The Week Ahead: Like it or not, Interleague play is back

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Remember the novelty of Interleague play when it first came into existence back in 1997?

Fans in Atlanta could see the New York Yankees in person. NL greats like Barry Bonds and John Smoltz would make appearances in AL cities. And places with multiple teams playing in separate leagues – like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area – had the rare chance to see their local rivals square off on the diamond.

Of course most of that excitement has worn off by now. You don’t even need the MLB Network or a satellite dish to watch the Yankees just about every week. A simple television setup that includes ESPN, TBS and FOX will do just fine. And if you have more exotic tastes – Pirates anyone? – you can watch almost any game on the Internet.

But even if Interleague baseball has sort of worn out its usefulness, it, like Spencer Pratt, is not going away anytime soon.

So prepare yourself for the return of Interleague play for a 13th straight season beginning with a host of three-game series this weekend. And unlike The Hills you’ll actually get some matchups worth watching, including Yankees-Mets, Red Sox-Phillies, Angels-Cardinals, Giants-A’s and Tigers-Dodgers.

Those are some pretty good showdowns, and it’s all just a teaser for a much more extensive run of Interleague games covering the bulk of June. Sure, some of the excitement has worn off. And perhaps it takes away a little bit of novelty from the All-Star game and World Series. But it will still be a treat.

The shine may be off the apple, but it still tastes pretty good.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH (non-interleague)

Red Sox at Yankees, May 17-18: Wait didn’t these guys just play? Lighten up Francis, that was more than a week ago. Besides, this is only a two-game series, and the matchup ESPN loves the most (which means YOU WILL LOVE, IT TOO!) will only happen 10 more times this season. This is barring, of course, some sort of playoff matchup.

Giants at Padres, May 17-18: The Giants enter the week on a three-game winning streak to pull within 1/2-game of the NL West-leading Padres. (Yes, you read that right). If you like pitching, defense and speed (except for Bengie Molina) this series is for you.

Rays at Yankees, May 19-20: The two best teams in baseball – at least if you go by overall record and things like this — square off in the Bronx. Too bad it’s only a two-game series.

Twins at Red Sox, May 19-20: A tasty treat between one team that used to be great and another that could be on its way to greatness. I’ll let you figure out which is which. And I pity any left-handed hitters in Thursday’s Francisco Liriano-Jon Lester matchup.

Rockies at Astros, May 19-20: OK so this isn’t a great matchup by any means, but in the same way that every team is represented in the All-Star game, I aim to mention every team in this space at least once this season. So congratulations, Astros, this is your day! At least we have a Roy Oswalt-Ubaldo Jimenez matchup to look forward to on Thursday.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rays at Yankees (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at Rangers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (FOX)
 Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Marc Rzepczynski signs two-year, $11 million contract with Mariners

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 9: Marc Rzepczynski #23 of the Washington Nationals looks on before pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning during game two of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 9, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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After rumors of the deal surfaced on Thursday, the Mariners officially signed veteran reliever Marc Rzepczynski to a two-year, $11 million deal on Friday night. Per a report by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the lefty is due $5.5 million in 2017 and 2018.

The signing marks the left-hander’s fourth trade since July 2015. He bounced from the Indians to the Padres at the 2015 trade deadline, then to the Athletics in the offseason, then to the Nationals in late August of 2016. Last season, he pitched to a career-best 2.64 ERA during 47 2/3 innings with the Athletics and Nationals, but hit an all-time low with 5.5 BB/9 that fed into a 1.59 K/BB rate. While the 31-year-old’s split against right-handed batters are underwhelming (a career .277/.377/.431 line with 123 walks and 24 home runs), he’s held lefties to a respectable .222/.291/.298 line with just 52 walks and eight homers.

Adding Rzepczynski to the bullpen should check off another to-do item for Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto, though FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman notes that the club is still likely to pursue an additional reliever and a No. 4 starter before the offseason comes to a close.

2016 Winter Meetings Preview

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is seen along the Potomac River February 26, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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The baseball world will descend on Washington D.C. — well, the Maryland suburbs of Washington, at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor — this weekend for the 2016 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Twenty free agents from a class of 191 have signed thus far. Among the notable: Yoenis Cespedes, Edinson Volquez, Neil Walker, Josh Reddick, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey. That, of course, leaves a ton of notables left, including Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Jose Bautista, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Trumbo, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill and a host of others. Here is our rundown of this offseason’s top free agents if you’re curious. As you have come to expect from us, we’ll have a writeup of everyone who signs, faster than almost anyone else will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is an historically thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. We’ve seen a couple already, most notably the deals which sent Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks, Jaime Garcia to the Braves and Brian McCann to the Astros. Most experts believe there will be plenty more this winter, and the ball could really get rolling on that in the next week with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Phillips on the block.

Another major activity of the Winter Meetings is the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee vote. Except, this year, there is no Veterans Committee, at least in name. It’s now the “Today’s Game” committee. Here are links to breakdowns of the candidacies of all ten men on the ballot the new committee will consider:

Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Will Clark
Orel Hershiser
Mark McGwire
George Steinbrenner
Davey Johnson
Lou Piniella
John Shuerholz
Bud Selig

Trade deals, free agent negotiations and Hall of Fame votes take place behind closed doors at the Gaylord Resort. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year’s new faces are Torey Lovullo with the Diamondbacks, Rick Renteria with the White Sox and Bud Black with the Rockies. Brian Snitker, now the permanent manager of the Braves, will get his first go-around at the managerial cattle call. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. And a lot of it. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings, though this year’s brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement should overshadow that. We’ve already discussed the major points of that and, yesterday, I speculated that, as time goes on, the way this agreement was reached could lead to some serious strife going forward, particularly on the union side. Expect to hear some anonymous rumblings about all of that in the next few days, from players, agents and other interested parties who may not be all that pleased with how it goes.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at National Harbor, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event. As they used to say in radio, tune in to us and rip off the dial. Or, at the very least, keep a tab open to us and refresh a lot.