Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Does McCann to New York set up a Salty, Red Sox reunion?

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It’s the catcher market that has moved the most quickly in free agency this winter, with Brian McCann becoming the first elite free agent to come to terms, agreeing to a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees on Saturday.

The other catcher deals:

Carlos Ruiz – Phillies (three years, $26 million)
Geovany Soto – Rangers (one year, $3.05 million)
Brayan Pena – Reds (two years, unknown salary)

The departures leave Jarrod Saltalamacchia as easily the No. 1 option left in free agency, with A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, Kurt Suzuki, John Buck and Jose Molina next in line. The rumor Friday was that Molina was close to returning to the Rays, possibly on a two-year deal.

There are also two notable trade targets in Matt Wieters and Ryan Hanigan. Wieters doesn’t appear amenable to an extension with the Orioles in advance of hitting free agency in two years. Despite his disappointing offensive output to date, he’s still very highly thought of and would command a significant package. Hanigan would be a whole lot cheaper, and he’d be a solid option starting 80-90 games. He became expendable in Cincinnati with the Pena signing.

The suitors?

Boston: Might prefer a short-term fix with Christian Vazquez and 2011 first-round pick Blake Swihart on the way.

Toronto: Needs to upgrade from J.P. Arencibia.

Chicago White Sox: Neither Josh Phegley nor Tyler Flowers seems likely to become much of a regular.

Miami: Would like to find a cheap starter for a year to get Rob Brantly more seasoning.

Colorado: Made a run at Ruiz with the idea of shifting Wilin Rosario out from behind the plate.

Minnesota: Could use a veteran to pair with youngster Josmil Pinto.

Texas: The word was that the Rangers told Soto he’d be the starter to get him to sign quickly. Still, some are skeptical.

Seattle: A veteran capable of battling Mike Zunino for the job would be ideal, with Zunino returning to Triple-A if he doesn’t show he’s ready.

On the one hand, Saltalamacchia would seem to be sitting pretty as the only big-money catcher remaining. On the other, it doesn’t seem like any of those teams besides the Red Sox are in position to spend $10 million+ per year on a catcher, and the Red Sox already declined to give Salty a $14.1 million qualifying offer, which would seem to be put a cap on how high they’re willing to go.

Boston’s ideal would likely be to bring Salty back on a two-year deal in the $20 million range (which, according to reports, is about what they offered Ruiz). That seems like a realistic possibility now unless the Blue Jays or White Sox step it up. Alternatively, the Red Sox could go cheaper with Navarro to hold the fort down until one of their prospects is ready.

My guess: Salty back to Boston, Navarro to the Blue Jays (two years, $10 million), Pierzynski to the Twins (one year, $7 million), Suzuki to the White Sox (one year, $3 million) and Hanigan to the Mariners, with Wieters staying in Baltimore.

Columnist calls for Sammy Sosa to “come clean.” He probably shouldn’t.

15 Sep 1998:  A silhouette portrait of Sammy Sosa #21of the Chicago Cubs taken in the dug-out as he looks across the field during the game against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Park in San Diego, California. The Cubs defeated the Padres 4-2
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Yesterday Sammy Sosa — quite ridiculously — compared himself to Jesus Christ. The idea: he has suffered greatly since retirement, having been shunned by the Cubs and disparaged by the baseball establishment and . . . well, I don’t know how that makes him Jesus, but forget it, he’s rolling.

Today, predictably, a Chicago columnist does what columnists have been doing for years with respect to guys suspected of PED use: argues that Sosa should “come clean” if he wants to come in from the cold. Here’s David Haugh of the Tribune:

The game welcomed back Barry Bonds and McGwire from steroid exile after both separately acknowledged their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Fox Sports employs Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to PED use during his career. The door back to baseball is open for Sosa, but only if he follows the same path his contemporaries from the steroid era did. The Cubs have made this clear to Sosa, in no uncertain terms, yet he continues to paint himself as the victim.

This is not accurate. Bonds has never “come clean” about his PED use. He was in litigation over it until 2015 and wasn’t giving any confessionals about it. When the Marlins hired him he said nothing. He made allusions to being “an idiot” in an interview last summer, but that was clearly focused on his cagey attitude, not his drug use. There was no deal with the Marlins that his job was prefaced on his “coming clean,” and he never did.

The same can be said for McGwire. Big Mac was hired by the Cardinals as a hitting coach on October 26, 2009. His acknowledgment of PED use came months later, just before spring training in January 2010. While it may be plausible that the Cardinals told McGwire that they would not hire him absent a confession of PED use, that’s not how it tracked in real time. At his hiring, John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt each said there was no set blueprint for how McGwire would proceed as far as his public statements went and they allowed him to control the timeline. His confession seemed to be very much a function of heading off spring training distractions and questions from the press which would have access to him everyday, not some precondition of his employment.

But even if we grant the apparently erroneous premise that Bonds and McGwire “came clean” to return to baseball’s good graces, such a road map is of no use to Sosa. He’s not looking to coach or, as far as we know, even be employed by a club. If the study we talked about four years ago remains accurate, coming clean about PED use makes an athlete look worse in the eyes of the public than those who deny. Ask David Ortiz how that works. It likewise will do nothing for his Hall of Fame vote totals. Ask McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro how that works.

Sosa may be engaging in some unfortunate hyperbole, but as far as can be determined, he’s not asking for a whole hell of a lot. He’s not asking for a coaching job or to have his number retired or for them to rename Wrigley Field after him. He’s asking to be acknowledged as a part of Cubs history. He’s asking for the same kind of treatment other retired greats receive from time to time. A first pitch? A public appearance or two? Some minor role as a team ambassador? The bar for that isn’t very high.

The Cubs, who benefited greatly from Sosa’s production — and, necessarily, by whatever juicing Sosa did to achieve it — aren’t being asked to do much. Just to be decent to a person who is an important part of their history. That should not require that Sosa give a weepy interview about steroids which will serve no one’s purpose but the tut-tutting media. A media which, if McGwire’s example is any guide, will still slam Sosa if he comes clean and claim that his confession wasn’t good enough and his contrition wasn’t genuine. If he does confess, bank on that reaction. Bet the mortgage on it.

All of which makes me wonder if it’s the media, and not the Cubs who are the ones who really want to see such a thing.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.