Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees

HBT opening day wrapup

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There are over 2000 major league baseball games in a season. As such, the outcome of any one of them really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But we pay greater attention on opening day. Indeed, some of us sat in front of television and computer screens for, oh, 10 straight hours, and that kind of investment justifies a look back. So, opening day: what went down?

Let’s start in the Bronx, where the Yankees took on the Tigers and a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be in the lineup — Curtis Granderson — took center stage. His solo home run in the seventh inning broke a tie and ultimately proved to be the winner, with the Yankees prevailing 6-3.  But Granderson’s defense impressed every bit as much. He made a diving catch in the first inning and an over-the-shoulder grab on the run in the ninth, showing no sign of the injured oblique muscle that made him questionable for opening day until the decision was made to let him play late Wednesday. Otherwise, everything went according to plan for New York, with CC Sabathia making a strong, though by no means dominant start and the bullpen — Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and the great Mariano Rivera — putting any hope of a Tigers comeback out of reach.

The other early start was down I-95 in Washington, where the Braves shut out the Nats, 2-0 behind 5 2/3 innings of three-hit ball from Derek Lowe and more zeros from four relievers. Jason Heyward played in his second major league opening day and hit his second major league opening day home run, a low liner that just cleared the wall in right in the second inning. Of perhaps greater significance: Chipper Jones looked healthy and spry upon his return from last year’s season-ending knee injury.  The Nats: well, they’re the Nats, and they almost always lose on opening day. It’s kind of their thing.

Heroics were the order of the day in Cincinnati where, after an ineffective Edinson Volquez welcomed the Brewers to leads of 3-0 and 4-1, the Reds chipped back, topped off by Ramon Hernandez’s three-run walk-off blast, giving the Reds a 7-6 victory. This is old hat for the Reds, of course, who started last season by notching their first six wins via final at-bat comebacks. For the Brewers it was a bullpen and defensive meltdown courtesy of Casey McGehee, who missed a tag, and Jonathan Axford, who gave up four ninth-inning runs on two hits and a walk.

Continuing our way west we had two games in Missouri, with the Cardinals taking on the Padres and the Royals facing the Angels.

In St. Louis, Albert Pujols did something he has never done before: ground into three double plays on an 0-for-5 day. This, combined with (a) Ryan Franklin blowing the save by surrendering a two-out ninth-inning home run to Cameron Maybin; and (b) a Ryan Theriot error in the 11th, allowing Chase Headley to score what proved to be the winning run, led to a dispiriting 5-3 extra-inning loss for the Cards.

In Kansas City, well, the Royals have a lineup in which it is all but required that Jeff Francoeur (a home run) and Melkey Cabrera (who reached base four times) provide the heroics. For the Angels, it all went according to plan, with Torii Hunter and Jeff Mathis homering and Jered Weaver allowing only two hits in 6 1/3 innings in the Angels’ 4-2 victory.

Opening day ended in Los Angeles, where we were treated to a fantastic pitching duel between Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw that ended in a 2-1 Dodgers victory. Kershaw was sharp, going seven innings, allowing only four hits and striking out nine on the power of a plain old nasty slider. Lincecum wasn’t as sharp — he allowed nine men to reach base — but it was his defense that betrayed him. A Miguel Tejada error allowed Matt Kemp to advance to third in the sixth inning and then an ill-advised and poorly-executed pickoff attempt by Buster Posey allowed Kemp to score, breaking a scoreless tie. The Dodgers added insurance in the bottom of the eighth when Kemp — who had stolen second base — scored on a James Loney double off Santiago Casilla. A tough-luck loss for Lincecum, who didn’t allow an earned run, but a dominant performance by Kershaw who served notice that the matter of who is the best starter in the NL West is far from settled.

Friday brings us 11 more games and, weather permitting, all 30 teams will have broken the seal on their 2011 season by the time the day is done.  Here’s hoping the action matches or exceeds today’s level of entertainment.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.