This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: January, 2016
The New Kids in the Hall So Long, Monte Irvin
In-Market Futures: MLB Caves in (a Little) on its Streaming Rules

Wild Pitches

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

He Tweeted What?
Missouri governor Sam Brownback bragged about the Royals resigning Alex Gordon because he'd save $1.8 million on his contract living in Missouri as opposed to had he gone to California. That led oneTwitter follower to respond: "(Gordon) lives in Nebraska. The Royals are in Missouri, no one likes you." (And that was among some of the more kinder responses to Brownback's tweet.)

Baseball Oddity
Baseball outfielder/Twitter pioneer Nick Swisher counted the late David Bowie as one of his 1.7 million followers.

Have We Finally Jumped the Shark?
The Atlanta Braves are this season planning to give away a bobblehead of ex-Brave Chipper Jones rescuing Freddie Freeman from a freak Atlanta snowstorm in 2014.

Antitrust Us
Baseball must be feeling some heat from Washington on its hallowed antitrust exemption—or soon expects to. It opened a new office in D.C. that will be the working home of the newly created position of Vice President, Government Relations (a.k.a., lobbyist), a job filled by Josh Alkin.

It’s Snowtime!
Mike Trout decided to do some offseason work as a guest correspondent for the Weather Channel, reporting from his parents’ home in New Jersey during Winter Storm Jonas.

It’s Norsetime!
Not to be outdone, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson had a cameo appearance on the History Channel show Vikings.

Chuck Like Charlie
Like all incumbent Colorado outfielders, Charlie Blackmon is rumored to be on the trading block—so perhaps this basketball feat will help increase his potential trade value. Even the Denver Nuggets thought it was amazing.

Passé, Meet Passé
MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson said that he would foot the bill for free agent pitcher Tim Lincecum’s 2016 contract if the Giants, his favorite team, re-signed him.

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Friday, January 1
Just a few days after signing Scott Kazmir, the Los Angeles Dodgers make another move to strengthen their rotation by bringing on 27-year-old Kenta Maeda from Japan’s Hiroshima Toyo Carp. In his last six seasons, Maeda is 80-51 with a 2.16 earned run average, including a 1.53 mark in 2012. Terms of the deal are reported to be $24 million over eight years.

Monday, January 4
In the midst of baseball’s mid-offseason lull, there’s a lot of folks bored—and that includes recently retired pitcher Dan Haren, who decides to tweet some things about his baseball life off his chest. Among them: That he thought his plane would crash 3-4 times, took Imodium before every start to avoid going to the bathroom, hit “only” 5-7 people on purpose and often wondered “how the hell I am going to get these guys out.”

Tuesday, January 5
A week after an Al Jazeera report exposes Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman and Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard as alleged steroid users, both players sue the Arab-owned news network for defamation. The Al Jazeera piece includes revelations from a pharmacist named Charles Sly who claimed both players took PEDs in 2011—but he has since recanted his statements.

Again we ask: If Sly is taking back what he said, what prompted him to say it in the first place?

The lawsuits are filed on the same day a New York Times article follows up on the Al Jazeera story and links Derek Jeter to the same clinic that supplied the PEDs to Howard and Zimmerman.

Later in August, Major League Baseball will clear Howard and Zimmerman of any wrongdoing in the matter, in part because Sly refuses to speak with Rob Manfred.

Paul DePodesta, the metrics-focused executive who served as the inspiration for the Jonah Hill character in Moneyball, is lured away from the New York Mets—where he was vice president of player development and scouting—by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns to become their chief strategy officer. It’s an unusual jump between leagues, and one that doesn’t make sense to some. Former NFL coach Brian Billick: “You can’t quantify the game of football the way you do baseball. It’s not a statistical game. The parameters of the game, the number of bodies and what they’re doing in conjunction with one another.”

Wednesday, January 6
Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza are named as the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016. Griffey Jr. gets 437 of 440 votes for a 99.3% approval—breaking Tom Seaver’s all-time mark by less than a percentage point. Piazza gets in on his fourth try.

Just missing are Jeff Bagwell (71.6%); Tim Raines (69.8%), who has one year of eligibility left; and first-year eligible Trevor Hoffman, who garnered 67.3%. Eliminated from future Cooperstown ballots—until the Veterans Committee comes calling—are Mark McGwire (12.3%) and Alan Trammell (40.9%).

The steroid stain continues to take a toll on those once considered a shoo-in for Cooperstown. Roger Clemens (45.2%) and Barry Bonds (44.3%) are still far from induction after four years on the ballot, and Sammy Sosa got enough votes (31, or 7.0%) just to remain on next year’s ballot.

The question a lot of folks are asking in the wake of this announcement: Who were the three voters who didn’t opt for Griffey Jr., and why? One theory bouncing around is that because the HOF only allows a maximum of ten checkmarks on each ballot, some who wanted to vote for more declined on Griffey Jr. (knowing that he’d get in) in favor of more fringe candidates. But none of the three responsible are talking—and really, nobody should get too upset over Griffey Jr., as it still boggles the mind to think that past voters also snubbed Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. And how about this: It took three tries for Joe DiMaggio to get in.

But never mind those who didn’t vote for Griffey Jr.; can the two voters who put a check next to David Eckstein’s name explain their decision?

It’s interesting to note: Griffey Jr. is the first #1 pick from the amateur draft to be voted into Cooperstown.

It’s even more interesting to note: Before today, John Smoltz was the lowest draft pick named to the Hall, having been taken in the 22nd round of the 1987 draft. Piazza waa selected in the 62nd round in 1988.

Meanwhile, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, a collection of well-known baseball writers, bloggers and other baseball experts, names Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez to its Hall, wherever that may be. (Perhaps it’s a bulletin board in the garage of IBWAA founder Howard Cole.) Griffey Jr. gets thumbs up on all 230 ballots submitted, while Martinez—who got 43% of the BBWAA vote—is blessed with the bare minimum 75% to pass. Piazza was elected by IBWAA voters in 2013, so he was no longer on the ballot. This Great Game’s Eric Gouldsberry, an IBWAA member, voted for Griffey Jr., Hoffman, Bonds and Clemens.

Score one for the incumbent. Outfielder Alex Gordon agrees for four years and $72 million to return to the Kansas City Royals, who most everyone thought had no chance of bringing him back. In terms of total dollars, it’s the richest contract ever handed out by the Royals.

Thursday, January 7
The Gordon signing may finally loosen up what’s been a sluggish offseason market for free agent outfielders, as Denard Span signs a three-year, $31 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Span led the NL in hits two years earlier, but in 2015 saw his time limited to 61 games as he underwent three surgeries, the last just taking place for an injurious hip.

Friday, January 8
Former St. Louis scouting director Chris Correa pleads guilty to Federal charges of corporate espionage into the Houston Astros’ system in 2013 and 2014 while working for the Cardinals. Correa had initially claimed that he hacked into the Astros’ database because he was concerned that ex-St. Louis front office exec Jeff Luhnow had taken confidential info with him when he left to become the Houston GM, but the indictment against Correa, released today, shows a nefarious pattern of spying that clearly exceeds that claim.

The details of the indictment will put the Cardinals on the defense to explain how Correa could have acted alone in culling the Astros’ information. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes: “This was a break in trust, and if baseball is concerned enough about fair play to suspend performance-enhancing drug users for half a season, it will hammer the Cardinals well beyond their checkbook.”

Saturday, January 9
The Washington Nationals take care of business, filling the void left by the departed Denard Span by trading reliever Drew Storen to Toronto for outfielder Ben Revere. The move looks to cement Jonathan Papelbon into the Nationals’ closer role, while Storen strengthens an average-at-best Blue Jays bullpen and possibly becomes their closer.

Now the Nationals cross their fingers and hope that Papelbon, notorious for his season-ending choke job on star teammate Bryce Harper last year, behaves in 2016.

Tuesday, January 12
Monte Irvin, one of the first African-American stars of the integration era whose chance to shine in the majors was all too brief, passes away at the age of 96. A native of New Jersey, Irvin debuted in the Negro Leagues in 1938 but had to wait 11 years before being allowed to make the transition to the majors; many teammates had believed that he, not Jackie Robinson, would be the first black ballplayer in the majors. Once brought on by the New York Giants in 1949, Irvin produced terrific (if not sensational Willie Mays-like) numbers for the next eight seasons, all of them spent after turning 30 years of age. He batted a lifetime .293 with a 154-game average of 20 home runs, 89 RBIs and 71 walks, and led the National League with 121 RBIs during the Giants’ 1951 pennant-winning season, collecting 11 hits in six World Series games against the Yankees to follow. Irvin was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1973 and had his number retired by the Giants in 2010.

Two of baseball’s most underrated players sign on with new teams. Wei-Yin Chen, who posted a 46-32 record and 3.72 ERA over four years at Baltimore, signs a five-year, $80 million deal with the Miami Marlins, while outfielder Gerardo Parra inks for three years and $27 million with the Colorado Rockies.

Parra’s signing likely spells the end in Denver for one of three current Rockies outfielders—Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson—all of whom have been linked to trades this winter; it is assumed that Gonzalez, with $37 million owed over the next two years, will be the most likely to go.

The Marlins, meanwhile, are starting to feel pretty frisky with the wallet; they'll give reigning NL batting champ Dee Gordon a five-year, $50 million extension two days later.

With nearly 30% of all major leaguers hailing from Spanish-speaking countries, MLB declares that all teams must have a translator that speaks Spanish on hand for the 2016 season.

Wednesday, January 13
ESPN announces a revamped Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team that includes Jennifer Mendoza, cementing a job she began late last year on a temporary basis in place of the suspended Curt Schilling. Mednoza will join Aaron Boone (also new to the SNB booth) and returning play-by-play man Dan Shulman. As for Schilling, he’s still with ESPN (future Tweets notwithstanding) but has been demoted to Monday night telecasts.

Let’s hope that Mendoza, who may have felt the need to quietly smooth her way into the job during her brief 2015 stint, has more to say in 2016.

Luis Arroyo, whose nondescript major league career was given a spike of All-Star level play for the 1961 Yankees when he went 15-5 with 29 saves and a 2.19 ERA, dies at age 88 in his native Puerto Rico. A southpaw who relished the screwball, Arroyo was mostly a reliever through his eight years in the majors spent among four different teams before becoming a long-time scout for the Yankees; he was also something of a legend in Puerto Rico, where he starred for many years in the winter league..

Thursday, January 14
In a move that can help speed up the prospects for a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area, the St. Petersburg city council finally gives the okay for the Rays to search ballpark sites outside of St. Petersburg in neighboring counties. The Rays’ lease with the city, which runs through 2029, had previously said that the Rays could not even consider sites outside of Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is based. The city council was likely swayed by reports that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg would sell the team, perhaps to outside interests, if he didn’t have more flexibility on a new ballpark site.

Friday, January 15
On a day when many players sign to avoid arbitration, the most noteworthy of the deals comes in Houston where the Astros ink reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel to $7.25 million for the 2016 season. It’s easily the largest payout to a pitcher in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

Saturday, January 16
Chris Davis, who apparently got no love on the free agent market except from the incumbent Baltimore Orioles, re-signs with the Orioles for seven years and $161 million. It’s not the $200 million he and agent Scott Boras were initially seeking, and it’s not the $154 million Baltimore had capped through as late as a few days prior. As part of the deal, Davis—who’s led the majors in home runs twice over the last three years—will have the $161 million spread out through 2037 via deferred payments. He’ll never make more than $17 million in any one season. It will also be tax-free; Davis is officially addressed in Texas, where residents pay no income tax.

This is the largest contract in Orioles history, and it’s not bad for a career .255 hitter—one who hit as low as .196 just a few years earlier.

Now that Davis is back in Baltimore, a local restaurant will have to live up to its promise of providing him with free crab cakes for life.

Pitcher Ian Kennedy accepts a five-year, $70 million deal from Kansas City. The Royals, who had issues with the backend of their rotation even as they won the World Series, will be happy to plug in the 31-year-old veteran despite a 29-38 record and 4.25 ERA over the last three years—most of them spent in pitcher-friendly San Diego.

Monday, January 18
For the second time in three days, an ex-Padre signs elsewhere as outfielder Justin Upton inks for six years and $132.5 million with Detroit. The contract does include an opt-out clause, popular among players these days, allowing Upton to bolt from his deal after two years should he so choose.

For each of the next two years, the Tigers are on the hook to pay six players at least $16.8 million each—including $28 million paychecks to Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Their projected payroll is fourth behind the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox.

Tuesday, January 19
Pete Rose is going into the Hall of Fame…the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame, that is. The Native Cincinnatian, always beloved in his hometown in spite of all his gambling warts, will also have his #14 uniform retired by the team and have a statue erected of his likeness in front of Great American Ball Park.

Rose, on the statue: “Well, I sure as hell don't want it to be me standing at the $2 window at Turfway (a horse racing track in northern Kentucky).”

Minutes before the start of a trial pitting MLB against a fan-based group crying foul over baseball’s territorial TV policies, a settlement is reached. The details: MLB will now allow fans to buy a variant of its streaming package in which, for $85 a year, they can stream one team whether in- or out-of-market (those without cable won’t be eligible), while the existing out-of-market package for all games will see a price reduction to $110. Unknown is whether MLB will continue to retain the largely assailed territorial map that, for instance, bars viewers in Las Vegas from watching six “regional” teams in-market.

It took some pushing, but this is a step toward a common sense solution. Fans who already who pay for access to a regional sports network should have the option to stream that channel (and thus any baseball action it covers) online. And if it’s not available in their market, then any team it covers should be considered “out-of-market,” thus doing away with the silly restrictions of up to six blacked-out teams in places like Vegas, Hawaii or Iowa.

Friday, January 22
After all the talk of Yoenis Cespedes signing anywhere but with the incumbent New York Mets, the talented Cuban outfielder signs…with the Mets, for three years and $75 million. In a sense, the contract is practically a rental as Cespedes can opt out after just one season. But to justify the opportunity to annually earn more than $25 million should he activate the opt-out clause, he’ll certainly have to play at an All-Star level in 2016.

Monday, January 25
On the one-year anniversary of his taking over the commissioner’s office from Bud Selig, Rob Manfred makes the rounds with reporters and addresses various baseball issues in as legalese a fashion as possible. The most noteworthy takeaway from his interviews is in regards to the recent rumor that the NL is closer to adapting the designated hitter, over 40 years after the AL instituted it. “I was very surprised, the stories that were written,” he told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. “All I did was respond to a question about advantages and disadvantages and respond to a comment (Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak) had made. My summation on that was: I don’t even know if it’s going to be a topic in (upcoming bargaining with the players). We seem to forget about this piece.”

Thursday, January 28
The Colorado Rockies loosen up their logjam of starting outfielders by trading Corey Dickerson to the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Jake McGee. It will be curious to see how Dickerson, a career .355 hitter at Coors Field, will perform at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Park, which is not exactly a hitter’s paradise. Conversely, McGee will be exposed to mile-high madness that conquers many pitchers in Denver.

The Rockies apparently are focusing on a strong, veteran bullpen to elevate their chances for 2016; besides McGee, they’ll see first-time Rockies in Chad Qualls and Jason Motte.

The Houston Astros strengthen their rotation by signing tall right-hander Doug Fister to a one-year, $7 million contract. The soon-to-be 32-year-old Fister adds sage and, the Astros hope, a return to 2014 form when he was 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA in Washington.

Friday, January 29
It’s a cool day to be Dodgers fan. The Los Angeles City Council agrees to rename a section of Elysian Park Avenue near Dodger Stadium as Vin Scully Avenue, after the legendary broadcaster who plans to make the 2016 season his last in the booth; Corey Seager, who shined at the tail end of 2015 for the Dodgers, has been named baseball’s #1 prospect for 2016 by several periodicals vested in the subject; and second baseman Howie Kendrick agrees to return to the Dodgers for two years and $20 million.

Scully, who only worked home games in 2015, later declares that he would like to broadcast the Dodgers’ final games of the 2016 regular season in San Francisco. The Dodgers will most certainly oblige him.

Saturday, January 30
Arizona and Milwaukee agree to a five-player trade, highlighted by a swap of infielders Jean Segura and Aaron Hill. Segura’s production has cooled since a terrific 2013 campaign (.294 average, 44 steals) for the Brewers, but he’s eight years younger than Hill and won’t be a free agent until 2019, while Hill is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $12 million in 2016. The Brewers also get pitcher Chase Anderson, who is 15-13 with a 4.18 ERA in 48 starts over the last two years.

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