the Nationals until he is 44 years old. This ties up a bunch of money as far as the Nationals are concerned. Also, because Scherzer turned down a qualifying offer from the Detroit Tigers, the Nationals will forfeit the 27th overall pick in the next MLB draft. In acquiring Scherzer, many possibilities are present. The first is that the Nationals simply do nothing going forward, and they trot out a scary starting rotation. The Nationals starters would be Max Scherzer, Stephen Starsburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez, and for good measure, Tanner Roarke. That is an awesome arsenal, and the National League should be very wary of them. The second possibility is that the Nationals realize that they have an over-abundance of riches, and decide to move one of these pitchers for a MLB ready player whom they covet. They certainly have the trading chips to do that with now. The two most likely pitchers who could be moved are Jordan Zimmerman or Stephen Strasburg. It has been suggested that the Nationals are open to listening to offers for either of them.
Now, for the ripple effect on the rest of baseball. Max Scherzer was THE major deal that was waiting to get done. Many teams were thought to be in on him, and that number of teams fluctuated from day to day. Now that Scherzer is off the market, everybody else will now be scrambling for ‘Plan B’. This may come in the person of 33 year-old James Shields, who is still waiting for someone to meet his contract demand of 5 years / $110M. Until Scherzer signed, it was thought that the teams that were interested in Shields could simply wait him out until his price dropped because Scherzer was still in play. That option no longer exists, and that bodes well for Shields. There are several teams that will be in on Shields simply because he is the best option left out there. And Shields (and his agent) knows it. Shields may now get his price. All he needs to do now is sit back and wait for the phone to ring, and it will.
Now this is where the Hot Stove is really going to get smoking, as teams go in to scramble mode. Here are a few other deals that happened recently..
The Texas Rangers got Yovani Gallardo from the Milwaukee Brewers for three prospects. An interesting aspect about this move is that it possibly makes Milwaukee a player in the hunt for James Shields, as it clears $13M off of the Brewers payroll.
The Chicago Cubs acquired OF Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros for infielder Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily.
The San Francisco Giants reached agreement with OF Gregor Blanco on a $7.5 million, two-year contract to avoid arbitration.
See you all tomorrow!

MLB…Pay The Man.

So on the first day that Major League players were eligible to do so, 175 of the filed for salary arbitration. That is a lot of players asking for a wage adjustment. Do some of these guys deserve a little more lettuce? Yes. Do some of them not deserve it? Probably, but there is an old business axiom that comes to play here… It is that people will pay whatever price the market will bear. Does a utility infielder deserve $5M per season? If his team thinks he does, then they are going to pay the man. If that same utility infielder gets an offer of $5M per season, but he thinks that his bench-warming is of an outstanding nature, he will ask for salary arbitration where he will ask for $6.25M. The team and the player and his agent will exchange figures and they will try to come to some kind of compromise. If they can’t, the argument will be settled by an independent arbitrator. It should be noted that last season, of all the potential cases, only 3 actually went before an arbitrator, and in 2013, no cases went that far. Now don’t get me wrong here. I am in favor of players getting paid whatever they are worth. The career of a professional ballplayer can be really long, really short, or somewhere in between. They know this, and they also know that they need to make the most money that they can while they can, because once their playing days are over, the gravy train skids to an abrupt halt, and sometimes it is with a sickening thud. I really don’t blame them.
I also want to make very clear at this point that I am not going to engage in a debate about whether or not professional athletes are overpaid. That is strictly a matter of opinion and personal perspective, and is best left to another forum. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the filers for this season…Players such as David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Jeff Samardjzija, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and Ian Kennedy were among the players filing for arbitration. David Price made $14M last year, and he obviously thinks that he can get more. Baltimore’s Chris Davis was also among the filers. He made $10.35M last season, and also reached a performance bonus of $150,000. Remember that he also served a 25-game ban for violating the MLB banned substance (Adderall) policy.
For some players, the process ends as quickly as it begins. The Dodgers and catcher A.J. Ellis settled very quickly, as the Dodgers bumped Ellis up $700,000 to $4.25M. There will be a lot of discussion between now and Friday, which is the date that figures are exchanged. Any cases that need to go before and arbitrator will do so between February 1st and February 20th.
On other baseball news, The Kansas City Royals extended manager Ned Yost for 1 year thru 2016.
The Boston Red Sox have promoted Raquel Ferreira to vice president of baseball administration. She is only the third woman to be a Vice-President in a major league baseball operations department. I say good for her!
Over the last few days as the opening of spring training nears, several clubs are signing players to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training. This is always interesting to see which players get offers like this. So far, the list includes Mike Carp, Jose Valverde, Wandy Rodriguez, and Nick Masset.

MLB…Stuff from the Stove

It is starting to get into the long, cold days of winter. It is mid-January, but every year at around this time I get this feeling that things are about to get better, much better in fact, because baseball is growing closer and closer with each passing day. My various news feeds and messages are starting to come alive with speculation, analysis, and pictures of Cacti and Grapefruit. It is getting closer, and I can’t wait! For me, the New Year doesn’t start on January 1st. It starts in mid-February. Sigh, the life of a baseball fanatic.
At this time of year, the baseball grapevine, better known as the Hot Stove, starts to get cranking. The early dominoes have fallen, and now the wheeling and dealing starts in earnest, as do all the rumors. With the start of 2015 Spring Training starting soon, players need to get signed and deals need to get done. So I wanted to kook at the latest information that I have. I glean these tidbits from the various news outlets, sports sites, and other places as appropriate, so if my information is compromised…sorry.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are about to sign Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang for 4 years/ $16M. He is a very highly-touted Korean player with a very impressive slash line (.356 / .459 /.739), while hitting 40-HR’s in 116 games. He is still young at 27, and has some upside. There are concerns about his defense, and he may not be an infielder in the Pirates organization. Some of the other criticism is that the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) is the equivalent of MLB’s AA, and how Jung-ho Kang’s talents will translate going forward has yet to be seen…
The next rumor is about ‘Big Game’ James Shields. It seems that the Arizona D-backs have popped up as a possible destination. This tells me that Shields contract demands of 5 years/ $110M will not be met, as the D-backs won’t offer this large of a contract to a 33 year-old pitcher. Something tells me that 3 years/ $54M and an option for a 4th year@ $20M will probably get it done. Keep in mind that because Shields turned down a qualifying offer from the Royals, he will cost a draft pick…
Max Scherzer still hasn’t signed anywhere yet. But he will. He will not be staying home for the 2015 season. Somebody is going to blink, and it will be expensive…
The San Diego Padres are starting to look like a new-look team to go along with their new uniforms. They have already restocked the shelves by signing Wil Myers, Justin Upton, and Jeff Kent, and now they appear to be in Cole Hamels. The Padres have young prospects to move, and it is known the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro wants a very high price for Hamels. I do not see this deal materializing, especially with teams like the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Cubs in the mix, but the biggest problem for anyone wanting a deal is that Hamels is still owed $94 million total through 2018.
The Mets are listening to prospective deals for P Dillon Gee. Three teams from the N.L. West (Giants, Rockies, and D-Backs) keep coming up. I am not sure where this is going just yet…
It has been reported that both the Dodgers and the Red Sox have shown an interest in P Alexi Ogando. He Red Sox had scouts at a recent work-out, fueling the speculation. Simply stated, he would be a huge gamble after his well-documented UCL sprain back in June 2014 that shelved him for the season…
On the Dan Haren saga…Haren has started his off-season throwing routine, and he has stated that he will in fact report when the Miami Marlins open training camp. Remember that Haren had stated that he was considering retirement when faced with the possibility of having to relocate himself to the East Coast. Haren has his family on the West Coast, and he understandably wants to be near them. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds…
The Washington Nationals have signed Mike Carp to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training. Carp had a not-so-good 2014 for Boston last year as a bat-off-the-bench, where he only managed to hit .175 in 59 games…
There is more, but I have more articles to write this week. I need the material.

MLB…Adieu, Adam Dunn.

I just found out on Monday that Adam Dunn was going to retire from the Oakland A’s at 35 years old. People, and among them Major League Baseball players, retire every day. Usually this is not exactly huge news, but in the case of Adam Dunn, it bears a little discussion.
Adam Dunn is a bear of a man. In fact, he is mountain at 6’6” and 285lbs. He played first base and both corner outfield positions. He played for the Reds from 2001, with stops with the Chicago White Sox, Arizona D-Backs, Washington Nationals, and finally the Oakland A’s. He has 14 Major league seasons of service, in which he played in 2,001 games and had 6,883 AB’s. He hit 462 career home runs and drove in 1,168 runs. He struck out 2,379 times while drawing 1,317 walks, all while posting a career .237 BA to go along with an .854 ops. Defensively he posted a .981 fielding percentage. Those are the bottom line stats for Adam Dunn. But there is more to the career of this man. Let’s take a closer look…
At the apex of his career, there were fewer hitters who were as feared as Adam Dunn. Of his 1,300+ walks, 122 of them were intentional passes, which ranks him 79th all-time. A pitcher did not want to give up a big jack to Dunn when it was simply safer to walk him. He has more career HR’s than Carl Yastrzemski, Jeff Bagwell, and Mike Piazza. This was a scary guy at the plate, in the way that you knew that if a pitcher gave him something to hit, he was probably going to crush it. This was not a guy that the opposition wanted to face with runners on base. I was surprised that in last year’s A.L. Wild-Card game, when the A’s had the need to bring in a left-handed bat, Adam Dunn was left on the bench. As it turned out, Dunn stayed on the bench the rest of the way while the A’s went on to lose an epic game to the Kansas City Royals 9-8 in 12 innings.
As a fan, I will miss Adam Dunn. I will miss watching him hit, when I knew that every time he came to the plate, there was a possibility of real fireworks. If you think about former players like Dave Kingman, Greg Luzinski, and Jose Canseco, Adam Dunn provided that kind of excitement. Best of luck, Big Donkey.

MLB….The Fire Sale of the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays

So I am hanging out in my living room on the couch on Saturday morning with my cat on my lap, and my wife off teaching her Saturday Group Fitness classes. Since my hip replacement surgery right before Christmas, hanging out on the couch is about the extent of what I have been doing lately. Occasionally, I get to go outside for good behavior, but it has been so cold lately, that it outside is more like a punishment than a reward. Anyway, I am planted on the couch with the cat, and I see a news crawl across the bottom of the screen on MLB Network. It seems that the Tampa Bay Rays have traded Ben Zobrist and Yuniel Escobar to the Oakland A’s for catcher John Jaso, who will be doing his second tour of duty with the Rays, an A’s top SS prospect in Daniel Robertson, minor league OF Boog Powell (no relation to THE Boog Powell), and some cash. To even things out on the Major League roster, the Rays almost immediately signed IF Asdrubal Cabrerra. My daughter is a Tampa Bay Rays fan (sigh…), and I figured that she would not be happy. I was right…she was not. I am not sure that she ever got over the dark days when the Rays unloaded Reid Brignac. Now she has to endure this? To quote Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost In Space, “Oh, the pain. The pain…”
This got me thinking. Over the last 2 seasons or so, the Tampa Bay Rays have been systematically dismantled. I do not know if this is being done intentionally by the team ownership, natural attrition, or the expiring of contracts of aging players that it makes no financial sense to re-sign. Your guess is as good as mine. But let’s take a look at this piece by piece…
First up is the possibility that the Rays ownership is following in the path of Jeff Loria and the Florida Marlins after they won the World Series, and are selling off one or two players at a time. Why would they do this? Could it be that the Rays ownership has finally grown tired of voters on Florida’s Gold Coast not voting in favor of the Rays getting a new park in the Tampa /St. Petersburg area? Could it be that the Rays ownership group is realizing that trying to compete with Big Market Teams is an exercise in futility in the long term? There is always the possibility of the Tampa Bay Rays moving, however remote. It would make sense that prior to a move, they would want to shed salaries and expiring contracts.
Possibility number two is that the Rays simply want to get some return for players approaching free agency. At the end of the 2015 season, Zobrist would be a free agent for the first time, and I believe he was going to test the market. At 34 years old, there will not be too many more opportunities, so I really wouldn’t blame him. So with Zobrist in his walk year, the Rays probably figured that they better get something for him or risk losing him for a conditional draft pick. It is painful for the Rays fans, but it was probably a good move by the Rays. If you think back to the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and two other prospects, the same contract issues existed for Shields. The Rays didn’t want to get stuck getting nothing for him, so the trade was made. It makes baseball sense. The same thing went for their other front-line starter in the person of David Price. He was also set to be a free agent at the end of 2015, and better to get something rather than nothing…

Of course, there is always what I call ‘natural attrition’, which is basically the everyday business of baseball. Players move on either via trade or they become free agents in the natural course of things without much fanfare. I am, in this case, referring to the pawns in the chess game. Players that merit a blurb in the local sports section are also needed to make up a 25-man roster, and as such are part of the conversation.
The other part of this fire sale wasn’t a sale at all. It was more of the ‘natural attrition’ vein from above. I, along with the rest of the baseball world was shocked when Rays manager Joe Maddon suddenly resigned and just a few days later was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Now it appears that the only ‘names’ left on the Tampa Bay Rays roster are Evan Longoria, David DeJesus, and now Asdrubal Cabrerra. I have no idea how the Rays are going to fill seats in the outdated Trop in 2015. It looks like the Tampa Bay Rays have been charred beyond recognition in their fire sale, and it will be a long season in Tampa.