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Gerrit Cole wears Boras Corp hat after Astros lose World Series

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On Thursday afternoon, roughly 14 hours after the Astros lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Nationals, Gerrit Cole tweeted his thanks to the Astros organization and to fans. He wrote:

Houston, last night was a tough one for us and the heartbreak hasn’t gotten any easier today. Before I became an Astro I didn’t know much about Houston, but after just two years you have made it feel like home. So here’s what I know now. You have been overwhelmingly friendly, welcoming, and kind to my family and me. The Astros organization has been such a pleasure to play for, the Cranes are indeed special people and great owners. I’ve met lifelong friends on the team and in the community and learned a little about pitching along the way. [winking emoji] Playing in front of you is really something special and has been such an honor. The incredible support and passionate roars inspire our team to play at [the] highest level we possibly can. This is a relationship between a team and [its] fans like no other that I know. Thank you for making us better people and better players. This was a great season. We have a lot to be proud of.

To a segment of the Astros fan base, Cole’s sentiment rang hollow as he refused to wear an Astros cap when speaking to the media immediately after Game 7. As Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle reports, Cole was resistant to speak to the media in the first place, bargaining with media relations director Gene Dias. Cole, making his case to not have to talk, said, “I mean, I’m not employed. I’m not employed.” Dias said, “We would like for you to do it, but it’s your call.” Cole relented, “All right, as an affiliate of myself.” He then put on a Boras Corp. hat, the company of his agent, Scott Boras.

Cole can file to become a free agent one day after the World Series ends. He is clearly going to do so and will be the most sought-after pitcher on the free agent market. Many expect the 29-year-old to break pitcher-specific contract records in both average annual value and total value. Justin Verlander holds the AAV record at $33 million and David Price holds the total value record at $217 million.

It’s easy to see why Cole will be the prize in free agency. He finished the 2019 season a 20-game winner, leading the American League with a 2.50 ERA, and leading all of baseball with 326 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings. The last pitcher to strike out that many batters was Randy Johnson (334) in 2002 for the Diamondbacks. Cole’s 2019 was on the heels of a season in which he posted a 2.88 ERA with 276 strikeouts, so it clearly wasn’t a fluke performance.

Still, Cole’s refusal to wear an Astros hat left a bitter taste in fans’ mouths. Players come and go, but ownership is usually entrenched which is why fans tend to root for the name on the front rather than the name on the back, as they say. But Cole shouldn’t be hated for putting on his Boras Corp. hat.

We expect loyalty from players but rarely, if ever, ask that of the owners. Players give up their bodies on a year-in, year-out basis only to be discarded the moment they no longer provide value for their teams. “Baseball is a business” we often hear, but it’s only ever uttered to justify disloyal, impersonal decision-making by front-office types. Why should players have to feign loyalty when ownership doesn’t?

Cole was a mercenary for the Astros for two years and now he’s going to in search of a potentially record-breaking contract, as he should. Hopefully more players follow Cole’s lead, no longer feeling obligated to do extra labor for teams that wouldn’t do the same for them. The players have had way more leverage than they have given themselves credit for having over the years. The hat debate is symbolic of the larger, neverending battle between baseball ownership and its labor force. Cole, in this way, is a trendsetter.

If 2020 season is cancelled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be cancelled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)