And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Yankees 4, Mariners 1: Obviously Ichiro in Yankees clothing is the weirdest thing to hit baseball in some time. Must be how it felt to see Willie Mays wearing a Mets jersey or — and I really don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it — Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform. OK, if that’s too heavy for you, how about Hulk Hogan with the NWO? Anyway: Ichiro singled in his first at bat and stole second base, which is very Ichiro. Then he went hitless the rest of the way which is very recent-vintage Ichiro.  I suppose we’ll get used to this soon.

Phillies 7, Brewers 6: John Axford lost his closing job because he kept giving up big innings in save situations. Then K-Rod comes in tonight and allows four runs in the ninth to blow the easy three-run-lead save. Good for Philly: back to back homers for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Bad: Roy Halladay gave up six runs on eight hits in six innings.

Nationals 8, Mets 2: Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer to kick off the scoring and then had the go-ahead RBI single in extra innings. But of course the Nats scored five more in tenth inning because the Mets bullpen is the Beatles of allowing multiple runs in extra innings games.

Rangers 9, Red Sox 1: The Rangers have played the Red Sox thrice this season. In those games Texas has outscored Boston 33-7. Just throwing this out there, but the Sox may want to get in on the starting pitching trade action that began yesterday.

Marlins 2, Braves 1: The Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante trade looked like the beginning of a sell-off for the Marlins. You think that might put Josh Johnson in play. And his six, one-hit shutout innings might be a good thing if you’re gonna market the guy. But then he left early with a finger injury. Doesn’t sound totally serious, but it’s worth watching.

Cubs 2, Pirates 0: Jeff Samardzija  was brilliant, allowing only one hit in eight shutout innings. His performance overshadowed near-equal brilliance from Erik Bedard, who struck out 11 while allowing one run over seven.

White S0x 7, Twins 4: The Chisox break a five game losing streak behind Adam Dunn’s league-leading 29th homer. Francisco Liriano had one of his worst outings of the year. That can’t help the trade value.

Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3: From the things that don’t happen very often department: Luis Cruz hit a three-run homer. Only his second in his career. Chad Billingsley gave up one over six innings.

Indians 3, Orioles 1: Forgot this series was still carrying over into Monday. A shame that this couldn’t have been the ninth sweep of the weekend. Thanks for nothing, Justin Masterson (7.1 IP, 7 H, 1 ER).

Giants 7, Padres 1: Buster Posey didn’t need much help, as he went 3 for 4 with a homer and four driven in. He got the help, though: Ryan Vogelsong tossed seven one-run innings.

Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 3: Ian Kennedy took most of the work into his own hands as well, tripling with the bases loaded in the fourth to drive in what proved to be all the runs he’d need. Then he finished the night allowing two over eight innings and striking out seven. Jonathan Sanchez allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in his first start for the Rockies. I’m not sure what else they were expecting.

Reds 8, Astros 3: Everyone’s talking about the Pirates, but the Reds are in first place, have won eight of ten and show no signs of slowing down. This despite no Joey Votto in the lineup. Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier had three hits and two RBIs each in a game that took nearly four hours. Why anyone would want to watch the Astros play for that long is a mystery to me.

Angels 6, Royals 3: Kendrys Morales came in to pinch-hit with the bases loaded in the eighth and stroked a single that cleared the bases. I have not seen the video of it yet, but I’m wondering if this occurred because it really woulda been a double if not for the fact that a guy like Kendrys Morales was running or if, alternatively, the Royals played some Keystone Cops outfield.

 

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.