Welcome to HBT 2.0


No, we’re not changing the name again. It’s still HardballTalk. The only thing different is the look. About that:

People don’t like change. I get that. People especially don’t like change when it comes to the websites they frequent. I totally get that. Indeed, I’m fairly certain that every redesign in the history of the Internet has been met with “this sucks, you suck, I hate you and I want to die — no wait, I want you to die” or words to that effect.  We expect that. But we also expect that once you get over the shock, you’ll come to like what we’ve done.

The first thing you noticed, obviously, is that you need to click through to read each post.  Believe me, I understand that people don’t like this. Clicking is hard! OK, and it can be legitimately annoying. But we didn’t take this step lightly. We talked about it and thought hard about it, but ultimately a couple of considerations ruled:

1.  Browsability. A lot of people like my long navel-gazing or legal posts. Some of you hate them. Some of you read “And That Happened.” Some of you don’t. By compacting things like this and by adding the “Top Posts” thing at the top, it will be easier to find what you want to read and skip what you don’t want. No, people don’t like clicking-through to posts, but they also don’t like scrolling down five miles either, and ultimately we want people reading more of our stuff, not less.  Which leads us to the obvious:

2. Page views:  We are men of action. Lies do not become us. In light of that, I’m not going to lie to you: we make our bones on page clicks, and the redesign will give us more.

I realize your first reaction to that will be to scoff or grouse, but we’ve been writing this blog for fourteen months now, and many if not most of you have been reading stuff from me, Aaron and the rest of us at other places for years.  We’d like to think we’ve earned your trust in that time. Trust that we’re not going to barrage you with gimmicks, bait-and-switches, slide shows and other things simply to drive page views. When you click through on an article at HBT, we think you’re being rewarded with some pretty decent news and analysis, and we hope that makes it worth your while.  Raising page views is no trick, if all you want to do is raise page views. We don’t think such a strategy makes sense, and think that this one change in that direction is worth the moderate initial annoyance you’re experiencing this morning.

And let’s not make any mistake: this is not a non-profit enterprise. People paying for your clicks allowed us to get this operation off the ground. They allowed me to quit the shyster business and write this blog. They allowed NBC to send me to the Winter Meetings and Spring Training and keep me, Aaron, Matthew, D.J., Drew and Bob in groceries, shelter and MLB.tv subscriptions. Sometimes you do what you gotta do with this stuff.

But I am confident that, in a very short period of time, you’ll get over this as you realize that there are more posts available at your fingertips with the redesign, as well as easier navigation to the other NBC Sports blogs, which you should really be reading anyway.  There will be other new things integrated into the mix going forward, albeit less radical things.  The redesign gives us the flexibility to do that.

But at the end of the day, I realize this is probably a bit jarring.  Apologies.  We’ll deal with it the only way we know how:  pound out about eleventy-seven posts about baseball today and hope you like the results.

In baseball, if you lose the World Series you still get a ring

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 3:  Detail view of the St. Louis Cardinals 2006 World Series Ring at Busch Stadium on April 3, 2007 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Scott Rovak/Getty Images)
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“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.

Wait, what is the non-tender deadline again?

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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.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

AP Photo/Ben Margot
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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.

Report: Johnny Cueto is believed to be looking for a $140-160 million deal

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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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.