Most figured the end was coming for Todd Helton. The 40-year-old first baseman confirmed it to the Denver Post’s Troy Renck on Saturday, announcing his retirement at season’s end.
Helton said he felt going into 2013 that this would be his last year, though he has had second thoughts from time to time.
“During the season I definitely wavered. It usually wasn’t from having a great game. I just enjoyed the competition, and I felt like I had bat speed. That’s what I will miss. The competition. I don’t know how I will replace that yet. There were days, I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this one year,’ ” Helton told the Denver Post “Then ultimately, it’s the travel, being away from the family. It is just time.”
Helton, who has dealt with back problems for a half-dozen years, has managed to stay relatively healthy in 2013, but the production hasn’t come back. He’s currently hitting .244 with 13 homers and 52 RBI in 112 games.
At .317/.415/.539, Helton has the slash line of a Hall of Famer, and he played like one in his prime years, even after accounting for the Coors Field effect. Still, he probably wasn’t quite good enough for long enough to get into Cooperstown. Famously the backup quarterback Peyton Manning at Tennessee, he didn’t establish himself in the majors until age 24, and back problems led to diminished power numbers from age 31 onward. It won’t help his case that his high finish in the MVP balloting was fifth and that he went to a mere five All-Star Games.
On the other hand, there’s a whole lot to be said for ranking 20th all-time in OPS. He’s also 16th in doubles with 585. He won a batting title in 2000 and finished in the top five in average seven times. He also finished in the top five in OBP eight times and in slugging four times. He topped 40 homers twice, with a high of 49, and drove in 147 and 146 runs in back-to-back years. He won three Gold Gloves for his play at first base. WAR says he was the NL’s best player in 2000, which is when he finished fifth in the MVP balloting.
The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.
Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).
A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.
The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.