Verducci: Take-and-rake baseball is the game's biggest problem

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Tom Verducci believes he’s figured out what’s wrong with baseball, and, in the course of what really is an interesting article, says what it is: there is simply not enough contact:

. . . we are missing an essential part of the game’s allure and
romance: the crack of the bat. You hear it less and less in today’s
game. Hitting and pitching have evolved in ways that mean the baseball
is put into play less frequently than ever before.

Today baseball includes fewer hits, less contact and more walks and
strikeouts. Baseball remains a beautiful, fascinating game that becomes
even more interesting the more you know about it. But if you’re the kind
of fan who simply likes to see the ball put into play, there is less to
like.

I’m usually the last person who hops on the “what’s wrong with baseball” wagon, because it often serves as a vehicle for “back when I was a boy, they used to . . .” stuff.  Everyone loves the baseball they grew up with. Guys in their teens and 20s have never known anything other than Yankees-style baseball. It’s what they came to love.

I’m younger than Verducci is, but my 80s baseball is pretty close to his 70s baseball, so on some basic level I’m sympathetic to his argument. There were fewer strikeouts and walks when we were kids learning to love the game. And while, yes, I totally appreciate the take-and-rake school of baseball that has evolved over the past 15 years or so, I can’t say that I always enjoy it as much.

All that said, I think Veducci’s concerns are somewhat overstated. While walks and strikeouts are up over where they were thirty and forty years ago, it’s only by a couple a game, max.  That has some impacts on flow and game times, but I don’t think they’re dramatic effects. In no event are they as aesthetically-troublesome as guys stepping out of the box all the time.

But overstated or not, Verducci’s prescription for the problem he identifies seems like a good one: umpires should be more generous with the strike zone.  That would solve the game time problem I and Major League Baseball seem to be having, and it would likely lead to a lot more contact, which would make Verducci happy.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?

Jose Bautista had a courtside view of Saturday night’s epic NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic put on a tremendous show in Saturday night’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest up in Toronto, Canada. The stars were out to see it at the Air Canada Centre, and Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had one of the very best views in the house. Check out this video he posted to Instagram of LaVine’s final dunk, a between-the-legs jam from just inside the free throw line …

Its a wrap!!! #BackToBack #SlamDunk #Champion @zachlavine8 🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽

A video posted by Jose Bautista (@joeybats19) on

That is Toronto’s very own Drake going wild in the pink jacket. Gordon probably had the best individual dunk of the night, though, if we’re being really real …

Back to your regularly scheduled baseball programming. Pitchers and catchers report Friday.