Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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The Dodgers were too good for Aroldis Chapman three weeks ago. Now they want him.

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A year ago, the Dodgers had a trade in place with the Cincinnati Reds for closer Aroldis Chapman. It blew up, however, when Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported that Chapman had been involved in a domestic violence incident. The Dodgers, uncertain about Chapman’s status in light of a potential suspension, backed out of the deal. Which was totally understandable.

Three weeks ago, as the Dodgers faced Chapman and the Cubs during the NLCS, Jon Heyman wrote a story about the aborted trade. In it both he and his Dodgers sources made it sound like it was not just baseball uncertainty that caused them to call off the trade. Rather, it was a matter of values and ethics and uneasiness with an allegedly violent person joining the Dodgers family.

The headline: “Dodgers deserve praise for canceling Chapman deal, but it may cost them.” The upshot:

Once in a while, Dodgers people may allow themselves to think about what might have been. “Imagine how good we’d be,” one Dodgers person wondered aloud about having Chapman, in what was no more than a fleeting thought.

It’s only fleeting, because the reality is, Dodgers people instinctively and immediately knew Chapman wasn’t going to be with them once they learned of the ugly episode. No one in blue believed Chapman was the right way to go anymore. Good for them.

“Nobody did (favor getting Chapman),” Dodgers managing partner Mark Walter said before Game 2 of the NLCS here. “It wasn’t (just) ownership” . . .  Ultimately, the Dodgers are a very family friendly organization, and they deserve credit for backing away. As one Dodgers person put it, “The Dodgers just don’t accept that kind of thing.”

At least they didn’t on October 16, when that story was written. Three weeks later, however, they’re totally cool with the guy:

As I’ve written before, it’s totally defensible for a team to take on Aroldis Chapman or any other player involved in a domestic violence incident. While I or any given fan can be uneasy with our favorite team employing such players and while them doing so may make us less enthusiastic about rooting for them, the clubs are in the business of winning baseball games and are going, inevitably, to do what’s best for that goal whether we like it or not. A domestic violence incident is not the basis of a permanent ban from the sport. Chapman served his time and has, by all accounts, kept his nose clean since then. We as fans may still have strong opinions about him, and clubs are taking p.r. risks in signing such players, but a baseball team is going to employ a guy who throws 102 m.p.h. About this there is no question.

This, however, is a different matter. A mere three weeks ago the Dodgers, at least according to Jon Heyman’s story, were eager to be portrayed as being somehow better than the other teams. Rather than weigh the baseball merits only and risk taking on a player with a checkered past, they explicitly said they’d not accept someone like Chapman.  Now they’re going to pursue him?

Either a hell of a lot has changed in the Dodgers approach to family friendliness in a very short time or else Jon Heyman’s sources with the Dodgers don’t really and truly speak for the Dodgers’ baseball operations department.

Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent First Basemen Available

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We continue our trek through the best available free agents on a position-by-position basis. The next up: First Basemen. It’s a list that starts strong at the top spot . . . and then hurtles down the sheer face of a 1,000 foot cliff. Figuratively speaking. It’s almost all platoon guys with power but no on-base skills. Just a wasteland, at least if you’re not a club that has roster space for a half-dimensional corner guy. Which, these days, there aren’t many of.

1. Edwin Encarnacion

Easily the best first baseman on the market, and possibly the best available bat on the market, full stop. Of course, he DH’d more than he played first base, so definitely consider the bat more than the position. As for that bat: it declined a bit over his previous four years, with his OPS+ going down to 133 from 148 the year before and his strikeout rate going up to his highest level in years. Still, a potent source of power in the middle of the lineup that any team would covet. Even if his most recent team — the Blue Jays — seems most likely to keep him.

2. Mark Trumbo

He appears as an outfielder on most free agent lists — and I’ll probably include him on the list of outfielders when I get there too, seeing as how he played that more in recent years than first — but he’s a poor outfielder and would be better cast as a first baseman or a DH. The bat, of course, is the selling point, as he hit 47 homers in 2016. He didn’t get on base much, however. Indeed, he got on base at the worst clip ever for a guy who hit 45+ homers. He was benefitted a good deal by his home park, particularly in terms of his OBP. Still: dingers.

3. Mike Napoli

A nice bounceback, 34-homer season and a World Series run for the Indians may have raised his stock some, but Napoli was in many ways a creature of Progressive Field last year (he hit just .198/.275/.367 with 12 homers on the road). And, like Trumbo and Encarnacion, he likely needs the DH as an option given his age (35) and his deteriorating defense.

4. Brandon Moss

A lot of power — 28 homers in 413 at-bats — but a sad .300 OBP and meh defense at best. As this list shows, there are a ton of left-handed corner guys like him available this year. Not many of them finished the season as poorly as Moss did, skidding into October in a hellacious slump. He can obviously play the outfield too — he played more there than at first this year, though not particularly well — and if teams see his September swoon to be less indicative of his quality than the first few months of 2016, he may stand better positioned to snag a deal before guys like Steve Pearce Adam Lind and Mitch Moreland.

5. Steve Pearce

More of a utility guy who, like many free agent first baseman, played a lot of outfield too. He also played some second base which, hey, OK, you do you, Steve, but don’t expect anyone to really value him for that in and of itself. Pearce hit .309/.388/.520 in 204 at-bats for Tampa Bay but closed cold with a .217/.329/.400 line in 60 at-bats after making his nearly annual return to Baltimore. Pearce is more of a lefty masher than a full-time player at this point. Or at least he should be. People have uses for lefty mashers, of course, and many clubs likely still see his fantastic 2014 batting line and think, “. . . well, maybe.”

6. Adam Lind

A line of only .239/.286/.431 in 2016 for the Mariners following a .291/.364/.578 line from 2013-15. A lot of people may be anticipating a bounce back year that could see him serving as a useful left-handed half of a first base platoon. Heck, he’d look good sharing time with Pearce, not that anyone is going to devote two roster spots to these types of players.

7. Mitch Moreland

He still hits 20 homers but he suffered a big falloff in his rate stats last year, making him a subpar bat at a position that, at least notionally, is still an offense-first slot. He can play better defense than most of the guys here. That’s not nothing, but he’s a guy who cleared waivers in August despite not making an utter ton of money and no contender thought he’d be useful for them, so take that for what it’s worth.

8. Justin Morneau

He hit .261/.303/.429 in 203 AB after returning from wrist surgery. If he didn’t have a famous name, one would think he’d be out of baseball by now.

9. Logan Morrison

He had a good second half, hitting .272/.348/.496 over his final 78 games. A platoon guy who only scored an OBP of .312 against righties (i.e. the guys he’s supposed to mash).

10. Ryan Howard

Not gonna lie: I’m putting him on this list solely because it seems too sad not to include him. He’s really not a first baseman anymore, though, as he can’t field the position or really run. He hit .196/.257/.453 in 362 PAs too, losing his starting job, so the notion that a team will take him as a DH seems a bit far-fetched too. A minor league contract may be as good as he does.

Others: Dae-Ho Lee, James Loney, Mark Reynolds, Sean Rodriguez, Jerry Sands, Eric Thames.

Alderson: Mets are “very interested” in re-signing Cespedes

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Sandy Alderson met with the media yesterday. It was the first time since the end of the season that he did so. And the Mets media — and all of Mets fandom — has only one question: what’s up with Yoenis Cespedes?

Alderson said that he spoke to Yoenis Cespedes’ representatives 7-10 days ago. He said the Mets are very interested in re-signing Cespedes and said that he didn’t think the club would have any “absolute parameters” in terms of what they would be able to pay Cespedes. It’s a wide-open negotiation. He added, though, that he hoped to have the process with Cespedes concluded within a month, however it goes. If they can’t sign, Yo, the Mets want to be able to move on before the free agency pickings get slim.

Cespedes, as you know, exercised the opt-out clause in his contract over the weekend, leaving nearly $48 million on the table. After a year in which he hit .280/.354/.530 with 31 homers, he’s going to get a lot more than that.