Greetings from Citi Field, the Futures Game and All-Star Week

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I hopped on a Delta Connection flight to New York yesterday morning. There were eight people on the flight, including me. I was asked to move up to first class, not because I am special, but because they needed to balance out the weight. No mistaking it, baby: this is the big time. My first All-Star Game. And I’m so excited for it that I’m willing to overlook the inconvenient fact that it’s in New York and actually enjoy myself.

Nothing personal against New York. I’ve enjoyed myself often here. And I have the utmost respect for the city and its people. It’s just not my cup of tea. I am reminded of this every time I get in cab leaving LaGuardia and almost die ten times before I get to the Queensboro Bridge. I am reminded of it every time something happens which makes me have to be defensive and on guard and all of those things that New Yorkers tell you you have to be so the city doesn’t eat you alive. I live in Ohio. In a near-rural part of it, for cryin’ out loud. I get by OK when I have to come to New York, but my natural state is not best described as “on guard.” Especially since I began working at home. Putting me in New York is like putting a dairy cow in the middle of the African savannah. The novelty of my presence here will likely keep me alive long enough, but it’s by no means a natural state.

And this is where baseball has taken me this week, so on we forge.

I am staying at the Library Hotel, which is a little boutique joint based on the Dewey Decimal System. Really. My room number’s digits correspond with the classification for 20th century history and so my room is 20th century history-themed, right down to a book about Hitler and Stalin on the shelf and picture of Neville Chamberlin on the wall above the bed. It’s as if the hotel read all of my work about A-Rod and Braun and decided that I needed to be in the “appeasement of history’s greatest monsters” suite. Well-played, Library Hotel.

source:  There’s a media shuttle from Midtown to Citi Field, but I decided that, for my first trip to Citi, I’d do it up John Rocker-style and take the 7 train.  I’m glad I did. I always assumed it was the case, but now I know for certain: John Rocker was probably the most disgusting thing on the 7 train. Beyond idiots like him, the 7 train consists of more or less normal people trying to go about their day. Including the drunk guy and the guy with purple hair and the guy who looked like he just got out of jail for the fourth time and whoever else Rocker decided to attack in that article all those years ago. They didn’t bug me, I didn’t bug them and that’s how non-sociopaths get on in this world, Mr. Rocker.

As for Citi Field: it’s OK. Kind of a mish-mosh of styles and a more fragmented route is required to get around it than a lot of new parks, but it’s nice enough once you get to your seat and watch the game. And the food selection is pretty fantastic. Maybe the best I’ve seen in a big league park. There are many parks I like better than Citi — including ones that don’t have a bunch of scary as hell looking chop shops right outside the park that look as though they chop up way more things than cars — but it’s a fine enough place to take in a game. Like The Futures Game, which is the reason I was there yesterday.

I’m not really a prospects guy and don’t pay as close attention to scouting analysis as some other writers do. I figure the big leagues is a lot to cover so I end up reading Keith Law and Jason Parks and all of those guys for that stuff just like all of you. But I went to the Futures Game because, well, why not? I’m really glad I did.

For one thing, it was a nice, relaxed way to see Citi Field for the first time. I figure it will be hard to move around the place at the Home Run Derby tonight and the actual All-Star Game tomorrow, but yesterday Citi Field was probably only half-full and it made it easy to get to know the place a little bit. Starting with the Rotunda:

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When Citi Field opened this was the most obvious nod to Ebbets Field — an ire-inducing nod for those who thought Fred Wilpon was a little too taken with Dodgers history — but for someone who was born a long time after Ebbets was knocked down it’s hard to get too worked up about it. It’s essentially a Jackie Robinson memorial, and while he was a Dodger, he sort of belongs to all of baseball now. As it is, the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum and the team store is right off the Rotunda. It feels Metsy enough to me. I mean, check it out. The second edition of Mr. Met. With hands so uncomfortably human-like I at first thought it was a real person pretending to be a mannequin:

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After a lap around the park I settled into the auxiliary press box (located behind the glass in the air conditioned Acela Club behind the left field foul pole). Good seats for the game, although it was a bit of a sensory deprivation tank, insulated as it was from the ballpark noise. I assume I’ll be out there for the Derby and for the game, so I’ll have to get used to it. If that’s the worst thing that happens this week, well, good for me.

The Futures Game itself wasn’t transcendent but there were some interesting points. I was upset that USA manager Mookie Wilson didn’t put Byron Buxton into the starting lineup, but then he came in late and struck out in his first two at bats so maybe Mookie knew something we didn’t. Diamondbacks prospect Chris Owings had at least three slicker-than-slick plays at short. He’s hitting .353 for Reno, but I could find no numbers about his GF (grit factor) so it’s hard to say when we might see him in Arizona.

source: Getty ImagesDodgers prospect Joc Pederson fielded a fly ball in deep left in the top of the fourth and attempted to throw out Xander Bogaerts. He didn’t get him — Bogaerts showed off a pretty slick arm’s-length slide — but Pederson’s throw was a laser. Kid’s got a hose. You can say that about prospects, by the way. Stuff like “kid’s got a hose.” Say that about some kid who isn’t a prospect and you could go to jail.

Something also cool about prospects: most of us haven’t seen them before. I know that sounds like a shallow statement, but when you watch something like the Futures Game, you realize just how large a percentage of the players we watch on a daily basis are known quantities. We don’t watch them to see what they’re capable of. We know what they’re capable of. We just want to see them perform. Later on that fourth inning Jesse Biddle came in to bail Anthony Ranaudo out of a jam. He bent off a crazy-good curveball. I heard someone say he had a good curveball once. I’ve never seen it. Seeing stuff like that or like Pederson’s arm for the first time is exciting and fun. Now imagine seeing that a couple of years before a guy is good enough to make it to the Futures Game. When he’s playing out in East Jesus, Texas or Bumfuccaracas, Venezuela before anyone has heard of him. That’s gotta be the thrill that keeps the fire alive inside a scout.

The U.S. team beat the international team 4-2. The results kind of don’t matter, of course, but if you care about them go here.

I took the media shuttle back after the game. Taking a big bus from Queens into Manhattan is different from taking a cab in that you still think you’re going to be involved in multiple collisions, but since you’re in a bus you view it all with a tad more detachment, thinking of everyone else’s impending death rather than your own. “Oh, I wouldn’t have changed lanes there, but I suppose I’ll get a good view of him being smashed from this vantage point.” That sort of thing.

Today: there will be a parade.  Players will be made available for the media. Kay and I will have an HBT Daily for you from the ballpark. Then there will be a home run derby. My choice will be staying in my deprivation tank where I’ll likely have Chris Berman’s commentary piped in or else going out into the park, braving the crowd and hearing Mike and Mike do the play-by-play over the P.A. system. I’m thinking Mike and Mike will get the nod.

Follow me on Twitter for real-time updates and random photos. Keep coming back here to HardballTalk for posts as the day and evening wears on.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.