February 17, 2020

Rob Manfred Holds A Press Conference And Bombs In Every Possible Way, Giving Illogical Answers And Insulting Reporters. (Later, Mike Trout (!) Rips Him.)

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred held a press conference last Friday in North Port, Florida.

How did it go? Well, here are a few headlines:
Rob Manfred Offers Little Insight, Shows Contempt For Reporters In Press Conference (NBC Sports)

Manfred Says Astros' Shame Is Penalty Enough. Opponents Might Disagree. (New York Times)

Rob Manfred Defends Astros' Punishment, Says He Would've Penalized Players In 'Perfect World' (CBS Sports)

Astros Cheating: MLB Network Airs Bull Durham Over Rob Manfred Press Conference (Sports Illustrated)
Manfred said that public shame was a serious enough punishment for the Astros players:
I think if you look at the faces of the Houston players ... they have been hurt by this. ... They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives. ... [T]hey have payed a price. ... [T]hey're [not] skipping down the road into spring training happy.
Manfred referred to the World Series trophy as "a piece of metal". (The trophy is officially known as the "Commissioner's Trophy".)

Manfred was asked whether the Astros wore buzzers under their uniforms in 2019. He said the players told him they did not, and he took their word for it.

Manfred admitted that if former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers had not spoken to The Athletic about the Astros' cheating in 2017,
we would not have been able to conduct the effective investigation that we did. We would not have been able to impose the disciplines that were imposed. We would not have been able to probably take the prophylactic measures that we're gonna take with respect to 2020, and it's important — painful, but important — that we clean all that up.
Meaning that Commissioner Rob Manfred, even with a reported 10-12 separate complaints about cheating by the Astros piled up on his desk and the fact that Houston's cheating was apparently an "open secret" throughout all levels of the baseball industry, would not have begun any investigations into what those complaints about the Astros were all about.

And Manfred praised his own office's "intestinal fortitude" in sharing the "not very pretty" results of the Astros investigation.

Justin Turner of the Dodgers had a few things to say on Monday:
I don't know if the commissioner has ever won anything in his life. Maybe he hasn't. But the reason every guy's in this room, the reason every guy is working out all offseason, and showing up to camp early and putting in all the time and effort is specifically for that trophy, which, by the way, is called the commissioner's trophy. So for him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says "commissioner" on it. ...

Now anyone who goes forward and cheats to win a World Series, they can live with themselves knowing that, "Oh, it's OK. … We'll cheat in the World Series and bring the title back to L.A. Screw Dave Roberts and screw Andrew [Friedman]. It's just those guys losing their jobs. I still get to be called a champion the rest of my life." So the precedent was set by him yesterday in this case.
And then ... Manfred was ripped by friggin' Mike Trout!

Marc Carig, The Athletic, February 17, 2020:
Mike Trout, fairly or not, has been made into the poster boy for baseball's personality problem. Rob Manfred had something to do with it. A few years back, the commissioner criticized the Angels' star for not doing enough to promote the game. It was a reference to Trout's perceived public blandness. Indeed, Trout's allergy to saying anything remotely controversial has been well documented.

But on Monday morning, Trout seized the megaphone that comes with being the best player in baseball, then delivered a pointed message. He declared his belief that the Astros are cheaters, that Manfred should have punished the players responsible for one of the biggest scandals in the history of the sport, and that he looks upon the 2017 World Series championship with suspicion.

"You don't know what helped them or what not,” Trout said. "But if you know what's coming, it's going to definitely help you. It's tough. Taking a trophy away, taking the rings away, I think they should definitely do something. I don't know what. But to cheat like that and not get anything, it's sad to see."

Trout lobbing a grenade at fellow players and the chief executive of the league just might be the wildest development of the fallout. It remains rare in baseball for players to criticize other players. That tendency toward silence is embedded deep into the culture of the game. ...

To be clear, his comments won't be mistaken for some of the sharper barbs that have come from clubhouses all over the league. ... But in relative terms, this was Trout at perhaps his angriest. He was unflinching. He was even funny.

For Trout, lowering his guard is talking about the weather. But even he managed to take a sleepy Monday morning in spring training and turn it into a late-show monologue. For a few minutes, the timing of his laugh lines rivaled his timing at the plate.

Had he noticed the banging? "I didn't notice the banging. I noticed the banging off the bat, in center field." ...

Is knowing the signs an advantage? "Me going up to the plate knowing what's coming, it would be fun up there."

Indeed, it would be fun to watch. But it would never happen, Trout said, because stealing signs with technology is cheating.

"It's sad for baseball," Trout said. "Tough. They cheated. I don't agree with the punishments, with the players not getting anything when it's a player-driven thing. … Guys' careers have been affected. A lot of people lost jobs." ...

Trout conceded that he "lost respect for some of the guys." Most notably, Trout did not hesitate to share his dismay with Manfred, particularly when it came to meting out punishments to the players. ...

"Obviously, they had something to know that they were cheating," he said. "So, I don't know. It's a tough subject to talk about. Like I said, they cheated the game, cheated players. It's just tough to see."

The howls of protest coming directly from opposing players have been unprecedented. At no point during the Steroid Era was there such a unified chorus. ...

[W]ith Manfred scheduled to meet with media in Arizona on Tuesday, the vitriol about the Astros has shown no signs of slowing down. To Trout, there is an obvious reason.

"Because a lot of teams were affected," he said. "You look at the Dodgers, you look at the Yankees, we weren't in the playoffs but they were in the playoffs. You come to spring training because you want to win a ring. If you see someone cheated to do it, it's a tough thing to swallow. I'm sure a lot of people are mad. I'm sure a lot of people are going to hold back and not say much."

Bill Baer, NBC Sports, February 16, 2020:
Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB's own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred's answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros' "dark arts" and "Codebreaker" operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred's press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic's Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, "You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part." MLB's response to the depth of the Astros' cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond's reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players "have been hurt by this" and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and '18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros' championship, saying, "The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act." The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The "piece of metal" is literally called the Commissioner's Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having "the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty." Be careful, don't hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum. ...

Because the players involved in the Astros' cheating scheme weren't punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred [said] ... retaliatory beanballs "will not be tolerated." ... Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters. ...

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.
Brendan Gawlowski, FanGraphs, February 17, 2020:
The [press] conference was not broadcast on MLB Network — Bull Durham aired instead — nor did it stream on MLB.com. Whether this reflects a continuation of the league's misguided damage control policy or a misunderstanding of the scandal's resonance to fans, it was a strange way to downplay the commissioner's remarks on such a topical issue. ...

Listening to his remarks, one gets the impression that the league will remain in reactive mode perpetually as new details emerge, and that Manfred himself wants nothing more than to reach the other side of this. At one point he clumsily exclaimed "we'll have baseball in 2020!" We're all excited too, Rob. ...

At this point, the league's response to the scandal has become a part of the story. Public reporting has driven MLB's investigations and actions at every step ...

The majority of questions were, understandably, about the Astros. By the midway point of the press conference, Manfred seemed like he'd rather have been talking about anything else, saying that "[t]his has been really fun but I'd like to move on to other topics at some point." Naturally, the following question was about the Astros.

Most dissonantly of all though, in his (otherwise reasonable) explanation for why he didn't vacate Houston's 2017 title, he said "the idea of… asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile idea."

"A piece of metal." It was just one flippant line in a half-hour conference, but it was nonetheless shocking to hear the commissioner of baseball refer to the game's ultimate prize in that manner. ...

He also dismissed the idea that the players are getting off easy, noting that their accomplishments will be forever tainted ...

One intriguing moment was Manfred's claim that, without Mike Fiers talking to The Athletic, the league probably would have never launched an extensive investigation. "Without the reporting… and the availability of Fiers, we probably wouldn't have gotten where we got to."

That's a strange message in the broader context of the scandal. Players and executives from around the league have talked about how Houston's cheating was an open secret. Danny Farquhar, at the very least, caught on to the banging scheme in real time. It strains credulity to think that the league couldn't have investigated this properly without help from the press, and Manfred's comment only reinforces the impression that damage control has been the league's unwavering priority in this matter. ...

Boston sign stealing: Somewhat lost in all the Astros news lately is that the league has still not administered discipline to Alex Cora (or anyone else) involved in Boston's sign-stealing scandal. Expect that to change in the next fortnight: "We always want the investigation to go as quickly as possible," Manfred said. "Never, however, at the expense of making sure that we have pursued every possible lead and done everything we can do to get the facts right. I think by the end of next week we should be done and have a decision out." Whether anyone will be happy about that or not, we'll see.
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports, February 17, 2020:
A lot of people have become armchair public relations experts as it relates to the Astros, but my personal view is that the Astros' public statements are not lacking because they're tone deaf or because they have bad P.R. It's simply because they're not sorry. ...

Athletes are lauded and mythologized for being willing to do anything to win. A century and a half of pro sports has shown us, time and again, that that anything often includes cheating. And that with few exceptions, the reward is worth the risk. It's also worth the fallout in the instances in which they are caught. The Astros won a title. They got glory and fame and in some cases money ... There is really nothing that can be done. And, on some level, the Astros know this. To the extent they feel bad it's because they got caught and because they are being scrutinized now. ...

This is one of those basic things that anyone who is into high level sports just has to make peace with somehow. Or, even, if they can't, it's something they need to stop assuming is a stain on some pure thing. Baseball is not pure, nor are the men who play it. ...

[On social media, Astros fans are] vacillating between "see, they apologized!" and "they have no reason to apologize because everyone else was cheating and no one else is talking about that, are they?!"

This last bit is what's most fascinating to me, because it involves two levels of cognitive dissonance on the part of those who hold the opinion.

First off, I'm struck by the notion that for seven years the Astros and their fans have insisted that the Astros do everything better, earlier, faster, and more efficiently than the rest of the league. Then, the moment they get busted for something that their better and faster front office innovated "Codebreaker" they insist that they were merely doing what everyone else was doing across the league. I guess the Astros are only at the cutting edge of exploiting competitive inefficiencies in non-rule-breaking ways. Pretty convenient! ...

Finally, even if the Astros are being singled out, it does not absolve them. I would hope that's not a difficult concept to grok – "I may have been copying Billy's test but Billy was copying from Suzy" hasn't washed as an excuse, basically ever – but you'd be amazed at how many Astros fans I've encountered who are arguing, basically that. Down with whataboutism, folks. It's simply crap logic. ...

[T]he most telling part [of Manfred's press conference] is when he made a snide and dismissive remark about Wall Street Journal reporter Jared Diamond's story which revealed (a) how much more sophisticated and front office-led the sign-stealing was; and (b) how Manfred apparently buried all of that in his January report on the matter. Manfred:
"You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part."
How immature. How peevish. In this Manfred comes off like a whining child. Like someone so out of his depth in the job of commissioner that the echo sounder can't gauge it. ...

[T]here are very, very few reporters who are super critical of the league or Manfred from an editorial perspective. The reason for this is simple: a substantial part of the baseball press corps is employed by MLB itself or work for MLB rights holders like ESPN, RSNs or radio outlets which broadcast games. That Manfred can't handle even the very small amount of heat he gets from the press – that a simple factual support inspires an ad hominem attack on the reporter who, via basic reporting, revealed Manfred's own incompetence – is simply sad.

Anyway, it's a whole new week now. Maybe now people will begin to accept that not all apologies are required to be accepted. Maybe they'll begin to accept that not all bad behavior has a defense. Maybe they'll begin to accept that Major League Baseball cares far less about getting to the bottom of issues that reflect poorly on the league than it does about burying said issues in the bottom of a quarry someplace. Maybe they'll move on to baseball. To the parts about it that aren't ridiculous and pathetic.
Tyler Kepner, New York Times, February 16, 2020:
Players across the majors have reported to spring training this year with gloves, bats and barbs. When they are not lashing out at the Astros, they are lampooning them. The Astros' sign-stealing scheme was egregious enough to break established norms in professional baseball, where players rarely gang up on fellow members of the brotherhood.

But now there seem to be 29 teams of saints and one dirty band of sinners from Houston, absolved by a benevolent commissioner who granted immunity in exchange for confessions. That decision now undermines Manfred with fans and players, and he knows it. Before he even took a question on Sunday, he asserted that shame was punishment enough for the Astros.

"I think if you look at the faces of the Houston players, as they've been out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this," Manfred said. "They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives."

Sad faces? Constant questions? Apparently it is up to the news media to do what Manfred could not: impose some kind of lasting toll on the Astros. ... None of the active players who benefited from the scheme — stealing catchers' signals electronically and relaying them in real time by banging on a trash can near the home dugout at Minute Maid Park — have been penalized.

Had Manfred suspended the players, he would have surely faced pushback from their union. His report in January blistered the Astros' leadership but curiously spared the team's owner, Jim Crane ...

Manfred said Sunday that, in a perfect world, he would have punished the players, but he needed their cooperation to confirm what really happened. ... "If I was in a world where I could have found all the facts without granting immunity, I would have done that." ...

Who will be the first pitcher to inflict punishment at 95 miles an hour? At Red Sox camp on Sunday, reporters asked Chris Sale — who was thrashed by the Astros in the 2017 division series opener in Houston — about that. ...

"I think the game polices itself sometimes," he said. "It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think you're going to see some stuff happen this year. I don't know if it's right, wrong or indifferent. Guys are certainly welcome to handle things however they want."
Manfred felt that public humiliation was enough of a punishment for the players, but not for the manager or the general manager.

Why not? That makes no sense.

Why not have A.J. Hinch live with questions about what went on for the rest of his life? Why not have him never skip down the road into spring training happy?

We'll take a quick break to point out that Manfred also gave a head-scratching answer to a question about the Tomahawk Chop, acting like the numerous complaints over this racist practice were a new thing that he has not had time to investigate.

Christopher Buchanan, 11 Alive, February 17, 2020:
The leader of Major League Baseball seemed hesitant to delve into the Braves' "Tomahawk Chop" controversy as he fielded dozens of questions about the Astros cheating scandal on Sunday. ...

To begin with, Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested that the Chop controversy hadn't been on his mind recently.

"You know, um, I'm sorry to admit this, but with the - all that's going on ... it's just simply too much going on and I haven't even gotten around to it. ... I just can't do better than that for you, right now."
Atlanta's baseball fans have been doing the Chop since 1991. The protests against it have also been going on for 20 years.

Manfred has been working with MLB in some capacity since 1987. During the 1994–95 strike, he served as outside counsel for the owners. He joined MLB as the Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs in 1998 and represented MLB in negotiations with the Players Association for new collective bargaining agreements in 2002, 2006, and 2011. Manfred was promoted to Chief Operating Officer at the end of the 2013 season and elected as Commissioner in August 2014.

All of that is to say that Manfred has been well aware of the controversy over the Chop since it began. He cannot suddenly use the excuse of the recent sign-stealing scandal to mask his years of inaction.

And in California, the Long Beach Little League and East Fullerton Little League won't have any teams named after the Astros. "Parents are disgusted," Long Beach Little League president Steve Klaus told the Orange County Register. "They are disgusted with the Astros and their lack of ownership and accountability. We know there's more to this scandal. What's coming tomorrow? With the Astros, you've got premeditated cheating."

Mike Axisa, CBS Sports, February 17, 2020:
On Sunday, it was MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's turn to face the public regarding the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal that has dominated baseball the last four months. ...

"When we began the investigation after we became aware of the Houston situation, we started with an important and fundamental goal," Manfred said at a Sunday press conference. "That was goal was to make sure that we found the facts, completed the investigation, found out what was going on, and put ourselves in position to be as transparent with our fans and other clubs. People had a right to know what happened and we achieved that goal."

Earlier [in the day], Manfred conducted an interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech in which he said Houston's apology earlier in the week was "not successful." ...

[Manfred told ESPN:] "I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have payed a price. To think that they're skipping down the road into spring training happy, that's just a mischaracterization of where we are."

Here are six important things to know about Manfred's press conference Sunday afternoon.

1. Manfred would've liked to punish players ... "If I was in a world where I could've found all the facts without granting immunity, I would've done that."

Because MLB granted the players immunity in exchange for information, Manfred said they are being punished through public shame, essentially. Answering questions about the sign-stealing scandal and having others (fans, opposing players, etc.) consider their accomplishments illegitimate is punishment enough. ...

2. Manfred is not certain there were no buzzers ... Manfred said his investigation found no evidence of buzzers. He stopped short of saying the Astros did not use buzzers, however.

"You're never 100 percent sure in any of these things, but these were my best judgments," he said.

Manfred said MLB was aware of the buzzer allegations ... before the garbage can investigation. According to Manfred, Astros players ... [were] consistent in their denials about the use of buzzers in 2019. He's taking their word for it. ...

Manfred said the [Red Sox] investigation is ongoing, but he expects a resolution by the end of next week. ...
Jimmy Traina, Sports Illustrated, February 17, 2020:
Commissioner Rob Manfred held his first press conference regarding Houston's sign-stealing chicanery Sunday afternoon, just a few days after the Astros held a disastrous press conference in which they shrugged off the entire affair.

However, MLB Network passed on airing Manfred's meeting with the media and stuck to its original programming at the time: Bull Durham.

Yes, baseball's own network decided not to air an important and newsworthy press conference held by its own commissioner so instead they could air a movie that has been shown on its network a million times.

MLB Network aired the Astros' controversial press conference on Thursday featuring Crane, Jose Altuve and Bregman, so it's hard to understand why it would ignore Manfred's presser on Sunday. ...

SI reached out to MLB Network about the decision ... So the presser was covered, but not covered live, which is a mind-boggling decision. There was absolutely no excuse for not showing Manfred live on Sunday.

John Henry: In A "Particularly Challenging" Offseason, Trading Mookie Betts Was "One Of The Toughest, Most Difficult Decisions We Have Had To Make"

John Henry, February 17, 2020, press conference:
This morning, before answering your questions I would like to begin by addressing Red Sox fans directly about this offseason. We are used to challenging offseasons, but this one has been particularly challenging.

So let me begin by saying that while they've been presented with extraordinary challenges this off-season, those of us sitting here today know that our baseball operations department under [Chief Baseball Officer] Chaim [Bloom] and [General Manager] Brian [O'Halloran]'s leadership has handled these challenges extremely well. We are confident and optimistic while at the same time cognizant of how all of these challenges affect you, Red Sox fans. We feel responsible to face whatever challenges arise in a way so as to protect the organization and move forward for the long-term whether it's on the field or off.

Before [Chairman] Tom [Werner], [President and CEO] Sam [Kennedy] or I ever dreamed of owning a major league baseball club, we were baseball fans, like you. I grew up a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. My favorite player was Stan Musial. My heart would have broken if Stan the Man had ever been traded – for any reason. Your parents or your grandparents surely felt the same way about Ted Williams and Yaz.

So, on one level, when I say I understand how many of you feel about this trade with the Dodgers, I know many of you – particularly our youngest fans – are disbelieving or angry or sad about it. I know it's difficult and disappointing.

Some of you no doubt felt the same way in 2004 when we traded Nomar, who like Mookie was a hugely popular, homegrown player. All of us in the organization hoped we could avoid ever having to go through something like that again. But most clubs face similar dilemmas from time to time. I understand there is probably little I can say today that will change how you feel about this, but it is my responsibility to try. The baseball organizations we compete against have become much more strategic and thoughtful about how and where they spend their resources in their quest for titles. We cannot shy away from tough decisions required to aggressively compete for World Series. That is what led to this trade.

Free agency plays into many decisions clubs like ours have to make. Today's players spend years in the minor and major leagues earning the right to be paid in a free market, earning the right to make choices. They make significant sacrifices to get there and they deserve what they receive.

Clubs also have choices to make as well in this economic system.

It's a system that has a few imbalances as all economic systems do, but it is a system overall that has led to labor peace and an amazing market for our best players. It is not the system's fault that the Red Sox ended up in this position. We were faced with a difficult choice. You can talk about dollars. You can talk about metrics and value. But in the end, even though we are consistently among the highest spending clubs in baseball - with this year being no exception – we have to make hard judgments about competing for the future as well as the present.

Over the last two decades in winning four titles, along the way we lost not only Nomar, but Pedro and Jacoby and Jon and Manny among others. We no longer live in the Musial or Williams era. Players have rights they should have had when Stan and Ted played. Those two great players were victims of an unfair system – one that gave them no choice but to stay put. At one point, Stan thought about going to Mexico in order to be paid his value. He was offered $175,000 over five years in the Mexican League when he was making $13,500 a year. The Cardinal owner went to Mexico to stop it.

In today's game there is a cost to losing a great player to free agency – one that cannot nearly be made up by the draft pick given. We've seen examples of this recently.

We at the Red Sox will remember this as one of the toughest, one of the most difficult, decisions we have ever had to make. We too love the young man, the great, great smile, the huge heart and the seemingly boundless talent he displayed here.

We felt we could not sit on our hands and lose him next offseason without getting value in return to help us on our path forward. We carefully considered the alternative over the last year and made a decision when this opportunity presented itself to acquire substantial, young talent for the years ahead.
John Henry brings up some important points about the end of the reserve clause and the sacrifices players make and the rights they earn and deserve after accruing time in in the major leagues. All of that is very important to remember. Mentioning Musial's offer from the Mexican League was impressive.

I believe Henry when he says he loved watching Mookie play and he obviously understands the fans' attachment to Betts. But he has other things to worry about regarding the Red Sox than the things with which you and I concern ourselves. A balance has to be reached. Where Henry has placed that balance on any given day – because it fluctuates – certainly can be – and is – hotly debated.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal was not impressed with Henry's words. The headline on his column states: "In explaining trade of Mookie Betts, Red Sox ownership trips up badly".
The Red Sox tried, without much success Monday, to ... insist[] – time and time again – that the reason Mookie Betts is now sporting Dodger Blue and not Red Sox red had little to do with money and more to do with positioning themselves for the future. ...

More than anything, they wanted it known that it wasn't about getting the payroll under the competitive balance tax (CBT) threshold of $208 million.

Technically, this might be true. ...

But they were unsure of their ability – or perhaps willingness? – to afford him past 2020. Henry, chairman Tom Werner and team president Sam Kennedy all noted that the team had made repeated attempts to get an extension done with Betts after the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Some careful listening, however, would have alerted you to the fact that there was nothing mentioned about negotiations from this past winter, with one year of control remaining. Perhaps that was because, as has been reported, Betts had asked for a contract commensurate with the one given to Mike Trout, or, more than $400 million.

Henry noted baseball's current economic system is not without its flaws, before noting: "It's not the system's fault that the Red Sox ended up in this position."

That much is true, of course. It's their own fault. ...

[D]espite knowing that some financial reckoning was coming, the Red Sox gave then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski the green light to hand out $213 million worth of contracts to two pitchers – Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi – with durability issues, knowing they would soon have to address free agency for Betts. ...

[Werner said]: "We've pleased with the value we got back from the Dodgers."

Most fans, by contrast, are not. While the Sox did get a total of 17 controllable seasons for the three players – Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong – what are the odds that any of them becomes close to the player Betts was while here? Already, Verdugo is dealing with a stress fracture in his back and is doubtful for his first Opening Day as a member of the organization. ...

After all the energy ownership spent Monday desperately trying to convince everyone that Betts wasn't traded because of the CBT or payroll, they failed to grasp the real issue. To wit: Red Sox fans don't care why Betts was traded; they're just furious that he was traded.

The Sox can spin this as they wish. They can explain, sympathize and hold counseling sessions for aggrieved fans and it won't change the fact Betts — the best player the franchise had developed in decades — is no longer here.
McAdam mentioned the team's three attempts to get Betts to sign an extension, all of which Betts turned down. There exists a very real possibility of not being able to sign Mookie as a free agent next winter and the very real question of, if they did sign him to a mega-deal, how much that deal would hamstring the franchise when it was paying a less-than-elite Betts $35 million per season as he aged through his mid-to-late-30s. Those issues have little to do, if anything at all, with the poorly-timed deals for both Sale and Eovaldi. Even if those deals had not been done, the question of committing between a quarter-billion and a half-billion dollars to Betts would be a daunting one. Betts told the Red Sox he wanted a 12-year contract. Even if negotiations brought down to 10 years, or even eight, it's still a very long time at a very big price.

McAdam balked at Henry using Nomar Garciaparra as a comparison to Betts.
Garciaparra was two years older than Betts and by then had become injury prone. ... [I]n 2004, he had played a mere 38 of the team's first 101 games, while conveying to management he was unsure how much he would be physically available in the second half of the season. Fairly or unfairly, Garciaparra had developed a reputation for being churlish, thin-skinned and, in terms of his skill-set, in decline. Worse, his unhappiness over a contract offer which was soon rescinded ... had turned him into a negative presence in the clubhouse ...
I agree that the only real similarity in this case is that both guys were home grown players, well-liked by the fan base, and ended up getting traded - but that's also the extent of Henry's comparison. He may be off in saying that fans were as upset about Nomar as they are about Mookie, but that's not McAdam's objection. Other writers are also criticizing Henry for this point, but I think they are pretending Henry said more than he did.

McAdam also points out that most fans do not care who the team got back from the Dodgers, "they're just furious that he was traded". ... Yeah? So?

When has it ever been a smart idea to run a baseball team (in this case, a team worth several billion dollars) according to the fickle whims of the fan base, which is ignorant of a lot of inside information and possesses about 50,000 different opinions? If some fans don't care about Boston's return for Betts, then they aren't serious fans.

It also does not matter if Alex Verdugo (or Jeter Downs or Connor Wong) never becomes Mookie 2.0. The Red Sox can attempt to replace Betts's production from more than one player. In 2020, Betts will earn 46.3 times Verdugo's salary ($27,000,000 versus $583,500) – and he is unlikely to be 46.3 times as productive.

And after saying the Red Sox have 17 years of control over those three players, it's a bit nonsensical for McAdam to harp on Verdugo being "doubtful" for Opening Day in 2021. It's an incredibly minor issue considering that the Red Sox have control over Verdugo through the 2025 season. A possible IL stint should cause us to rant and rave at the Boston front office? So if Betts, who may only be a Dodger for one season, turns an ankle next week and ends up missing LA's first two weeks, would that suddenly nullify any benefits the Dodgers might have received?

Mookie: "Boston, Thanks For An Amazing 9 Years"

Nine years. Man, you were great to me, Boston. The way you welcomed me in like family. The bonds that will last a lifetime. And a banner that will hang forever. My family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Over the years, I've realized we're all part of something bigger than one person, or one city. Though the jersey will change, the mindset will not. From one title town to another. Los Angeles, it's showtime.
He's wearing #50 with the Dodgers, too.

Sale: "I Feel Better Than I Have In A Long Time"

Chris Sale missed the last six weeks of the 2019 regular season. He says the time off did him good. He's thrown off a mount perhaps a half-dozen times this offseason.
My body is feeling good. Started flipping some breaking balls and getting after it a little bit. I'm doing normal stuff that I was before and it felt good. We'll just keep building from that. ... I feel confident that when this thing starts, I'm going to be ready for it, and I'll be back to doing what's expected of me. ... As bad as I was last year, I learned a lot, and that's going to help me going forward. Last year was tough; you guys saw it. I was out there throwing batting practice half the time. But you learn from that. ...

I feel better than I have in a long time, actually. I've never taken that time off before. I don't know if, since I started playing baseball, if I've had that time off. ... [T]here's silver linings in everything. You try to take the positives in every crappy scenario that comes up. I think that time off helped my entire body regenerate, my shoulder, my elbow, my forearm, every muscle in my body got a long break and a time to heal. I think in the end it will help me out in the long run.
Sale welcomed the invitation to talk to MLB's investigators about the 2018 Red Sox and allegations of cheating.
I want to help make this right. Is it frustrating? Yeah. It took 30 minutes out of one of my days in the offseason. Whatever. But to get the truth and to make this a better game, I'm in. ... [G]iven the circumstances, with what happened in Houston and AC [Alex Cora] being our manager, I think they're just doing their due diligence, just to see if he brought it over here. ... Until that comes out, no one's going to believe what I say. ... [U]ntil the hammer drops, that's when the truth comes out.
Several Red Sox players, including J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley, have stated publicly that the team did not cheat during 2018. It's worth noting that none of the 2017 Astros spoke out before MLB released its report on them. But like Sale says, we can only wait and see.

Xander Bogaerts hurt his left ankle during a workout a couple of weeks ago.
It's getting better. [I] was doing some workouts back at home and it got a little sore so I'm taking it a little slowly now. ... Spring Training, I don't think there's any reason for us to force it. I'll get going as soon as possible. ... I've got to be smart about it and hopefully have a long, healthy season.
Bogaerts admitted this year with be a little strange without Mookie Betts.
I remember when he came up and made his debut in Yankee Stadium [June 29, 2014]. It's crazy to think how time flew that quick. Obviously, I wish him nothing but the best. He's one of the best teammates I've had. ... He's someone that we're going to miss a lot and it's not easy to replace someone like that, on and off the field.
Alex Verdugo will probably not be ready for Opening day on March 26. A back injury last May was revealed to have been an L5 stress fracture. Although the Dodgers never announced that publicly, the Red Sox knew about the injury before trading for him. Boston's doctors examined him again on Friday.
Manager Ron Roenicke:
It's in a progression where they're really liking how it's coming along. It's an injury that takes time. It takes a lot of time for this to heal. It's an injury that is fairly common in baseball because of the rotation -- it's a rotation issue.
We don't want to give fans or give people a false hope or just even a deadline that we miss again. ... [W]e're going to take our time on this ... So that way ... it's the whole year and it's continuous. And we don't have any setbacks or anything like that.
Matt Collins (Over The Monster) attempts to predict the Opening day roster. Noting that Verudgo will likely begin the season on the IL, he sees the lineup as:
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Rafael Devers, 3B
J.D. Martinez, DH
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Michael Chavis, 2B
Christian Vázquez, C
Jackie Bradley, CF
Kevin Pillar, RF
Bench: Kevin Plawecki, C; José Peraza, 2B; Tzu-Wei Lin, INF; Jonathan Arauz, INF

Rotation: Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martín Pérez, Ryan Weber (opener)

Bullpen: Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, Marcus Walden, Heath Hembree, Ryan Brasier, Austin Brice

April 27, 1903: "Lauder Accepted Malarky's Four Presents, Filling The Cushions."

The Library of Congress has thousands of digitized newspapers online, many from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I found some entertaining play-by-play reporting from the Monday, April 27, 1903, edition of the evening edition of the New York World. Although the score was complete on the front page, the account of the game inside included only five innings.

February 15, 2020

Cody Bellinger Blasts "Weak" Statements From "Ring-Stealing" Astros; Carlos Correa Says Astros Won 2017 Title Fair And Square, But Also Feel Bad About Cheating

Cody Bellinger, Dodgers outfielder and 2019 National League MVP, spoke to reporters on Friday about the Astros' sign-stealing scandal and the team's public apologies.
I thought the apologies were whatever. I thought Jim Crane's was weak. I thought Manfred's punishment was weak, giving them immunity. Those guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don't realize is Altuve stole an MVP from Judge in '17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us. ... I know personally I lost respect for those guys. I think I would say everyone in the show, in the big leagues, lost respect for those guys.
The Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series to the Astros in seven games. MLB's report stated that Houston's sign-stealing operation ended some time in 2018, but Bellinger believes the Astros were cheating in 2019:
A hundred percent. I don't know why they would stop.
He questioned Jose Altuve's actions after hitting his pennant-winning home run in the 2019 ALCS.
I don't know what human hits a walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman to send your team to the World Series and has the thought to say, "Don't rip my jersey off", but to go in the tunnel, change your shirt, and then come out and do your interview — that makes no sense to me. Makes zero sense to me. Because I know me. Gary Sanchez said it yesterday. You can rip ... my pants off. I send my team to the World Series ... in the ninth inning, at home. I'm going crazy.
Other Dodgers spoke out, as well. Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling:
They went beyond the line. And I think it's up to us ... to keep reiterating that and saying that it did cross the line. ... I think one of the worst things that could happen would be we get through spring and it's just forgotten about ... Or they get pegged for the first two games and then it's forgotten about. It needs to be reiterated and that might be from our side saying, "Dude, this was not the norm back then." I keep seeing that on Twitter and other places. "That was just the norm. That's the way baseball was and the Astros got caught." That's not true.
Last week, when Stripling heard rumours he might be traded to the Angels, he wondered whether he would intentionally throw at any Astros. (The Angels open the 2020 season in Houston.) "I would lean towards yes. In the right time and the right place."

Fellow pitcher Alex Wood noted that if that happened, Stripling would likely be suspended for throwing at players cheated for years but escaped punishment.

Clayton Kershaw:
Some of those guys seemed remorseful, some of those guys said the right things, gave a good apology. And that's great. I'll move on with that. And then you get the owner up there saying some dumb stuff and it's like, "What's going on? How can you be that ignorant to the situation?" I don't really know what to make of it all anymore.
Third baseman Justin Turner:
It's hard to feel like they earned it and they earned the right to be called champions.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa did not appreciate Bellinger's comments.
I don't have problems when people talk about 2017 and about what happened that year because, honestly, we were wrong. Everything that happened that year was absolutely wrong, and we obviously show remorse for that because we really feel bad about everything that happened in 2017.

The problem I have is when players ... don't know the facts, they're not informed about the situation and they just go out there and go on camera and just talk. ... [W]hen [Bellinger] talks about that we cheated for three years, he either doesn't know how to read, is really bad at reading comprehension or is just not informed at all. The commissioner's report clearly says that all those activities were conducted in 2017. 2018, nothing happened. 2019, nothing happened.
Ken Rosenthal, who conducted the interview for The Athletic, reminded Correa that MLB's report did state the Astros cheated
at least for part of the 2018 season". "[T]he Astros' replay review room continued ... to decode signs using the live center-field camera feed, and to transmit the signs to the dugout through in-person communication.
The Astros stopped this cheating only because they doubted the system's effectiveness. So who has reading comprehension problems, Carlos?
[H]e says, "José Altuve cheated Judge out of the MVP." Cody, you don't know the facts. Nobody wants to talk about this, but I'm going to talk about this. José Altuve was the one guy that didn't use the trash can. The few times that the trash can was banged was without his consent, and he would go inside the clubhouse and inside the dugout to whoever was banging the trash can and he would get pissed. He would get mad. He would say, "I don't want this. I can't hit like this. Don't you do that to me." ... The bangs that are on Twitter or whatever, that shows it. Altuve played clean the whole year. [Tony Adams, an Astros fan who created signstealingscandal.com, documented only 24 bangs for Altuve. The top six Astros, including Correa, all topped 95.] ...

I want to address [the buzzer allegation] as well. 2019, nobody wore buzzers. That's a lie. The reason José Altuve didn't want to get his shirt ripped off, I'm going to tell you. Earlier in the year, he hit a walk-off at Minute Maid Park; I ripped off his shirt with Tony Kemp. There are pictures of that. There are videos of that. You can go look at it. I ripped off his shirt, and his wife told my wife, "Why is Carlos ripping Altuve's shirt? I don't like that." So when he's running from third base to home plate, I'm the guy up front. The first one waiting for him. He's like, "Don't take my shirt off." The second reason — he doesn't want me to talk about this, but I'm going to say it, is because he's got an unfinished tattoo on his collarbone that honestly looked terrible. It was a bad tattoo, and he didn't want nobody to see it. He didn't want to show it at all. So, one, he didn't want to take his shirt off because his wife had told my wife earlier in the year for me to not do that. So he was telling me not to do it. And, number two, he had an unfinished tattoo that looked kinda bad that he didn't want people to see and people to talk about. That was the reason. But Altuve has never cheated. … He was not wearing buzzers. That's a story that a fake account on Twitter broke, and then people just got on that wagon and started talking about the buzzers. Like, no. Nobody thought about buzzers. Nobody was using buzzers.
So (1) Altuve's wife didn't like her husband's jersey getting ripped and (2) Altuve had an unsightly unfinished tattoo that he didn't want people to talk about. ... Nope, sorry. Those are both ridiculous. Try again. ... It would have been a vibrator, anyway, not a buzzer, because the opposing catcher or umpire might hear a buzzer.

When Correa is asked whether the Astros earned the 2017 World Series title, he goes through the games, noting that the Astros won two games in LA and both teams used intricate signs.
World Series games are too important to use easy signs. There are Morse codes out there. There are signs that nobody can get. There are so many variations you can use, and nobody can get that. ... When I analyze all the games, we earned that championship. We didn't steal it. Instead of talking about it, he should have done something about it. ... [T]hey left so many guys on base in Game 7, throughout the whole World Series. Cody didn't have a good World Series. [Bellinger went 4-for-28, with 17 strikeouts (no player on either team had more than nine).] ...

Don't think that we feel great because we cheated that year and we got away with it and all that. No. We've got to go to bed every single night thinking about what we did and how wrong it was. We've got to live with that. [Bellinger] said that they all lost respect for us. But that's not how life works. We all make mistakes. ... It's how you confront those mistakes that you make. You've got to admit to those mistakes. You've got to accept those mistakes. ... Cody Bellinger's job is to ... be informed before you talk about other players. If you don't know the facts, then you've got to shut the fuck up.
This is the story Correa is trying to sell us:

The Astros felt horrible about getting away with cheating and winning the World Series in 2017. It was truly a burden on their souls. And every single night, they would go to bed and be alone in the dark with their thoughts, tossing and turning as their memories resurfaced and nagged at them, forcing them to relive the mistakes they had made, the wrong they had done. But they survived. They managed to get themselves out of bed, face a new day, and dream up new ways to cheat in 2018. Again, they did this because they felt so bad about cheating in 2017.

The Astros made mistakes. But "it's how you confront" those mistakes, how you accept them, that's important. (However, these cheating schemes cannot really be described as "mistakes"; they were months-long operations that they indulged in every day, week after week, month after month. "Mistake" implies a one-time error.) In any event, I would argue that Astros have not really confronted the fact that they cheated for years.

Is it remotely possibly to dump the "we-feel-so-bad-about-the-wrong-things-we-did" shtick? Everyone knows you didn't feel bad! The cheating went on for years. You were completely fine with it. Stop insulting our intelligence.

February 14, 2020

Dustin Pedroia Will Not Be In Spring Training Camp Next Week

Dustin Pedroia, who suffered "a significant setback" in January after having knee surgery last year, will not report to spring training with the other position players next Monday.

A recent tweet by Peter Abraham of the Globe made it sound as though Pedroia would not be in Fort Myers at all this spring (which, sadly, seems like a strong possibility).
Checked around on Dustin Pedroia. Told it was unlikely he would be in spring training with the #RedSox because of the setback with his left knee last month.
Pedroia has played in only nine games over the last two seasons (three in 2018 and six in 2019), with three hits in 34 plate appearances.

Last August, Pedroia underwent "left knee joint preservation surgery", which is an alternative to knee replacement. The less-invasive procedure was chosen in the hopes that Pedroia could return to baseball (something he was "not sure" about even three months before the surgery), but that goal seems further and further away with each announcement.

September 1, 2007: The play that gave Pedroia the nickname "Fuck yeah":

From FY's Born to Play: My Life in the Game:
I'll never forget that play, for a lot of reasons. One was that when I was coming out for the top of the [seventh] inning, I'd put a humongous load of sunflower seeds in my mouth, and now I was standing out at my position thinking, Fuck, I just put an entire bag of sunflower seeds in my mouth. It was a little hard to breathe. And besides that, I had to pee.

So really, I was hoping it would be a quick inning. Miguel Tejada was up [leading off], and I was just thinking, Whatever happens here, if the ball comes my way I just hope I don't either choke on my sunflower seeds or pee my pants. That was pretty much the whole thing on my mind the whole inning.

Sure enough, Tejada hit a chopper, bounding over Clay and heading right up the middle. I went after it, and I swear if you look closely at the replay, you can see the sunflower seeds just spraying out of my mouth. I mean, they were just flying everywhere.

February 13, 2020

Astros Press Conference Was "Contrition Performance Art", "PR-Coached Statements Disguised As Apologies"

Crane: Our opinion is this didn't impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series. And we'll leave it at that. ...

[Fewer than 60 seconds later]

Q: Did you say you feel like this didn't impact the game? And what do you mean by that?

Crane: I didn't say it didn't impact the game. Basically, you know, as the Commissioner said in his report, he's not going to go backwards. It's hard to determine how it impacted the game, if it impacted the game and that's where we're going to leave it.

Astros Justin Verlander has been extremely clear in the past about players who cheat in baseball.

It turns out he was specifically referring to players who cheat against his team.

Eric Stephen, SB Nation, February 13, 2020:
One of baseball's very best teams is also its most contemptible. The Astros are a study in hubris, only emboldened by a report into their cheating by Major League Baseball, which turns out to have been designed more to sweep this scandal under the rug than punish the team.

On the first day of Astros spring training camp ... current Houston players finally apologized. These apologies came in the form of two brief, prepared statements by Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. The pair spoke for a total of 90 seconds. ...

[T]he standout was owner Jim Crane, a man impervious to personal responsibility. ...

The tone of the Astros' press conference was one of defiance and PR-coached vanilla statements disguised as apologies. But there was no remorse, which is remarkable given the team had literally a month to formulate a plan for contrition.

Then again, this is par for the course for the Astros, who completely bungled the detestable Brandon Taubman incident in October, mishandled the fallout from Yuli Gurriel's racist gesture during the 2017 World Series, and barred a reporter from the clubhouse in 2019 in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. ...

"I don't think I should be held accountable," Crane said Thursday.

Crane, whose Eagle USA company in 2001 reached a settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay $8.5 million for discriminating against African American, Hispanic, and female employees (an amount later reduced to $2.5 million on appeal), is no stranger to toothless rebukes. ...

Major League Baseball has demonstrated they won't pursue anything unless its feet are put to the fire. It took them two years to thoroughly investigate the Astros, and only then after a player (Mike Fiers) went on record to disclose the scheme. Manfred's report went out of its way to avoid placing blame on the front office. Now we know that Houston's front office was integrally involved ...

Former Astros manager Hinch ... was asked about further allegations of the Astros using buzzers in 2019 in a redemption plea interview with MLB Network.

"We got investigated for three months, and the commissioner's office did as thorough an investigation anyone could imagine was possible," Hinch said. ... [He] did not deny [the allegations] ...
Joel Sherman, New York Post, February 13, 2020:
[The Astros'] words [and contrition performance art] have difficulty withstanding decency or logic:

— All the Astros offered "remorse" that they illegally stole signs and "regrets" they didn't do more to stop it. But, of course, like all scoundrels, it took being caught to offer those sentiments. And are the sentiments real? Last month at the team's Fan Fest, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman delivered neither remorse nor regret. Only once properly p.r.-spun did they find their inner ruefulness.

— Most of the Astros talked about learning from this remorseful, regretful experience. But when asked what he learned, Bregman could have been speaking for all his teammates when he thought and hemmed and mainly came up with "things." Probably one of those things is: Don't get caught.

— To a man, all the Astros insisted they would respect any outside judgment on whether the 2017 team would have won without cheating, but internally they believe absolutely they would have come out as champions due to their talent.

Red Sox Sign Kevin Pillar

Say hello to Cabin Pirror.

The Red Sox have signed outfielder Kevin Pillar, who turned 31 last month, to a one-year deal worth $4 million, giving the team two center fielders who cannot hit. (Pillar did play 27 games in right field for the Giants last year.)

Pillar's OPS+ since 2015: 93, 81, 86, 92, 89. His WAR (FanGraphs) was never high and it has been steadily dropping: 3.7, 2.4, 2.0, 2.0, 1.5. His career on-base percentage is .296 and last season he had more home runs (21) than walks (18).

With any luck, we'll see Pillar only against lefties. His 118 OPS+ is solid, with average being 28 points higher, on-base 23 points higher, and slugging 68 points higher.

Pillar has been known for highlight-reel, but his Defensive Runs Saved has cratered in the past two years. From 2015-2019: 22, 21, 15, -2, -3. Jackie Bradley's DRS numbers since 2014 are: 13, 4, 12, 6, 9, 10. But he's being paid nearly three times ($11 million) what Pillar is getting.

Ken Tremendous, from 2015:
Kevin Pillar sounds like the name Kevin Millar gave to the cops when they caught him drinking a beer at a house party when he was 17. "I'm Kevin ... Pillar."

Several Astros Express Regret They Kept Cheating (And Winning) For Four Years. Although They Stopped Only After Being Caught, They Claim They Have "Learned" From Scandal

Several Astros and former-Astros apologized yesterday for conspiring to cheat during the 2017 season. They were expressing sorrow and regret, of course, only because their illegal activities became public.

It was reported this week that "everyone" in major league baseball knew the Astros were cheating at least as far back as 2016.

Alex Bregman: "I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization and by me. I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans." ['Mistakes were made'. Mentions himself last.]

Jose Altuve: "[The] whole Astros organization feels bad for what happened in 2017. ... [I] especially feel remorse for the impact on our fans and the game of baseball." [They felt so bad they resolved to never say anything to anyone forever.]

Yuli Gurriel: "No one put a gun to our head ... It would be a lie to say that one or two people are responsible."

George Springer: "We are all responsible."

Justin Verlander: "Once I spent some time and understood what was happening, I wish I had said more. I can't go back and reverse my decision. I wish I had said more and I didn't." [(1) You had 2+ years to say something. (2) Wish you had said more? What exactly did you say at all?]

Marwin Gonzalez: "I'm remorseful for everything that happened in 2017. ... I wish we could take it back and do it a different way, but there's nothing we can do." [Oh, how I wish we had not cheated and lost in the 2017 ALDS rather than winning the World Series. But that's the way it goes.]

The Astros' timeline looks something like this:
2016: Began (?) cheating. 84-78, 3rd in NL West.
Off-season: Hope fact of cheating does not become public.
2017: Continue cheating in new and different ways. 101-61, 1st in AL West, World Series Champions.
Off-season: Hope fact of cheating does not become public.
2018: Continue cheating in new and different ways. 103-59, 1st in AL West, lost ALCS.
Off-season: Hope fact of cheating does not become public.
2019: Continue cheating in new and different ways. 107-55, 1st in AL West, lost World Series.
Off-season: Hope fact of cheating does not become public. ... Fact of becomes public. (Dammit) ... Express sorrow (in passive voice) about "choices that were made", say everyone "feels bad", wish you had "said more" or could "take it back", emphasize that you "have learned from this".
One important thing the Astros learned is that MLB will not punish cheating players as long as enough of them are cheating.

The Astros Cheating Was An Open Secret Throughout Baseball For Four Seasons. MLB Received Complaints From 10-12 Teams And Did Nothing. Rob Manfred Must Resign.

Commissioner Rob Manfred must resign, immediately.

Since 2016, it had been common knowledge throughout baseball that the Houston Astros were blatantly "cheating their asses off". One team executive told the Washington Post, "Everybody knew it." It was "a big, open secret" among players, scouts, front office executives, even clubhouse staff members.

Executives from two separate clubs told the Post they believed roughly 10-12 teams had filed complaints about the Astros with MLB during the last three or four seasons. If any investigations were done, no one has uttered a peep about it.

Speaking of not uttering a peep, last November, MLB instructed personnel from all 30 teams to not speak to the media about the Astros and the sign-stealing scandal.

Now we know a big reason why.

Barry Svrluga and Dave Sheinin, Washington Post, February 11, 2020:
The Astros' system for using electronics to steal signs came into full public view Nov. 12 ... in a story published by the Athletic. ...

According to people at all levels throughout the sport — players, clubhouse staff members, scouts and executives — the idea that the Astros employed nefarious methods was an open secret.

"The whole industry knows they've been cheating their asses off for three or four years," said an executive from a team that faced the Astros in the playoffs during that span. "Everybody knew it."

Like most of the people interviewed for this story, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity to defy an MLB request that personnel from other teams refrain from speaking freely about the Astros. He estimated "10 to 12" teams had complained to MLB about the Astros over the years. An executive from another team agreed with that number. ... [The Athletics were one of those teams.]

"It was a big open secret, really big," said a veteran scout from another team whose coverage included the Astros. "Throughout baseball, throughout the scouting community, for several years, not just starting in 2017. I would say probably 2016, maybe earlier, through [2019], things were going on that were blatantly against the rules."

Into this arena stepped the Nationals, appearing in the World Series for the first time in October. ... [A]n entire sport that had a vested interest in having anyone but the Astros win the championship.

As one member of the Nationals put it, "It was amazing, once [it was assured] we were playing the Astros, how many people were coming out of the woodwork to let us know what they were doing." ...

"It was all brought up" in the advance reports the scout handed over to his superiors, one AL scout said. "It was as much a part of the report as anything else, because we had to be prepared to counter it, if that were possible. [Use] a bunch of sign systems . . . just any way possible to try to combat an advantage we all knew they had but couldn't do anything about. It felt helpless. You felt silly almost, sitting there knowing [they were doing something] but having to just put it in a report as if it was a normal thing to contend with. It sucked." ...

One AL executive described meetings of his team's analytics department. The members were so frazzled before playing Houston that they seemed almost resigned to the idea, as the executive said, that "we can't beat them if they're cheating." ...

Many in baseball are asking why it took a whistleblower — Fiers, the former Astros pitcher — to spark MLB to action when so many people had suspected the Astros of wrongdoing for years, with some taking the extra step of reporting those suspicions to MLB. ...

"This is really frustrating," Nationals closer Sean Doolittle tweeted last week. "A month after MLB's report and all we have now is more evidence and more questions. . . . The integrity of the game is at stake and players and fans deserve some answers. ... [P]ast outcomes are being second guessed and even future games will be cast in doubt. There can be no redemption arc after an institutionalized scandal like this until there's some accountability."
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports, February 12, 2020:
An MLB spokesman told the Post "[w]e investigate any allegation that's brought to this office," but provided no evidence of what, if any, investigation was undertaken on the power of those 10-12 complaints ... [K]nowing what we know and having seen what MLB has done in the wake of public allegations, it's not unreasonable to believe that such investigations were perfunctory at best ... [or] that anything one could reasonably call an "investigation" was undertaken at all. ...

[T]wo things are abundantly clear: first, any claim by Rob Manfred that he did not know what the Astros were up to prior to November 2019 is simply not credible. And second, the fact that Rob Manfred knew about it and simply did nothing about it before November 2019 was simply reckless.

[Cheating by many teams, not just the Astros] affected the outcome of baseball games. It affected the outcome of series. It affected the outcome of postseasons. ... It stuck a blow to the very basis of competitive sports, which is the notion that the competitions are inherently fair ones.

[At its core] The Commissioner's job [is] ... to ensure the health and integrity of the sport. ... It is a purpose that Rob Manfred, who seems to be far more interesting in making this scandal disappear from the headlines than in comprehensively addressing it, is failing to adequately undertake. ...

Opposing players are angry. Opposing managers, coaches, scouts and executives are angry. ... It's not something that is simply going away because Rob Manfred issued a report last month and suspended a couple of guys.

Indeed, Rob Manfred is one of the primary reasons it's not going to go away. The scandal was allowed to persist because of his failure to act on what we know to have been common knowledge inside the game about the Astros cheating and his failure to act specifically on the at least 10-12 team complaints lodged to Major League Baseball about it. ...

Rob Manfred has utterly mishandled the sign-stealing scandal. And, at this point, it is not enough for him to simply vow to do better. He is obligated, for the sake of his legitimacy as Commissioner of Baseball and for the sake of the game itself, to answer publicly for why he let it get to this state in the first place.
It doesn't matter why Rob Manfred allowed the Astros (and who knows how many other teams) to cheat for several seasons.

The fact remains: He did allow it.

And he must resign.

February 12, 2020

Three-Batter Minimum Rule (Which Will Not Shorten Game Times) Takes Effect March 12

Various rule changes for 2020 have been made official. You can click here to read about the changes to roster limits, adjustments to the injured list, and option periods for pitchers and two-way players.

One change had not been mentioned previously - and it's a doozy!

Managers will have only 20 seconds to decide whether they want to challenge a call instead of a leisurely 30 seconds. Whoa! ... Alex Cora challenged 33 calls last season. If this new rule had been in effect, it would have cut 330 seconds (5 minutes, 30 seconds) off the entire Red Sox season. That's an average time-savings per game of 2.04 seconds.

Any plans for what you're going to do with all that extra time?

But the absolute worst rule is the one that will force all pitchers to face at least three batters (or until the end of an inning) unless they are unable to continue because of illness or injury.

Back on January 2, I wrote:
The very thing [Commissioner Rob] Manfred wants to eliminate - relievers facing only one or two batters - has actually been decreasing in recent seasons. ...

Year     One BF    Two BF    Avg. Time of Game    Avg. Time of 9-Inning Game
2019      1100      1054           3:10                      3:05
2018      1145      1143           3:04                      3:00
2017      1119      1091           3:08                      3:05
2016      1182      1075           3:04                      3:00
2009      1118      1066           2:55                      2:51
1999       980       904           2:57                      2:53
1979       439       411           2:35                      2:31
1959       161       211           2:34                      2:31
[Using Baseball Reference's Play Index] I found no correlation between more one- and two-batter relief appearances and longer nine-inning games.

From 1999 to 2009, there were 300 more one- and two-batter appearances and the average game time increased by two minutes.

From 2017 to 2019, there were 56 fewer one- and two-batter appearances and the average game time also increased by two minutes.

From 2016 to 2018, there were 105 fewer one- and two-batter appearances but the average game time stayed the same.

From 1959 to 1979, the number of short relief appearances more than doubled (372 to 850), but the average game time stayed exactly the same.

From 2009 to 2019, there were 30 fewer one- and two-batter appearances (a statistically insignificant amount, one per 80 games)), but the average game time increased by 15 minutes.

It's a fact that games are taking longer to play, so something is causing that to happen. But there is no evidence that relief pitchers failing to face three batters is the cause. The facts show that fewer pitching changes has no effect one way or the other on the average length of a nine-inning game.

I suppose Manfred has to look like he's doing something about this "problem". But I'd rather his "make-work" efforts didn't destroy a key part of baseball's essential competitive structure for the last 150 years. Did MLB even bother to glance at some data before deciding to penalize strategy and innovation?

This stupid fucking worthless rule will starting in spring training (March 12). It should be confined to spring training.

2020 Season Preview Magazines (Lindy's)


Before I get to the predictions and team overviews, I want to quote from Scott Miller's lead article, "The State of the Game". It's refreshing to read this:
Can't we all just acknowledge that, just maybe, baseball isn't for everyone? Hey, we love the game every bit as much as the next guy or gall, and probably more. Which is why every time commissioner Rob Manfred threatens new legislation, we duck as if he's conspiring to unleash a beanball at our coconut. Yes, it is important to connect with the next generation of fans. But so much so that it is worth depleting the game of a good portion of its soul? ...

[Y]ou can't package every game into a tidy, bite-sized block of time. The average nine-inning game reached a record length of 3:05:35 in 2019, despite Manfred's best efforts to speed up the pace of games and/or shorten them. Maybe it's time to simply say this is what the product is, and those who enjoy it, here ya go ... without suffocating play with more legislation.

AL East (Projected Finish)

Yankees - They were great last season, and now they have Gerrit Cole, the latest best pitcher on the planet, at the front of their rotation. And Giancarlo Stanton is healthy.

Rays - They created the "opener" strategy to help their young pitchers, but now the rotation is one of MLB's deepest. Austin Meadows is trending up.

Red Sox - Expensive starters Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi were in poor health last year and showed signs of wear. Great lineup, but the owner wants to reduce payroll.

Blue Jays - Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vlad Jr. prove the sons also rise. Hyun-Jin Ryu is their first true No. 1 starter since Roy Halliday.

Orioles - Thank goodness for the Tigers, although no one should care after 100 losses. John Means and Trey Mancini could work for any team.

AL Central: White Sox, Twins, Cleveland, Royals, Tigers
AL West: Astros, Athletics, Angels, Rangers, Mariners
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Twins
AL Pennant: Yankees

AL MVP: Anthony Rendon, Angels
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
AL Rookie: Luis Robert, White Sox
AL Rookie Pitcher: Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
AL Manager: Rick Renteria, White Sox

NL East: Phillies, Atlanta, Nationals, Mets, Marlins
NL Central: Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, Pirates
NL West: Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants
NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, Cardinals
NL Pennant: Dodgers

NL MVP: Ronald Acuna, Atlanta
NL Cy Young: Walker Buehler, Dodgers
NL Rookie: Carter Kieboom, Nationals
NL Rookie Pitcher: MacKenzie Gore, Padres
NL Manager: Joe Girardi, Phillies

Red Sox
In many ways, the Red Sox are a team in transition. On the field, they are without longtime contributors Rick Porcello and Steve Pearce. Off the field, a new front office is guiding the team. ...

None of those circumstances diminish the talent in place. Even after a disappointing 2019 season in which the Red Sox missed the playoffs for the first time in four years, it's not hard to see a path back to prominence ... If the club is going to bounce back, the results will likely have to come from within. It was a quiet offseason for the Red Sox ... [Obviously, Lindy's went to press well before the Betts trade. I cut the references to Betts. I mean, why rub it in?]

Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Benintendi were among those who disappointed last year. If they can return to their career norms, the Red Sox will have a much better chance at getting back to the playoffs. ...

The ingredients are in place. The Rays might have more pitching and the Yankees might have more power, but the Red Sox should be a factor in the American League East, too.

Rotation: Chris Sale represents the biggest question mark for the Red Sox. Elbow issues contributed to his frustrating, injury-shortened 2019 season. His recovery reportedly has gone well, leading to hope that he can carry his usual heavy load of innings. ... [Sale's] low arm slot and long limbs make it hard for batters to pick up his pitches, and his slider remains a legitimate out pitch. Sale's fastball has lost some life in recent years but still averages 93 mph, more than enough to generate strikeouts in large numbers. ... Eduardo Rodriguez broke out in a big way last year ... One reason for his success: a career-best ground-ball rate of 48.5 percent. ... Nathan Eovaldi needs a bounce-back year. Homers, walks and injuries led to a disappointing 2019 season, but Eovaldi still has a powerful arsenal, including a 97.5-mph fastball ... If the Red Sox can get 22 to 25 credible starts from the fragile Eovaldi, he will have earned his keep. Newcomer Martin Perez has been terrible the past two seasons, but he keeps getting jobs because, well, he's left-handed. Perez wants to work down in the zone with his sinker and slider and elicit soft contact, but it hasn't been happening on a regular basis. He gave up 39 home runs in 251 innings the past two years, and now he will have to deal with the Green Monster.

Bullpen: Brandon Workman has always had a good curveball, and he started using it more often that his fastball last year. The results were impressive: a 1.88 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 72 innings. ... [H]e is unlikely to hold the [closer] job for long if he doesn't do something about his control. Workman averaged an unsightly 5.7 walks per nine innings last year. Setup man Matt Barnes throws 97-mph gas. ... He averaged 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings last year ... Ryan Brasier throws nearly as hard as Barnes, but when he misses high, the ball tends to fly away. ... Marcus Walden's groundball rate last year was 53.5 percent ...

Catcher: Christian Vazquez ... had not hit much until last season, when he set career highs with 23 home runs, a .276 average and a .798 OPS. Like many others, Vazquez overhauled his swing to steepen his launch angle, and soon the Green Monster in left field was his friend. ... Vazquez threw out 38 percent of the runners trying to steal — the MLB average was 27 percent — and ranked among the leaders in pitch-framing, per Baseball Prospectus. ...

Infield: Third baseman Rafael Devers turned his raw hitting potential into results last year, with a breakout 32 homers. Only 15 MLB hitters had a higher average exit velocity than Devers. He is a discerning hitter, swinging at 76 percent of the pitches thrown to him that were in the strike zone last year. Devers has worked to become a passable defender. In an era of premium shortstops, Xander Bogaerts measures up well, at least with a bat in his hands. Patient at the plate, he is willing to wait for his pitch ... He laces doubles regularly, and his power is growing every year. ... His fielding, however, leaves much to be desired. Bogaerts had a -21 DRS score last year and has never been on the positive side of that metric. Newcomer Jose Peraza regularly gets the bat knocked out of his hands, as evidenced by his 20-percent soft contact rate last year. ... Michael Chavis showed budding power as a rookie last year, hitting 18 home runs in 95 games, a rate that could get him close to 30 in a full season.

Outfield: Jackie Bradley Jr. always gives the Red Sox elite defense in center field. His bat is another story. Bradley's batting average regressed each of the past three years, while his strikeouts soared, up to a team-leading 155 last season. Selling out for power, he hit 21 homers last year at the expense of a .225 batting average. Left fielder's Andrew Benintendi's inside-out swing is tailor-made for knocking doubles off the Green Monster, but he took a big step backward last year and it wasn't a fluke considering his BABIP was a healthy .333. Benintendi chased more pitches than ever, and his swing-strike rate rose to a career-high 11.6 percent.

Designated Hitter: J.D. Martinez combines game-changing power with elite bat-to-ball skills. With power to all fields and the ability to lay off pitches outside the zone, he remains one of MLB's most complete hitters as he enters his age-32 season. Since Houston decided he couldn't play and shipped him out after the 2013 season, Martinez has cracked 207 home runs ... and his batting average has fallen below .302 just once.

Manager/Organization: In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately move, impatient Red Sox owner John Henry fired baseball ops chief Dave Dombrowski last year and replaced him with Chaim Bloom, who came from the Rays' incubator for nurturing front office executives. A Dombrowski-built team won the 2018 World Series, but apparently multiple championships is the only thing acceptable in Boston these days. [This observation is wildly reductive and inaccurate. I'm surprised by this unknown writer's ignorance.] It wouldn't be a surprise if Bloom sticks to a small-market mind-set in running the team, especially at a time when the Red Sox are in the thick of baseball's luxury tax. [In the thick of the luxury tax? What an odd way to phrase this point.]

Scout's Take: "I don't care what happened to them last year — this is still an outstanding young core. Seven of the regulars are in their 20s. ... There has to be concern about Pedroia ... You got to wonder whether a comeback is realistic at his age. ... A guy to watch is Vazquez. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying he's the next Yadier Molina. He's that good behind the plate, and now he's hitting the ball and hitting for some power."

Top Prospects: Triston Casas (1B), Bobby Dalbec (3B), Bryan Mata (RHP).
After years of relative austerity, the Yankees are back to their big-spending ways ... but even after adding Gerrit Cole, the Yankees face their share of questions ...

It has been 11 years since the Yankees' last title. ...

On paper, this is a legitimate championship contender. In fact, the Yankees well might be the best team in baseball. ...

Rotation: At 29, Cole is very much in his prime. ... James Paxton ranks among the game's top left-handed starters ... The problem for Paxton is escaping the first inning. he allowed an average of one earned run for each first inning he pitched last year. Luis Severino, interrupted last season by right shoulder and lat injuries, is good to go again. ... Masahiro Tanaka's strikeouts decreased for the second consecutive year in 2019, a concern as he pitches into his 30s. ... Domingo German [ended 2019] suspended on a domestic violence charge and he faces additional disciplinary measures this year. ... [H]itters caught up to [J.A.] Happ's fastball-heavy approach last year. ...

Catcher: The questions about [Gary] Sanchez revolve around his health and defense. Sanchez's arm has been his best asset as a defender, but he prevented just 23 percent of stolen-bases attempts in 2019, and his blocking and receiving skills are below average. Interrupted by assorted injuries, Sanchez has averaged just 106 games played over the last three years. The Yankees need a reliable backup, and it probably is not 39-year-old Erik Katz ...

Infield: Second baseman DJ LeMahieu ... was not the Coors Field monster many assumed. ... First baseman Luke Voit['s] ... .345 batting average on balls in play is highly unlikely to be sustainable for a player with below-average speed.

Outfield: Brett Gardner is MLB's oldest center fielder [age 36, and] is unlikely to repeat his power explosion of last season. ... Aaron Hicks is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is not expected to be ready to play until late summer, if at all.

Designated Hitter: Staying healthy has been a problem [for Giancarlo Stanton] ... Calf, knee and quad injuries limited him to 18 games last year.
James Paxton underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy last week and had a peridiscal cyst removed from his back. He will be out three or four months.

Kristie Ackert, Daily News:
Less than an hour after Hal Steinbrenner repeatedly said his biggest hope was to get through spring training healthy, the Yankees took their first injury hit of 2020 Wednesday [February 5] — and it is a big one. The team announced that left-handed starter James Paxton is now out "three to four months" ...

Seven days before Yankees pitchers and catchers are to report to the spring training complex in Tampa, their best pitcher of last season is now out indefinitely. ...

It is obviously a huge blow to the Yankees before they even get into the starting gate — especially considering they were already without starter Domingo German, who is serving a 63-game suspension under the MLB Joint Domestic Violence policy to start the season. [He is eligible to return June 5.] ...

Just last month, GM Brian Cashman said that JA Happ would be the Yankees fifth starter coming into the season. That seemed odd at the time ... But it seems obvious now. The veteran lefty is coming off a frustrating season where he gave up a career-high 34 home runs, posting a 4.91 ERA, the second highest of his career.
Joel Sherman, New York Post:
For Paxton, the timing is brutal. He is about to enter his walk season and the bugaboo for a talented starter is fragility — Paxton has still never qualified for an ERA title and now probably won't this season either. ...

[GM Brian] Cashman acknowledged having surgery so close to spring is not ideal ...