This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: December, 2016
Bud Selig, Hall of Famer Fat Contracts (as well as Coffee) are for Closers
What a Drag: The End of Rookie Hazing Your Newest Tanker: The White Sox

Wild Pitches

Yes, They Can’t Believe This Really Happened
(December 2016 Edition)

The Friendly, Expensive Confines
The Cubs are raising ticket prices at Wrigley Field by an average of 20% for the 2017 season.

O’s No You Won’t
The Orioles stated that they would not sign free agent outfielder Jose Bautista because Baltimore fans “don’t like him.”

Somebody Just Got Their Holiday Bonus Ensured
As part of the trade that sent Milwaukee reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox, the Brewers were given $100.

A Valentine for Bobby
Ex-Red Sock Kevin Youkilis, upon hearing that former Boston manager Bobby Valentine would be named U.S. Ambassador to Japan: “Looks like I won’t be allowed to visit Japan for the next four years.”

It’s Really Lonely in St. Pete
The Tampa Bay Rays were the only team to vote against the new Basic Agreement.

Ballpark Bowlathon 2016
Four major league venues, all of them baseball-specific, held college football bowl games; the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park, the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field, the Cactus Bowl at Phoenix’s Chase Field, and the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Impressive, But You are Not a Jedi Yet
The last word on this crazy 2016 from a high school baseball player in Japan.

This Great Game at CafePress

Bushers Book

The Ballparks on This Great Game

Thursday, December 1
The Atlanta Braves continue to charge up the rotation for their upcoming first campaign at SunTrust Park, trading three minor leaguers to St. Louis for pitcher Jaime Garcia. The 30-year-old southpaw is coming off a lousy season in which he posted his first sub-.500 record (10-13) and career-worst 4.67 ERA. The only good news for Garcia in 2016 was that he was relatively healthy, starting 30 games after logging only 56 the previous four years.

Pittsburgh infielder Jung Ho Kang, spending the offseason in his native South Korea, is arrested for driving under the influence, crashing his vehicle and fleeing the scene. Kang’s blood alcohol level is at 0.084, well over the 0.05 limit in South Korea (in America, it’s 0.08). No other vehicles are involved in the crash, and no one is hurt.

This is the third time Kang has been arrested for DUI in South Korea. He will likely lose his driving license.

Friday, December 2
Thirty-five players are told they will not be offered arbitration, making them free agents for 2017. There are a few noteworthy names on the list, including Milwaukee slugger Chris Carter (who tied for the NL lead in home runs in 2016 with 41), catcher Welington Castillo and pitcher Rubby De La Rosa for Arizona, St. Louis reliever Seth Maness, Washington outfielder Ben Revere, and San Diego pitcher Tyson Ross.

Saturday, December 3
A dozen years after giving Houston great bang for their buck as a half-season rental, Carlos Beltran is returning to the Astros on a one-year, $16 million deal. After being acquired by the Astros in June 2004, Beltran hit a so-so .258 but wielded great power, smoking 23 home runs in 90 games—but he became a man on fire during that postseason for Houston, batting .397 with eight homers, 17 runs batted in and 22 runs scored over 18 games as the Astros were stopped short in their World Series quest by the Chicago White Sox. Beltran is coming off a solid year in which he hit .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs split between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers; hell turn 40 years of age shortly after Opening Day 2017.

Sunday, December 4
The “Today’s Game Era” of the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee announces two new members at Cooperstown: Former commissioner Bud Selig and long-time front office stalwart John Schuerholz. Selig is the fifth commissioner (out of ten) to be admitted into the Hall, while Schuerholz gets 100% of the vote after his efforts to help build the great Kansas City teams of the 1970s and 1980s, and the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and 2000s.

Of eight other candidates not selected, only one—former manager Lou Piniella, received four (25%) or more votes. Others on the ballot, voted on by a committee of journalists, executives and former players, include George Steinbrenner, Mark McGwire, Albert Belle and Will Clark.

Some will gripe over the induction of Selig, who is accused in many circles for his role in the 1994-95 work stoppage that wiped out the 1994 World Series, and also for turning his back on the steroid epidemic before serious testing began in 2005. (Purists will also lament the wild card, which he helped pushed.) But if Selig is to take the blame for all of that, than he must be given credit for turning MLB into a wildly profitable enterprise, the aggressive creation of the game’s online functions (including and the fact that there were no further work stoppages under his watch after 1995.

After spending his last eight years in St. Louis, Matt Holliday has a new home in New York after signing a one-year, $13 million deal with the Yankees. Holliday, who turns 37 in January and has been in some decline over the last three years—injuries haven’t helped—will likely be slotted into the DH role for the Yankees.

Monday, December 5
The San Francisco Giants have fixed what greatly ailed them in 2016 by signing closer Mark Melancon for four years and $62 million. The 32-year-old right-hander has developed into one of the premier ninth-inning specialists over the last four years, posting a 1.80 ERA with 147 saves while blowing just 15 other opportunities—a far cry from the rotten numbers of the Giants’ combined closing staff who sank any chance of the team winning a fourth straight even-year world title.

Rich Hill is returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a three-year, $48 million deal. The veteran right-hander, who turns 37 during spring training, apparently has impressed the Dodgers enough in spite of constant injuries that have limited his career win total to a mere 38 over 12 seasons—but over the last two years he’s 14-6 in 24 starts with a stellar 2.00 ERA.

Major League Baseball reports that total revenue for the 2016 season surpasses a whopping $10 billion, setting a record for the 14th straight year. What’s behind it? Just about everything, according to Maury Brown of Forbes. “The league continues to see incredible growth around its digital media company, MLB Advanced Media, as well as stable attendance, growth in sponsorships, robust television ratings at the local level, and positive television ratings not seen in over a decade for the postseason.”

Tuesday, December 6
Ace pitcher Chris Sale trades in his White Sox for Red Sox, getting dealt to Boston in exchange for four young players including highly touted Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada. Sale joins a Red Sox rotation that will now include David Price and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello—and he won’t come expensive, either; he’s owed $37.5 million over the next three years, assuming the Red Sox pick up his 2018 and 2019 options.

The trade of Sale is a sign that the White Sox are either in total rebuild mode or they’ve simply had it with the turbulent ace, who caused more than his share of clubhouse friction this past year. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain why you want to give up one of baseball’s best pitchers when, contract-wise, he’s one of the its best bargains.

Good news for Sale: The Red Sox don’t use too many throwback uniforms.

The Red Sox aren’t done wheeling and dealing on the day. They sign free agent first baseman Mitch Moreland—your modest 20-homer guy who’s spent the last seven years with Texas—and trade for Milwaukee reliever Tyler Thornburg, who posted a swift 2.15 ERA for the Brewers in 67 games this past season.

It’s not a good day for the Washington Nationals; aside from not getting Sale (who they were heavily rumored to be after), they also lose free agent catcher Wilson Ramos to Tampa Bay for two years and a guaranteed $12.5 million. Ramos had his best year yet in 2016, batting .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs to earn a spot on the NL All-Star team.

Ramos should be a godsend for a Tampa Bay team whose catchers have combined to hit .199 over the last three seasons.

The Baseball Writers Association of America vote 80-9 to make all Hall-of-Fame ballots public for the first time starting in 2018. We’re guessing that among the nine who dissented were the three who didn’t check Ken Griffey Jr. on the 2016 ballot—and thus didn’t have to explain why.

Wednesday, December 7
Free agent Aroldis Chapman, arguably baseball’s top closer, is going back to where he started last year—no, not on the suspended list, but on the roster of the Yankees after agreeing to a five-year, $86 million deal. It’s the largest contract ever given to a reliever both in terms of years and money.

The Chicago Cubs, for whom Chapman finished the year with and helped secure a World Series ring for, waste no time in finding a replacement. They send Jorge Soler from a crowded Cubs outfield to Kansas City for Wade Davis, who’s produced a stifling 1.18 ERA since being converted into a reliever in 2014; in 27.1 career postseason innings, he’s even better—posting a 0.33 ERA.

A day after losing out on acquiring Chris Sale, the Nationals huddle anew with the White Sox and successfully nab outfielder Adam Eaton for three pitchers, including potential rising star Lucas Giolito. Eaton’s presence in the outfielder will likely mean a move to shortstop for 2016 breakout performer Trea Turner, returning to his natural position.

With the Cubs basking in the glow of a long-overdue championship, the crosstown White Sox appear to be making it clear that they’re reloading for the future.

Ian Desmond is rewarded for an impressive 2016 campaign with Texas by signing a five-year, $70 million pact with Colorado. With the Rangers, Desmond hit .285 with 22 homers, 86 RBIs and 107 runs scored while learning to play the outfield on the fly; with the Rockies, he’ll play either at first or in the outfield.

The new deal for Desmond is still lower than the nine-figure extension the Nationals offered him a few years ago.

The Hall of Fame’s broadcast wing names former Oakland A’s announcer Bill King as its newest member, winning the annual Ford C. Frick Award. For 25 years, the fluid and absolutely dynamic King provided play-by-play for the A’s—yet he’s still better known for his work with basketball’s Golden State Warriors and especially (thanks to NFL Films) football’s Oakland Raiders, both of whom he did equally brilliant work for. King, who passed away in 2005, once said that baseball was his favorite sport to call.

There is no broadcast wing for either the football or basketball Hall of Fames; if there were, King would surely be there as well.

Friday, December 9
A year after the Cubs snared Jason Heyward away from St. Louis, the Cardinals get even. Outfielder Dexter Fowler, who hit .276 with a .393 on-base percentage for Chicago in 2016, signs a five-year, $82 million deal to play for St. Louis. The move gives the Cardinals, who failed to list a single player with double-digit steals this past year, a desperately needed leadoff presence.

Why have one Field of Dreams when you can have 24? The people who run the house and ballfield amid the Iowan corn fields where the popular 1989 movie was filmed has been given clearance to use the rest of its property to develop a massive 24-field baseball/softball complex after the Iowa Supreme Court denied a local effort to keep it from being built. The citizens in and around Dyersville, a small town some two miles away from the site, complained that the expansion would lead to choking traffic and disruptions to adjacent agricultural farming.

Saturday, December 10
Shortstop Danny Espinosa, the odd man out in the Nationals’ recent acquisition of outfielder Adam Eaton (thus pushing Trea Turner to short), is traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for two minor league pitchers. The Angels will welcome Espinosa’s power (he hit a career-high 24 homers in 2016) but will also have to deal with his predilection for low batting averages (lifetime .226 mark) and strikeouts (one in nearly every three career at-bats).

It’s a happy ending for Espinosa, born near Anaheim, on an otherwise rotten day in which he woke up still stewing over the Eaton deal; he even refused to show up to the Nationals’ Winterfest, before being traded.

Monday, December 12
The Los Angeles Dodgers make their move in the free agent market, bringing back two players: Closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner. Jansen’s five-year deal is worth five years and $80 million, slightly lower than the record deal for a closer given a week earlier to Aroldis Chapman; he was reportedly offered a more lucrative contract from Miami, but turned it down. Turner re-signs for four years and $64 million.

The comprehensive new Basic Agreement recently signed by players and owners continue to be probed with new snippets of information being revealed. Today’s big news item, per the Associated Press: Hazing rituals involving rookies being forced to dress as women or in costumes “that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic” will be banned.

MLB used to be okay with the rookies-dressed-as-women bit back in the day, but now with the omnipresence of social media, it gets a lot more attention—and more criticism as a result. So baseball’s banning of the practice is more about avoiding bad publicity than tolerating rookie shaming.

So while players won’t be told to don Wonder Women or Hooters waitress outfits, they can still be hazed by resembling Gumby, or a ketchup bottle, or a boy scout—until, someone complains about it?

Tuesday, December 13
Colorado pitcher Chad Bettis discloses that he has testicular cancer and recently underwent surgery to get rid of it. Bettis led the Rockies in 2016 with 14 wins and 186 innings pitched; he is expected to make a full recovery and be at spring camp in 2017.

Wednesday, December 14
There are three relatively minor but intriguing free agent signings on the day, each of them worth one year and $6 million. The Cubs pick up reliever and former Boston closer Koji Uehara, who will turn 42 in April while, across town, the White Sox sign former Texas starter Derek Holland in a move some see as a possible bargaining chip to be used by the team for later in the 2017 season. And in Baltimore, the Orioles bring on catcher Welington Castillo—nicknamed “Beef” this past year by Vin Scully—a move which makes it unlikely that they’ll bring back Matt Wieters (himself a free agent) after eight years behind the dish in Baltimore

Thursday, December 15
Odubel Herrera is rewarded for a surprisingly good first couple of seasons with Philadelphia by being given a five-year, $30 million extension by the Phillies. The deal covers his entire time he would fall under arbitration and his first year of free agency. A Rule 5 draftee snatched from Texas, Herrera has quickly evolved into one of the Phillies’ best players, hitting .286 with 15 home runs, 25 steals and 87 runs scored in 2016.

Friday, December 16
After failing to nab any of the three big-name closers on the free agent market, the Marlins “settle” for Brad Ziegler, who held down the Arizona closer job early in 2016 before being traded to Boston where he performed set-up duties for Craig Kimbrel. The 37-year-old submariner will likely continue to do work before the ninth but could become a safety valve option should A.J. Ramos start to fall apart. The Marlins’ deal with Ziegler is for two years and $16 million.

Saturday, December 17
Six teams will be paying a luxury tax based on payroll spent above the MLB-mandated threshold, in information released to the public. The Dodgers have the largest levy at $31.8 million, while the Yankees—surpassing the threshold for the 14th straight season—owe $27.4 million. The other four teams over the limit are Boston ($4.5 million), Detroit ($4 million), San Francisco ($3.4 million) and the Cubs ($2.96 million).

Tuesday, December 20
The Red Sox, with more starting pitching than they’d like to enter spring camp with, deal veteran Clay Buchholz to Philadelphia for minor leaguer Josh Tobias. The 32-year-old Buchholz led a frustrating up-and-down experience in Boston over a ten-year tenure, performing as well as his fragility would allow him. He did extensive bullpen work for the first time in his career late in 2016, but figures to be part of the Phillies’ rotation in 2017.

Thursday, December 22
Edwin Encarnacion, with more home runs than other major leaguer (excepting Chris Davis) over the past five seasons, signs a three-year, $60 million contract to move from the Toronto Blue Jays to the team that knocked them out of last year’s postseason: The Cleveland Indians. The 33-year-old slugger has averaged 39 homers and 110 RBIs since being relieved from the pressures of playing third base, where he proved defensively deficient; on the Indians’ roster, he’ll likely replace current free agent Mike Napoli as part-first baseman, part-DH.

Encarnacion becomes the Indians’ first $20 million-a-year ballplayer; Carlos Santana is due to make the second highest salary in Cleveland in 2017, at $12 million.

Ivan Nova, who struggled for the Yankees but found late-season bliss in Pittsburgh after a midseason trade this past season, re-signs with the Pirates for three years and $26 million. In 11 starts with the Bucs, Nova went the distance in three of them—matching his Yankee total over 118 starts—and finished 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA.

Friday, December 23
In a deal mirroring the one just given to the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera, Atlanta extends outfielder Ender Inciarte for five years and $30 million, covering four years of arbitration and the first year of his free agency. Though he lacks for power, Enciarte has emerged as a strong contact hitter with a career .292 average through his first three years.

Saturday, December 24
John Barfield, who pitched for the Texas Rangers from 1989-91, is shot to death while at his Little Rock, Arkansas home with his girlfriend. The assailant is the woman’s estranged husband, who is arrested. Barfield made 65 appearances for Texas and finished his career 8-8 with a 4.72 ERA.

Monday, December 26
To almost no one’s surprise, the Associated Press names the Cubs’ World Series conquest the sports story of the year, collecting 48 of 59 first-place votes from AP editors. The last time a baseball-related story won the honor came in 2009 when the steroids scourge, led by Alex Rodriguez’s confession of past PED use, took center stage.

Thursday, December 29
Chris Cannizzaro, who logged 13 years in the majors mostly as a part-time catcher, succumbs to lung cancer at age 78. Breaking in with expansion teams became a repetitive exercise for Cannizzaro; he was an original member for both the fabled 1962 Mets and the 1969 Padres, the latter for which he saw his most action and his lone All-Star appearance. Cannizzaro collected only 458 hits and batted .235 during his time in the majors, then served as a coach in the minor league circuit for seven years before retiring to the San Diego area, where he lived out the rest of his life.

Friday, December 30
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, thinking it’s a good idea to get in some winter work in Valenzuela, decides that it’s perhaps not such a good idea and gives it a rest after making just two appearances totaling 91 pitches. Hernandez says he was hoping to build up arm strength in advance of the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic (in which he’ll pitch for his native Valenzuela), but with his winter team eliminated from the playoffs, he didn’t want to expose his name to a draft in which those teams still in the hunt can use him.

So was it wise for Hernandez, who had one of his worse outputs of his career in 2016 and failed to break 200 innings for the first time in nine years, to play winter ball? Part of Hernandez’s claim is that he’s trying to get ready for the WBC, but the trends for the past few seasons show a guy whose arm may have begun to tire, so rest might have been a better prescription. And besides, prepping for the 2017 regular season is, to us, still far more important than participation in the WBC—which, for all of its good intentions and visions of greatness, is still a half-baked event scorned upon by many star players.

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