Hot Stove Roundup: Lackey, Willingham, Crawford, Hardy

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Thumbnail image for lackey.jpgWe’re just one week away from when
the free agency floodgates open, meaning that we’re in the calm before
the Hot Stove storm. Here’s a few links to keep you busy on this
Saturday:




– David Lennon of Newsday writes that the Mets intend to be serious bidders for free agent starter John Lackey.
General manager Omar Minaya received a ‘favorable first impression’
from Lackey’s agent Steve Hilliard when the two spoke this week. Lennon
compares the potential pursuit of Lackey to that of Francisco Rodriguez
last December, but the Mets figure to have more competition this
offseason as he is the top starter available in the free agent market.




– FOXSports.com reports that the Nationals are drawing strong trade interest in outfielder Josh Willingham,
with the Braves among the interested parties. Willingham, 30, batted
.260/.367/.496 with 24 homers, 61 RBI and a career-high .863 OPS in
2009 after starting the season as the team’s fifth outfielder.
Willingham is under team control through 2011 and earned $2.95 million
in 2009.




– No surprise, Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times says the New York Baseball Digest report suggesting that Carl Crawford wants out of Tampa Bay doesn’t add up.



– According to FOXSports.com, the Brewers talked about sending J.J. Hardy to the Pirates, but weren’t interested in Ryan Doumit or Matt Capps.
Instead, the Brewers tried to upgrade their starting pitching, asking
for either Paul Maholm or Zach Duke. After the Pirates refused, the
Brewers sent Hardy to the Twins for Carlos Gomez.




– And finally, for some levity, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, Lance Berkman had a dream that he was traded to the Mets. Hey, it probably has a better chance of happening than many of the ‘silly season’ rumors we’ve heard this week.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: