The regular season is about to kick off and all the signs of a new baseball year are here.
- Players continue to get hurt at an alarming rate, including the Blue Jays new closer, Kirby Yates, a closer the Padres and Braves did not want to sign because of Tommy John surgery fears. Those fears have been realized.
- Gary Sanchez is not hitting.
- The National League is holding out hope that the designated hitter will be put in place when real games begin. No rush. It’s not like the season is starting and pitchers, the most injury prone athletes in all of sports, continue to get hurt just swinging the bat, something they never do these days.
- Smart teams showing us how dumb they are in roster construction.
- Betting in every aspect of baseball is being encouraged and promoted and sold across the board, except for the banishment of Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Pick every winner on Opening Day and you are a winner in this new MLB.com betting world, competing to win $200,000, as they say. Remember when Opening Day used to be about, you know, Opening Day?
- Jaw-dropping talents like Bobby Witt Jr. will not be starting the season in the major leagues. Why not give the fans a reason to go to a Royals game? Is it that hard?
- Nerds are running wild in their wacky non-baseball ways.
- The Red Sox have “financial flexibility,’’ not talent flexibility. The Dodgers and Mookie Betts are taking care of the talent flexibility part.
- Trevor Bauer is the MAP, Most Annoying Player in the game, but that’s okay. The role fits him and he plays it up to perfection.
- Domingo German may save the Yankees starting rotation. Imagine that.
- The Mets made it through the rest of spring training without having to fire another GM after the Jared Porter fiasco. The really good news for the Mets is that young Luis Rojas is looking a lot more managerial this spring, after being shoved into the firestorm last spring after the Carlos Beltran fiasco.
Here at Baseball or Bust every week we promise ourselves that this will be the week to write about all the neat things happening in baseball.
Then MLB starts doing absurd MLB things every week and gears must be shifted from positive to negative. When the games begin there will be a highlight package of good things here, I promise, but I have to be true to my game.
Yes, baseball continues to outdo itself with all kinds of senseless happenings and that is the direct result of non-baseball people making baseball decisions.
As for He Who Should Not Be Named anymore in this space, the commissioner, continues to run baseball in his own unique way. It’s not fair to blame all of baseball’s failures on one person. It isn’t. It takes a full roster to take the game down.
Let’s start on a positive note, see I can do that, Bobby Witt Jr.
Bobby Witt, Jr.
Witt needing more minor league seasoning is a fine excuse and some notable people have fallen for that excuse, but I keep things simple.
I like talented players, especially shortstops who have an understanding of the game, to get to the major leagues as quickly as possible. I don’t hold their age against them. It’s a lift for an organization and fans to have those players present. It’s a reward for hard work and success and turning the page to a new era for a struggling team. And you know what, if Witt stumbles badly out of the box, he could always get sent down to the minors and come back, you know that, don’t you Royals. Even Mickey Mantle got sent back down.
I like Dayton Moore, the Royals GM, but this was a bad decision.
There is nothing wrong with holding out a carrot for the fans. Whenever I could this spring I would watch Witt hit and play short. His tremendous at-bat against Dodgers star lefty Julio Urias that ended in a home run was the second best at-bat of the spring behind Luis Guillorme’s 22-pitch marathon at-bat against the Cardinals Jordan Hicks.
These are the things that excite real baseball fans. These kind of at-bats.
You want to be there for those events. You don’t want to be there for a limited number of pickoff throws, you don’t want to be there for the Obese Bases. If the people in charge don’t understand baseball, it is the fans who always get the shaft. Of course, in these “every kid gets a cupcake, even if it’s not your birthday, times,’’ a legion of mental skills coaches are probably telling the Royals you really could hurt Witt’s confidence by sending him down if he stumbles.
But you know what, if that happens and you have to send him back down to AAA, you tell him get better and see you soon. He’ll survive.
He may be talented enough and smart enough that he might not stumble at the major league level. He can learn on the job in KC as well as in Omaha.
I remember the great Jim Leyland explaining to me one time in his own no BS way that when he calls down to the bullpen: “I don’t ask how old they are. I just want to know if they can pitch.’’
Same here for shortstops. It doesn’t matter how old they are, can they play, should be the only question. This is an age old problem with baseball. Witt Jr. will turn 21 in June. He can play.
I remember covering the Padres in 1988 and writing stories during spring training about how good young Roberto Alomar will be and that he should make the major league club right out of spring training. The Padres did not do that. Club President Chub Feeney wanted to wait and he was the boss.
So, of course, the Padres lose their first five games of the season, stumble along and call up Alomar on April 22.
To me it was clear that Alomar, 20, was the second best player on the team, behind only Tony Gwynn, and the Padres were making a big mistake., but I was the new reporter in town.
Chub didn’t like any of that
Now the rest of the story: I call Chub at home to get a response when Alomar finally is called up, identify myself, and Chub counters with “Et tu Brute?’’
That was a pretty good line, by Chub, who was hooked on the TV show Jeopardy!
“Hey, don’t blame me, Chub for not making the right call,’’ I responded. “That was your mistake. You should have taken my advice.’’
Yeah, Chub wasn’t happy with all that, either. I was not going to toe the line for the Padres. Then came September and Chub and Fan Appreciation Day but that is a whole ‘nother story you will hear here some day.
In the end, I think I was right, especially since Alomar joined Gwynn in the Hall of Fame. The Padres fans, of course, were thrilled to have the opportunity to watch Roberto Alomar play and that is the bottom line, not roster manipulation.
The irony is the Padres only held on to Alomar for three years before trading him. He won two World Series and hit .307 for the Blue Jays over his five years in Toronto. He hit .323 his three years in Cleveland and batted .312 his three years in Baltimore. The Padres should have gotten Robby in as many games as possible but could not see the forest through the trees.
Alomar, like Witt Jr. was the son of an accomplished major leaguer. Take that into account as well. Stop being so cheap baseball owners, at the expense of your fans and team.
When you get a great young talent, make the most of that talent. Play him.
“When you get a great young talent, make the most of that talent. Play him.”
Often, management forgets this baseball thing is about entertainment.
Same goes for the DH, considering pitchers hardly ever hit anymore you might as well bring the DH to both leagues. Arizona right-hander Zac Gallen was the latest pitcher to go down with an injury related to swinging a bat, a hairline fracture in his right arm as a result of swinging on March 10.
Amazing, that baseball can’t get this right and actually puts its most valued commodity, starting pitchers, in danger because they can’t handle baseball maneuvers like swinging a bat anymore. The NFL protects quarterbacks. Baseball has to protect starting pitchers from themselves. This is a system failure across the board. Why even bother to let them hit anymore in the NL. If they do continue to hit, teams must work their pitchers on the hitting basics so they don’t get hurt. Gradually build the swing up from nowhere. Is it that too hard to figure out?
Pitchers rarely shag flies anymore, which used to be a staple that kept them in shape. But those days are gone. Instead there is too much wasted time, too much screen time, too much spin rate time and not enough time shagging fly balls and working their butts off physically.
Speaking of shape, this was supposed to be the year of the new Gary Sanchez.
Yet, Sanchez has fallen off the hitting cliff and is 1-for-24 of late. The Yankees are fortunate they play in a division where other teams are practically giving the AL East to them. The Rays won the East last year but saw the wisdom of getting rid of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. The Blue Jays signed closer Yates even though the Padres would not touch him after his success with the Padres. His velocity was down, a sign of future trouble and now Yates will have to have his second Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays could be dangerous if they get enough pitching.
Blue Jays starter Robbie Ray is out with a bruised elbow after slipping on steps while carrying his child. If there is a way to get injured, pitchers will find it. To make matters worse for the Blue Jays, George Springer has an oblique injury.
With the Red Sox throwing in the towel last year the Yankees don’t have to worry about them anymore. The Rays, for the most part, know what they are doing, but don’t spend the money to keep really good teams together. They beat the Yankees by seven games last year in a 60-game season, that tells you something. The Orioles Forever Rebuild is going strong, trust me.
More Yankee concerns:
Scouts have told me that Aaron Judge has geared his swing much too much toward the launch angle. “He has a big hole in his swing inside,’’ one scout noted. “It’s a long swing.’’
That’s never good.
I’m not big on spring training statistics but going into midweek action eight teams had more than 200 strikeouts, the Yankees were one of those eight teams with 205 and then struck out another 13 times Wednesday in a 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays.
The team with the fewest strikeouts was the Mets with 160.
Giancarlo Stanton can hit them a mile, if he hits them, and also is one with a grooved swing that pitchers can take advantage of but Stanton and Judge both figure to hit enough mistakes out of the ballpark to carry the Yankees, if their pitching holds up.
According to scouts, Domingo German has been one of the most impressive pitchers this spring for the Yankees, other than Gerrit Cole. Corey Kluber has not broken down. The Yankees still have some defensive holes to fix, and as I mentioned, they strike out at an alarming rate. Against Phillies ace Aaron Nola on Monday, they struck out nine times over six innings. The feast or famine offense always runs into trouble as the playoffs advance and the pitching gets better, and this year it appears the Yankees are running the same game plan.
The bullpen is already down two left-handers with injuries to Zack Britton and Justin Wilson. The Yankees refer to their new pitching lab as “The Gas Station.’’ Like a true gas station, pitchers like cars, are up on hydraulic lifts being worked on.
The Yankees need to keep their vehicles on the road.
One of the highlights of the spring came from the Mariners.
After Bauer made some pretty nifty Bauer-like excuses for surrendering three home runs and five extra base hits in the fifth inning to the Mariners on Monday, Seattle manager Scott Servais had some fun at Bauer’s expense, saying “I just wanted everyone to know our guys weren’t trying in the first four innings. We decided to try in the fifth inning last night … Our guys were hitting with one eye shut for the first four innings and trying to breathe through our eyelids as we’re focusing on different things that will help us throughout the year.’’
Baseball needs more of this, good old back and forth. Teams and players have gotten so cozy with each other that now the players only really get mad at ownership. Team rivalries have deteriorated.
Too bad this was not the Padres responding to Bauer because that would juice up the rivalry between the Dodgers and Padres even more. Bauer is one of those unique baseball personalities, and you often see it in pitchers, who has the ability to pitch well and really piss off the competition.
In some ways he reminds me of former Padres pitcher Eric Show. Show often upset his own teammates, too, particularly Jack Clark, and his pitching coach Pat Dobson, too.
A little more tit for tat will go a long way on the field. Right now, for the most part, it’s one team’s social media squad going against another team’s social media group. That’s the rivalry. Put it back on the field where it belongs between teams and managers.
Finally, and hopefully, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.’s left shoulder issue is nothing too serious. The season, the Padres, Tatis Jr., they are all just getting started.
MLB should put the focus on young players, not young bettors.