Should catchers be banned from blocking home plate?

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Buster Posey’s awful injury last night has set off the calls for some reform — or some something — regarding how catchers handle the play at the plate.  This morning another Buster — Olney — tweeted the following:

In the big-picture question of risk/reward, the play of blocking home plate, to save one run, is just not worth it. Not even close … MLB and the Players Association should step in and ban the play of a catcher blocking home. It’s just not worth it, for anyone involved.

I sympathize, but actually, there already is a rule against it.  It’s Rule 7.06, which deals with obstruction of base runners.  Specifically: you can’t.  The comment to the rule speaks specifically to catchers and the plate. It says the following:

NOTE: The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.

This is roundly ignored, of course, as catchers routinely block the plate without the ball.  The key question here is what constitutes “fielding the ball.”  Are you fielding the ball if your body is blocking the plate, the ball is bouncing toward you, 20 feet away and you’re half looking at it, half at the runner?  How close should the ball be?  It’s an area so gray and so subject to judgment calls that I don’t know how it can be enforced more strictly without all manner of madness.

And let’s be clear here: no change in the rule would have altered the play that injured Posey. Watch it again.  While he didn’t catch the ball, the ball is to him and he’s turning to make the tag, thinking he has the ball, before Cousins makes it to the plate. In my view he wasn’t blocking the plate in a way that would offend even the most restrictive interpretation of Rule 7.06.

The better question — asked by Dave Brown of Big League Stew — is whether base runners should be allowed to barrel into catchers regardless.  I think that’s a much better question, as I seriously don’t like to see the kinds of collisions we often see at home plate.  My only problem is this: how do you ban it?  The runner does have an absolute right to the plate, so you can’t easily make a rule saying “if the catcher is there with the ball, stop.”  It seems like it would turn into some kind of judgment call in which whether the runner used an unreasonable amount of roughness or force is examined. That’s football stuff.  And of course, it would soon turn into a debate about what kinds of slides or “slides” are acceptable and what kind are not.

I would hope that runners wouldn’t try to steamroll catchers because I hate that play. I would also hope that catchers wouldn’t block the plate when they don’t have the ball.  In this instance, however, I am having a hard time seeing how it isn’t a matter of, hell, bad things happening, and I’m not sure any workable rule prevents it.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.