Saturday, January 19, 2019

Baseball's Cold Winter

Image result for Bryce Harper

There was a lot of anticipation going into this 2019 offseason. The Red Sox were coming off a historic campaign where they won 108 games, dominated the Yankees in the playoffs, upset the Astros and sent the Dodgers packing in five games to win the World Series. As impressive as their run was, what was equally significant is how disappointed teams felt after they hoisted the World Series trophy. 

The Dodgers had now lost back to back World Series. After trading for Manny Machado and Brian Dozier during the season, the Dodgers still seemed to be missing something. That wasn’t more evident than in the World Series. Even with the likes of Machado, Cody Bellinger, the emergence of Walker Buheler, and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers still couldn’t get over the hump. But there was hope, Corey Seager will be back in 2019 from injury, and a few more moves could finally put the Dodgers over the hump.

But they haven’t done much of anything.

All and all I thin every Astro player and fan alike would say 2018 proved to be disappointing. With Gerritt Cole proving to be the ace they dreamed over to go along with Justin Verlander, the sky was limit. Even with a not typical great year from Jose Altuve and oft-injured Carlos Correa the Astros offense was dynamic, especially with Alex Bregman budding into a superstar. After sweeping the Indians in the ALDS, most experts didn’t just think they would beat the Red Sox in ALCS, the only thing they questioned, would be how many games would it take. But the Astros never got healthy, and the pitcher was not enough. The Astros are another year older, and key kogs like Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel are heading elsewhere.

The Astros signed Michael Brantley to fix that. 

The Yankees were obliterated by the Red Sox in the ALDS. After wining 103 games during the regular season. The previous offseason they made the biggest of moves by bringing in Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins to pair him with Aaron Judge. Stanton, Judge, Sanchez and the arrival of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar gave the Yankees the most exciting lineup in the last 20 years of the sport. But Yankees pitching could not rise to the same level. Yankees ace Luis Severino was shelled in Game 3, as the Red Sox won 16-1, and then finished off the Yanks for the sweep in game 4. In the old days, a loss like this would have sent ‘the Boss’ in a tizzy, as he would have pursued every big name in the game to ensure that, what happened in 2018, would never happen again.

The Yankees have added James Paxton, Adam Ottavino, and DJ LeMahieu. 

Aside from those who were left for roadkill by the Red Sox in the postseason, there are a number of teams with disappointing results last season. The Cubs never looked right, and that’s despite Javier Baez’s MVP caliber season and Cole Hammels second half surge back to ace status. The Nationals once again fizzled, didn’t make the playoffs, and are faced with losing the face of the franchise (and don’t seem to be putting up much of a fight to, to bring him back). There seemed to be only three real contenders in the American League, and aside from the Indians, A’s and Rays, nobody else even pretended to be.

Of the non-contenders, the Phillies and White Sox made it known that they want in. Both clubs were transparent in saying they would spend big money to improve their clubs in the hopes they would become the new contenders to make the playoffs. Both have flirted with big name  additions like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two players that would not only put their clubs on the map, but become the instant face of the organization. But after numerous meetings with both players, from both clubs, neither has been signed. 

The White Sox have been doing a good job creating the Manny Machado entourage cast with adding Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay. 

But what does all of this mean? Yes I know, the Mets have been "big spenders" this offseason, but that's a conversation for a later date (try later this week) 

Many are beginning to question the current structure of baseball. Ten or even five years ago, baseball didn’t work this way. Young players would be offered their arbitration knowing by the time they hit 28-30 years of age, they would get offered that big contract, by one of the big market clubs. But baseball has changed. No more are teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers offereing 8-10 year contracts for players, no matter what their age is, especially if they are over 30. Five years ago the likes of Machado and Harper, who are both under the age of 28 and considered top five talents in the game, don’t appear to have any suitors lining up for that kind of long term deal. 

George Steinbrenner is currently rolling over in his grave.

You can’t blame teams for trying to operate at a smarter and more financially conscience level. So many teams have been burned or buried under the weight of those deals that it drastically slows down a teams ability to rebuild. Just ask the Tigers and Rangers how their rebuilds are going. And not every club, like the Yankees or Red Sox have the capital, monetarily or with their fans, to throw money around every single season. While the Yankees are not going all in on either Harper or Machado, they also, don’t need to, and the additions of LeMahieu, Paxton, and Ottavino will more likely prove to be a better addition as a whole, than adding either superstar. 

Again the boss rolls over in his grave. 

While the goal is to win the World Series ever year, and a player like Harper and Machado is probably the best, single addition, a team could make to make that happen, the risk of it not happening is still far greater, and teams seem to be more interested in trying to finically ‘spread the wealth’ to find sustained winning. Simply put, its much easier to win somewhere between 81-88 games (being competitive) than winning the World Series. 

However, while teams are operating at smarter level, leaves an ugly truth that baseball is going to have to deal with. Players have to get paid at some point. And while fans can quibble over the morality of players making millions of dollars, the health of the sport is in jeopardy. The current structure is now outdated, and since owners cannot dangle the carrot of ‘just wait until its your turn’ what is a player to do? For the last five years, baseball has celebrated this young influx of talent, which has proven to be some of the best in baseball history. But now the system is now imprisoning the young talent of the game and if baseball does not act soon, once again the sport will face a player’s strike.

Next year may be the tipping point. With talents like Nolan Arrenado, Paul Goldschmidt,  Xander Bogaerts, Madison Bumgarner and others poised to hit the open market, if baseball cannot autocorrect itself for the likes of these proven superstars, will it ever? If players of this caliber once again have to wait until a couple of weeks before Spring Training to sign a deal at  a ‘discount rate’ for billion dollar owners, players will have no choice but to act. 

For a sport seemingly over the black eye of the steroid era, thanks to the young superstars who reminded us how much fun it is to play baseball, we will once again be enthralled in another labor dispute, same as before, right before the steroid era. 

And we all remember how much ‘fun’ that was. 

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