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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #17: Yoenis Cespedes shows off his wheels

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

If you have ever had the good fortune to see a players parking lot at a major league ballpark or spring training facility, you know that ballplayers love their wheels. There are a few normal Toyotas and pickup trucks parked there, but there are a great many more fancy cars. Expensive cars. Excessive cars. Ballplayers have a lot of money and, like almost anyone else with a lot of money, they like to spend it on a sweet ride. Or several sweet rides.

All of which makes the story that came out of Port St. Lucie, Florida last February a bit baffling.

The story, such as it was, was that Yoenis Cespedes has a lot of fancy cars. Indeed, each day, for the first week of spring training anyway, he showed up with a new one. There was this bad boy. This fire-breathing Lamborghini. The day before there was a three-wheeled thing. He eventually showed up on a dang horse.

The cars were certainly a lot of fun, but the fascination the Mets beat writers and columnists covering the team had with Cespedes’ fleet was a bit odd. Lots of players drive fancy cars, especially in spring training when they want to show their new wheels to their teammates. Why was it such a big deal in this case? Maybe it was because the players lot is so close to the media entrance in Port St. Lucie so they paid greater attention to the cars. Maybe it was because Cespedes had just signed a big contract with the Mets and the press was looking for as many Cespedes angles as they could find. Maybe it’s just a New York thing. Hard to say.

Eventually — and inevitably — the press’ fascination with the cars turned negative, with at least one columnist deciding that it was bad for Cespedes to be driving the vehicles he bought with his hard-earned money to work. For some reason it’s fine when some players show off pimped rides or some simply ridiculous vehicles that have been customized out the wazoo, but for Cespedes it was apparently too much. Unlike those other guys, Cespedes was told that he had better back up his “swag” with performance on the field. As I wrote at the time, there are some ugly, racist attitudes inherent in that sort of criticism.

Nevertheless, Cespedes backed it up just fine. He hit .280/.354/.530, 31 home runs and 86 RBI in 543 plate appearances. After opting out of his old deal, he and the Mets agreed to a four-year, $110 million contract at the end of November.

I hope he shows up to spring training this year in an aircraft carrier.

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

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After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.