While the Red Sox and Yankees give us a pretty decent Game 1 of 2,430, here are some news and notes from around baseball …
* As expected, the Rockies placed Huston Street on the disabled list Sunday with a sore shoulder. Street already experienced a setback with the injury during spring training, so while he’s expected to return fairly soon Franklin Morales should have quite a few save chances in the meantime and needs to be owned in all leagues. If he throws strikes, he can dominate.
* By designating Jack Cust for assignment the A’s are essentially betting that no team will claim his $2.65 million salary on waivers, in which case they can stash him at Triple-A (unlike Jake Fox, who’s out of minor-league options) and basically use a 26-man roster for a while. Cust would help a few teams at that price–including the punchless A’s, of course–but fitting him into the lineup and budget at this late date could be tough.
* By jettisoning Cust (for now, at least) the A’s are suddenly counting on Eric Chavez to play regularly again, albeit at designated hitter. Chavez seems unlikely to stay healthy even at DH and regardless of that hasn’t produced DH-caliber offense since 2005 or 2006. Chavez is worth a flier in AL-only leagues, but don’t feel obligated to stay with him if/when things go south.
* Fox not only made the Opening Day roster in Oakland, he’ll serve as Kurt Suzuki’s backup after the A’s chose not to keep a true second catcher. Fox caught full time early in his minor-league career, but hasn’t played the position regularly since 2006 and started just twice behind the plate last season between Triple-A and the Cubs. He has plenty of offensive upside, but doesn’t seem likely to play a whole lot early on.
* Mike Leake was the eighth pick in June’s draft after starring at Arizona State and now he’s leap-frogging the minors altogether so the Reds can rush him into their rotation at age 22. Leake is often praised for his command and polish, but handing a young arm to Dusty Baker is always risky and a couple months at Triple-A would have been better for everyone involved. Long term, he projects more as a solid mid-rotation guy than an ace.
* Alex Gordon will begin the season on the disabled list and may not be ready to return from a broken thumb until late April or early May, leaving Alberto Callaspo to play every day at third base. Callaspo hit .300/.356/.457 in 155 games last year to rank second on the team in OPS, yet it took Gordon’s injury for the Royals’ braintrust to avoid benching him after handing second base to Chris Getz.
* Mike Aviles will also be part of the Royals’ infield mix after securing an Opening Day spot by going 24-for-51 (.471) this spring. Aviles came out of nowhere to bat .325 in 102 games as a 27-year-old rookie in 2008, but then hit .183 in 36 games before undergoing Tommy John surgery last season. If healthy Aviles could (or at least should) push the execrable Yuniesky Betancourt for starts at shortstop, but keep expectations modest.
* John Bowker beat out Nate Schierholtz for the Giants’ right field job, which gives the 26-year-old one more chance to show that his strong minor-league numbers are no fluke. Bowker has hit just .244/.291/.402 through 142 games in San Francisco, but batted .322/.424/.546 with 23 homers in 129 games at Triple-A and .307/.363/.523 with 22 homers in 139 games at Double-A. He’s definitely worth a flier in NL-only leagues.
* Ron Washington announced that Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden will split time behind the plate initially, combining for what has to be the most letters ever for a catching platoon. Saltalamacchia is a question mark because of a unique condition that gave him rib, shoulder, and neck problems, so easing him back into the lineup isn’t a bad idea. However, ultimately if both guys are healthy he should claim most of the starts.
* Injuries and poor performances have pushed Travis Buck off the radar since hitting .288/.377/.474 in 82 games as a rookie in 2007, but thanks to a strong spring training and Coco Crisp’s fractured finger he’ll be the Opening Day right fielder for the A’s. Buck is certainly capable of being a lot better than he’s looked over the past two seasons, but lacks the power or speed to make a major fantasy impact even if things go well.
* Andres Blanco is slated to start at second base for the Rangers while Ian Kinsler is out with a sprained ankle, but don’t expect fantasy value from the 26-year-old journeyman. Blanco has hit .252/.295/.324 in the majors after batting .264/.319/.352 in 317 games at Triple-A. He’s a utility man, at best. Kinsler is hoping to return within a couple weeks, but high-ankle sprains can be tricky.
“Second place is first loser” — some jerk, probably.
The funny thing about “winning is everything” culture in sports is that it’s revered, primarily, by people with the least amount of skin in the game. Self-proclaimed “Super Fans” and talk radio hosts and guys like that. People who may claim to live and breathe sports but who, for the most part, have other things in their lives. Jobs and families and hobbies and stuff. Winning is everything for them on the weekend at, like, Buffalo Wild Wings or in their man cave.
Athletes — whose actual job is to play sports — like to win too. They’re certainly more focused and committed to winning than Joe Super Fan is, what with it being their actual lives and such. But you see far less “winning is everything” sentiment from them. In interviews they talk about how they hate to lose but, with a little bit of distance, they almost always talk about appreciating efforts in a well-played loss. They rarely talk about big losses — even championship losses — as failures or choke jobs or disgraces of one stripe or another.
All of which makes this story by Tim Rohan in the New York Times fun and interesting. It’s about championship rings for the non-championship winners. The 2014 Royals — winners of the A.L. pennant but losers of the World Series — are featured, and the story of rings for World Series losers is told. Mike Stanton, who played on a ton of pennant and World Series-winning teams with the Yankees and Braves, talks about his various rings and how, even though the Braves lost in the World Series that year, 1991 is his favorite.
Also mentioned: George Steinbrenner’s thoughts about rings for World Series losers. You will likely not be surprised about his sentiments on the matter.
For the next day and a half you’ll hear a lot about the non-tender deadline and/or players being tendered or not tendered a contract. Here, in case you’re unaware, is what that means.
By midnight on Wednesday teams have to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If they do, the team retains control over the player. Now, to be clear, the team is not simply “tendering” the player the actual contract specifying what he’ll be paid. Think of it as more of a token gesture — a placeholder contract — at that point the team and the player can negotiate salary for 2016 and, if they can’t come to an agreement over that (i.e. an agreement avoiding arbitration) they will proceed to submit proposed salaries to one another and have a salary arbitration early in the spring.
If the team non-tenders a player, however, that player immediately becomes a free agent, eligible to sign anywhere with no strings attached.
Basically, the calculus is whether or not the team thinks the player in question is worth the low end of what he might receive in arbitration. Or, put differently, if the guy isn’t worth what he made in 2015, he’s probably going to be non-tendered.
MLB Trade Rumors has a handy “Non-Tender Tracker” which lists the status of the couple hundred arbitration eligible players and whether or not they’ve been tendered a contract. We’ll, of course, make mention of notable non-tender guys as their status for 2016 becomes known over the next day or two.
New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.
Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.
The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.
It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.
Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.