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Mudville: May 17, 2024 6:47 am PDT

Caveat Emptor

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Danger ahead!

That’s my warning for this off-season, regarding free agents and trades. Big money will be spent. Big trades will be made; but the only sure thing out there is Shohei Ohtani, and you are only getting the hitter, not the pitcher, too, for the present time.

That sure thing appears to be a sure thing for the Dodgers, although there has been talk Ohtani is prepared to go to any “winning’’ team, perhaps the Rangers. Boston would love to make the play here but they are not a winning team. We have learned this about the Rangers: they spend big money and have gotten big results and a World Championship. Don’t count them out for Ohtani because they have the perfect manager in Bruce Bochy and a no nonsense, winning approach.

The Red Sox fan base is disgusted, much like the Yankees fan base. The Cubs think they have a shot. I don’t think so. The Yankees had better hope it is the Dodgers and not the Rangers but no one knows, only the unanimous MVP knows.

The Dodgers have been living this fantasy that they are the greatest team around, except they never win the World Series. I’m not counting 2020; that season was a disgrace like a lot that happened in the Covid Era. The Dodgers basically won a spring training championship. That’s it.

If Rob Manfred had any guts he would nullify that 2020 World Series and also take away the 2017 World Championship from the Cheatin’ Astros. But that’s not going to happen so Manfred’s “piece of metal’’ trophy will stay with the Astros of 2017 and the shortest of all seasons Dodgers of 2020.

If the Dodgers land Ohtani, then they have something going for 2024. That is a sure thing. Hector Gomez reported they want to trade for Mike Trout, too. But Trout is injured a lot.

If the Dodgers don’t get Shohei they are going to let their fans down again and leave the door open in the NL West for someone else, a door that the Diamondbacks burst through to make it all the way to the World Series this past season.

Ex-Dodger Cody Bellinger is another free agent prize, but I can’t emphasize enough to teams that they really will not know what they are getting in Bellinger.

Baseball is all about consistency and his career has not been consistent, but there have been some wonderful highlights. The Yankees need that lefty power bat, so that the Yankees’ so tiny of an analytics department has finally realized it’s important and vital to have a left-handed power bat in short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.

Yes, analytics are the baseball gift that keeps on giving. Who knew – or should I say what old man on his lawn filled with old scouts yelling at clouds knew – that it’s great to have a left-handed power bat in Yankee Stadium. The information the Nerds come up with is simply staggering.

More on Bellinger later, but let’s get right to the other “headliner’’ of the off-season.

Are the Padres going to jolt their fans with trading Soto? Most Padres fans I know want 2024 to be a second chance season for the Padres; run it back.

That would be Juan Soto, and so many people already have him destined for the Yankees in a trade with the Padres, who just lost their wonderful owner Peter Seidler.

Are the Padres going to jolt their fans with trading Soto? Most Padres fans I know want 2024 to be a second chance season for the Padres; run it back. The reality of being a non-playoff team has not yet hit home. But they need pitching, and I believe will trade Soto.

For all of Soto’s talents, and his high on-base percentage, there are some I have talked to in baseball who have told me, “Be careful what you wish for’’ in Juan Soto.

The word out there is he can be a handful in the clubhouse. Perhaps it was just the frustrations of the Padres losing in 2023 that fractured that Friar clubhouse, those things can happen, and perhaps Soto is getting a bad rap here. I’m only telling you what I have heard and clearly something was drastically wrong with the makeup of A.J. Preller’s Fantasy Team that fell on its face in San Diego this past season, despite having all that talent.

I reached out to one of the top evaluators in the game on Saturday about what he thinks of the entire situation, and he offered these cautionary words: “I wouldn’t want to invest in any of these guys.’’

Other than Ohtani, of course; and the pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto is gifted.

The Yankees and others, though, need to make changes and have the money to spend.

Bob Melvin is out as manager in San Diego and is now in San Francisco replacing Gabe Kapler.

The Giants in their own right are a strange group. This is a franchise that is the perennial free agent “always a bridesmaid, never the bride.’’

They finished second on Aaron Judge, which could have been a franchise changing moment, bringing him home to Northern California. It never happened. The Carlos Correa caper was never completed either and the analytically driven Giants had all the coaches and all the numbers in the world, but not the wins, to make the watered down postseason.

Shohei Ohtani poses for a photo with his dog prior to the announcement Ohtani winning the 2023 American League Most Valuable Player Award on November 16, 2023 in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Emma Sharon/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

To me, the Giants are the most desperate team in baseball right now, even more so than the Yankees, and must make a splash to stem the tide of mediocrity that has swallowed that team. It’s worse than that actually. The Giants are a baseball joke right now. No one is taking them seriously. Hitters certainly are not wanting to play in San Francisco. And that also is a city with major problems. There is a lot going on there and many hurdles for the Giants to leap. Unless they make a big splash in McCovey Cove it will be another long cold winter of a summer in San Francisco.

“If the Giants can land one free agent, then some others will follow; they have the money,’’ the evaluator said.

Which brings us to the Yankees. They always have the money.

What a fascinating off-season this has already been for Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner. I can’t begin to tell you how much these two have messed things up and have alienated the world’s most iconic fan base. They’ve managed to alienate nearly everyone. That’s hard to do.

Congrats, Cash & Hal.

It’s a good thing for the Yankees that they have the Mets screwing things up worse than them in the same city to take the heat off, but at least the Mets realized on Friday that in this new age of athleticism in baseball you should not have a rotund designated hitter who can’t hit and can’t run.

Small steps, Mets.

I wrote at length recently about the Cashman desert windstorm at the GM meetings. A lot of hot air. Cashman said what he said but alienating your fan base and your players is not a good way to go through life unless Cashman is so desperate he is playing the Good Cop, Bad Cop routine with Hal being a friend to the players, especially Captain Aaron Judge; and Cashman being the Bad Cop, getting a rise out of players in the hopes of getting more from them on the ballfield in 2024 (like pointing out the obvious, injuries are part of Giancarlo Stanton’s game).

an Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) flips his bat after a walk during a game between the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox on October 1, 2023 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Actually, I don’t disagree with Cashman on this point and what he said in Arizona.

“We’ve gotta get Stanton up and running again,’’ Cashman noted. “He’s injury-prone. We all have lived and known that, but he’s never not hit when he’s playing, and this year is the first time that that’s happened. We try to limit the time he is down. But I’m not gonna tell you he’s gonna play every game next year because he’s not. He’s going to wind up getting hurt again more likely than not because it seems to be part of his game.’’

There is a lot going on here including the fact that Cashman is trying to protect the group that he hired for big money to keep his players on the field and healthy.

Cashman also is laying the groundwork to motivate Stanton in an “I’ll show him way.’’

I remember doing a story with Stanton a number of years ago where he talked to me about how much he likes to travel in the offseason to foreign cities to learn about other cultures and customs and chill. That was cool.

That always seemed to be Job No. 1 for Stanton in the offseason. Maybe Cashman is trying to motivate Stanton to make some serious changes in the way he trains in the offseason and in the season. Stanton is a beast in the weight room – we all know that – but it’s just too much. There have been times when he has been the home run hero in a game and has been taken out for defense late in the game when, of course, he was not DH-ing; and instead of hanging around in the dugout, Stanton, a worker, would go straight to the weight room to work on lifting weights.

Dude, you are strong enough.

That’s a little much. Stanton’s problems are his grooved swing and lack of mobility; he is not quite Herman Munster, but … and his inability to stay on the field, and he’s only getting older and much, much richer.

Cody Bellinger #24 of the Chicago Cubs looks on in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on September 30, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

The big problem, of course, is Cashman having been suckered into trading for Stanton by Derek Jeter and that locked up Yankee dollars; when Bryce Harper was available and Cashman scoffed at the idea that the Yankees even needed a Bryce Harper, who was always hoping to play for the Yankees.

All that is water under the bridge. It happened. Cashman screwed up. The Yankees continue to pay the price.

The Yankees and Cashman are stuck together and they have to find a way to salvage the relationship with enough wins to get the Yankees back to a World Series.

Did you hear that their last World Series win was 2009 when Hal spent big on free agents and before that it was 2000? So it’s been a while.

Of course, after Cashman took heat for his Stanton comments and Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe, who happens to be the agent for pitcher Yamamoto, the ace of the pitching market, crushed Cashman, the GM for Life had to walk back his injury comments. And in typical Cashman fashion he first had to take a shot at the media.

“I was surprised how it got twisted and turned and played out or what have you,’’ Cashman began on his walk-back. He then went on to lay it on thick how special a player Giancarlo Stanton really is in pinstripes.

When you consider all that, Brian Cashman is under the gun like never before to get something done to make the Yankees a better team, it’s really that simple. And that means spending big money.

So in a strange way, all of Cashman’s bloviating this off-season has put the Yankees in a position in that they must make a big move, but once again let me remind you, “Let the buyer beware’’ or caveat emptor.

It would have been nice if the Yankees were this motivated to spend money when a player like Corey Seager, who just won a World Series, was available or when Mr. Harper wanted to join the Yankees PTA.

Cody Bellinger is the free agent and Juan Soto is available through trade. Bellinger has had some big years, and last season with the Cubs he batted .307 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs –  for another team that could not make the postseason, a team that played in the NL Central. Bellinger fixed his swing. The three previous seasons with the Dodgers he batted a combined .203 with a .272 on-base percentage and a .376 slugging percentage.

Soto may just need a change of scenery to get his entire act together so there are no questions about him in the clubhouse. He produced on the field for the Padres. He is only 25 and if the Yankees are looking for a player who plays all games, Soto played 162 last season, so he is their man. Soto walked 132 times last season and like Bellinger will give the Yankees a lefty bat. He is a lifetime .284 hitter with a lifetime .421 on-base percentage and a lifetime .946 OPS. Having Aaron Judge as a teammate to guide him could be just what Soto needs.

There is a lot to think about here across the board. There could be a huge up side; but to be clear, let the buyer beware. The Yankees need an infusion of big talent for the big city.

After all, Jake Bauers has been traded, the bottom feeding is over, it’s time to give the Big Star Era a shot again in the Bronx.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • All good points. There is always risk. Time to take some on top talent. Thanks, Kevin.

    November 19, 2023
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