Oh look. The Mystery Team got its man

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Yesterday Jon Heyman said there was a “Mystery Team” in on Cliff Lee. Many mocked, but we mocked harder than anyone. Indeed, if you do a Google search for “Heyman Cliff Lee Mystery Team,” HardballTalk posts take the top three spots. And you know what happened next. There was a Mystery Team. And it actually signed the guy they were rumored to be courting.

How … awkward.

In light of this, many have asked me since last night if I believe Heyman is owed an apology.  My answer: yes. But a qualified one, as I shall explain.

To the extent that we cast doubt on the very existence of the Mystery Team — which we did until sometime mid-yesterday afternoon — we certainly owe him an apology for that. To the extent our tone was snotty and dismissive, we absolutely owe him an apology for that. In the former case we were wrong and in the latter case we were rude, and when one is wrong or rude, one must stand accountable for that. We hereby apologize for both of those things. No matter who may be the source of information or the target of our barbs, and no matter what our own history is with that person, they are owed better than that. Mr. Heyman is no exception.

That said, our apology to Mr. Heyman is not unequivocal. For one thing, it should not be taken as an acknowledgment that Heyman was completely omniscient here. His original report of the Mystery Team had him saying “hear it’s not the Phillies.” It was other reporters such as Jayson Stark,  Jerry Crasnick, Jim Salisbury and Ken Rosenthal who uncovered the identity of the team. It was Jack Curry who reported on the sense of Lee’s actual intentions. Minutes after Heyman reported that a decision was unlikely last night, Lee decided to go to Philly. The decision was reported by T.R. Sullivan. The terms of the deal were first reported by Crasnick. I don’t believe that who got something first is the most important thing on Earth — scoops are ephemeral things — but to the extent the media story that comes out of this is “Heyman was right all along,” that’s simply not accurate. He was right about one small, detail-light part of it and he was unfairly maligned for that, but this was not Heyman’s story by any reasonable estimate.

And we must also weigh the significance and implication of the portion of the story about which Heyman was correct. One of the reasons Heyman was not believed in this instance — and not just by us, but by multiple mainstream reporters and fans — was because he has made frequent use of the Mystery Team thing over the years, and this is the first time anyone can recall that it was actually borne out.  Aesop has covered this territory. If we disbelieved Mr. Heyman here, well, we had good reason to do so.

Moreover, we must ask what is really being accomplished when one puts out a report of a Mystery Team. However correct the report was, it only existed because someone — likely the agent — told him there was such a team but wouldn’t tell him who it was. If Heyman didn’t ask who it was, he wasn’t doing the basic job of a reporter. If Heyman did ask and the agent simply wouldn’t tell him, Heyman had a decision to make: deal with the information critically given the extreme lack of detail provided and/or dig for more, or merely parrot it and move on to the next thing. He chose the latter here and invariably chooses the latter when this sort of thing comes up, leaving the heavy lifting to others. In doing so he is either an unwitting or an active accomplice of PR.  Which is his prerogative — I would never suggest that Heyman has an obligation to report in just such a way that makes others happy — but which also means that one must still take his reports along these lines with an extreme dose of skepticism. Which we long have and which we will continue to do in the future.

But again, there’s a difference between skepticism and rudeness. I believe we crossed that line at some point with Heyman yesterday.  That was unfair to him and unprofessional. And for that, again, we apologize.

MLB free agent watch: Ohtani leads possible 2023-24 class

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CHICAGO – The number will follow Shohei Ohtani until it is over. No, not Ohtani’s home runs or strikeouts or any of his magnificent numbers from the field. Nothing like that.

It’s all about how much. As in how much will his next contract be worth.

Ohtani is among several players going into their final seasons before they are eligible for free agency. There is still time for signatures and press conferences before opening day, but history shows a new contract becomes less likely once the real games begin.

There is no real precedent for placing a value on Ohtani’s remarkable skills, especially after baseball’s epic offseason spending spree. And that doesn’t factor in the potential business opportunities that go along with the majors’ only truly global star.

Ohtani hit .273 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs last season in his fifth year with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2021 AL MVP also went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts on the mound.

He prepared for this season by leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship, striking out fellow Angels star Mike Trout for the final out in a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final.

Ohtani, who turns 29 in July, could set multiple records with his next contract, likely in the neighborhood of a $45 million average annual value and quite possibly reaching $500 million in total.

If the Angels drop out of contention in the rough-and-tumble AL West, Ohtani likely becomes the top name on the trade market this summer. If the Angels are in the mix for the playoffs, the pressure builds on the team to get something done before possibly losing Ohtani in free agency for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.

So yeah, definitely high stakes with Ohtani and the Angels.

Here is a closer look at five more players eligible for free agency after this season:

RHP Aaron Nola, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Nola, who turns 30 in June, went 11-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts for Philadelphia last year. He also had a career-best 235 strikeouts in 205 innings for the NL champions.

Nola was selected by the Phillies with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. There were extension talks during spring training, but it didn’t work out.

“We are very open-minded to trying to sign him at the end of the season,” President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll remain a Phillie for a long time.”

3B Matt Chapman, TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Chapman hit 36 homers and drove in 91 runs for Oakland in 2019. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that production, but the three-time Gold Glover finished with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 155 games last year in his first season with Toronto.

Chapman turns 30 on April 28. Long one of the game’s top fielding third basemen, he is represented by Scott Boras, who generally takes his clients to free agency.

OF TEOSCAR HERNÁNDEZ, SEATTLE MARINERS

Hernández was acquired in a November trade with Toronto. He hit .267 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs in his final year with the Blue Jays. He was terrific in 2021, batting .296 with 32 homers, 116 RBIs and a .870 OPS.

The change of scenery could help the 30-year-old Hernández set himself up for a big payday. He is a .357 hitter with three homers and seven RBIs in 16 games at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.

OF Ian Happ, CHICAGO CUBS

The switch-hitting Happ is coming off perhaps his best big league season, setting career highs with a .271 batting average, 72 RBIs and 42 doubles in 158 games. He also won his first Gold Glove and made the NL All-Star team for the first time.

Chicago had struggled to re-sign its own players in recent years, but it agreed to a $35 million, three-year contract with infielder Nico Hoerner on Monday. The 28-year-old Happ, a first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, is on the executive subcommittee for the players’ union.

LHP JULIO URÍAS, LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Urías, who turns 27 in August, likely will have plenty of suitors if he reaches free agency. He went 17-7 with an NL-low 2.16 ERA in 31 starts for the NL West champions in 2022, finishing third in NL Cy Young Award balloting. That’s after he went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in the previous season.

Urías also is a Boras client, but the Dodgers have one of the majors’ biggest payrolls. Los Angeles also could make a run at Ohtani, which could factor into its discussions with Urías’ camp.