Craig Calcaterra

Yoenis Cespedes
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The Yoenis Cespedes market and Offseason Fever


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.