Futures Game to feature loaded U.S. team

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The Futures Game rosters were announced on Thursday, and they definitely favor the U.S. team over the World.

U.S. Roster

RHP Matt Barnes (Red Sox)
RHP Trevor Bauer (Diamondbacks)
RHP Dylan Bundy (Orioles)
RHP Gerrit Cole (Pirates)
LHP Danny Hultzen (Mariners)
RHP Alex Meyer (Nationals)
RHP Jake Odorizzi (Royals)
RHP Jameson Taillon (Pirates)
RHP Taijuan Walker (Mariners)
RHP Zack Wheeler (Mets)

C Travis d’Arnaud (Blue Jays)
C Tommy Joseph (Giants)
1B Jonathan Singleton (Astros)
2B Scooter Gennett (Brewers)
2B Kolten Wong (Cardinals)
3B Nolan Arenado (Rockies)
3B Nick Castellanos (Tigers)
3B Mike Olt (Rangers)
SS Billy Hamilton (Reds)
SS Manny Machado (Orioles)
OF Tyler Austin (Yankees)
OF Michael Choice (Athletics)
OF Anthony Gose (Blue Jays)
OF Wil Myers (Royals)
OF Christian Yelich (Marlins)

World Roster

RHP Lisalberto Bonilla (Phillies)
LHP Edwar Cabrera (Rockies)
RHP Jose Fernandez (Marlins)
RHP Kyle Lotzkar (Reds)
LHP Chris Reed (Dodgers)
LHP Felipe Rivero (Rays)
RHP Julio Rodriguez (Phillies)
LHP Enny Romero (Rays)
RHP Bruce Rondon (Tigers)
RHP Yordano Ventura (Royals)

C Christian Bethancourt (Braves)
C Yasmani Grandal (Padres)
1B Jesus Aguilar (Indians)
2B Chih-Fang Pan (Athletics)
3B Wilmer Flores (Mets)
3B Carlos Sanchez (White Sox)
SS Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox)
SS Francisco Lindor (Indians)
SS Jurickson Profar (Rangers)
SS Jean Segura (Angels)
OF Oswaldo Arcia (Twins)
OF Jae-Hoon Ha (Cubs)
OF Rymer Liriano (Padres)
OF Alfredo Marte (Diamondbacks)
OF Oscar Taveras (Cardinals)

Of course, roster strength doesn’t mean a whole lot in one-nine inning game that’s going to feature 18-20 different pitchers. It’ll certainly be fun to see the U.S. squad roll through so many incredible arms, though.

The World team isn’t so lucky there. I’d say the U.S. has the top eight pitchers in the game, with only Meyer and maybe Odorizzi lagging behind. Bundy, Bauer, Cole and Wheeler are arguably the top four pitching prospects in the minors right now, and Seattle’s duo of Walker and Hultzen  in the next group. The World’s best bets are Fernandez and the London-born Reed.

The World team is loaded at shortstop, however. Profar might be the game’s top position prospect, and Lindor and Bogaerts both have star potential. I’m assuming Segura will start at second base in the game. It was his original position in the minors, though he’s only played there a couple of times this year.

One missing infielder from the world team is Twins third baseman Miguel Sano. It’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t asked to participate, given his rising profile. Perhaps he declined.

Also, hurting the World squad is the lack of any real Asian talent at all. Pan and Ha are maybe the two weakest prospects in the game. Pan is hitting .280/.338/.383 in low-A ball, while Ha is at .256/.332/.349 in Double-A. Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, the top Asian prospect in the minors, is sitting this one out having already taken part in two Futures Games.

Meanwhile, on the cold, cold Hot Stove . . .

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It’s Hot Stove Season baby! You know what that means! Yep: time to watch some teams sign a few relievers to minor league deals and then wait everyone out until February while talking about the need to maintain financial flexibility! FEEL THE BURN.

In more specific news:

We’ve talked a lot about Betts this winter already, and that seems like madness. Bryant’s career with the Cubs began with business-side acrimony, it’s still simmering, and there is no sense that either side is amenable to a long-term deal before he hits free agency. The Indians have been signaling for some time that they have no interest in keeping Lindor long term.

It’s quite the thing when three teams who are supposed to be contending are, instead, looking to deal recent MVP award winners and candidates who are 27 and 26 years old, but these are the times in which we are living.

  • Joe Sheehan wrote an excellent column for Baseball America last week analyzing the attendance drop MLB experienced in 2019. Which is just the latest in a series of attendance drops. As Joe notes there is a very, very strong connection between teams (a) signaling to fans during the offseason that they are not interested in signing or retaining players or otherwise being competitive; and (b) teams suffering attendance losses.

As I wrote last offseason, there is an increasing disconnect between attendance and other proxies of broad fan interest and revenue. Which is to say that, as long as teams continue to get fat on long-term TV deals, side businesses like real estate development, and soaking a smaller and wealthier segment of the fan base with higher and higher prices, they really have no reason to care if several thousand common or casual fans become alienated by their teams’ lack of desire to compete.

Sullivan doesn’t offer ideas about how that can happen, but over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen a number of proposals, some broad, some specific, about how MLB can turn its free agency/trading period into frantic, 1-3 day scrambles-to-sign like we see in both the NBA and NFL. I’m sympathetic to that desire — it’s exciting! — but any attempt to do that in Major League Baseball, at least as things are currently set up, would be a disaster for the players.

In the NBA and NFL you have salary caps and floors and, in the NBA, you have max contracts. As a result, teams both have a set amount of money to spend and an incentive to spend that money. We can quibble with whether those incentives are the best ones or if they benefit the players as much as other systems might, but there’s at least something inherent in their systems which inspires teams to sign free agents.

In Major League Baseball, there is no such incentive. May teams want to keep payrolls as low as possible under the guise of rebuilding or tanking and there is no effective mechanism to keep them from doing so. Even nominal contenders — see the Cubs, Indians and Red sox in item 1 above — spend more time thinking about how to cut payroll rather than add talent. This is bolstered by the stuff in item 2 above in which attendance and even winning has less of an impact on the bottom line than it ever has.

So, why scramble to sign players by a set deadline? Under most of the scenarios I see floated — like the laughably horrible one MLB reportedly suggested to the MLBPA — teams would just wait out free agents until deadline day, give them crappy take-it-or-leave-it offers and then leave them all scrambling to sign one-year deals or to sit the season out.

For such a thing to happen — or for teams to want to keep their bright young stars or for the league to want to maintain fan interest and keep attendance from continuing to slide — there must be incentives put in place to make them want to sign and retain players. To make them want to win. To make them want to excite the fan base.

At present, such incentives are not there. And, as such, we are faced with yet another winter with a cold, cold stove.