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‘While science may win on the field aesthetics wins hearts and minds’

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If history is any guide, figure this week to be one of the slower weeks of the baseball offseason. There’s turkey to make, you know. In lieu of actual news, I’ll try to post some interesting links for your reading pleasure.

Here’s one. It’s actually a transcribed speech, but it’s still good. It’s from baseball’s official historian John Thorn, talking about the current state of the game and the disconnect we’re experiencing between the quality of play and quality of the players on the one hand and the aesthetic qualities on the other. Well, first he talked about freedom of the press, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, but then he got to that part:

The dilemma for owners and players and fans may be understood as The Paradox of Progress: we know he game is better, so why, for so many, does it feel worse? I submit that while Science may win on the field, as clubs employ strategies that give them a better chance of victory, Aesthetics wins hearts and minds.

I get that. I have no objective argument with most of the strategic choices teams and front offices make — who to pitch, how to pitch, when to bunt, how to construct a roster — for they are manifestly sensible. Experience, run expectancy calculations and other math generally bear all of that stuff out. And, of course, there is no doubting whatsoever that the skill and talent of the current crop of players is vastly superior to anything seen in the past. Especially the pitchers.

But, as I’ve noted before, I’m not necessarily watching baseball to see efficiency in action. I’m watching to enjoy a game and connect with some players whose careers I can follow and enjoy over years and years. Increasingly, however, the game is a fairly slow, slogging, choppy and a less-than-ideal product in that regard. Action is low, players are viewed as increasingly disposable and the prisms through which I have historically viewed baseball are increasingly cracked. I wrote about this with starting pitching vs. heavy bullpen use earlier this year, for example, and most of that sentiment still holds.

Which isn’t to say that baseball is dying or going to Hell or anything like that. As Thorn notes in the piece — and as I have also noted many times in the past — people have been saying the game has been going to Hell since the 19th century and it still hasn’t gotten there. As a prediction, such sentiments have been dead wrong. Don’t let anyone complaining about the current game get away with claiming that he or she has a monopoly on insight into the current game.

But as a statement of aesthetic preferences, well, they stand on their own, at least for the person offering them. The issue becomes what to do if more and more fans’ aesthetic preferences are offended. What then?

Giants nearing deal with Cameron Maybin

Cameron Maybin
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The Giants are finalizing a minor league deal for free agent outfielder Cameron Maybin, according to Andrew Baggarly and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The team has not confirmed the signing, but it’s in keeping with their stated goal of adding more veteran presence and outfield options to their roster in advance of the 2019 season.

Maybin, 31, appeared in back-to-back gigs with the Marlins and Mariners in 2018. He slashed an underwhelming .249/.326/.336 with four home runs, 10 stolen bases (in 15 chances), a .662 OPS, and 0.5 fWAR through 384 plate appearances for the two clubs, a clear improvement over his totals in 2017 but still shy of the career numbers he posted with the Padres all the way back in 2011. It’s not only his offense that has tanked, but his speed and defense in center field, all of which he’ll try to improve as he jockeys for a roster spot in camp this month.

The Giants’ outfield has been largely depleted of any kind of consistent talent lately, especially taking into account the recent departures of Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, and Gorkys Hernández. Even with the acquisition of, say, All-Star right fielder Bryce Harper, there’s nothing standing in the way of Maybin and fellow veteran signee Gerardo Parra grabbing hold of full- or part-time roles this year, though they’ll need to outperform candidates like Chris Shaw, Steven Duggar, Drew Ferguson, Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, Craig Gentry, Mike Gerber, and others first.

In a previous report on Friday, Baggarly revealed that a “handshake understanding” had been established with several veteran players already this offseason, all but guaranteeing them regular starting opportunities over the course of the season. How those agreements will be affected by spring training performances remains to be seen, but at least for now, the Giants appear prepared to give their newest players a long leash as they try to get back on top in the NL West.