<span class="vcard">Craig Calcaterra</span>

Yoenis Cespedes
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The Yoenis Cespedes market and Offseason Fever

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Nothing continues to happen in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes.

Wait — is it a “sweepstakes” if no one really wants to just go for it and take the prize? I saw people nearly killing one another for a Powerball ticket a couple of weeks ago. The courting of Yoenis Cespedes, in contrast, comes off more like a couple of old ladies saying “no, you go ahead . . . you have it” when there’s only one piece of coffee cake left. They both probably want it, but they’d be totally cool with the other one saving them from themselves and a possibly unnecessary indulgence.

Each day there is some sort of non-news about Cespedes. Two days ago it involved the Padres of all teams “checking in” or “monitoring the situation” or some such nonsense hot stove phrase that escapes me. I know it wasn’t “kicking the tires” as it’s far too late in the offseason for that, but it was damn well short of something as serious as “discussions.”

Mostly it seems like a low-level battle between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. The Nats apparently have an offer out there, but it’s possibly low or short or else more people would be talking about it. The Mets, slammed all winter for being cheap, are playing it close to the vest. Sandy Alderson said that the Mets are talking with Cespedes’ people. Fred Wilpon simply played dumb. The Yankees are hanging around saying coy little things, probably because it’s fun to mess with the Mets but maybe because they can sense a bargain when one comes along, for better or for worse.

This all feels like offseason fever. The time of the winter when we fixate so much on the couple of players left on the market that we forget that they were not the best players on the market all offseason. That time when we’re so far removed from baseball that we forget some very basic things about baseball. Things like how the Nationals really don’t have a place for Cespedes in their outfield. Things like how the Mets were just as excoriated last winter for being cheap and all they did once the season started was make a key pickup at the deadline, win their division easily and then go to the World Series. Sure, that pickup was Cespedes, but there’s always a way to improve your team once the season begins, especially when it’s a sure bet that 60% of your division is going to stink.

It’s all great sport to see who is going to sign the last big fish left in the free agency pool, but it’s easy to overstate the significance of that fish. I like Cespedes and think he’s a fine player, but he’s not going to single-handedly transform a pennant race (nor did he last year, contrary to what so many people believe). The Mets and Nationals know this, which explains why they’re treating him like that last piece of coffee cake. He’d be nice to have, but it’s easy to see regretting it later.

Really, Phyllis, you go ahead. I’m feeling sort of full.

The owners will discuss “the evils of opt-outs” today. Good luck with that.

CANADA - CIRCA 1900:  Peter Ueberroth Baseball Comm.   (Photo by Tony Bock/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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The quarterly owners meetings are going down this week and Jon Heyman tweeted a few minutes ago that “a lesson on the evils of opt-outs” is on the agenda. Heyman correctly notes that it’s too late for that, of course. All the big contracts have opt-outs now.

I’m less interested in the timing of this “lesson” than I am in the idea that someone, apparently, thinks it’s a good idea teach such a lesson at all. Baseball, you see, has a pretty bad history with a bunch of owners getting together at offseason meetings and talking about the evils of certain kinds of contracts for free agents. I mean, it’s pretty on the dang nose:

Shortly after being elected commissioner in 1984, Peter Ueberroth addressed the owners at a meeting in St. Louis. Ueberroth called the owners “damned dumb” for being willing to lose millions of dollars in order to win a World Series. Later, at a separate meeting with the general managers in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Ueberroth said that it was “not smart” to sign long-term contracts. The message was obvious—hold down salaries by any means necessary. It later emerged that the owners agreed to keep contracts down to three years for position players and two for pitchers.

That was the beginning of baseball’s infamous collusion cases, which resulted in three arbitration rulings against the owners which cost them over a quarter of a billion dollars in damages and, many have argued, contributed directly to the environment which made the 1994-95 strike possible, if not inevitable. You’ll note that collusion did not begin with a detailed memo ordering people to do this or not do that. It began with owners getting together and talking about what kinds of contracts were “damned dumb” or “not smart.”

So yes, a conversation about “the evils of opt-outs” at an owner’s meeting is probably worth bookmarking for future reference. Such as when, say next winter or the winter after that, free agents are suddenly unable to get those opt-outs that are being so freely handed out now.

Reminder: pitchers batting is dumb. Bring on the universal designated hitter.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 8:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox presents photographs to Ron Blomberg and Orlando Cepeda, former designated hitters in Major League Baseball, during a pregame ceremony in their honor before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins against Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park on May 8, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.   (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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I was driving around bourbon country in Kentucky between Saturday and Tuesday and missed this, but given that arguing about the designated hitter is almost as enjoyable to me as a fine Kentucky bourbon, better late than never.

Speaking at a St. Louis Cardinals fan event over the weekend, Cards GM John Mozeliak said that there is “more momentum” building among National League general managers and owners to bring the DH to the Senior Circuit. This idea used to be dismissed out of hand by most NL execs and, as recently as a year ago, Rob Manfred said that there wasn’t much interest in the matter in the NL, so it wasn’t a priority. It was particularly notable that a Cardinals executive was saying this given that Adam Wainwright missed almost all of last year after injuring himself while batting, so it’s fair to say that sentiment truly is changing.

I assume that, eventually, the National League will adopt the DH. Not because people in the NL wake up and decide “hey, it’s so much better!” but, rather, because it just makes things easier in terms of roster construction and rules for interleague and World Series games. And, more to the point, because it will likely serve as a labor issue given that an extra position player on a roster, likely a veteran, makes more money than that 13th relief pitcher and the players would prefer more major leaguers to make more money. If and when it happens it will be a matter of pragmatism, not a matter of one side of baseball’s now-43-year debate decisively prevailing.

Of course, as we have discussed here at length, the DH is the better option now. No matter how much you like tradition, how much you argue that it’s better for “tactics” and “strategy” and no matter how happy it makes you when a pitcher does manage to hit a home run, on the whole pitchers can’t hit a lick and the risks to NL pitchers while batting, however small, are not worth the benefits. If they were, teams would teach their minor league pitchers to hit and would expect more than three feeble swings and a quick walk back to the dugout. They don’t, however, which clearly reveals that, in reality, NL teams have zero interest in their pitchers hitting.

Given that pitchers are ineffective hitters and that even the NL doesn’t care if they hit, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the adherence to pitchers batting is an argument from tradition. Anti-DH folks will deny this because they don’t like to be characterized as reactionary old fogeys, but it is undeniably about tradition and aesthetic choice. There is a place for tradition in society, but not when it’s so overwhelmingly about tradition and so little about pragmatism, as the denial of the DH in the National League is. Aesthetic choices are important to people too, but by definition that’s a style-over-substance argument, not one which makes for better or worse baseball, objectively speaking.

I don’t expect to convince a ton of hardcore anti-DH people that I’m right about this. We’ve all had these arguments in the past and we know that the DH vs. no-DH thing is more like arguing religion than anything else. You won’t do it because people find it impossible to avoid doing so, but I feel obligated to say “save it” when it comes to your angry comments below. I realize the anti-DH people think this is all wrong and that your mind will not be changed.

But given Mozeliak’s comments, it seems inevitable to me that whether or not you agree with any of this, NL folks, is beside the point. Your preferred league seems like it will eventually change its mind on the matter and its venerable rules will be unified with those of the AL. Right and wrong, good or bad will have nothing to do with it. It just will be.

So, rather than yell about how the DH is an abomination unto God, use your comments below to answer this question: whaddaya gonna do about it? How are you going to react when your 50 OPS+ pitcher is no longer able to take his three feeble hacks and then sit back down? Will it be something you simply adjust to quickly like interleague play and the Astros being in the AL or is it truly going to disturb your baseball fandom? Yes, I realize I’m being a bit snarky in the way I ask that, but I do sincerely want to know if this truly changes the game for you or if, rather, it’s just something you’ve argued about for so long because it’s a baseball argument.

Hal Steinbrenner defends the Aroldis Chapman acquisition by invoking “innocent until proven guilty”

New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner speaks to reporters in the lobby of the hotel hosting the baseball owners meeting, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Yankees traded for Aroldis Chapman recently. The same Aroldis Chapman who was investigated by police — and subsequently not charged — for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing several shots from his gun during the course of the altercation. When meeting the media today, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner had this to say about it:

“In this country where allegations are brought against a person,’’ Steinbrenner said in his first public comments on Chapman, “that person is completely innocent until proven otherwise. Not the other way around. I think we should keep that in mind right now . . . I understand it is a very sensitive subject, as rightfully so, but we just have to wait and see. It’s a touchy subject, but again, a man is innocent proven guilty.’’

While it is certainly true that, in the criminal justice system, “innocent until proven guilty” is our standard, the invocation of “innocent until proven guilty” in this case is beside the point. There were no charges brought against Chapman in our criminal justice system. There remains, however, an investigation by Major League Baseball pursuant to the league’s new domestic violence policy which specifically states that its standards are not the same as the criminal justice system. He could quite easily not be charged by law enforcement yet still be suspended by Major League Baseball even if he’s not “proven guilty.”

Likewise, none of us, if publicly alleged to have been involved in an ugly, violent incident would ever be given a “get out of controversy free” card by virtue of saying “hey, innocent until proven guilty.” We’d be subject to condemnation by our peers and possibly discipline by our employer. We’d possibly have to forfeit professional licenses and fundamentally alter the manner in which we carry out the relationships in our lives, all without ever once being “proven guilty.”

Indeed, it is because this is not the subject of the criminal justice system — a system which is notoriously inadequate at dealing with matters of domestic violence, it should be noted — that “innocent until proven guilty” is not an adequate response here. It’s a copout. Aroldis Chapman’s status as a New York Yankee is a matter of public perception, not criminal sanction. It is about the message being sent by a sports team to its fans, not about the sentence being handed out by a judge. It is about the stuff that team owners, the media and the fans love to talk about when the news is good — character, integrity, makeup and poise — being serious, serious problem when it involves a guy who is alleged to have done some seriously heinous things. What of that, Hal?

No one is proposing that Aroldis Chapman be blackballed. No one is saying that he should be prevented from plying his trade. But Hal Steinbrenner should not for one moment think that the invocation of a completely irrelevant standard in the face of a very serious situation should end the discussion about his acquisition of player who, overnight, has become an understandable lightning rod for legitimate criticism. Hal Steinbrenner is going to benefit from every save Aroldis Chapman notches for the Yankees this year. Should he not talk about what makes him OK with his fortunes rising and falling on Chapman’s performance? Should he not acknowledge that a lot of Yankees fans may be uneasy about Chapman being on the team? Should he not appreciate that the very act of acquiring Chapman has put a good number of Yankees fans in a situation where they may have a much harder time supporting the team than they did before he was acquired?

That’s the real point here: the tradeoffs everyone involved here is making yet no one seems to want to talk about. Now would be a great time for Steinbrenner to engage the fans of his team and the media which covers it and talk about what a player’s character and off-the-field conduct means and what it doesn’t mean. When a transgression is too great to be ignored no matter how talented the player in question or if there is such a point when that happens at all. To admit that the only thing that matters is winning if that is indeed the case or to talk about things that may be more important than winning if such things exist.

Let me be clear about something: I have no idea what the correct answer to any of those questions is. If I were an owner I am not sure how I’d approach such matters and I certainly can’t speak for Hal Steinbrenner. For as repugnant as it may be to acquire a shady player, maybe it’s the right idea for a guy in Steinbrenner’s position to sign any player who isn’t incarcerated who can help the Yankees win. Maybe too many people depend on the team’s fortunes to make examples out of the Aroldis Chapmans of the world. Maybe it’s even worse for Chapman and the people he loves and who depend on him for him to be shunned or disparaged in ways Steinbrenner seems not to want to disparage him. I have no idea. These are truly tough questions to ask that go to the very heart of what we as sports fans want out of professional teams, the leagues in which they play and the players which they employ to be. Should they be moral examples? Are we hypocrites in expecting them to be? Are we complicit if we expect them not to be?

Again, I really don’t know the answers to those questions. But I really wish people like Hal Steinbrenner would bother to entertain them rather than blow them off with nonsense like “innocent until proven guilty,” which does nothing but lower the standard for a professional athlete’s conduct to the absolute bare minimum — only those who, beyond reasonable doubt have done something technically illegal shall be judged — without for one second admitting that by doing so he is lowering that standard.

The Marlins are moving in the fences

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
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Back in August the Marlins talked about the possibility of moving in their fences to make their ballpark a bit more home run happy. They’re in the process of doing that now, and over at MLB.com the On Cloud Conine blog — nice name, BTW — there are some detailed pictures of the in-progress reconstruction of the outfield walls.

Center field around to right-center will see the most dramatic change, with walls coming in from a crazy 418 feet to a less-crazy 407. Moreover, all around the outfield the height of the walls will be reduced from 11.5 feet down to as low as 7 feet in height in some places, while remaining higher where preexisting video boards are in place. The lowest part of the wall will be in front of the Clevelander bar and its pool.

Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal last March, so figure this is part of the push to get him to not opt out of it. Beyond him, the Marlins were second-to-last in team home runs last year with only 120, so the changes will no doubt be welcome up and down the lineup.