Donald Fehr to step down

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ESPN is reporting that MLBPA honcho Don Fehr is stepping down:

Don Fehr is stepping down as executive director of the Major League
Baseball Players Association, a position he’s held since the mid-1980s,
a source tells ESPN.

Fehr will be replaced by general counsel Michael Weiner, pending
board approval, the source said. An announcement is expected to be made
later on Monday afternoon.

Fehr, who will turn 61 in July, was voted in to lead the players’ union in December 1985.

Let’s be clear here: Don Fehr is not a popular man. Indeed, he’s the
only guy the baseball-loving public holds in lower esteem than Bud
Selig, and that really takes some doing. He has been blamed for
everything bad that has happened in baseball since 1985, be it the
1994-95 lockout, the steroids mess, huge player salaries, baggy pants,
gold chains and everything else that differentiates baseball of today
from the baseball of yesterday.

The thing about him, though, is that the only people he cares about —
the players whose interests he represents — owe just about everything good
that has happened to them in that time to him as well. Those things
include his handling of the 1994-95 lockout, the huge salaries, their
right to wear baggy pants and gold chains and just about everything
else that differentiates baseball of today from the baseball of
yesterday. The point here is that no matter how much you hate him, Don
Fehr had one job to do and that was to make life better for the
players. He did that in spades. A rookie made $60,000 a year when Fehr
took over and the game’s biggest stars made around $2 million. Today
they’re making ten times what they made back then. More importantly,
back in 1985 the owners seemed to believe that they could break the law
and collude against players, tear up the Collective Bargaining
Agreement when it suited them, and generally try to run roughshod over
players’ rights. That garbage stopped under Fehr’s leadership, and you
can bet that the players are grateful for it.

The big exception here is PEDs. Here is where, in my view anyway,
Fehr’s instincts to fight tooth-and-nail against ownership ultimately
did the union’s membership a disservice. Yes, many were responsible for
the steroids mess, but it took Fehr too long to recognize that, unlike
your usual labor stuff, there were competing interests within union
membership on the issue of PEDs and a strong public interest in the
subject as well. Fehr ignored that for far too long, which had the
effect of throwing both users and non-users under the public relations
bus. My sense is that almost everything you’ll read about this in the
coming days will greatly overplay his handling of steroids and greatly
underplay his accomplishments (stuff like this), but it’s not like we can ignore that aspect of his job performance either.

According to the article, the union’s general counsel will be taking
over, so you can assume that there will be little change in the union’s
approach going forward. But regardless of the continuity of it all,
Donald Fehr’s departure leave eaves some pretty large shoes to fill.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.