The Braves are no longer "America's Team"

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz notes
that, with the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies coming to town, the
Braves stand to play in front of hostile crowds at home for some time:

Fortunately, they will be checking tickets and not allegiances this week at Turner Field.

Revenue isn’t the worst fallback. You take what you can get if
you’re the Braves, particularly when three of the visiting teams on a
home stand — the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox – come with overstuffed
caravans and the term “meaningful games” locally appears to have a
decreasing shelf life . . .

. . . The Braves knew the Yankees and Red Sox games would be the
year’s hot tickets. It’s one reason why they initially sold them only
through multi-game packs, also hoping to limit the presence of New York
and Boston fans. But that plan didn’t fill the stadium. Individual game
tickets eventually went on sale three weeks ago.

The expected influx of Yankees and Red Sox is not surprising. It
happens everywhere anymore. It’s one of the consequences of ESPN and
FOX’s efforts to make New York and Boston de facto national teams over
the past decade.

What kills me, though, is that there was a time when the Braves were
the de facto national team. Maybe not quite “America’s Team” as Ted
Turner tried to package them, but certainly a team with a fan base
spread across the country thanks to 144 games on TBS every summer. It’s
one of the reasons I’m a Braves fan. I lived in West Virginia when I
was a teenager, and they were the only game on the dial. I watched
every game, and no matter where the Braves played — Cincinnati, Los
Angeles, Chicago and even New York — there was always a surprisingly
strong Braves’ contingent in the stands.

A couple of years ago, however, Braves’ ownership decided to scrap
that plan. From a broadcast perspective, the Braves are now confined to
the south, and thus the national nature of that fan base is atrophying.
I’m certainly losing track of them to some degree, and I presume others
who used to follow them from afar are as well. I suppose the Braves’
suits could point to how much better the Braves are penetrating their
local market since the broadcasting change, but shouldn’t they have
wrapped up that market before now? How many more Meridian, Mississippi
households can they possibly reach?

Atlanta fans are famously fair-weather, so the low attendance Jeff
Schultz cites in this article is no real surprise given their poor play
of late. One wonders, however, if there would be a greater enthusiasm
for this team if they, like the Yankees and Red Sox, were consistently
reaching a national audience like they used to.

Phillies sign outfielder Michael Saunders

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 3: Michael Saunders #21 of the Toronto Blue Jays runs to first after being walked during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 3, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Phillies have signed free agent outfielder Michael Saunders.

Saunders was an All-Star in 2016 due to his wonderful start, but he cratered in the second half of the season. Overall is numbers looked good — he hit 24 homers and posted a line of .253/.338/.478, but his second half line was .178/.282/.357 in 58 games. He’s not the best defender around either.

The Phillies could use him, however, and if he has another red hot first half, there’s a decent chance they could flip him if they wanted to.

Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays nearing a two-year, $35-40 million deal

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run homer during seventh inning game 5 American League Division Series baseball action in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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It was first reported that the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista were close to a deal last night. Now Ken Rosenthal reports that the deal is near completion. It will likely a two-year contract in the $35-40 million range.

Bautista had a tough 2016, hitting .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI, and some clubs likely considered a long-term deal for the 36-year-old too risky, this leading to the relative lack of reported interest in Bautista by other clubs. But back-to-back ALCS appearances by the Jays and the success and popularity Bautista has experienced in Toronto make his re-signing there a pretty sensible move for all involved.

The Jays, who already lost Edwin Encarnacion to free agency, get their slugger back on a short term deal. Unlike anyone else, they don’t have to give up the draft pick attached to him via the qualifying offer. Bautista, in turn, will make, on average, more than he would’ve made on the qualifying offer if he would’ve accepted it and a raise over the $14 million he made in 2016.