Yesterday, free-agent pitcher Roy Halladay announced that he’d sign a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays and never play professional baseball again.
It seems so antiseptic to put it that way, but that’s what happened. And it’s a great loss for baseball.
The Halladay legend is well known. The first-round pick out of a high school in the suburbs of Denver, Halladay reached the majors by age 21, but his career fell apart in 2000, when he posted a 10.64 ERA for Toronto and was demoted all the way down to A-ball. It was there, during his Ankielian nadir, that he discovered The Mental ABC's of Pitching by H.A. Dorfman, then recast his mechanics and returned to Toronto the next year. There, he began an 11-year run of dominance the likes of which you see once in a generation. You know the stories about his legendary dawn patrol workouts and his equally legendary bromance with his catcher Carlos Ruiz, the swarthy, fireplug-shaped Panamanian who’d collaborate with his physical opposite, the 6-foot-6, blond-haired Halladay, on the two greatest pitching performances of his career.
You likely know the numbers, but let’s repeat a few. From 2001 to 2011, among pitchers who threw at least a thousand innings, Halladay
We've seen more hot stove action to this point than in any other season in recent memory. Still, plenty of questions remain as baseball's annual winter meetings begin today. Short-handed teams will look to fill their roster holes before the pool of quality players dries and test the trade market as the free-agent crop dwindles; contenders will aim to shore up their squads; and the handful of remaining impact free agents will try to snag big deals before the money train grinds to a halt.
Here are five story lines to watch as baseball's executives gather in Orlando.
1. Are the Dodgers Going to Trade Matt Kemp?
My hunch: Yes. It just makes too much sense to not happen. For starters, the Dodgers have a positional logjam. Kemp is one of four outfielders on the major league roster who should be starting, and it's not as though the Dodgers can DH Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, or Yasiel Puig. There's also the health factor, as Kemp's injuries have transformed him from an MVP-caliber star in 2011 to a replacement-level player just two years later. There are concerns over Kemp's ability to play a passable center field even if he can stay in the lineup. There are rumors of a rift between Kemp and upper management. And then there's the fact that the Dodgers' goal from the get-go was to make a splash early on, then settle into a saner business model in which scouting and player development matter, the roster includes both high-priced stars and young up-and-comers, and there's at least a shred of fiscal prudence, even if the payroll remains high.
The Seattle Mariners have agreed to terms with Robinson Cano on a 10-year, $240 million contract, marking the most dramatic example to date of a franchise taking the $26 million per team per year in new national TV money and actually spending it. It’s a good deal for Cano and a potentially great one for the Mariners.
That new TV deal, announced 14 months ago, granted broadcast rights to Fox and TBS through 2021. Combine that with the league's existing ESPN deal, and teams now stand to earn $12.4 billion over the lifetime of the contracts, more than doubling previous totals. Last winter and so far this winter, we hadn't seen many teams that lack the big media-market power of L.A. or New York or Boston spending top dollar to land marquee players. The closest we'd come was Minnesota signing right-handed starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in rapid succession to contracts worth a combined $73 million. This free-agent class, like last year's, is short on superstars, but it still felt odd that the small- and medium-market clubs that had suddenly received a huge windfall of cash seemed content to stick the money under their mattresses, rather than spending it on good players who could help win games. Credit the Mariners for finally getting it.
Who needs the winter meetings? Apparently not Major League Baseball’s general managers, who, while evidently hopped up on krokodil, executed a flurry of trades and free-agent deals a week before the sport's offseason confab at Disney World. The 48-hour swirl of signings and swaps saw Jacoby Ellsbury commit the ultimate heel turn, the Nationals further solidify their starting rotation, and the A's begin filming their audition tape for Hoarders: Bullpen Strong. Tuesday's action was largely a series of middling moves and “my garbage for your trash” trades, but taken cumulatively, the effect was, well, startling.
As with any period of great upheaval, the stunned citizenry must have questions. Let's try to answer five of them, starting with the big one.
In 2013, Francisco Liriano, Koji Uehara, Russell Martin, Bartolo Colon, James Loney, and Marlon Byrd were the poster boys for that reality. They all had flaws that led to relatively low-price contracts, but wound up delivering big. Teams underrate defense and overrate offense. Too often, franchises focus on a poor recent season instead of considering a three-year sample, discounting that players in their late twenties and early thirties are still capable of bouncing back from off campaigns.
So who will these players be in 2014? Two have already signed amid a flurry of early activity. Three more remain there for the claiming with the winter meetings still two weeks away.
These five undervalued players look poised to help their new clubs reap big rewards in 2014, and possibly beyond.
A flurry of moves over the past few days has the hot stove firing earlier than usual this offseason. With the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler blockbuster swap already thoroughly examined, let's explore what these other trades and signings mean for the teams, the players, and the rest of the winter.
New York Yankees
What they've done: The Yankees signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a vesting option that could take the deal to six years and $100 million.
What it means: McCann gives the Yankees' offense a big boost. A few years ago, the Bombers fielded a lineup stuffed with power hitters and big on-base threats, the kind of attack that would wear down opposing pitchers and bash teams into submission, making up for New York's sometimes shaky run prevention. That formula unraveled in 2013, with major injuries knocking multiple boppers out of the lineup, reducing the Yankees' offense to no. 28 in baseball on a park-adjusted basis. Chris Stewart, the team’s primary receiver, hit an abysmal .211/.293/.272. Since 2006, McCann’s first full season, only four catchers have delivered more offensive value. Strip out Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli, who no longer catch, and McCann trails only Joe Mauer and Buster Posey; and once the 2014 season starts, Mauer won't be catching, either.
Hockey gets a lot of things right, but I'm particularly fond of its awards. While the NHL has the usual offerings — MVP, rookie of the year, coach of the year — the league separates itself with some really creative honors. Plus, all the awards have cool names, like the Art Ross Trophy!
Baseball needs more of this. So before the post–MLB awards week haze sets in and we all try to forget that we've been arguing about Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for what feels like the last 65 years, let's create some hockey-style awards for America's favorite pastime.
The Bonnie Raitt Trophy
Description: The player who most gives 'em something to talk about.
2013 winner: Alex Rodriguez. Even though A-Rod only played in 44 games, nobody got the ol’ debate machine going this season quite like he did. Since at this point Yankees fans like criticizing Rodriguez more than they actually like baseball, we should probably just etch A-Rod’s name into the trophy (a guitar with a bat for the neck) for each of the past 10 seasons. Biogenesis, a drug scandal that feels like it was ripped from the pages of a bad John Grisham novel, certainly hasn't helped A-Rod. But while this year produced a particularly potent field of controversial ballplayers, if controversy were like hitting, A-Rod would be Ty Cobb.
If baseball's MVP voters allowed objective criteria to guide them, we wouldn’t have much of a debate about which two players deserve to win the award. But without debate, why bother caring about sports? Often, the empirics are so overwhelmingly in favor of one conclusion that the rest of us have to make up retorts in order to argue, or reconcile an individual’s performance with his team's performance, or simply tell a better story.
After last year's voters convinced themselves that Miguel Cabrera and David Price had better MVP and Cy Young claims than Mike Trout and Justin Verlander, respectively, I became certain that it's possible to argue any case as long as you do one thing: Instead of starting with evidence and using it to draw a conclusion, you have to start with a desired conclusion and then cherry-pick the evidence that supports it. You can pick and choose your data, ignore context, and, if necessary, contradict facts altogether. You just have to hope no one calls you on it.
Cabrera and Price were bad awards picks, but we regularly elect people to high office who make crazier arguments than "David Price should win the Cy Young" and nobody bats an eye.
Later today, Cabrera will likely beat out Trout for AL MVP honors for the second year in a row. That's stupid — but so is once again trying to explain why that's stupid. Instead, it’s time to sharpen our debate pistons and test the limits of our logical and rhetorical creativity. Because there’s an argument to be made — “there’s an argument to be made,” by the way, is the lifeblood of people who make inane points to get attention — for a couple truly outrageous MVP candidates.
As first reported by the Marietta Daily Journal, the Braves are leaving Turner Field, the downtown home of the Atlanta Braves since 1997. The team is leaving for a new stadium in Cobb County, an inner northside suburb, for the start of the 2017 MLB season. Prior to Turner Field, erected for the 1996 Olympic Games, the Braves played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a venue that once stood for decades in Turner Field's current parking lot.
The reason for the move is not complicated. Yes, this is a developing story, with a number of financial and logistical factors involved (the Braves not having control over Turner Field's surroundings; infrastructural repairs; a lease that was running out; the City of Atlanta not willing to put such a significant taxpayer burden in order to keep the team downtown), but none of those truly explains the reason for the Braves' move.
As the 0-2 curveball left the fingertips of Jose Veras's right hand, the Tigers were leading Game 6 of the American League Championship Series 2-1. It was late in the game, and if Shane Victorino struck out, the mood at Fenway Park would have migrated from cautiously optimistic to squanderphobia. Veras and his curveball had mystified Victorino, already besting him twice earlier in the series. Veras loves to throw his curveball; in fact, the Red Sox were well aware that he throws that pitch about 80 percent of the time on 0-2 counts. So with Victorino now in that exact predicament, there was little doubt what pitch was coming.
In 1990, Nolan Ryan bought a bank in Alvin, Texas. It was an era of financial chicanery, of Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. Ryan entered the industry as a folksy CEO. “When I was growing up,” he remarked, “customers knew their banker by name. That’s the way it should be.” Nearly two decades later, Ryan ran the Texas Rangers almost exactly as he had the Express Bank. You knew where he sat during games. You knew the plain and sensible thoughts that crossed his mind. And until his jarring resignation Thursday, everyone in baseball knew the Rangers team president by name.
Ryan says he “resigned”; the Rangers owners say “retired.” The distinction isn’t important. The Rangers came to the conclusion that GM Jon Daniels was doing the hard work of organization-building and Ryan was a useless figurehead. I want to alter that line of thinking only slightly. In six seasons with the Rangers, Nolan Ryan was an extremely useful figurehead. His mere presence offered the possibility of optimism, which is the second-best thing to signing Yu Darvish and Adrian Beltre.
These days, the Rangers are described as a “model franchise.” So let me take you back to the two times Ryan landed his spaceship in Arlington. The first was 1989. Ryan was 42 years old and still a baseball player. The Rangers had never won a playoff game, let alone appeared in a playoff series. That offseason, they traded for Julio Franco and Rafael Palmeiro and gave $1.8 million to Ryan.
“Probably the most important byproduct of all that change is a change in their image and self-image,” Sandy Alderson told The Sporting News.
This is not a great World Series pairing for neutral fans. Scrappy underdogs Pittsburgh, Tampa, Cleveland, and Oakland are out. Cincinnati lasted one game, despite fielding one of baseball's best offenses. The ebullient Dodgers are gone, and with them the postseason's best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) and most intriguing player (Yasiel Puig). No more lightning-rod Braves, no more outstanding and well-rounded Tigers.
We’re left with two very good but very vanilla teams. And the matchup is as bland as the clubs: We’ve seen this show not only in 1946 and 1967, but as recently as 2004. In the past 10 years, the Red Sox and Cardinals have combined for 11 LCS appearances, five pennants, and four World Series. This isn’t just a remake; it’s Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, and that makes it hard for baseball fans who aren't from New England or greater St. Louis to pick a team to support.
Luckily, there is something impartial observers can love about each of these teams.