This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: December, 2015
Pete Rose is Still Banished Who Wants Aroldis Chapman?
The Diamondbacks Sweeten Their Rattle Why Are the Mets Doing Nothing?


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.297 122 184 41 2 41 123 73 0 6 6

The Blue Jays and their fans will be happy to send history’s biggest Christmas gift basket to Billy Beane after the Oakland GM gifted the talented and loyal third baseman to Toronto four full years before he became a free agent; the deal is officially termed a steal until if and when Kendall Graveman becomes the next Clayton Kershaw in Oakland. Donaldson is now the odds-on favorite to win the AL MVP with 41 homers, AL highs in 123 RBIs and 352 total bases, and a major league-leading 122 runs. Beyond that, his stellar defense at third and overall dedication made him, clearly, an immediate fan favorite at Rogers Centre.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.330 118 172 38 1 42 99 109 15 5 6

It wasn’t a question of whether the über-talented kid from Vegas would break out, but when. And on the fourth year, he did: In a season in which the Nationals disappointed, Harper thrived—breaking out with a .330 average that brought him oh-so-close to a batting title, 42 homers and major-league bests in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649) and, thus, OPS (1.109). That the often reckless outfielder managed not to get hurt was, perhaps, a more impressive achievement. Harper may still be learning the ropes on how to become the perfect clubhouse guy (a test Jonathan Papelbon has apparently failed to pass), but he’s getting there. And he’s still only 23. Scary.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay Rays

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.178 16 53 14 0 5 26 11 0 3 0

The Rays got the 32-year-old backstop in part because they had gotten rid of Jose Molina, who had gotten too old and unable to hit. But after a decent 2014 batting .252 with 11 homers (in tough-hitting San Diego, no less), Rivera performed an unfortunate impression of old Molina that was so effective, his sub-Mario Mendoza play even enraged Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash into a rare, public postgame rant over another lousy day at the plate. Rivera’s top contribution was his deft handling of pitcher Chris Archer (he essentially was the ace’s personal catcher), but that left the Rays to plug their noses and look away whenever he came to bat.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Casey McGehee, San Francisco-Miami

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.198 14 47 12 0 2 20 21 0 0 0

After winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award with Miami in 2014, McGehee was brought on by the Giants as their answer at third base to the departed Pablo Sandoval. Instead, the 32-year-old Santa Cruz native became a problem of atomic-sized proportions, hitting just .213 with a stunning 15 double play grounders in just 127 at-bats before the Giants dumped him in favor of Matt Duffy, who shined as a top rookie. The Marlins brought back McGehee in hopes of reviving the magic of 2014, but he descended even further—hitting .182 with nary a home run. Nice guy, awful results.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
20-8 232 185 68 64 51 2 9 0 216 2.48

The long bearded one—he could crash the stage at a ZZ Top concert and nobody would know it—completed a stunning four-year rise that began as just another Astros pitcher who couldn’t find the strike zone (39 walks and 38 strikeouts in his 2012 rookie year) to a likely date at the Cy Young Award podium. The 27-year-old southpaw marveled from start to finish, notching an AL-best 20 victories, 232 innings and 1.02 WHIP while showing command of the zone with just two walks allowed per nine innings pitched. Astros fans certainly loved Keuchel, and why not: He was 15-0 at Minute Maid Park, the most home wins without a loss in one year by any pitcher, ever. Continue to love him, Astros Nation: He doesn’t become a free agent until 2019.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
19-3 222.2 148 43 41 40 5 7 0 200 1.66

Everyone’s talking Jake Arrieta as the NL’s elite of the elite after his jaw-dropping second-half performance, but when you consider the 2015 season as a whole, Greinke’s your guy. Beyond the above numbers, the right-hander who just turned 32 produced a 1.66 ERA that’s the lowest since Greg Maddux posted 1.63 in 1995, and a 0.84 WHIP that’s the 11th best in modern (post-1900) history. Strength and consistency went hand in hand for Greinke; only twice did he allowed more than three runs—they were games at offensive-minded Colorado and Philadelphia which, by the way, the Dodgers both won—and he put together a streak of 45.2 straight scoreless innings, the longest since Orel Hershiser’s record 59 in 1988. Adding intrigue to the offseason, Greinke just opted out of his current contract and became a free agent. Want a guy who opponents hit just .187 off of in 2015, is 82-26 over his last five years, and won’t shake your hand unless he knows you washed up after using the bathroom? Greinke’s your guy.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
4-8 83.2 103 67 64 27 6 1 0 50 6.88

Shortly after receiving the 26-year-old sophomore in a three-team preseason trade, the Tigers felt they got the best of the deal when Greene won his first three starts, allowing a single earned run over 23 innings. Then, just like the Bluesmobile in front of that Picasso, Greene’s season suddenly broke into a million pieces. He won just one of his next 13 starts, a dreadful period that included a 9.20 ERA, a month-long demotion to the minors, and revelations of blood flow issues that made his throwing arm and hand numb at times and ultimately required season-ending surgery. If Greene can rebound from all that misery and return to his early early-season glory, more power to him. He certainly doesn’t want to repeat this ride.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
David Buchanan, Philadelphia Phillies

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
2-9 74.2 109 60 58 29 3 2 0 44 6.99

The nothing-to-lose Phillies ushered in the future by bringing in a bunch of young pitching cadets, with some plusses—and some minuses. Buchanan represented the worst of the latter, struggling mightily in his second year as control issues and a penchant for sudden collapse dogged him; it all hit rock bottom on August 11 at Phoenix when he yielded 11 runs in less than two innings. As Dallas Keuchel above showed us, you can emerge from rotten beginnings to become a stud in this game, so there is hope for the 26-year-old Atlanta native—and his final four starts (five earned runs allowed in 22.1 innings) may be proof of that. So maybe in four years, when Buchanan wins NL Cy Young honors, we’ll look back at this and go, “Remember when?”


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Kansas City Royals (95-67)

Angered by endless preseason prognostications saying their 2014 pennant run was a fluke and they’d be lucky to return to .500 (let alone the playoffs), the Royals went on a mission to prove everyone wrong—and succeeded. Along the way, they made enemies with their brash method of pitching inside (the A’s and Blue Jays certainly can attest), but you have to admire the aggression, grit and determination of this ballclub to remind us all that they are still champion-worthy—which the Royals once again proved by collecting their second straight AL pennant.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
St. Louis Cardinals (100-62)

The Redbirds may have wilted early in the postseason against the frisky Cubs, but we must be reminded of an impressive regular season in which they managed to stay heads (and at times shoulders) above very tough divisional opposition in Chicago and Pittsburgh, thanks to brilliant pitching that posted the lowest team ERA (2.94) since the 1988 Mets and an influx of rookie saviors (Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham) who kept the lineup more than solvent in the face of numerous injuries to everyday starters. The clockwork ease of their success was, once again, a reminder of how the St. Louis organization may just be baseball’s best.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Oakland A's (68-94)

The A’s made the postseason—some of them anyway. Ex-A’s, actually, like Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays), Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard (Mets), Scott Kazmir (Astros), Addison Russell (Cubs) and Ben Zobrist (Kansas City). Billy Beane’s latest sell-off of talent did not result in positive dividends as most of his trades so maddening to Oakland fans manage to do—and though at some point Beane may stand tall and puff out loud, “I told you so,” this season yielded no evidence whatsoever that such a statement is forthcoming. Oakland’s record was its worst since 1997, with lousy fielding, lousy pitching (especially at year’s end) and loyal fans finding it hard to name three current A’s. But at least they know all those ex-A’s battling it out for a World Series trophy.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Philadelphia Phillies (63-99)

As expected, the Phillies hit rock bottom as the last of the tired vets of better years gone by breathed their final breaths of life in a Phillies uniform while a new wave of youngsters learned on the fly and did their best to keep this team from becoming the 1962 Mets (or the 1961 Phillies, whose 47-107 record was the only one worst than this year’s edition over the past 70 years). Cliff Lee never pitched, Ryan Howard hit like a burned-out warrior, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Ben Revere all escaped by midseason and Jonathan Papelbon followed suit only after throwing endless public fits about wanting to leave. (He soon became the Nationals’ problem.) There is promise among the young ones, so perhaps the parabolic turns in the Phillies’ favor next year. Can’t be any worse than this.



Wild Pitches

Yes, They Can’t Believe This Really Happened
(December 2015 Edition)

Only in Miami
The Miami Marlins' mascot is listed in the roster of coaches on the team’s web site.

90% of the Descent is Half Insanity
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Lindsay Berra—the granddaughter or the recently passed Yankee great Yogi Berra—participated in the Heights and Lights Christmas event in Stamford, Connecticut by rappeling down the side of a 22-story building. Let’s hope someone from the Boston Red Sox wasn’t holding the rope above.

Just Don’t Roll the Ball Foul
Boston outfielder Mookie Betts is good enough of a bowler that he was invited to—and played well in—the World Series of Bowling in Reno.

A 135-Year-Old Record From a One-Year League
Basketball’s Golden State Warriors ran up a 24-0 start before losing their first game, breaking the record for the longest undefeated start to a professional sports season long, long held by the 1884 St. Louis Maroons of the short-lived Union Association. The Maroons began their campaign at 20-0—outscoring their competition 234-67—before losing to the Boston Reds, 8-1; they would go on to finish 94-19-1 in a league that started with 12 teams and ended with half of that before entirely disbanding.

The Lucky Dozen
A list was released of 12 teams that embattled Washington closer Jonathan Papelbon has asked not to be dealt to, per his no-trade clause. The reactions of those 12: Likely a very big sigh of relief.

A Jeopardized Fad
On an episode of the game show Jeopardy, the answer was: "The word for the science of baseball analytics comes from the name of a research society." The question, as most baseball fans know, was sabermetrics. Nobody on the panel got it.

Twit of the Month
Someone tweeting on behalf of the Washington State Department of Transportation wrote this on December 30: “A semi was partly blocking ramp NB 5 to Edgar Martinez Way but it cleared just like we hope Edgar's road to the @BaseballHall will soon.”


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Bushers Book

Tuesday, December 1
David Price, arguably the top pitcher on the free agent market, signs a six-year, $217 million contract for the Boston Red Sox. The deal puts Price on a par with Miguel Cabrera as baseball’s top wage earner in terms of average annual pay, and also gives the Red Sox the legitimate ace they badly lacked in 2015.

Barry Bonds is back in baseball. The disputed home run king has been hired on by the Miami Marlins to be the team’s hitting coach.

Bonds working for Jeffrey Loria? Oh, this ought to be fun. Or, as Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan puts it: “There is no greater set of fools in baseball than Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson, and no matter how many great baseball men pervade their offices—and there are plenty—the amphisbaena atop the org chart will counteract any positives with its serial boobery.”

Wednesday, December 2
It’s Non-Tender Day, the deadline for major league teams to decide whether they want to offer arbitration to players under their control or grant them free agency. Some notable names are let go, including Kansas City closer Greg Holland (scheduled to miss all of 2016 anyway as he recovers from Tommy John surgery), Miami starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez, Houston slugger/strikeout machine Chris Carter and Pittsburgh infielder/error machine Pedro Alvarez, who will likely become a DH in his next gig.

It’s a rough fallout for Holland, who just six months ago was one baseball’s elite closers.

Thursday, December 3
The front office of the Toronto Blue Jays is taking on more of a Cleveland Indians’ kind of look. Toronto president Mark Shapiro—formerly the Indians’ general manager—announces the hiring of one of his underlings in Cleveland, Ross Atkins, to be the Blue Jays’ new GM.

If the Blue Jays downsize their payroll as some are murmuring, will it be referred to as “The Atkins Diet”?

Friday, December 4
With the talk regarding who will sign free agent pitcher Zack Greinke centering around either the Dodgers or Giants, out of left field—or Chase Field—comes the Arizona Diamondbacks, who stump all the guessers and land Greinke for six years and $206.5 million, averaging out to an all-time high $34.4 million per year. For those of you who think Greinke’s ERA will suffer playing half of his games at hitter-friendly Chase Field, note this: He’s 6-2 in ten career starts with a 3.34 ERA in Phoenix, and has only allowed one run in his last 28.1 innings there.

Maybe the Diamondbacks appealed to Greinke because of their sporty new uniforms.

Also signing—for significantly less—is veteran pitcher John Lackey, going to the Chicago Cubs for two years and $32 million. While he’ll earn far less total money than Greinke, his new salary is a big bump upward after the $507,000 loophole the Cardinals took advantage of this past year.

Saturday, December 5
A day after losing out on Greinke, the Giants go for Option #2, snagging pitcher Jeff Samardzija for five years and $90 million. It’s good loot for Samardzija, who fields a career 47-61 record and tanked in the second half of 2015 with a 6.29 ERA for the Chicago White Sox.

Sunday, December 6
It’s a good day to be a reliever. Contracts are handed out to 35-year-old Ryan Madson from the Oakland A’s for $22 million over three years and Darren O’Day, returning to Baltimore for four years and $31 million. What’s good about all of this? These are set-up relievers making closer money—though it’s possible that Madson, who was out of baseball for nearly four full years after a series of injuries and setbacks and made a terrific return impression last year with Kansas City, may emerge as the closer in Oakland.

Monday, December 7
Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville begin with news of the Cincinnati Reds sending closer Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers for two prospects, followed by the Dodgers backing off from the deal, followed by this: A report that back on October 30, Chapman engaged in a domestic spat with his girlfriend and others at his Miami home that included alleged choking, alleged gunshots and a visit from the police. No one was hurt, and no was one arrested because all the participants told different stories and refused to press charges against one another.

Still, news of the incident coming to light so belatedly—neither the Dodgers, MLB or Reds knew anything about it until this morning—is enough to give the Dodgers cold feet and not pull the trigger on acquiring Chapman, a top closer who’s entering the final year of his current contract. Now it becomes MLB’s duty to investigate and possibly discipline Chapman under its new domestic violence policy. Given the murky and disputable evidence, baseball may end up doing nothing.

Tuesday, December 8
The Diamondbacks prove they’re not content with just adding Zack Greinke to the mix. Arizona trades outfielder Ender Inciarte—a .300 hitter in 2015—and two first-round draft picks (including this past year’s #1 overall in Dansby Swanson) to Atlanta for pitcher Shelby Miller, who finished the season 6-17 but with a highly respectable 3.02 earned run average, as he got essentially no run support from the Braves. Miller is not likely to have the same problem in Phoenix.

Somebody in the Arizona front office must have bet his or her house on the Diamondbacks to win it all this year, because the team’s moves this offseason have hinted at nothing less.

Along with the Greinke signing, the Miller trade is an unmistakable sign that the Diamondbacks are in a “win-now” mentality after a 79-83 finish in 2015—but this deal is criticized in many circles for what the Diamondbacks gave up to get Miller. To that end, three of Arizona’s first-round draft picks over the previous three seasons are now all in the Atlanta organization, leading ESPN’s Keith Law to ponder, “Can’t wait to see who the Diamondbacks pick for the Braves in the 2016 draft.”

The Chicago Cubs sign Ben Zobrist for four years and $56 million. The veteran infielder has never made more than $7 million in any one season, and will become the Cubs’ primary second baseman; to make room, the Cubs send Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named later.

Wednesday, December 9
Trusty Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker is sent to the New York Mets in exchange for career .500 starting pitcher Jon Niese. Both players had lengthy tenures with their teams—Walker as a Pirate since 2009 and Niese as a Met since 2008. For the Mets, the acquisition of Walker virtually ends any thoughts that the Mets will actively attempt to re-sign playoff hero and free agent Daniel Murphy.

Philadelphia sends two player, principally closer Ken Giles, to Houston for five pitchers including Brett Oberholtzer and, it will be found out a few days later, pitcher Mark Appel, the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. Given the promising upside to those dealt by the Astros, it seems like an awful lot to give up for a closer, but Giles himself appears to be on the precipice of stardom at age 25—he’s got a 1.56 ERA in 113 career appearances—and the Astros feel he’s worth the price.

So who now closes for the Phillies? Many believe it will be ex-Diamondback David Hernandez, recently signed by the club.

With Appel being dealt to Philadelphia, two of the last three #1 picks in the amateur draft have been traded in the last week.

Thursday, December 10
The winter meetings wrap up with a few modest trades and little else. The Braves continue to deal, sending young catcher Christian Bethancourt to San Diego for two lesser players, while Washington trades infielder Yunel Escobar—who hit .314 as one of the few bright spots for the 2015 Nationals—to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for two pitchers.

Friday, December 11
The Cubs strengthen themselves even further and sign outfielder Jason Heyward, who many consider the best available free agent position player (with all due respect to Chris Davis) to an eight-year, $184 million contract. Though it’s less than the 25-year old had sought in terms of total years and dollars, the average annual $23 million salary is higher than the $20 million his agents was advertising. But if things don’t work out in Chicago—which has had a tendency to happen over the last 100 years—Heyward’s contract includes not one but two opt-out clauses.

For now, Heyward’s addition bolsters an already potent lineup and likely makes the Cubs favorites to win the NL pennant, if not their first World Series since 1908, in 2016.

When a big, fast and strong Heyward arrived on the scene in Spring Training 2010 with spectacular feats of clubbing home runs into the far reaches of the team parking lot (with many broken windshields as evidence), he was regarded as the next Willie Mays. And while he’s approached such lofty expectations defensively with three Gold Gloves in his first six years, his batting game has not followed suit.

Heyward has hit .268 and averaged 16 homers and 59 RBIs per season in his career to date—not exactly Mays-like nor even Michael Cuddyer-like numbers—but sabernerds point to all the WARs (Wins Above Replacement, with all its various meanings) that are consistently solid across his career stat sheet as the reason he’s so highly thought of in the game. Maybe so, but if Heyward continues to contribute offensive numbers at the same rate and the Cubs ultimately disappoint, folks in Chicago are not going to be happy with that contract.

Speaking of Michael Cuddyer, the 15-year veteran who turns 36 next March decides to call it a career, waiving off the final year of his contract that would have paid him $12 million in 2016. Cuddyer spent the bulk of his career with Minnesota at a somewhat consistent playing level dotted with a few terrific years (.284-24-109 in 2006, .276-32-94 in 2009), then spent three injury-riddled years in Colorado in which he barely managed enough at-bats in 2013 to win a NL batting title (at .331) before experiencing a middling campaign in 2015 with the Mets—almost becoming a forgotten man in the postseason with a 1-for-11 performance spent mostly on the bench.

Cuddyer ends his career with a .277 average, 1,522 hits and 197 home runs. He’ll make the Cooperstown ballot, and that’s as far as he’ll get.

Saturday, December 12
Detroit reliever Bruce Rondon, who’s disappointed to the point that he was given most of September off after manager Brad Ausmus didn’t think he was giving 100%, doesn’t score many points toward a positive return while pitching a winter league game in Venezuela when he gets into a brawl with an angry opponent who just got hit by him.

Monday, December 14
Commissioner Rob Manfred has weighed the facts regarding Pete Rose and made his decision: The all-time hit king will remain barred from baseball for gambling on baseball games while managing in the late 1980s. Manfred cites Rose’s refusal to reveal the full extent of his gambling history, his continued (albeit legal) gambling on sports events including baseball and an overall failure to rehabilitate himself from baseball’s perspective.

While the vocal pro-Rose minority assails the decision, most of those who agree with it pretty much say the same thing: Rose brought this on himself, first by committing the act of gambling, then denying that he did, and then admitting that, yes, he did some gambling and later admitting that he did some more and then some more later on. At this point, it comes to this: What will he next deny that will later be revealed as fact?

We received a poignant pro-Rose perspective from TGG reader Nicholas Howes, who states: “Pete Rose is just a man. A human being with flaws and all. If a person has an alcohol problem, do we forgive him when he gets sober? If a person has a drug problem, do we forgive that person when they get clean? Gambling addiction is the same thing. Forgiveness (is what’s) called for here. His addiction was so deep, he literally ignored the writing on the wall. This issue speaks more about us as a society and our capacity to forgive. I realize the Black Sox scandal years ago almost destroyed baseball. But this is about one man not a whole team throwing games.”

All good points. First, we can get in to how Rose’s betting hurt his Reds in the 1980s, but we’ll save that for another time (or you can read about it on our 1989 page). But what we believe trumps Rose’s addiction isn’t so much denial but a stubbornness that fuels his hope that, somehow, he can get away with not being caught. It’s too late for that, yet Rose still thinks that way. He’s trying to avoid being told what to do, to retain the upper hand he never had over the baseball establishment. He’ll still say he belongs in Cooperstown even though he clearly broke baseball’s ultimate sin. He’ll still gamble even as others tell him that’s no way to rehabilitate his image. He’ll still live in Las Vegas, for God’s sakes, though people tell him to get out.

The next day, Rose will discuss the banishment to reporters along the Las Vegas strip. (No kidding.) He was apologetic and admitted his talks with Manfred didn’t go as well as planned, saying, “I tried to be as honest as I could with the commissioner, but I made some mistakes and clarified them. Some of his questions, though, I kind of panicked.”

Rose also said he would focus on restoring his good name with the folks running the Hall of Fame, an entirely separate entity from MLB. For that, we tell Cooperstown: Go ahead, put him on the ballot. Trust us, he won’t get 75% of the vote. Not as long as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are stuck in the 30s.

Sidebar: If baseball really intends to be holier than thou on the subject of gambling, then why does it and many of its 30 teams get into sponsorship bed with pay-to-play fantasy leagues such as DraftKings (which, let’s face it, is gambling by another name) and various casinos? Even Pete Rose has to look at that and remark, “Really!?”

A week after bringing in Jeff Samardzija, the Giants make another big free agent splash by reeling in ace Johnny Cueto for six years and $130 million. Cueto struggled after a midseason trade to Kansas City—he ran hot and cold for the Royals, especially in the postseason—but he has the second best ERA among all pitchers over the last five years.

Wednesday, December 16
The Reds, shedding salary in return for prospects, dump All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier on the Chicago White Sox in a three-way trade that also involves the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seven players are included, with the Reds receiving three position players with a combined 58 at-bats’ worth of major league experience; the Dodgers get three unknown (for now) players, although outfielder Trayce Thompson—the younger brother of basketball star Klay Thompson—looked awfully good in a late-season trial with the White Sox, hitting .295 with five homers, eight doubles and three triples in 122 at-bats.

Thursday, December 17
For the second time this offseason, the Dodgers back away from consummating a deal for a name pitcher. First it was Aroldis Chapman after news of a domestic dispute involving the Reds closer came to light. Today it’s Hisashi Iwakuma, the 34-year-old who the Dodgers had agreed in principle for three years and $45 million—until he failed the physical. A free agent again, Iwakuma by day’s end rejoins the incumbent Seattle Mariners on a one-year deal.

Why wouldn’t the Mariners want to bring Iwakuma back? He holds the franchise's all-time best winning percentage among starting pitchers and is second behind Felix Hernandez on the ERA charts.

Friday, December 18
Matt Bush is getting another chance. Released from prison after serving 34 months of a 51-month sentence for a hit-and-run accident that seriously injured a motorcycle rider—one of many alcohol-fueled incidents that have plagued baseball’s #1 draft pick of 2004—Bush has signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers. A bust as a shortstop, Bush converted to a pitcher and was moving up the minor league ladder when last arrested in 2012.

Sunday, December 20
The Toronto Blue Jays announce that Rogers Centre will put in a traditional dirt infield for the 2016 season; it had been the last existing MLB facility to use sliding pits at all bases with turf in between. The installation of the dirt is considered the first step in a larger plan to give the 26-year-old facility originally named Skydome a makeover; future plans call for natural grass, a larger scoreboard and retrofitting of the concrete ceiling.

Monday, December 21
The first female scout in over 60 years is hired as Amanda Hopkins is brought on by the Seattle Mariners. She will focus on spotting talent in the Southwest.

You may ask: Who the devil was the first female scout, back in a time when most women were considered to be of best use as housewives? The answer to that question is Edith Houghton, who worked for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1946-51.

Tuesday, December 22
Mike Leake has found a new home in St. Louis, where the Cardinals have given him a five-year deal worth $80 million. It’s the first offseason catch for St. Louis, who finished 2015 with the majors’ best record (at 100-62) but lost in the NLDS to the Chicago Cubs—who, by the way, have made lost of wintertime news bulking up their roster.

Thursday, December 24
NL playoff hero Daniel Murphy signs a three-year deal worth $37.5 million to play for the Washington Nationals. Murphy had earlier hoped he would resign with the New York Mets, the organization for which he has played his entire professional career, but the Mets appeared to move on when they traded for Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker to take Murphy’s place. The Nationals, meanwhile, brought on Murphy after failing to trade for Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips in a deal the two teams actually agreed to—but the second baseman vetoed the deal because he had 10/5 powers (ten years as a major leaguer, five with the same team).

Murphy’s spectacular effort in the NLDS and NLCS—including a postseason record-setting six straight games with a home run—looked to jack up his offseason free agent price, but a weak World Series (three singles in 20 at-bats, two key errors) just as likely brought it back down. His average annual salary of $12.5 million appears unexpectedly low considering he rejected a one-year qualifying offer from the Mets for $15.8 million shortly after the conclusion of the 2015 season.

Meanwhile, the Mets’ failure (or unwillingness) to bring back two of their key offensive assets from their NL pennant-winning campaign—Murphy and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes—may be a reflection of the team’s inability to spend freely given that most of the revenue they make goes toward paying off debts, all the result of owner Fred Wilpon’s disastrous foray into investment with Ponzi scheme architect Bernie Madoff. Recent articles on the topic have enraged Mets fans all over again and have made outsiders wonder: Why was MLB so anxious to get rid of bankrupt-ridden Dodgers owner Frank McCourt while giving Wilpon a pass?

Saturday, December 26
The Huffington Post teases an investigative report from the Arab-owned Al Jazeera network that will air a day later and exposes another health clinic supplying sports stars with steroids. Although the headlines focus on football quarterback Peyton Manning, the article also mentions that Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard and veteran Washington infielder Ryan Zimmerman were supplied steroids from the clinic in 2011, according to Charles Sly, a pharmacist interviewed in the report. The Al Jazeera report also shows vagabond major league catcher Taylor Teagarden actually discussing his past steroid usage. In the report, Al Jazeera approaches Howard and Zimmerman about the accusations, which they deny.

Not only do Howard, Zimmerman and Manning all deny the story, Sly publicly refutes everything he said in the report. By the way, Chuck Sly is not exactly the most ideal name for one in his situation.

Sunday, December 27
Dave Henderson, the highly likeable outfielder of 14 seasons for five different teams, passes away at age 57 from a heart attack less then a month after receiving a kidney transplant. Henderson is best remembered for his postseason heroics, most famously in the 1986 ALCS for Boston when, with the Red Sox one strike away from being eliminated, he belted a home run that helped keep the series eventually won by the Red Sox alive. His tenth-inning blast in Game Six of the ensuing World Series against New York appeared to be a series winner, but the Mets countered in legendary fashion. In 36 playoff games, “Hendu” hit .298 with seven homers and 20 RBIs; during the regular season, his best years came as a member of the dominant Oakland A’s of 1988-93. He wore a smile that never seemed to go away, reflecting a shear love for the game.

Also passing away is Jim O’Toole, a solid pitcher for the Reds during the early 1960s, including a 19-9 mark in Cincinnati’s pennant-winning campaign of 1961. Self-confident and admittedly “cocky,” The Chicago-born southpaw was 69-43 for the Reds from 1961-64 before collapsing to a 3-10 mark in 1965 from which he would never recover. O’Toole was 78.

Monday, December 28
The Reds finally find a new home for Aroldis Chapman. The toxic ace closer is dealt to the New York Yankees (making their first offseason splash) for four minor leaguers. The Yankees have many weaknesses to address, but Chapman’s arrival enhances their biggest strength: The bullpen. Along with current Yankee relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, Chapman gives New York baseball’s top three pitchers of 2015 in terms of strikeouts per nine innings (minimum 50 innings).

As of this moment, Chapman is entering his final year before free agency—but that could be delayed if MLB decides to punish the closer for his role in an October domestic dispute that helped torpedo an earlier trade to Los Angeles.

The trade also ignites rumor that the Yankees may trade either Betances or Miller, but the team for now says they’re planning on keeping everybody.

Tuesday, December 29
Frank Malzone, a six-time All-Star, solid hitter and outstanding third baseman for 11 years with the Boston Red Sox, dies of natural causes at age 85. A loyal Red Sox man who often visited spring camp, Malzone had the misfortune of playing for Boston in some of the franchise’s more uninspiring times, from 1955-65; during that period, the Red Sox collected only four winning records, never seriously contended and averaged less than a million fans a season at Fenway Park. But Malzone made it enjoyable for those who did show, averaging 16 homers and 84 RBIs during his years as an everyday player while once playing in 475 straight games—the longest in Red Sox annals since 1920.

Wednesday, December 30
The Dodgers finally snag a pitcher without unexpected issues. Scott Kazmir, who split the 2015 season between Oakland and Houston, signs a three-year deal with Los Angeles for $48 million.

The addition of Kazmir gives the Dodgers a projected 2016 rotation of five left-handed starters—which, if it holds, would be the first such group to start a regular season. It would also threaten the record for most consecutive games started by a southpaw, recently reset at 20 games by the 2014 Colorado Rockies.


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