This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: November, 2016
Yes, Virginia, the Cubs Actually Won a World Series Shohei Otani, Superstar
What’s Inside the New Basic Agreement Goodbye, Ralph Branca


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Mike Trout, L.A. Angels of Anaheim

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.315 123 173 32 5 29 100 104 12 11 30

Point blank: Where would the Angels be without this guy? Trout clearly remained baseball’s best all-around offensive threat while his team limped to a sub-.500 finish, providing power (29 home runs), discipline (116 walks) and speed (30 steals, 123 runs), while hitting .315 to pace fifth in the AL. He may find it tough netting a second AL MVP because his team is lousy, but name us one guy you’d rather take ahead of him in a fantasy draft. The only way that Angels owner Artie Moreno, trapped in a payroll pickle, can build a team around Trout is to trade him—and he could command an entire farm system in return. So the question becomes: Keep Trout—who’s still just 25—or rebuild?


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.294 116 182 35 6 41 133 58 10 2 2

Close call here considering the contributions of Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy and Joey Votto, but we’re giving it to Arenado, Coors Field splits and all. In some ways, the 25-year-old third baseman’s performance was a repeat of 2015, once again passing north of 40 homers and 130 RBIs—and by the way, the only two other guys to do that before turning 26 were Chuck Klein and Jimmie Foxx, way back when—but in other ways, he proved even more dangerous, mostly by not chasing bad pitches which led to him drawing double the walks (68) over last year. Yes, it’s scary to consider: He could get better.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.167 22 42 11 1 9 34 9 0 2 0

We always try not to pick on catchers, but Gomes was a legitimate hitting threat not too long ago. But he had a statistical setback in 2015, and his 2016 got off to a horrendous start that, complicated by shoulder pains, he never was able to bounce back from. Gomes’ funk was so low, his teammates tried to cure him with a voodoo-like ritual straight out of Major League. It didn’t work; a few days afterward, he was placed on the disabled list, where he would remain for the rest of the regular season.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.230 61 122 27 1 7 49 54 0 5 11

There may have been other National Leaguers who had worse numbers in 2016, but no one was more disappointing than the once-fearsome slugger who, when he broke out as a rookie with Atlanta in 2010, was being compared to Willie Mays. But instead of the second coming of the Say Hey Kid, the Cubs paid $184 million over eight years to get Say Heyward Wayward. Okay, so he’s not a total disaster, yet; his outfielding remains among baseball’s best, and he still is young enough (27) to turn his offense around—but if it doesn’t happen soon, the Wrigley fans who kindly gave him a mulligan this past year will start sharpening their tongues.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
22-4 223 193 85 78 32 13 3 0 189 3.15

Yes, the 27-year-old New Jersey native didn’t have the best ERA or best WHIP or best opposing average, and he got a billion runs of support from a exceptionally potent Red Sox offense, but he was near the top in most every major category and, as such, his package of metrics and clutch efforts merit him this honor. Porcello’s career year to date is all the more impressive when you consider he was coming off his worst season in 2015 (9-15, 4.92 ERA), so this is surely one time when all the critics can quiet down over that $20 million-a-year deal he recently snagged.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
18-5 219.2 195 71 68 45 8 3 1 198 2.79

Yet another tight call, and on this one we’re tightening our seat belts in preparation for a bit of feedback. Some will debate us on all the great numbers put up by the Cubs’ aces—heck, some Madison Bumgarner lobbyists will argue than Cueto wasn’t even the best on the Giants—but again, look at the overall, and you’ll find it hard to delete Cueto from the top of the discussion. His record, his durability (NL-best five complete games), his low slugging percentage against (15 homers allowed), his ability to keep baserunners on edge (five pickoffs, seven of 11 basestealers nabbed)—it all adds up to the best value. Remember, Giants fans, he can opt out after 2017—so enjoy him for another year.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
James Shields, Chicago White Sox

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
4-12 114.1 139 89 86 55 7 7 0 78 6.77

Ah, Big Game James—just because you started the year in the National League doesn’t mean you get off the hook here. Shields did pitch well to begin the year with San Diego, but after allowing ten runs in a May 31 start, the Padres’ front office flipped out—trading him to the White Sox and publicly bad-mouthing him as he walked out the door. If you think the Padres were upset with Shields, imagine how the White Sox’ brass reacted when he gave up 21 runs over just 8.2 innings through his first three outings in Chicago. Overall, Shields had nine starts for the White Sox in which he surrendered more runs than innings pitched, and combined between the Sox and Padres he finished 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA. After all of this, Shields had the option to opt out of his contract, which pays him $42 million over the next two years; he decided against it. Gee, what a surprise.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Shelby Miller, Arizona Diamondbacks

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
3-12 101 127 72 69 42 2 3 0 70 6.15

Experts were calling the Diamondbacks’ preseason trade for Miller—in which they gave Atlanta three players including outfielder Ender Inciarte and #1 2015 pick Dansby Swanson—one of the worst in recent times. But Miller made it even more atrocious with an awful early season in which he had little control, big numbers allowed and a nasty habit of scraping his knuckles on the mound with his follow-through. It got so bad that, by the end of May, he was sent down to the minors. Meanwhile, Enciarte batted .291 and Swanson catapulted from Class A to the majors and hit .302 for the Braves. Miller eventually did return to the Snakes and threw 11 straight scoreless innings to end the year, but that was far too little, far too late to avoid this stink blot.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Texas Rangers (95-67)

Despite a skimpy outfield, a patched-up rotation, the permanent loss of its preeminent slugger (Prince Fielder) and an imploding closer, the Rangers somehow tight-roped their way to the league’s best record thanks to an amazing ability to come from behind and secure the close wins; in fact, their 36-11 record in one-run games was the best such mark since the beginning of the post-1900 modern era. Adrian Beltre (.300-32-104), Rougned Odor (33 homers) and Ian Desmond (.285-22-86, 107 runs) rescued the ninth inning on offense, while Sam Dyson rescued it from the pitching side by saving 38 games after Steve Tolleson fell apart. The bullpen in general was a saving grace, leading the majors both in wins and saves. It’s too bad for Rangers fans that the Blue Jays, once again, messed with Texas in the postseason and denied the team yet another shot at winning it all for the very first time.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Chicago Cubs (103-58)

Like the 1927 and 1998 Yankees, 1984 Tigers and 1986 Mets, this Chicago team seemed to have destiny on its side. Kyle Schwarber’s torn ACL aside, everything went right for the 2016 Cubs. They had twin MVP threats in sophomore slugger Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo; twin Cy Young threats in MLB ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and 19-game winner Jon Lester; more call-up magic with catcher Willson Contreras arriving on the scene; and when the bullpen became suspect, the Cubs nabbed Aroldis Chapman at the trading deadline to extend their invincibility to the ninth inning. The Cubs were clearly the majors’ most dominant team in the regular season, and with virtually everyone locked in contractually, they could become the NL’s most powerful dynasty since the Reds of the mid-1970s.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Minnesota Twins (59-103)

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 lakes, and 100 losses. Never have Twins fans seen their team perform worse than this season, and that’s going back 55 years now. So, after a surprising 83-79 finish in 2015, what the heck happened? For starters, there were the starters—an awful rotation (5.39 ERA) that was the majors’ worst—and a bullpen that lacked a true closer once Glen Perkins quickly went down for the season after just two appearances. But perhaps more disappointing than a staff that was never considered the team’s strength was that the Twins’ young, blossoming offense stayed stagnant; Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Byung-ho Park were among those who never clicked into gear. Minnesota lost its first nine games on the year, and later suffered separate skids of seven, eight and 13 games—the latter representing the longest for the franchise since 1959.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Cincinnati Reds (68-94)

The Reds knew they were going to be burdened with a badly inexperienced (and just plain bad) pitching staff, and thus they suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune by giving up more home runs (258) than any team in major league history, setting another (and more obscure) mark when their bullpen allowed a run in 23 straight games, and gave up ten-plus runs 13 times before the All-Star break. There was light at the end of the second-half tunnel; the Reds played just a scooch under .500 as some of their raw pitching talent slowly began to earn their stripes—and, holy cow, Joey Votto hit over .400—so it’s a possible sign that the worst has come and gone in Cincinnati. For Reds fans, let’s hope so.



Wild Pitches

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

Don’t Bring Me Down
White Sox fans were “meh” enough with Guaranteed Rate Park, the new name for the park formerly known as U.S. Cellular Field, formerly known as New Comiskey Park. But then they saw the logo with the new name, borrowed from Guaranteed Rate’s corporate logo—featuring a red arrow going down. Suddenly, that giant “Nuveen” sign uptown at Wrigley Field doesn’t look so bad.

Is That You, Bartman?
In Game Six of the World Series, a TV sound guy situated near the third-base side tarp momentarily reached out in an attempt to catch a foul ball eventually caught by the Indians’ Jose Ramirez.

So, We Guess They've Kissed and Made Up
Aroldis Chapman’s girlfriend, the victim of the domestic abuse that got him suspended for the first month this season, was seen happily celebrating with him in the Cubs’ clubhouse after the end of the World Series.

Move Over, Dark Side of the Moon
Go Cubs Go reached the Billboard charts 30 years after it was released.

To the Victors, the Bill
The Cubs agreed to be pay $388,000 to refresh Chicago’s Grant Park to its pre-World Series celebration state after the grass and fencing was beat up.

The Name of the Shame, Part I
The Double-A Binghamton Mets will change their name next season to the Rumble Ponies. (Imagine that logo.) It could he worse; among the other nominees submitted by fans were the Timber Jockeys and Stud Muffins. (Imagine those logos.)

The Name of the Shame, Part II
New Orleans’ minor league club, known for 25 years as the Zephyrs, also changed their name to…the Baby Cakes. We don’t have to imagine this logo: Here it is. (Looks like something you’d find on a cereal box circa the 1920s.)

There Goes Big Papi With Another F-Bomb
Boston’s Logan Airport renamed Gate 34 after retired slugger David Ortiz, who wore that number for the Red Sox. When told of the rebrand at a private party organized by JetBlue, which runs the gate, Ortiz blurted to the crowd: “You’re f**king with me, aren’t you?”

Sorry, Africa
MLB decided to allow the Indians to destroy clothing that declared them as world champions, printed before the outcome of Game Seven, instead of donating them to children abroad in need of clothing. Reason? To “protect the (Indians) from inaccurate merchandise being available in the general marketplace.”

This Still Won’t Get You into Cooperstown
Alex Rodriguez did a guest-host shot alongside Kelly Ripa on Live With Kelly.

Outliving the Curse
Mabel Bell, a lifelong Cubs fan who was born two months before what had been their previous world title in 1908, died a week after they won it this season.

When It’s Been 71 Years Since Your Last World Series…
The median ticket price for the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945 was $3,000.

The Friendly, Sugary Confines
A chef at Forest Hills Country Club near Chicago created a 400-pound, 4x4-foot gingerbread version of Wrigley Field.

Walking the Catwalk and Talking the Cattalk
Supermodel Kate Upton, fiancée to Detroit ace Justin Verlander, after he finished second in the AL Cy Young Award vote—one in which he received 14 first-place votes yet was left completely off the ballot by two voters: “I thought I was the only person allowed to f**k Justin Verlander?!”


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The Ballparks on This Great Game

Tuesday, November 1
There will be a Game Seven of the 2016 World Series after the Chicago Cubs throttle the Indians 9-3 in Game Six at Cleveland. The pace is quickly set when the Cubs net three runs in the first—the last two on Addison Russell’s catchable fly ball in right-center that drops when Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall believe the other will grab it—and a second, bigger blow comes in the third when Russell cranks out a grand slam to make it 7-0. The bases-clearing shot is the first ever hit by a Cub in the franchise’s 58th Fall Classic game, and the second ever hit in the postseason by a shortstop; Russell is also the second youngest with a grand slam in World Series history; Mickey Mantle belted one at age 21 in 1953.

The 3-through-6 hitters in the Cubs’ lineup—Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Russell—combine to go 11-for-16 with eight runs scored and all nine runs knocked in on the evening.

Perhaps the most puzzling move of the game—certainly the most talked about—is Joe Maddon’s decision to bring in closer Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the seventh, even though the Cubs at that point hold a five-run lead. While some scratch their heads as to why Maddon would possibly exhaust his team’s key reliever with a safe lead one day before the seventh game, he defends bringing Chapman in so early because the heart of the Indians’ lineup was due up—and thus wanted to ensure that there would be a Game Seven. Chapman will end up throwing 20 pitches over 1.1 innings, being removed after a leadoff walk in the ninth after the Cubs increase their lead to seven; he also temporarily tweaks his ankle barely winning out a race to cover first against the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, but looks fine later.

New York Mets closer Jeurys Familia is arrested on assault charges in Fort Lee, New Jersey after allegedly committing bodily harm to his wife. He is jailed and later posts bail for $1,500. A month later, the wife will ask for the charges to be dropped.

Wednesday, November 2
Five score and eight years after their last World Series triumph, the Chicago Cubs finally repeat as champions of baseball, outlasting the Indians at Cleveland 8-7 in a ten-inning Game Seven thriller universally hailed as an instant classic.

The game features everything: A leadoff home run (by the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler), four errors, numerous video replays, a pick-off at first, a wild pitch (by the Cubs’ Jon Lester, throwing relief) that scores two runs, a 17-minute rain delay—in the tenth inning, no less—and gassed bullpens on both sides that fuel late-inning rallies and prompt one swing of the momentum after another.

The Cubs appear to be on their way to a comfortable victory as they lead 5-1 midway through, before Lester’s wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth cuts their lead in half. In the sixth, the Cubs get one back when 39-year-old catcher David Ross—in what will be his final official at-bat of his career—sends Chicago’s third solo homer of the night into the bleachers. The 6-3 lead holds until the eighth, when Chicago manager Joe Maddon brings in closer Aroldis Chapman—who doesn’t appear to have much left after throwing four innings and 62 pitches over the previous three days. Rajai Davis proves that by sending a wicked line drive over the tall Progressive Field wall near the left-field foul pole to cap a three-run rally and tie the game at 6-6.

After a brief downpour sends out the grounds crew to keep the field from becoming a slough, the Cubs re-emerge and rally for two runs in the tenth; the Indians furiously attempt to respond in the bottom of the inning, plating one run but fizzing out when career .197 hitter Michael Martinez, asked to hit because no one else is left on the bench for Cleveland, weakly grounds out to clinch the Cubs’ first world title in 108 years.

Despite the victory, Maddon is criticized in some circles for overmanagement. There’s his extensive use of Chapman in Game Six when many pundits believed he didn’t need to be used; a quick hook of Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks in Game Seven, despite allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits through 4.2 innings; and his decision to have power-hitting Javier Baez attempt a suicide squeeze bunt on a 3-2 pitch in the ninth with the go-ahead run at third. (Baez fouled it at the plate to strike out.) Maddon is second to none in managing team chemistry, but some wonder if he was trying to put too much of his own stamp on the process. Still, his team won—and that’s because, as many state, of the terrific talent at his disposal.

Ben Zobrist, who knocks in the go-ahead run in the tenth and bats .357 for the series, is named World Series MVP.

Theo Epstein: Architect of the Red Sox teams that ended their 86-year championship drought, and architect of the Cubs who ultimately ended theirs at 108 years. Maybe the Indians—who now own the longest championship drought, at 69 years—should steal him away from Chicago.

Although played in Cleveland, the Game Seven crowd of 38,104 seems split 50-50 between Cubs and Indians fans. Third-party ticket broker StubHub says that 80% of the tickets sold through its site are purchased by people outside of Ohio—with 60% bought within the Chicago area.

Game Seven is a ratings bonanza for Fox, drawing 40 million viewers—the largest for a baseball game since 1991, and the largest for any prime time program on the network since 2007. Yes, two long-standing baseball teams with fabled championship droughts play a huge role in the increased audience—and if, say, a matchup like Seattle and Colorado takes place in next year’s Fall Classic, the numbers will likely spiral back down—but given the overall strength of TV ratings this postseason, here’s a suggestion for Fox: As much as you’re trying to build up the fledgling FS1 sports network, it might be wise to move at least the LCS back to the main network for 2017.

This was nearly Cleveland’s second pro sports championship in 2016, after a 52-year dry spell. Instead, Indians fans will find themselves relating to those of the Golden State Warriors, who also blew a 3-1 game lead in the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers back in June.

The game is the last called by umpire John Hirschbeck, who’s retiring after 34 years in the majors. He called his first game on May 6, 1983 at Toronto between the Blue Jays and the visiting Kansas City Royals. The Blue Jays won at Exhibition Stadium, 6-1, behind Dave Stieb’s 8.1 innings and Jesse Barfield’s four hits.

Thursday, November 3
On the first official day of the major league offseason, teams enact team options on several players for 2017. Among those players remaining with their teams next year are Cleveland slugger Carlos Santana ($12 million), Texas catcher Jonathan Lucroy ($5.75 million), San Francisco pitcher Matt Moore ($7 million), Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez ($12 million), Kansas City closer Wade Davis ($10 million), the Mets’ Jay Bruce ($13 million) and Jose Reyes ($500,000+ league minimum; Colorado will pay the bulk of his $22 million 2017 salary) and Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez ($6 million).

Other players have their team options declined and will become free agents. The biggest name among them is Ryan Howard, who is given $10 million by the Phillies to leave rather than stay for 2017 and earn $23 million. Howard, who turns 37 next year, could return to Philadelphia for a likely far lesser fee, but for the moment his 13-year tenure with the Phillies is done, and the last active link to the team’s glory campaigns of the late 2000s has been severed.

The offseason’s first trade is also consummated as the Tigers send outfielder Cameron Maybin—who hit .315 in 94 games in 2016—to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for minor league pitcher Victor Alcantara.

Friday, November 4
Chicago is blissfully decked out in Cubbie Blue as it officially celebrates the Cubs’ first world title in 108 years, from the team clothing worn by a gargantuan crowd of five million—said to be the seventh largest gathering in human history—to blue confetti raining down on the players as they ride double-decker buses down a seven-mile parade route; even the Chicago River is dyed blue, a variant on the traditional green it’s dressed every St. Patrick’s Day.

The parade ends at Grant Park—site of President Obama’s victory speech in 2008—as Cubs players are introduced on stage and thank the fans and each other for their historic triumph. Manager Joe Maddon refers to the giant crowd as “Cubstock 2016,” while first baseman Anthony Rizzo shed tears praising the contributions of retiring 39-year-old catcher David Ross. Rizzo also hands the ball from the final out of Game Seven, which he’d been holding onto, to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

So, you may be asking: What are the six larger gatherings recorded: They are, in order of size: The 2013 Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India (30 million), the 2014 Arbaeen festival in Iraq (17 million), the 1969 funeral of India politician CN Annadurai (15 million), the 1989 funeral of Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini (10 million), the Pope’s 2015 appearance in the Philippines (6 million), and 1995 World Youth Day, also in the Philippines (5 million).

In comparison to the mass of humanity who congregated in Chicago to cheer on the Cubs’ championship, the 1908 Cubs celebrated on a much smaller scale. They were treated by fans to a private informal dinner and, a week after clinching their World Series victory over Detroit, they played the Tigers again in an exhibition game preceded by several skills competitions, including a 100-yard dash won by the Tigers’ Ty Cobb. The Cubs lost the exhibition, 7-3.

The Arizona Diamondbacks name Torey Lovullo as their new manager. The 51-year-old former infielder has been a coach for the past six years, the first two with Toronto and the last four with Boston—where he filled in as manager for 49 games in 2015 while John Farrell underwent cancer treatment.

Saturday, November 5
To the victors, the spoils—and for the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and Dexter Fowler, that includes an appearance on Saturday Night Live. The three players don blue sweaters and white straw hats and, along with SNL alum and loyal Cubs fan Bill Murray, sing a cheerful version of Go Cubs Go. Not every note sung is perfect but, hey, they’re baseball players—and world champs.

Monday, November 7
Ten impending free agents players are given qualifying offers by their incumbent teams to play the 2017 season. They include Toronto sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, reigning home run champion Mark Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles, the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and Los Angeles third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen. They all have a week to decide whether to take the record $17.2 million offer.

Why would the Mets think that Cespedes would accept the $17.2 million offer to stay when he just opted out of a deal with New York that would have paid him $8 million more? Because, if they do lose him, they can claim a 2017 draft pick no higher than the second round as compensation.

Otherwise, they get nothing. After a year and a half off, Bud Black is back in the managerial game as he’s named the new skipper of the Colorado Rockies. Black was fired midway through 2015 after a dismal start with San Diego, and appeared to be the front-runner for the Washington job this past year before Dusty Baker snuck in and got the job there.

A former pitcher, Black could be a wise option for the Rockies as he could help steer a youthful rotation that shows more promise than any before it in Colorado.

MLB announces the three finalists for each of its major 2016 awards, based on the vote taken by the Baseball Writers Association of America after the final day of the regular season. Among the more surprising revelations is the inclusion of Los Angeles rookie Corey Seager in the NL MVP race (ahead of Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto) and the exclusion of Baltimore closer Zach Britton from the AL Cy Young Award list despite producing, arguably, the greatest season ever by a closer (47 saves, none blown, a 0.54 ERA).

Conclusions: BBWAA writers don’t give closers enough credit, and you really got be good to get consideration when playing half your games at Colorado’s Coors Field.

Tuesday, November 8
On Election Day, voters in Arlington, Texas give 60% approval to a new $1 billion ballpark with a retractable roof for the Rangers, who’ve sweated it out at Globe Life Park (and Arlington Stadium before it) since 1972.

Some critics gnash their teeth over yet another publicly funded ballpark for billionaires, but at least on this one the people had their say—unlike in Cobb County, Georgia, where politicians approved funding for a new Atlanta Braves yard without a public vote out of fear that it would vote no.

The 2016 Gold Glove winners are announced, with the San Francisco Giants leading the honor roll with three players—catcher Buster Posey, second baseman Joe Panik and shortstop Brandon Crawford—earning awards for defensive excellence in the NL. It’s Posey’s first such honor, ending Yadier Molina’s eight-year run behind the plate. The longest active streaks among Gold Glovers now belong to Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado and Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, each of who win for the fourth straight year.

Wednesday, November 9
The late Jose Fernandez is honored with the first of what may be numerous posthumous awards as he is named the NL Comeback Player of the Year. Fernandez was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA and 253 strikeouts after spending most of the previous year recovering from Tommy John surgery. On the AL side, the Comeback award goes to Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 homers, more than double the 22 he punched out between Arizona and Seattle in 2015.

Thursday, November 10
Knuckleball hurler R.A. Dickey, 42 and four years removed from his Cy Young Award-winning campaign with the New York Mets, signs a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves for $7.5 million. The contract also calls for a team option on a second year worth $8 million. After going 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA in 2012, Dickey spent the next four years with Toronto and could only muster up a 49-52 mark with a 4.05 ERA.

Friday, November 11
The once-youthful Braves continue to get old quick. A day after signing the 42-year-old Dickey, they bring on pitcher Bartolo Colon, age 43, on a one-year deal worth $12.5 million. This will be the ninth team and 20th season overall for Colon, the active career leader in wins with 233.

The Braves will now field two of the majors’ three oldest active players in Colon and Dickey. Ichiro Suzuki, whose 2017 option was picked up by the Miami Marlins, is the second oldest.

The Toronto Blue Jays sign designated hitter Kendrys Morales for three years and $33 million—greatly reducing the likelihood that they’ll bring back free agent incumbent Edwin Encarnacion, lest they make him a full-time first baseman. The 33-year-old Morales hit .263 with 30 homers and 93 RBIs at Kansas City in 2016—but has only two homers in 105 lifetime at-bats at Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays.

Former catcher, coach and manager Russ Nixon passes away at age 81. As a player for 13 seasons split between Cleveland, Boston and Minnesota, he was a reliable part-time catcher with unspectacular numbers, but his sage led him to a coaching career shortly after his playing days, first as a minor league manager in the Cincinnati organization before becoming a coach for the Reds in the late 1970s; he got his first managerial gig in Cincinnati halfway through an awful (61-101) campaign. In fact, the teams he managed—the 1982-83 Reds and 1987-89 Braves—all ultimately finished last in their division.

Saturday, November 12
The Oakland A’s trade infielder Danny Valencia to Seattle for a minor leaguer, thus purging the last of two combatants in a clubhouse brawl this past season. Valencia, who hit .287 with 17 homers in 2016, mixed it up with veteran slugger Billy Butler over a shoe endorsement in August; Butler was soon after dealt to the New York Yankees.

Sunday, November 13
Has the second coming of Babe Ruth been unearthed in Japan? During an exhibition game in Tokyo, 22-year-old Shohei Otani smashes a ball that goes high and deep before disappearing into the ceiling of the Tokyo Dome. The 6’4”, 190-pound phenom hit .322 with 22 homers in 323 at-bats this past season for the Nippon Ham Fighters, but that’s not the prime reason he’s there; as a right-handed pitcher, Otani threw the fastest recorded pitch in Nippon Professional Baseball history with a 101.9-MPH delivery in September, and finished the year 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings to win the Pacific League's MVP. Over his first four years as a Japanese big leaguer, Otani is 39-13 with a 2.49 mark through four years thus far.

Major league teams on this side of the Pacific are salivating over the idea of bringing Otani to America, but they’ll have to wait; rules state that he has to have played five years and be at least 23 years of age to be eligible to move to the U.S. He’ll exceed both of those requirements after next season, and even then it’s up to the Ham Fighters to decide if they want to make him available to MLB.

Monday, November 14
Los Angeles infielder Corey Seager and Detroit pitcher Michael Fulmer are named Rookies of the Year in the NL and AL, respectively. Seager garners all 30 first-place votes and becomes the 17th Dodger to receive the award, albeit the first over the last 20 seasons; Washington’s Trea Turner is second, Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda is third and Colorado infielder Trevor Story—on pace for 40 homers before a hand injury ended his season in July—can only place fourth. On the AL side, Fulmer gets 26 top votes while the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez accrues the other four and finishes second overall in the voting. Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin is third.

On the last day for impending free agents to accept qualifying offers to stay one more year with their incumbent teams, two do: Philadelphia pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker. Both will receive $17.2 million in 2017, delaying free agency for a season. Although the money isn’t bad at all for Hellickson—who finished 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA for the Phillies this past season—he could have commanded a relatively strong offer in an offseason where available starting pitching is awfully weak. His deletion from the free agent market leaves Rich Hill, Jason Hammel, Hisashi Iwakuma, Andrew Cashner and Derek Holland as the top starters available.

Tuesday, November 15
In a fairly close vote, the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts wins the NL Manager of the Year award, garnering 16 of 32 first-place votes; the Cubs’ Joe Maddon gets eight to finish second, closed trailed by Washington’s Dusty Baker. It’s the sixth time—and the third straight year—that a first-year manager has won the honor; Roberts gets the nod for taking a heavily beat-up Los Angeles roster (with a record 28 players going to the disabled list) to the NLCS before bowing to the Cubs in six games.

In a more decisive count, AL Manager of the Year honors go to Cleveland’s Terry Francona, with 22 of 30 first-place votes. Texas’ Jeff Banister, last year’s recipient, finishes second, followed by Baltimore’s Buck Showalter. Francona previously won it for the 2013 Indians.

Wednesday, November 16
Many people knew the race for the AL Cy Young Award would be tight—and the final results confirm that notion. Boston’s Rick Porcello wins the honor by a mere 137-132 vote point margin over Detroit’s Justin Verlander—even though Verlander nabs 14 first-place votes to Porcello’s eight. But Porcello gets 18 second-place votes (to Verlander’s two) and is placed on every ballot—while both Tampa Bay representatives of the Baseball Writers of America Association leave Verlander completely off the ballot, possibly costing him the award. It’s the second closest margin in Cy Young Award history since the honor was split into two (one for each league) in 1970; the closest occurred in 2012 with David Price winning by four votes…over Verlander.

So you’d think these Tampa Bay writers must have watched Verlander stink it up against the Rays, first-hand? Not exactly. The Tiger ace made one start against Tampa Bay in 2016 and won, allowing two runs (one earned) over seven innings with eight strikeouts and no walks.

The NL Cy Young Award count provides less controversial but no less surprising, with Washington’s Max Scherzer easily outdistancing two expected recipients for the Cubs in Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, who finish second and third, respectively. It’s Scherzer’s second Cy, and he becomes the sixth pitcher to win at least one in both leagues, having previously been honored in 2013 while playing for the Tigers.

Thursday, November 17
Mike Trout, burdened with a Los Angeles of Anaheim roster that could only produce a 74-88 record in 2016, nevertheless wins his second AL MVP award—because, as some explain, his value is such that the Angels would have probably lost a lot more without him. Finishing a close second is Boston’s Mookie Betts, followed by Houston’s Jose Altuve. Probably the biggest surprise from the results is that Baltimore closer Zach Britton, whose value truly mattered to the Orioles after registering 47 saves without one blown and a 0.54 ERA, can not garner anything higher than an eighth-place vote and finishes 11th overall.

Trout has finished first or second in the MVP vote in each of the last five seasons. Only Barry Bonds (2000-04) had previously done that.

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant easily wins NL MVP honors, outdistancing Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy; the Dodgers’ Corey Seager is close behind Murphy in third, by five points. Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado round out the top five. Bryant is the second NL player (Ryan Howard, 2006) and fourth overall in the majors to be rewarded with a MVP one year after winning the Rookie of the Year award.

Wherever Bryant has been the past four years, he’s been adding to his trophy shelf. In 2014, a year before winning NL rookie honors, he was the minor league player of the year; in 2013, he was selected as the top player in collegiate baseball.

Veteran catcher Brian McCann, made expendable by rookie sensation Gary Sanchez, is traded to Houston for two minor league pitchers. The Astros will pay McCann $22 million of the $34 million due over the last two seasons of his contract, with the Yankees covering the rest.

The Astros are not done on this day, also signing free agent outfielder Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52 million deal.

The Oakland A’s will need a new face of the franchise (on an executive level, anyway) as Lew Wolff cashes in on the majority of his stock. Though John Fisher has been the majority owner of the club, Wolff has publicly led the charge for the team’s numerous pursuits, including acquisition of land for a new ballpark.

Friday, November 18
Pitcher Andrew Cashner, once considered a genuine ace on the rise who’s fallen on recent hard times, signs a one-year, $10 million deal with the Texas Rangers. In 28 games split between San Diego and Miami last season, Cashner was 5-11 with a 5.25 ERA.

The good news for Cashner, besides the new contract; he can grow his beard back after being forced to abide with the Marlins’ no-facial-hair policy.

A well-preserved Topps’ Mickey Mantle rookie card from 1952—considered the most cherished within the modern era of the sports card industry—sells for $1.135 million through a Dallas-based auction catalog. The Mantle card becomes only the second to fetch over a million; several copies of the Honus Wagner tobacco card from 1909 have sold for as high as $3 million.

Saturday, November 19
In a sign that this will be a very good offseason for free agent relievers, set-up southpaw Brett Cecil signs a four-year, $30.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Cecil struggled somewhat for Toronto in 2016, posting a 3.93 ERA in 54 appearances, but his extended track record is enough to apparently convince the Cardinals that he has value worthy of his new contract.

Monday, November 21
The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot is released, revealing 19 first-year eligibles and 15 returning names—including Tim Raines, on the ballot for the 15th and last time after gathering 69.8% of the vote last year to fall just shy of inclusion into Cooperstown. Among the new players listed are Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez and Manny Ramirez. The 2017 results will be announced on January 18.

At face level, Ramirez should be a shoo-in, but his two PED suspensions—on top of his appearance on the leaked 2003 list of players who tested positive for steroids—greatly reduce his odds with voters. Rodriguez, who also appeared on the 2003 list but for whom has never been penalized, may also face an uphill battle to enter Cooperstown despite a remarkable career in which he accrued more games and hits than any other catcher.

Tuesday, November 22
Retired Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully is among 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, sharing the stage with fellow honorees such as Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Diana Ross, Robert Redford and Bruce Springsteen. Scully’s citation medal states: “With a voice that transcended a sport and transformed a profession, Vin Scully narrated America’s pastime for generations of fans. Known to millions as the soundtrack of summer, he found time to teach us about life and love while chronicling routine plays and historic heroics.”

Jason Castro, sensing a return to Houston was not likely with the Astros’ recent acquisition of Brian McCann from the New York Yankees, signs a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins. Since hitting .276 for the Astros in 2013, Castro has struggled at the plate, recording averages of .222, .211 and .210 in each of the last three seasons.

Wednesday, November 23
Ralph Branca, forever linked to baseball history by giving up what’s arguably considered the game’s most memorable home run, dies at the age of 90. While pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, Branca served up the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to New York’s Bobby Thomson that won the NL pennant for the Giants. To that point, Branca had been one of the Dodgers’ finest pitchers, topping out with 21 wins in 1947. After Thomson’s fateful home run, things only got worse; Branca’s back went out of whack in a clubhouse accident the following spring and he never fully recovered from it, winning no more than four games in any one season for three different ballclubs before finally giving it up after 1956.

In retirement, Branca was universally beloved for his kind and giving personality; for 17 years, he ran the Baseball Assistance Team, which gave help to ex-ballplayers who struggled financially. One thing riled him to his death: The knowledge that Thomson’s home run was aided likely by a sign-stealing scheme that the Giants’ slugger half-heartedly admitted to in 1999. Branca had heard about it as early as 1953 but remained mostly mum on the subject.

Bet you didn’t know: As a contestant on the game show Concentration in the early 1960s, Branca won 17 straight times.

The Arizona Diamondbacks ship Jean Segura—who had a terrific comeback season in 2016 and garnered multiple MVP votes—along with two ‘lesser’ players to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte.

The deal makes sense—sort of. Arizona is in desperate need of pitching and Walker, whose promising career has thus far been erratic, could help—but letting go of Segura, who was one of the majors’ most productive forces this past year, is a bit of a risk. It certainly isn’t about the money; Segura isn’t a free agent until 2019.

Thursday, November 24
For the second straight day, baseball loses another ex-pitching star from the 1940s when Boo Ferriss passes away at the age of 94. Converted into a southpaw pitcher after breaking his right wrist as a young infielder, Ferriss exploded on the scene in 1945 with a 21-10 and 2.96 ERA for the Boston Red Sox; skeptics wondered if his numbers would suffer with the majors back at full strength for its first postwar campaign of 1946, but Ferris excelled anew, finishing 25-6 with a 3.25 ERA while pitching a six-hit shutout for Boston against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Three of that year’s World Series. But he suffered a shoulder injury in 1947 and never regained top form; he was out of the game before he turned 30, another example of a pitcher who might have benefitted from Tommy John surgery had the procedure existed. Ferriss ultimately returned to his alma mater at Mississippi State and coached there for 26 years; in 2002, he was elected into the Red Sox’ Hall of Fame.

Monday, November 28
The Miami Marlins, attempting to re-strengthen their starting rotation after the boating death of ace Jose Fernandez, sign Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $22 million deal. This will be the seventh team for the 33-year-old right-hander, who sported a weak 5.37 ERA to go along with a 10-11 record at Kansas City in 2016.

Tuesday, November 29
Yoenis Cespedes is coming back to New York, again. One year after signing a three-year deal with a one-year opt-out clause (which he exercised) to return to the Mets, he inks a new contract for four years and $110 million with the incumbents. This new contract will contain no opt-outs, so he’s property of the Mets through 2020.

Cespedes’ average annual payroll of $27.5 million is the second highest ever for a position player, tying Alex Rodriguez’s long-term deal with the Yankees and behind Miguel Cabrera’s $29.2 million with Detroit.

On the day the Milwaukee Brewers designate first baseman Chris Carter for assignment, then sign Eric Thames—who hasn’t a logged a single MLB at-bat since 2012, but has been tearing up the Korean Baseball Organization, hitting .343-37-121, .381-47-140 and .317-41-118 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively. So why replace a proven major league slugger—Carter belted a NL-high 41 homers last season, albeit with a low (.222) average and a ton of strikeouts (206)—with Thames, whose gaudy overseas numbers has to be taken with a grain of salt given Korea’s hitter-friendly atmosphere (.290 league average, 5.22 league ERA) and talent equivalency to Double-A ball? As usual, it’s about the money. Carter was due to make roughly $10 million via arbitration for 2017, while Thames will earn $16 million over the life of a three-year deal.

Wednesday, November 30
Owners and players agree on a new collective bargaining agreement just three hours before the old was set to expire. Management had threatened a lockout if the deadline had not been met, but the new agreement ensures labor peace through 2021—a remarkable 27 years since baseball’s last work stoppage.

Among the CBA’s more noteworthy details:

No international draft. This was said to be the most contentious issue of negotiations, as owners wanted to stop out-of-control spending on players outside of North America—all while some players forcibly selected through the amateur draft voiced their displeasure of making less guaranteed money to start their careers. But, owners do manage to deeply curtail what teams can spend on international talent, with a maximum spend limit of $5.75 million on players 25 or younger. A team desiring to spend more could make a trade to ‘acquire’ another team’s spending surplus, but their limit could never go above $10 million.

The All-Star Game doesn’t count anymore. The Midsummer Classic will no longer determine who gets home field advantage for the World Series, ending what had begun in 2002 as a desperate kneejerk reaction to a 7-7, 11-inning tie that ended when all available pitchers had been used up.

Changes to the qualifying offer. Teams who sign free agents no longer will have to concede a first-round draft pick to the player’s previous employer. Instead, they’ll lose a third-round pick—while those above the luxury tax threshold will have to surrender two picks, one each from the second and fifth round.

More off days. The season will remain at 162 games, but will be stretched out so it starts four days earlier than normal with more off days inserted; also, there will be more day games to end a series, so teams no longer have to fly to their next destination in the middle of the night.

Payroll tax changes. Before, the most any team could be penalized for going over the luxury tax threshold was 50%. Now a team will be taxed depending on how far over the limit it goes.

Smokeless tobacco. Any player who has yet to make his major league debut will not be allowed to use chew at the ballpark; current major leaguers are exonerated. This provision will gradually become moot as one city after another enacts its own tobacco ban at ballparks.


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