Sad but, in light of what we learned yesterday, not unexpected news: Sparky Anderson has died.
Anderson won three world titles, five pennants and seven division titles. He won 2194 games with the Reds and Tigers. He was the first manager to win a World Series in both the NL and the AL. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, and he most certainly deserved it.
As the obituaries come in over the next day or so, you’ll see a lot of references to Sparky’s nickname, “Captain Hook,” which referred to his practice of yanking his starters way earlier than most managers did in the early 70s. But, as Chris Jaffe pointed out in his excellent “Evaluating Baseball Managers” book, Anderson should be remembered more for something else: ushering in the five-man rotation. The sea change from pitchers going from three-days rest to four days took place rather quickly between 1975 and 1976 when Anderson started giving his pitching staff — which was far weaker than the Reds’ formidable lineup at the time — extra days off. They happened to win the World Series both years, leading to most teams aping Anderson’s move. It’s kind of strange that a guy who rarely if ever managed good-pitching teams was a trendsetter in this regard, but that’s how it went, for better or for worse.
Personally speaking, Sparky was the manager of the team I grew up with. I vaguely remember Ralph Houk and — for a millisecond Les Moss — but Sparky was the man in Detroit during my formative years as a baseball fan. I wasn’t sure what to make of him at the time. People talked about him being fiery, but we all saw Billy Martin and Earl Weaver on TV being way crazier than Anderson ever was. He had a reputation for being a bit loopy, what with his constant overpromotion of young talent, but we always had Ernie Harwell to put that stuff in perspective. I’m guessing my 7-10-year-old perspective on Anderson would be a lot different than a similarly situated Reds fan, but to me he was kind of like a fun uncle.
But not one you dismissed. Anderson obviously got results. And he was unquestionably respected by fans of the teams he managed. Maybe no more so than in early 1995, when he refused to manage replacement players during the late stages of the baseball strike. While the word “union” has become a dirty one to a lot of people over past 30 years, that’s not so in Michigan, and you can bet that Sparky’s stand was really damn important to baseball fans there.
Anderson was one of the great ones. It’s sad that his health declined so precipitously that baseball couldn’t give him a more fitting sendoff, but he’ll certainly be remembered by baseball fans of my generation and before.
The Nationals are trying to go big this offseason, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes that they are still in trade talks for White Sox’ left-hander Chris Sale and Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Both players figure to command a big return, as Sale delivered another Cy Young-worthy performance in 2016 and, despite a downturn in his production rate, McCutchen is still one of the more coveted sluggers in the National League.
In 2016, Sale led the league in complete games, with six, and turned in a 3.34 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 226 2/3 innings. While teams have been sniffing around the White Sox’ ace since the trade deadline, the club is expected to maintain a high asking price — so high, said FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, that it may keep the left-hander in Chicago for the foreseeable future.
According to Heyman, four other teams are reportedly in the mix for Sale, including the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Braves, though parts of Rosenthal’s tweet hinted that the Red Sox were maintaining their interest in hopes of striking a more affordable deal. Should the Nationals pursue a deal for Sale, it’s likely that they’d have to move shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, which they appear reluctant to do.
McCutchen, meanwhile, is also drawing interest around the league after batting .256/.336/.430 with 24 home runs in 675 PA during 2016. He didn’t appear to lose much power in his eighth season with the Pirates, but took considerably fewer walks and struck out at a career-high clip.
The Nationals were said to be in the lead for McCutchen on Thursday, and there was some expectation that the club would wrap up a trade for the center fielder by the non-tender deadline on Friday. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi pointed out that the Rangers were also talking to the Pirates, however, and no deal has come to fruition as of yet.
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: