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Oakland A’s minor league coach banned after ordering intentional balks to end game

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This is kind of nuts. A coach in the A’s system, who was acting as manager for the Stockton Ports in the class-A California League, has been banned from being in the Ports’ dugout for a year after ordering his pitchers to intentionally commit balks in an effort to end a game that had reached the 17th inning.

The pitchers were actually position players — each team had burned through its pen — and he ordered the balks in order to prevent injuries to his players:

[Todd] Steverson, Oakland’s roving hitting instructor, ordered Josh Whitaker, an outfielder and the second Ports’ position player to pitch that night, to commit balks to move Modesto runners into scoring position. Whitaker blatantly balked twice in the 17th, but the Nuts could not get the game-ending hit until the 18th, after another balk.

Steverson, who was filling in for the usual Ports manager who was on vacation, admitted the next day that he did it on purpose:

“We had a position player out there and I didn’t want to put another position player on the mound and get him hurt … I didn’t get any of my pitchers hurt and I didn’t get any position players hurt. So a game on June 23, 2012, well, these guys will be playing many more games more important than that.”

After that interview, the California League banned him for a year. Though, since managing or even coaching the Ports exclusively is not his job, is probably not the most arduous thing ever.

Still, that’s something else, no? I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a coach ordering that kind of thing. And I am divided in my thinking about this.

On the one hand I understand Steverson’s rationale. You don’t want prospects getting hurt in such a situation. But more compelling to me is the counter argument: these games count and are supposed to be competitive. If the California League or, for that matter, Major or Minor League Baseball wanted them to solely be about player development and/or preservation, they’d suspend games that go beyond a set number of innings like they do in spring training.

So ok, Steverson, I get it.  But if you didn’t want to wind up in a situation where position players could get hurt pitching, maybe you need to manage your bullpen better and make some reliever wear one rather than make a mockery of the competition, however mild a mockery it might be.

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.