This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: November, 2015
A Royal Celebration in Kansas City What is a “Comeback Player,” Exactly?
Finally, Some Bites at the Qualifying Offer R.I.P., Tommy Hanson


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
(November 2015 Edition)

Royal Blue Lightning
Fireworks activity in the Kansas City area was so intensive and widespread in the moments after the Royals clinched the World Series, it was actually visible on local weather radar.

The Gridiron Still Owes Sunday
Game Five of the World Series, in which the Royals clinched the championship in New York, drew the highest TV rating for a Series game since 2009—but the 17.2 million viewers watching on Fox still paled to the 23 million watching a regular season NFL game (albeit a good one, between two undefeated marquee teams in the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos) on NBC at the same time.

To the Losers Go...A Good Chunk of the Spoils
The Mets set an all-time record for the highest full postseason share by a losing World Series side, averaging $300,757.78. The Royals hardly dwarfed the Mets' totals, with $370,069.03 per full share, a figure less than the 2014 champion Giants—who brought in $388,000 per full share.

Sandy, Do You Feel Good About Your Decision? Sandy?
While leaving a press conference announcing an extension for manager Terry Collins, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson collapsed. He was helped up, given a chair and some water before joking, “Okay, where were we?”

Can’t Blame Matt Williams For This One
The Washington Nationals’ 2016 calendar had to be reprinted when the front and back cover featured images of Boston’s Fenway Park, not Nationals Park.

A Cornucopia of Denorfia
Someone dumped 600 bobbleheads of former Padres player Chris Denorfia on the driveway of a San Diego home.

The Price of Contention
The Chicago Cubs are raising ticket prices at Wrigley Field by an average of 10% for 2016.

Fallout Fallout
MLB was upset that the Fallout 4 video game features a character who looks an awful lot like David Ortiz wearing a Boston jersey and carrying a spiked bat.

Shop Til You Drop, Like a Grounder to Daniel Murphy
The New York Mets may not have won the World Series, but they netted the consolation prize of being named the best retailer among all MLB teams.

One is the Loneliest Number
Alex Rodriguez got a sole bit of love in the AL MVP vote when the Tampa Bay TimesMark Topkin gave him a tenth place checkmark on his ballot.

Maybe the M’s Should Play Morgan Freeman
Robinson Cano was the single worst third-place, every-day player…I’ve ever seen for the first half of a baseball season. He couldn’t drive home Miss Daisy if he tried.” —Former Mariners coach Andy Van Slyke, in an interview on St. Louis sports talk.

Hoping to Buck the Trend
Fox broadcaster Joe Buck is trying once again to get a foothold in cable with a new talk show called Undeniable, airing on the fledgling Audience Network (which, it seemed, spent half of its air time running and re-running Reservoir Dogs this month). Two things Buck is hoping for: That Undeniable will last longer than the three episodes his HBO show ran back in 2009, and that Howard Stern disciple Artie Lange won’t appear to verbally savage Buck as he once did on the old show.

52 Ways to Meet Your Outfielder
If anything else, Yoenis Cespedes knows how to sell himself, even if others think his methods are over the top. He helped introduce himself to the free baseball world in 2011 by releasing a promotional video of his feats in Cuba entitled The Showcase, and now as a free agent he’s released a fancy, hard cover book called 52 Reviews that’s 100 pages of nothing but positives for the outfielder. We’re trying to figure out what’s more likely: Whether the book will help land him a better contract, or whether the book’s recipients will re-gift it for Christmas.

Get Him to the Water Cooler
A young boy singing the Australian national anthem before a baseball game Down Under was hit with an ill-timed case of the hiccups.


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Sunday, November 1
The Kansas City Royals win the World Series for the first time in 30 years, snatching Game Five in New York the way they’ve often done it throughout this postseason: Coming from behind. Trailing 2-0 going into the ninth inning, the Royals are still facing an electric Mets starter Matt Harvey—who had angrily talked his way into pitching one more inning—and quickly forge a Lorenzo Cain walk and Eric Hosmer double (scoring Cain) to start the frame. With Harvey quickly replaced by closer Jeurys Familia, Hosmer moves to third and then makes a gutsy, delayed run at home on a ground ball to third and scores the game-tying run when Lucas Duda’s throw from first goes wild past the plate.

Sending Harvey back out for the ninth seemed the right thing to do—but after giving up the leadoff walk to Cain, the Mets should have pulled him out right there and then. Instead, Harvey gives up the Hosmer double, putting the tying run on base with no outs and leaving it up to Familia to secure a tough save. Which he couldn’t; it was Familia’s third blown save of series, setting a Fall Classic record.

Mets manager Terry Collins on reversing his original decision and choosing to stick with Harvey: “I let my heart get in the way of my gut.”

For the entire season, Harvey pitches 216 innings, 36 beyond the hard limit originally set by his Tommy John surgeon, James Andrews.

The game remains 2-2 until the 12th, when Kansas City pinch-hitter Christian Colon—making his first postseason appearance at the plate—singles home the go-ahead run and sparks a five-run rally that will also include three doubles, a single, an intentional walk that backfires and a Daniel Murphy error, his second in as many nights. The Mets have little to counter with in the bottom of the inning, and the Royals takes the series in five games with a 7-2 triumph.

Greeting Colon at first base after his big hit is first-base coach Rusty Kuntz—ironically, the last man to deliver a pinch hit to bring home a Series-clinching run, doing it for the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

The go-ahead run is scored by Jarrod Dyson, pinch-running for catcher Salvador Perez. The durable Perez will win the World Series MVP after going 8-for-22 while deftly handling a pitching staff despite taking one blow after another to his body from a seemingly endless barrage of foul tips.

For the seventh time this postseason, the Royals win after trailing by two or more runs earlier in the game. They also trailed in all four of their wins against the Mets, joining five other teams who did the same, the last being the 2002 Anaheim Angels.

The five runs in the 12th established an all-time World Series mark for the most scored in an extra inning.

Monday, November 2
Less than a week after the Washington Nationals had come to a handshake agreement with Bud Black to be their new manager, they instead sign Dusty Baker after Black said no to the Nats’ contract offer of $2 million over two years. Baker is given a deal with a similar length but twice the money ($4 million).

Spending three years in exile after being canned by the Cincinnati Reds, Baker becomes the oldest active manager at the age of 66—and the only African-American skipper in the majors. Only the luckless Gene Mauch (1,902 wins) has accrued more victories as a manager without a World Series ring than Baker (1,671).

On a day in which 139 major leaguers declare free agency, the Miami Marlins attempt to lock up young ace Jose Fernandez with a long-term pre-arbitration contract. Fernandez, who does not become a free agent until 2019, says no.

Wise move by Fernandez. It’s apparent that any player who signs a long-term deal with the Marlins usually becomes frustrated with the state of affairs playing for Miami owner Jeffrey Loria—or gets shipped out of town before the contract expires.

The Marlins will escalate their feud with super-agent Scott Boras, Fernandez’s rep, by attempting to exclude him from any discussion regarding what pitch limit Fernandez should be used for in 2016.

Tuesday, November 3
From the air, it looks like a massive wildflower outbreak has hit downtown Kansas City, but it’s actually an estimated crowd between 500,000-800,000 wearing mostly blue to celebrate the champion Royals as they parade in celebration with their fans. The traffic getting to the event is so bad that some people get out of their cars on the freeway and walk the rest of the way to the parade. Manager Ned Yost, along with his players, salutes the fans: “This is a day like none of us have seen before and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts,” Yost tells the crowd. “What we wanted most was to come to this city to win a championship for you guys. We celebrate it with you today.”

Meanwhile, Kansas City pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and outfielder Alex Rios learn that the Royals will not pick up their 2016 contract options and become free agents, while outfielder Alex Gordon will decline his own $13.75 million option (and, later, a $15.8 million qualifying offer) for 2016 and he, too, will test the market.

Wednesday, November 4
A 64-98 record in 2015 is enough for Cincinnati director of baseball operations and GM Walt Jocketty to step down—sort of. The 64-year-old front office veteran is relinquishing his GM duties, giving the role to 44-year-old Dick Williams—no relation to the late manager of lore. Jocketty plans to further curtail his duties after 2016, when he expects to move into an advisory role.

A judge in New York state has thrown out the $298 million arbitration award given to the Nationals in a dispute with the Baltimore Orioles over revenue rights from MASN, the regional TV network owned by the Orioles and which covers both the O’s and Nationals. The reason: The law firm representing the Nationals also once worked for both Major League Baseball and the arbitrators who ruled in favor of the Nats.

Thursday, November 5
MLB hands out its Comeback Player of the Year awards to the Mets’ Matt Harvey (winning NL honors) and Texas slugger Prince Fielder (AL). Harvey sat out all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery and pitched gallantly in 2015—perhaps too much so for anyone who remembers the ninth inning of World Series Game Five—while Fielder, who hit .247 with just three homers in 42 games before succumbing to a neck injury in 2014, bounced back with a solid and stable campaign in which he batted .305 with 23 dingers and 98 RBIs.

We’re agreeable on the honor for Fielder given how badly he hit before his neck went out on him, but should players who miss an entire season even be eligible for this award? We’ve always thought the honor should key off a substandard performance from the year before, as opposed to no performance at all. It’s assumed that a guy like Harvey who misses the season previous would have played poorly—while in the case of Fielder, we know he did.

It’s no surprise since he previously let the cat out of the bag, but Aramis Ramirez formally makes it official: He’s retiring. The 37-year-old infielder played 18 years for three different teams—all of them (Pittsburgh, Chicago and Milwaukee) in the NL Central—compiling 2,303 hits, 495 doubles, 386 home runs and 1,417 RBIs. But he was one of those players who was good enough not to lead the league in anything; the only bold number you’ll see on his Retrosheet resume is the 50 doubles for the 2012 Brewers which paced the NL. Ramirez appeared in three All-Star games (starting two of them), was adequate at best as a third baseman (he never won a Gold Glove) and, in an age when everyone is striking out, he only collected 100 K’s once, when he got rung up exactly 100 times in his first full season of 2001. He never got to taste the World Series, coming closest as a member of the 2003 Cubs—and as Steve Bartman will not tell you, we all know what happened there. Will the Hall of Fame call for Ramirez? He’ll get votes, but don’t count on enough to earn him a plaque.

Ramirez’s bow leaves just eight active major leaguers who played at least one game before 2000: Alex Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Beltran, Joe Nathan and Randy Wolf.

For five days starting today, Petco Park in San Diego turns into a nine-hole golf course. Huh? Here’s what the Padres have done: They’ve laid out four “greens” (just outlining them using paint) on the field, and golfers can tee off from nine different “tee boxes” in the stands throughout the ballpark. The green fees are $50 per golfer.

Friday, November 6
A record 20 impending free agents are given a $15.8 million qualifying offer—a.k.a., the “last chance”—to stay with their current teams. Some will obviously scoff at the offer and test free agency, players like Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon and Chris Davis. Others may, and should, think about taking the money. Do Ian Kennedy, Howie Kendrick and Ian Desmond think they’ll be able to nab a long-term contract worth at least $15.8 million per year? And will teams be willing to sign them and be forced to give a first-round draft choice? (Asterisk to that last question: The ten worst teams in 2015, by the record, are exempted from losing a draft pick if they sign one of these 20 players.)

Word on the street is that pitchers like Kennedy, Wei-Yin Chen and Marco Estrada—good pitchers, but not exactly A-list material—might be wise to take the offer, play well in 2016 and re-enter the free agent market after next season, when the expected list of pitchers to choose from will me much thinner than this year.

But here’s another reason the “second-tier” pitchers might want to consider the $15.8 million: They may find it hard to get an ideal contract if the team signing them has to forego a first-round draft pick, so treasured these days, to get them. Not taking the qualifying offer has backfired for a number of players, such as Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, regardless of whether a draft pick was even involved.

In the three previous years, 34 players have been given qualifying offers—and none of them have taken it.

Saturday, November 7
There’s news that a major league team has paid $12.8 million for the rights to negotiate with South Korea’s Byung-ho Park, one of the top Far East prospects. Speculation mounts on which team it is while, one by one, other teams publicly state that it’s not them. In 140 games this past season for the Nexen Heroes, Park hit a whopping .343 with 53 homers and 146 RBIs—but before anyone gets excited, it should serve to remind that the Korean Baseball Organization is a hitter-friendly circuit in which one team hit over .300, the league ERA was 4.90 and major league cast-offs such as Marcus Thames (.381-47-140) and Andy Marte (.348-20-89) thrive.

It will be revealed two days later that the mystery team is the Minnesota Twins.

Sunday, November 8
A near-mint Topps baseball card of Mickey Mantle produced in its first year, 1952, sells on eBay for $486,100—the highest price ever paid for a baseball card on the online auction site. No word on who bought the card.

Monday, November 9
Tommy Hanson, once a top prospect for the Atlanta Braves whose continued regression led to a full-season minor league stint in the San Francisco organization this past year, suffers a “catastrophic organ failure” (it will later be determined to be an overdose from cocaine) and dies at the age of 29. After a stellar major league debut in 2009 with an 11-4 record and 2.89 ERA in 21 starts for the Braves, Hanson’s numbers gradually declined from year to year as shoulder issues mounted and his velocity decreased; he was 3-5 with a 5.60 ERA for the Giants’ Triple-A club in Sacramento this past season.

It is announced that two top players have undergone surgery in the past week that will threaten their chances of playing on Opening Day 2016. Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Albert Pujols has his right foot operated on and will be sidelined for nearly five months; meanwhile, Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley has his shoulder worked on and will not be available until as late as next May.

This is not a year that infielder Jose Reyes will remember with fondness. The veteran shortstop grumbled to the press after being traded from the contending Blue Jays to last-place Colorado in August, saying he didn’t want to play out his career with a losing team. Now comes news that Reyes has been arrested for domestic abuse against his wife while vacationing in Hawaii; he could become the first player disciplined under MLB’s domestic violence policy, negotiated and agreed to by the union earlier this summer. He’ll later plead not guilty to the charge.

Tuesday, November 10
This year’s Gold Glove awards for defensive excellence in 2015 are handed out. There are nine first-time recipients among the list, including the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes—who wins for his work in the AL with Detroit. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina earns his eighth consecutive Gold Glove, while four other players (Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Nolan Arenado and Jason Heyward) are honored for the third time each. The champion Royals are the most represented with three recipients: catcher Perez, first baseman Hosmer and shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn undergoes Tommy John surgery and is expected to miss the entire 2016 regular season. The 28-year-old pitcher has won 60 games over the last four years in St. Louis.

Will the Lynn injury be a huge below for the Cardinals’ rotation? Perhaps not, even when one adds in the possible free agent departure of John Lackey. Adam Wainwright is expected to return for a full season in 2016, and the continued maturation of Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha will ensure at least three top-line arms among the Redbirds’ starters.

In Japan, three Yomiuri Giants pitchers have been “indefinitely” suspended by Nippon Professional Baseball for betting on baseball games. The three did not bet on their team nor did they attempt to fix games—but gambling on sports is illegal in Japan.

Wednesday, November 11
Lou Brock, the Hall-of-Fame speedster and member of the 3,000-hit club, has his left leg amputated below the knee due to an infection caused by diabetes, which he was diagnosed with 15 years ago. The 76-year old will be fitted with a prosthetic leg.

Thursday, November 12
The Atlanta Braves trade top defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for veteran infielder Erick Aybar, two pitching prospects and $2.5 million.

The Braves are certainly rebuilding in advance of their 2017 move into a new ballpark, but it was imagined that Simmons, still a young 26 and due $53 million over the next five years, would be a relatively inexpensive anchor in Atlanta. It now appears that the Braves, rumored to also be trading Freddie Freeman and Shelby Miller, are looking to build more from the ground up a la the Houston Astros.

In another deal, the Seattle Mariners grab reliever (and potential closer) Joaquin Benoit from the Padres for a couple of minor leaguers.

Houston outfielder Colby Rasmus becomes the first major leaguer to accept a qualifying offer (of $15.8 million) and forego free agency for another season. As mentioned above, 34 players in three previous offseasons had all said no to qualifying offers.

Rasmus feels he can improve on a 2015 season in which he hit .238 with 25 home runs and increase his chances of a bigger payday for 2017, amid a free agent market where other potential available outfielders will include Carlos Gomez, Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday and Jay Bruce (club option pending).

Two more players—Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters and Los Angeles starting pitcher Brett Anderson—will also accept the qualifying offer a day later.

Friday, November 13
A day after letting go of their set-up man, the Padres are letting go of their closer. Craig Kimbrel’s tour of duty in San Diego is over after just one season as the Padres trade him to the Boston Red Sox for four minor leaguers, including top prospects Manual Margot and Javier Guerra.

Toronto pitcher Marco Estrada declines acceptance of the $15.8 million qualifying offer but instead agrees to a two-year, $26 million deal with the Blue Jays.

This one seems a bit of a puzzler: Estrada gained a lot of attention for his performance in the postseason and looked ready to nab something along the lines of a four-year deal in the $60 million range.

Saturday, November 14
The Philadelphia Phillies, 63-99 this past year and now under the guidance of new general manager
Matt Klentak, make their first big offseason move by trading for Arizona pitcher and former Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson; going to the Diamondbacks will be 20-year-old, 6’7” prospect Sam McWilliams, an eighth-round draft pick from 2014.

Hellickson has struggled since his fine debut with Tampa Bay, recording a 22-27 record and 4.86 ERA in the last three years. He’s also prone to the home run ball, which will make for some interesting starts at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Monday, November 16
The week of baseball’s season awards kicks off with the honoring of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Houston’s Carlos Correa as Rookies of the Year in the NL and AL, respectively. Bryant receives all 30 first-place votes, while Correa, also a heavy favorite, surprisingly edges out Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor for his plaque.

Correa is only the second Astro in the franchise’s 54-year history to earn Rookie of the Year honors. Jeff Bagwell, in 1991, was the other.

Tuesday, November 17
Joe Maddon is rewarded with NL Manager of the Year honors after leapfrogging the Chicago Cubs to a 97-65 record—a 26-win turnaround from 2014—and a postseason push that took them to the NLCS. It’s Maddon’s third such award, having won it for Tampa Bay in 2008 and 2011.

Only Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox have won more Manager of the Year awards, with four each.

The AL vote is a close one and goes to Texas’ Jeff Banister, who led the Rangers to an AL West title one year after the team experience a league-worst, injury-depleted 67-95 mark. The Astros’ A.J. Hinch finishes second with 82 total points to Banister’s 112.

San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford is given a six-year, $75 million extension (covering his final two years of arbitration and first four years of eligible free agency) after earning his first Gold Glove while enjoying his best year yet offensively in 2015.

The Oakland A’s sign Rich Hill to a one-year, $6 million deal. After years of trying to get his career back on track, the 35-year-old right-hander shined in a late 2015 stint for Boston, going 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts for the Red Sox.

Wednesday, November 18
The Cubs’ Jake Arrieta wins a close race with Los Angeles’ Zack Greinke to take the NL Cy Young Award, with 17 first-place votes compared to Greinke’s ten; there was even enough love to spread around to the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, who grabbed three first-place nods and came in a somewhat close third overall in the vote. All three NL honors this week have gone to the Cubs. (A fourth is not going to happen as there are no Cubs among the three MVP finalists.)

Although Greinke had the better overall year—leading the majors with a 1.66 ERA that’s the lowest in 20 years—voters sided toward Arrieta, who had a phenomenal second half.

That Kershaw elbowed his way to the top here and there was surprising given the immense statistical caliber of both Arrieta and Greinke, but some were obviously taken by Kershaw’s own exceptional second-half effort as well as his 300 strikeouts, the first such performance in over a decade.

In a less suspenseful poll, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel takes the AL Cy Young with 22 first-place votes to David Price’s eight. They were the only two pitchers listed on every ballot.

On the day he turns 40, David Ortiz announces that the 2016 season will be his last. “I wish I could play another 40 years, so I could have you guys behind me,” he said via a video, “but it doesn't work that way. After this year, time is up. So let's enjoy the season.”

With the announcement, the debate has already begun as to whether Ortiz is Cooperstown-worthy. Our answer: Yes. While he has been exposed from the steroid closet (appearing on the list of “anonymous” 100 major leaguers who tested positive in 2003), he appears to have proven that he can hit exceptionally well without the juice and, more importantly, has become a Boston institution, emerging as the most loved Red Sock since Carl Yastrzemski. Three World Series rings don’t hurt, either.

There are few major milestones for Ortiz to approach in his final year. He stands an outside chance of making the all-time top ten list in doubles (he needs 41 to supplant Hank Aaron at #10), but otherwise there are no newsworthy lifetime feats ahead for Big Papi.

The Detroit Tigers, who have struggled with subpar closer performance in recent years, reach agreement with Milwaukee to acquire 33-year-old Francisco Rodriguez in exchange for a minor leaguer and a player to be named later. Rodriguez has saved 82 games over the past two seasons for the Brewers and is only 14 away from becoming the sixth major leaguer with 400 in a career.

Thursday, November 19
As expected, Washington’s Bryce Harper and Toronto’s Josh Donaldson are honored as MVPs in the NL and AL, respectively. Harper is the fourth youngest recipient of the award—and the youngest ever to win it unanimously; he is also the first player in Expos/Nationals history to be named. Donaldson, in his first year with the Blue Jays and fifth overall, wins a tighter outcome over Mike Trout—who finishes runner-up for the third time in four seasons.

Here's an easy prediction for 2016: Harper will not be named the most overrated major leaguer by his peers for a third straight year when ESPN releases its annual player poll next spring.

In a sign that frustrated mlb.tv users will show less frowns next year, MLB has come to an agreement with 15 regional sports networks owned by Fox to allow in-market viewing of games. The other regional networks, represented by other cable outfits such as Comcast, are still negotiating with MLB to do the same.

Friday, November 20
Even after the MVP, baseball isn’t done with its annual postseason awards. The Esurance MLB Awards, which you’ve probably never heard of unless you have the At Bat app or watch the MLB Network regularly, is a collection of honors ranging from the best player (
Bryce Harper) to the best social media post (comedian and Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld’s Twitter note of “A Cespedis [sic] for the rest of us”). Also among the 22 topics honored are Best Fan Catch (going to a Cubs fan you caught a foul ball with a loaded beverage cup and then proceeded to drink from it), Best Player-Fan Interaction (Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen giving away his batting gloves to a young fan) and Best Celebrity Fan (Will Farrell).

Saturday, November 21
Boston’s Fenway Park hosts its first football game since 1968 when Boston College hosts Notre Dame (wearing a horrible all-lime green uniform resembling anything from the Riddler to gummy worms) in a college gridiron affair won by the Fighting Irish, 19-16. The field is set up with one end zone near right field and the other by the third base dugout; because there’s so little room on the sideline nearest the first-base seats, both teams must camp out on the far more roomy aside near the Green Monster in left field.

Ken Johnson, the only pitcher ever to throw a nine-inning no-hitter and lose (others have lost eight-inning no-nos or left after nine or more innings with the game tied), passes away at the age of 82. The Florida-born righthander was 91-106 over a 13-year career, playing for seven different teams—including three years as an original member of the Houston Colt .45s (now Astros), for whom he threw his unlucky gem in 1964 against the Reds. In the ninth inning of a 0-0 game, Johnson committed an error that allowed Pete Rose to reach second; moments later, Rose scored the game's only run on another error, this one by shortstop Nellie Fox. Johnson’s best years came as a member of the Braves from 1965-67, compiling a 40-25 record.

Sunday, November 22
Sixty-eight years after bringing on Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers hire their first African-American manager…sort of. Dave Roberts, best remembered for his stolen base that ignited the Red Sox to an improbable 2003 ALCS comeback against the Yankees, replaces Don Mattingly in what will be his first managerial assignment. Roberts is half-black, half-Asian—born in Japan to an American serviceman father and Japanese mother.

Wednesday, November 25
Dodgers Outfielder Yasiel Puig gets into a scuffle with a bouncer outside of a Miami nightclub when asked to leave after getting into an argument with his sister. Both Puig and the bouncer suffer minor facial injuries in the brawl, but neither is willing to press charges against the other.

If the Dodgers are looking to get rid of Puig—who continues to frustrate the team with his lack of progress on the field and a reported lack of understanding in the clubhouse—consider this incident as more fodder for a justification.

It is reported that MLB is negotiating wth the operators of London's Olympic Stadium to host the first regular season games in Europe as early as 2017. The sentimental connection to all of this is that baseball is said to have evolved from many different games invented (or embraced) by the British, including cricket and rounders.

A London-based baseball series wouldn’t be as bad as the lengthy time it took for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks to travel to Australia when they opened the 2014 season in Sydney—but still, it's likely that the first words out of any player’s mouth when told that his team would be among those participating abroad would be, “No thanks.”

Thursday, November 26
On this Thanksgiving Day, ESPN’s Jayson Stark has a terrific in-depth article on the toughest issues expected to be armwrestled over by MLB and the players’ union as the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in one year.

Saturday, November 28
Mike Hessman, the closest real-life version of Bull Durham’s Crash Davis (as played by Kevin Costner) that you'll ever see, retires from baseball at age 37. Drafted by Atlanta in 1996, Hessman would virtually spend his entire career—19 years in all—as a minor league slugger, eventually breaking by one the all-time career home run mark in the minors with 433. Hessman’s weak batting averages—he hit .233 as a minor leaguer, .188 in 109 major league appearances and .189 during a one-year stint in Japan—are the reasons he remained stuck below the big leagues for so long, in spite of his power. It is likely that Hessman will continue in baseball as a coach.

Sunday, November 29
The first big free agent signing of the offseason takes place as the Detroit Tigers net pitcher Jordan Zimmermann for five years and $110 million. The ex-Nationals right-hander will now be one of three players the Tigers will be paying at least $20 million a year to, along with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.


The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.


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