Bud Selig: "it was a difficult year but a wonderful year"

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s means that everyone and their brother will be writing year-in-review stuff.  Might as well lead with the guy in charge:

“It was a difficult year, but a wonderful year. There were a lot of clubs that had difficulty, some were
significantly impacted, but
in terms of management, in terms of the popularity of the sport, which
is just enormous, it was a remarkable year in a lot of ways. We
launched a [television] channel which had remarkable success, [MLB.com]
continued to do very well, we draw 73, 74 million people. It’s a great
tribute to the sport.

“[The decline in attendance] was fractional. If you take out
the two New York ballparks’ reduced capacity, we’re down about five
percent. There isn’t a business, there isn’t an entity in America who
would be unhappy being down only five percent in this economy. You bet,
I’m very proud of that.”

Hard to argue with that. I haven’t seen final 2009 revenue numbers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were down less than the 5% attendance was down, even if you take out MLB Network revenue. Fewer seats in New York, but they generated higher revenue.

More controversial is Selig’s statement that “On the field, it was fabulous. A great year, beginning to end. We had more competitive balance.”

I suppose it’s possible that there are numbers you can run that, by virtue of overall records or whatnot, there was, in fact, more competitive balance. But when your average fan talks about competitive balance these days, they’re talking about big market-small market stuff, and there’s no escaping the fact that 2009 was a year where the big market teams did really, really well. Maybe that’s an aberration, but whatever it is, you’re going to have a hard damn time selling competitive balance to people who aren’t fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Phillies of the world.

But when Selig talks about success, competitive balance is not anything he’s particularly interested in. Yes, he gives it lip service — talks about baseball being in such a bad state when he took over and how things have improved so much since then — but the fact is that his greatest success as Commissioner has been overall revenue growth.  Revenue, and not competitive balance, is what was dismal when he took over, and that has improved dramatically during his tenure. Competitive balance was great pre-1992 and took a header starting right after that.

If the reverse had happened — stagnant revenues and great competitive balance — the owners would have fired him a long damn time ago.  Baseball’s challenge is getting both of those things to improve at once. To date, no one has shown the inclination, let alone the ability, to make that happen.

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report:

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.