Twitter Mailbag: injuries, contenders and . . . The Avengers

Getty Images

My Internet was out for a while yesterday so I decided to ask Twitter for questions while the AT&T guy was here trying to fix things. You make do.

When I asked for questions I had been talking a lot about The Avengers and the MCU — I’m gonna see “Endgame” tomorrow night, so I’m kinda stoked at the moment — so there were quite a few questions about that. I’m just going to assume you saw “Infinity War” when I answer these rather than recap for context. If that won’t cut it for you you can just skip those questions. There’s baseball stuff too, so don’t worry.

Like this first one:

Q: How would you fix service time manipulation B.S.?

A: You know the problem by now: teams keeping ready-for-the-bigs talent down on the farm in order to keep them under team control longer. There are several possible fixes to this:

  • Reducing the number of days on the roster before a “full year” is attained, thereby giving teams less of an incentive to keep a guy down on the farm for part of a season;
  • Some hybrid thing where a player’s time on a 40-man roster while still in the minor leagues counts for some amount toward free agency service time, perhaps at a discount (e.g. one day on the 40-man in the minors is one half a day’s service time, etc);
  • An age-based instead of a service time-based free agency model;

There are probably a half dozen other ideas floating around. All of them have some bad aspects to them or some unintended consequences. For example, the age-based one assumes all players develop similarly and they clearly don’t. Ronald Acuña Jr. was big league ready at 19 so maybe he should be eligible for free agency at 25, service time be damned? Some guys, though, may need six years of minor league development before they’re truly big-league capable, and why should the team that put all that work into him lose him the moment he’s ready because he happened to hit that magic age?

The 40-man roster thing could be good, but it would need to be paired with some change that actually encourages teams to put prospects on the 40-man roster earlier. At the moment, all that inspires a team to put a guy on the 40-man is a player’s impending eligibility for the Rule 5 draft, which only comes up once a guy has been in the minors for 4-5 years, and frankly, the top prospects are being manipulated even before then. I suppose you can move Rule 5 eligibility up earlier to deal with that.

The “shorter time in the bigs to a full year of service time” could work. The Braves may have been screwed in the division race last year if they kept Acuña down until, say, July, which is what they’d have to do to obtain an extra year of service time under such a scenario. As such, they would’ve had a strong disincentive to worry about service time and might’ve just called him ip before Opening Day. But this could have the opposite effect on a non-contender, right? If the Blue Jays think they’re going no place this year, they’d be just as likely to keep Vlad Guerrero Jr. down until a July or August service time trigger date as they are to be doing so with April/May now. That’d make a stud prospect’s trip to the bigs even longer in some instances, and we don’t want that.

The issue, obviously, is that while these are all fixes that, in a vacuum, may work, Major League Baseball and its owners are not going to just say “OK” to any of them unless the union either gives up something equally valuable or pushes hard and threatens a work stoppage in order to get something implemented. Given that the last few CBA negotiations have been characterized by veterans selling out prospects and minor leaguers rather than going to bat for them, I’ll believe such resolve exists on the union’s part when I see it. In the meantime, service manipulation is going to continue.


Q: If the Scarlet Witch is powerful enough to destroy an Infinity Stone why didn’t she just make Thanos explode and splash his purple guts everywhere?

A: I’m not a BIG comics guy. I’ve read some — more D.C. when I was a kid than Marvel, more one-off graphic novel things than continually serialized canon — but not too many compared to proper geeks. Most of my knowledge about the Marvel universe comes from the movies and then looking back at Wikipedia or online forums or whatever to fill in the blanks. I have enough knowledge, though, to know that the comics are notorious for altering a superhero’s and a super villain’s power based on the needs of the story at any given time. Characters are up-powered and down-powered constantly to make fights even and to heighten drama or prolong the narrative. The movies do this too. Sorry, it’s just part of the deal. This is fun, not Shakespeare.

That was going on with Wanda to be sure. As it went on with Iron Man, who was CRAZY overpowered in “Infinity War” because it made the space stuff and fights with Thanos on Titan more interesting. As it has gone on a zillion times both in the movies and the comics. I’m sure there are some super nerds who take this stuff super seriously who have YouTube channels devoted to explaining the “real” reasons such-and-such a power didn’t work out in scene A when it did in scene B even if it went unexplained in the text or script. Perhaps having five stones at once gave Thanos some power of protection he wouldn’t have otherwise had! Perhaps Wanda was suffering from grief-driven power reduction because she knew her man was gonna die soon! But I sorta don’t care. Just go with it. It’s more fun that way.


Q: What’s your favorite exotic tropical animal?

A: As an undergrad I studied primates about as much as someone could without actually getting a degree in primatology (oh, the empty anthropology credits I have!) and the great apes were my jam. Mountain gorillas were my favorite animal by far, but I don’t think of the Virunga Mountains as tropical. It’s wet, but pretty cool. If they’re out the Orangutans — my runner-up great ape — come out on top. Too bad we all love palm oil so much that we’re driving them to extinction. That really sucks, but hey: palm oil. Glad we got gobs of that.


Q: Do you think Captain America would be pro-bunt, or will he have adapted to the times? (“I understood the reference!”)

A: Cap is, in many ways, a relic of the past, but he adapts to the times just as well as anyone (he grokked the zeitgeist pretty quickly when S.H.E.I.L.D turned evil). From a baseball perspective I do not think he would be stuck back in the 40s. He’d assess the battlefield and figure out the best line of attack. He’d thus be all about launch angle and waiting for a pitch he could drive. The pitcher would throw ungodly 97 m.p.h. gas with movement but Cap would foul ’em off over and over again until he could do some damage. If he got tired he’d say “I can do this all day” and keep going after it. That’s just what he does.


Q: Why wasn’t the second Elastica album a bigger hit? It’s so good!

A: This question was asked by a friend who is a huge Britpop fan, perhaps inspired by the fact that I put not one but two Jarvis Cocker references in yesterday’s recaps. Thank you, Ron.

My answer: five years — the time between Elastica’s self-titled LP and “The Menace” — is just way too long a wait when you’re in the middle of a cultural moment like Britpop. Imagine if the Beatles released “Please Please Me” in 1963 and then didn’t release “With the Beatles” until 1968? Imagine if Public Enemy released “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” in 1992 instead of 1988. They’d still be great, but they’d also get way less attention than they actually got thanks to striking while the cultural and commercial irons were hot. Capitalizing on the moment matters just as much as putting out a quality product, and Elastica just took too damn long. By 2000, when “The Menace” came out, Oasis’ moment had already passed, Blur was releasing a “Best of” album and going on hiatus and Pulp was limping to the finish line. Elastica was following up their 1995 glories while the rest of Britain was living in a Coldplay and Robbie Williams world. Sad, but don’t look back in anger. No one lives forever.


Q: Age-old question: define “batting around.” I say it has to be when the 10th person come up to close the circle otherwise it’s not “around” . . . just start to finish. Others say once the 9th person has come up, they’ve “batted around.” What say you?

A: I have no idea how someone can say someone has “batted around” until the first guy to bat in an inning has batted again. You don’t come full circle until the start and end points meet, so it has to be when the 10th guy comes to the plate.

Related: there has been a recent online argument about what “striking out the side” means. Most say it’s when a pitcher strikes out three batters in a row. Some say that it’s when the pitcher strikes out three regardless of what happens with other batters. I’m a bit more open to nuance here. If a guy gives up two runs on four hits but still strikes out there, sure, maybe he technically struck everyone out, but you only say he “struck out the side” with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. If he strikes out three, walks one and strands him, eh, I’ll say he struck out the side with a blemish. Where you switch from genuine compliment to sarcastic congratulations for a guy who records three strikeouts in an inning is up to you.


Q: Go Barves?

A: Sure. I’ve been super hard on them since the end of last season for not trying to improve the club, for not spending money, for caring far more about being a real estate development company than a baseball team, and for lying to fans about it constantly. My feelings on that have not softened. It sucks that the people who own and run the team I’ve loved for 34 years don’t seem to think the club winning or losing is the most important consideration and don’t seem to care that the fans have some strong feelings about that. For that reason my passion for the organization as a whole is at an all-time nadir.

At the moment, though, the club’s roster is full of players in whom I am invested, most of whom I’ve followed and thought about a lot since before they were big leaguers. I can’t not hope that Freddie Freeman or Ozzie Albies or Ronald Acuña Jr. do well. I can’t not be happy when the team wins and I can’t not be bummed when they lose.

I wonder, though, what will happen as those players I’ve cared about for so long get older and, eventually, move on. Will I care about who follows? Right now it’s hard to because I really don’t want to invest my time thinking about that organization beyond what happens during actual games. If they don’t feel like spending time and money making the club the best it can be, why should I spend my time or mental energy caring beyond the most superficial level? If we don’t make the commitment to each other in that way, it’s no different than friends who get preoccupied with other things and only see each other on occasion. At some point you look up and realize you’ve drifted apart and . . . it’s fine. It just happened that way.

For now I’m still rooting for the Braves. I’m even driving down to Cincinnati to watch tonight’s Braves-Reds game. But I don’t know how much longer I’ll make the effort. Not because I’m turning my back on them or making a big show of withdrawing my fandom. I’m not trying to be a drama queen about it. It’s simply because, eh, if they’re not gonna invest in what I care about, how much can I be expected to invest in them? It would not shock me if, one day, they’re like that college friend I see around town once every couple of years. We always say “we should have lunch sometime!” We never do.


Q: If you could only tweet about one subject, which would it be? Baseball? Politics? Family? Music?

A: Maybe old movies.

I could get by with only baseball and Turner Classic Movies on my TV and I’d be just fine. All winter my wife and I watch old flicks. Some classics, some crap. We don’t care. It’s not all “Casablanca” and classic noir or whatever people say they’re into in order to broadcast good taste. We watch a lot of old garbage movies, actually. Weird 50s Technicolor melodramas. Obscure 70s New Hollywood stuff. Late 50s and early 60s romantic comedies which tend to feature big, big stars but still fall kinda flat for the most part. We’ve already seen all of the widely-recognized great old films, but we are still always looking for something kind of interesting and the 1930s-70s just have way more undiscovered country for a couple of people who grew up in the 80s and 90s. Anyway: whenever I watch something fun, good, bad or random, I tend to tweet about it and I find the conversations which spin out of stuff like that (e.g. “What kind of sportswriter has the life Gregory Peck’s character in ‘Designing Woman’ had? I mean, really!”) to be loads of fun.


Q: With the Disney/Marvel arrangement why can’t Mary Poppins be an Avenger? That would be game, set, match, right?

A: Don’t give ’em any ideas. Well, give the one: a Jedi or a Sith comes to Earth and decides to take over. How does that battle go down?


Q: Do you think Trump will be charged with any crimes if he’s not re elected?

A: It would not totally shock me if the New York U.S. Attorney or, more likely, state prosecutors in New York went after something or other, but I wouldn’t bet tons of dough on it. Despite my obvious political leanings, I am not nor have I ever been one of those lefties who believed that the criminal justice system was gonna ever lay a glove on Trump. I spent a lot of time representing wealthy and connected people in my past life, and the experience taught me very well that our justice system is simply uninterested in holding the wealthy and connected to account and ill-equipped to do it regardless. The only time someone big ever gets brought to something approaching justice is when they screw over someone else who is wealthy and connected. When they stick to simply screwing over people smaller than them or screwing the system in the abstract, they tend to get away clean.


Q: Is Hawkeye the most overrated Avenger?

A: I think Clint is a nice guy with a good heart and a nice family but man, that dude brings almost nothing to the table. At least not something that someone else doesn’t bring better. He’s not as good at hand-to-hand combat as Black Widow. He’s not really a leader like Cap or Tony. He’s obviously not on the same level as the non-humans or enhanced humans. Hell, he’s not even the most adept at using arrows in the Marvel universe. He’s had some good lines and shot a few fun arrows here and there, but he’s definitely the Ringo of the group.


Q: When there’s a team with a huge rash of injuries like the Mets a while back or the Yankees this year, is that just bad luck or is there something going on with the training staff?


Q: Any thoughts on that Bill Madden “Babe Ruth didn’t get muscle pulls” column?

A: This is that column, by the way, and boy is it a stinker. There the Spink Award winner, who consistently writes the worst columns in baseball media, said that all of the muscled players of today — like Aaron Judge — are getting injured because of their muscles and supplements and all of that.

Which, to be fair, is possible. It’s possible that the strength and conditioning and all of that is just doing too much violence with swings or is just too fragile or something. I don’t know one way or the other because I’m not a physiologist or whatever, and I don’t take issue with someone asking that question.

I take issue with Madden’s “well, the players of yesteryear didn’t get hurt!” tack, in which he cites “the Willie Mayses, Carl Yastrzemskis, Al Kalines, George Bretts, Frank Robinsons, Kirby Pucketts, and Tony Gwynns” as durable non-muscled guys. Which, in addition to being wrong — Mays was ripped and Yaz worked out with weights so much that articles were written about it — is some pretty great survivor’s bias in action. Anyone can point to an era or two and pick out guys who were outliers and claim that that was normal.

What Madden ignores in this is that 75% of old timey players got 4F’d out of baseball at age 28 because of, like, dropsy or St. Vitus Syndrome or whatever, making his examples the exceptions, not the rules. Sure, oblique strains are up, but guys don’t eat or drink their way out of the league as much as they used to. Health is, generally, far better now. And even if the number of injuries seems excessive, keep in mind that the reporting of ailments is far more common and detailed today too. What might send a guy to the injured list now may have just been “soreness” in 1965, the player may have been kept around and he may have gone 1-for-46 and then got 86’d out of the league.

Which is to say: even if the inspiration for some old man’s rant is reasonable, never listen to that rant if the extent of it is him going on about how things were better back in the day. Such rants obscure far more than they illuminate and say far more about the ranter’s need to assert his self-proclaimed authority on a matter than they do to present useful information.

As for injuries: I think it’s mostly random. I don’t think, absent some massive discovery of malpractice on the part of a training staff, that it’s their fault. They tend to be scapegoats, just like hitting coaches are when a team slumps at the plate.


Q: Where do you stand on the Ant-Man butt theory and the Dr. Strange time loop theory?

A: For those unaware, there are a lot of theories floating around about how the Avengers get out of the mess they found themselves in at the end of “Infinity War,” what with half the universe’s population turned to ash and all of that. One fun theory someone came up with last year was that Ant-Man would shrink himself, crawl up Thanos’ butt and them make himself gigantic, exploding the evil titan (my daughter is partial to that theory). Another one is kind of complicated but less ridiculous, involving the Time Stone and some “Groundhog Day”-style scenario, which you can read here if you wanna (warning: potential spoilers I suppose). There are a lot of other ones out there too.

I’m more of a “just watch the movie and see what happens” guy so I don’t care too much, but I will say that they had best tread as lightly on time travel as they can. Sure, time travel will likely be at least a part of things based on what we know already. The quantum realm/Ant-Man stuff has already been referenced and, of course, there is a Time Stone for crying out loud. But that linked theory above, for example, drifts into “it was all just a dream” territory and I really don’t think a 22-movie franchise with sky high fan expectations has been built up to be resolved by such deus ex machina-level gimmicky. I mean, sure, it’s comic book stuff so there will be some waving of hands and suspension of logic to get from A-to-B, but I feel like just waving away what happened in the last movie as some sort of “thing that did not happen because, hey, time travel” would be a bad and lazy move.

Not that Marvel hasn’t waved stuff away between one movie and the next before. They totally have. They just haven’t been lazy about it very often and I don’t think they’ll be lazy with “Endgame” either.


Q: It’s 2028 and you’ve just been elected POTUS; how did you get there from here?

A: Well, I already work for NBC and tweet all the damn time and those were the most recent job qualifications for the current president, so I suppose I’ll just keep on keepin’ on and see where it takes me.


Q: What do you plan to do when your kids are out of the house?

A: Assuming I’m still working this or some other job that I can do from anyplace with an internet connection and a comfy chair, I’ll probably be moving someplace a bit warmer. My wife grew up in southern California and moved up here to Ohio to be with me after several years in San Antonio. She just endured her sixth Ohio winter and, though I thought she’d get used to ’em by now, it’s not getting much better. In light of that — and in light of the fact that she lives where she lives now because of me — I think it’ll be her turn to pick where we live once the kids are off on their own. Maybe it’s the Carolinas or Virginia, which we’ve talked about (she rides horses and there’s good horse riding in those places). Maybe, if we can swing it financially, it’s California. I dunno. For reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, extended family is not really a thing for me, so I can pretty much go anywhere I want.


Q: Is mathematics invented or discovered?

A: False dichotomy. I think people have observed certain processes in the natural world and invented the mathematical concepts to explain them as abstractions of that which they have observed. The terms and units and concepts are invented, but those inventions are driven and directed by nature. In this it’s not all that different than some guy out in a forest inventing a snare to catch a wild animal, right? Sure, he invented it, but it was not something created with full and free agency to do whatever. It had to conform with how and where that rabbit he wants to eat runs. Same goes with math and stuff.


Q: What contenders are you most and least worried about?

A: Most worried about the Yankees due to their injuries. Yes, they’ve weathered them pretty well so far, but it could very well be a dead cat bounce. At some point you can’t rely on the split squad lineups they’ve been trotting out there to get the job done. I’m least worried about Boston, really, even though they’re behind the Yankees and even the Blue Jays right now. So much talent there. It reminds me of last year’s Dodgers. They’re off to a slow start — and they’re not as good as the 2018 team was — but I think they’ll be OK.


Q: What else are you planning to do in Philly when you come to see James?

For those who do not know or who have forgotten, my favorite band is James. Yes, the James who did that song “Laid” that they used in the “American Pie” movies. Like anyone else who loves a band that hasn’t really hit big in America outside of one song, I am obligated to say, defensively, that “they’re way bigger than that in England” and that there is more to that band than that admittedly fun little ditty. James is still a working band putting out new music as opposed to playing nostalgia tours. Last year I went to England and followed them around as they played stuff from their latest album for the first time. I wrote a bunch about that and why I love James after my trip. I also put together a Spotify playlist that serves as a great introduction to James.

This year, for the first time in many, many years, James is actually playing a U.S. tour, co-headlining with the Psychedelic Furs. We got tickets to their shows in Cleveland, Detroit, Philly and Silver Spring, Maryland. Two on one weekend, two the next. I’ll be seeing them in Philly on July 13, which is a Saturday. I’m driving there and won’t be getting to town until mid-late afternoon and I have to leave the next day to head to Silver Spring for the July 14 show. Which means I don’t have a ton of time in Philly, but if anyone has a dinner and/or breakfast recommendations — particularly for places that do well with gluten-free dishes, as my wife has Celiac disease — such recommendations will be well taken.

And, of course, if you go to the James show we can can hang out and I may even buy you a beer. And teach you the words to “Sound” or “Born of Frustration” so we can all sing along. You should already know the words to “Laid.” It’s pretty easy.

Free agent slugger José Abreu signs 3-year, $58.5M deal with Astros

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON — Jose Abreu and the World Series champion Astros agreed to a three-year, $58.5 million contract, adding another powerful bat to Houston’s lineup.

Abreu, the 2020 AL MVP, gets $19.5 million in each of the next three seasons.

He spent his first nine major league seasons with the Chicago White Sox. The first baseman became a free agent after batting .304 with 15 home runs, 75 RBIs and an .824 OPS this year.

With the Astros, he replaces Yuli Gurriel at first base in a batting order that also features All-Star sluggers Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker.

Gurriel became a free agent after Houston defeated the Philadelphia Phillies this month for its second World Series championship.

The 35-year-old Abreu becomes the biggest free agent to switch teams so far this offseason. Born in Cuba, the three-time All-Star and 2014 AL Rookie of the Year is a .292 career hitter in the majors with 243 homers, 863 RBIs and an .860 OPS.

The Astros announced the signing. Abreu was scheduled to be introduced in a news conference at Minute Maid Park.

He would get a $200,000 for winning an MVP award, $175,000 for finishing second in the voting, $150,000 for third, $125,000 for fourth and $100,000 for fifth. Abreu also would get $100,000 for earning World Series MVP and $75,000 for League Championship Series MVP, $75,000 for making the All-Star team and $75,000 for winning a Gold Glove or a Silver Slugger.

Abreu gets a hotel suite on road trips and the right to buy a luxury suite for all Astros home games.