Why they’re playing baseball in KBO and why we’re not playing here

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Yesterday’s announcement that ESPN would be broadcasting KBO games — which began early this morning — was welcome news for a lot of baseball-starved folks. I missed this morning’s games, and we likely won’t be doing day-to-day coverage of KBO contests like we would MLB games for a bunch of reasons, but I’ll no doubt be tuning in to a lot of them, as I’m sure many of you will too. It’s good to have something like that happening. I’m glad ESPN is doing it and I’m glad baseball is beginning in Korea.

But it’s also worth reminding ourselves why baseball is happening there and why it is not happening here. And it’s important not to allow the fact that baseball is happening there fool us into believing baseball can and should be happening here now or that it can happen here any time soon. At least responsibly.

As Jane McManus, the director of Marist College’s Center for Sports Communication noted in a powerful thread this morning, South Korea is in a very, very different place with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic than we are in North America. There have been 10,804 cases of COVID-19 there overall and 254 deaths reported there. They have had two straight days with no new coronavirus cases at all and they are just starting to ease social distancing measures.

Contrast that with the United States — a country with about six times South Korea’s population — which has had over 1.2 million cases, which is over 110 times the number of cases. Today the U.S. will pass 70,000 deaths. And it’s getting worse.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Trump administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths by June 1. That despite the fact that (a) we have rarely passed that many deaths at all in any single day (our usual total has been closer to 2,000); and (b) we were, allegedly, already past our “peak.” We’re clearly not past it, though, at least according to those people in the Trump administration.

In light of those numbers, it makes a great degree of sense that South Korea is beginning to open up and play professional sports. It also makes a great deal of sense for our country to not open back up yet and for our professional sports to be of secondary concern for the time being.

Yet, the wheels are turning to bring back both public life and commerce in general and Major League Baseball in particular.

Governors of an increasing number of states are announcing increasingly aggressive reopening strategies, to the approval of the federal government. Every few days Major League Baseball leaks some new proposal from their brainstorming sessions about how to bring back the game. How and why is that happening given that our death rates are climbing? How and why is that happening given that there is no real sign that we have even come close to getting the pandemic under control?

Given that the medical and public health science doesn’t really seem to back up these aggressive reopening schedules, something else is at work. Some desire, be it emotional, political, or some combination of the two, to simply return our country to something approaching normality regardless of that medical and public health science. A desire — overtly stated already by politicians, several of whom have been pushing baseball to return for symbolic and inspirational purposes — for the National Pastime to debut on or around, say, the Fourth of July so that everyone can declare the nation healed and normality restored. That stands in addition, of course, to the business considerations of baseball coming back and what I am sure is a genuine desire on the part of players to play and fans to watch them play.

If the Trump administration is correct, however, and we’re going to see 3,000 people a day dying of COVID-19 by June, it’s worth asking how such a schedule makes any kind of sense whatsoever. And what it says of us as a nation if, despite those numbers, we decide to press on anyway. Should the assertion “baseball is returning in July” lead the conversation with everything necessary to make that happen falling into place afterward, or should, like in South Korea, public health considerations lead the conversation and the reopening of the country follow? That question, by the way, goes both for baseball and for restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons and everything else.

I know the common response to that is “we can’t stay locked down forever.” I know that people are suffering financially and psychologically from all of this. Of less importance, I know people simply want baseball back. I do too.

But if we’re going to make the decision, as a nation, to bring back baseball — and bars and restaurants and everything else –while a pandemic still rages, we should be obligated to admit, in no uncertain terms, why it is we’re willing to do that. What considerations we are prioritizing above public health. What price we’re willing to pay for our convenience, our comfort, and our entertainment.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.