With shift limits, MLB general managers shift evaluations

Cheryl Evans/The Republic
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LAS VEGAS — There’s been a shift in how general managers evaluate players – caused by restrictions on defensive positioning that start next season.

“We, like I’m sure everybody, have done our due diligence to make sure that we’re in a good place as we’re entertaining opportunities in both trades and free agency, as well as what we have from within,” New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said at the general managers’ meetings. “The expected regression or addition to their performance. And you try to factor it all in.”

GMs held their annual meetings at a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip that includes a shiny silver piano used by Liberace, positioned next to the elevator bank where agents congregate between meetings. At a nearby lounge, agent groups met before annual free-agent pitch meetings with teams, starting an often drawn-out process.

“If anybody wants to turn this into NBA free agency or NFL free agency, I’m all for it,” New York Mets general manager Billy Eppler said, thinking about the free-agent frenzies when the marketplace opens in other sports.

Major League Baseball pushed for its 11-man competition committee to ban shifts over the unanimous opposition of the panel’s four players. The decision was made in September as left-handed batters hit .237 this season to .247 for right-handers.

Two infielders will be required to be on either side of second base and all infielders to be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber. Infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution, but five-man infields will still be allowed.

The average was the same from both sides of the plate as recently as 2018’s .248, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, but shifts on batted balls in play increased from 34,669 in 2018 to 70,853 this season, according to revised data from Sports Info Solutions.

“We specifically have one player that is going to benefit immensely in Corey Seager,” new Texas Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “In our outlook on his season this year, he was one of the most-punished hitters by the shift and we’re excited for him. So I think it’s going to affect every player slightly differently. I think that, in general, the game will adjust and we’ll factor that into some of our personnel decisions.”

In his first season after signing a $325 million, 10-year contract with Texas, Seager hit .245 with 33 homers, 83 RBIs and a .317 on-base percentage, down from .306/33/83/.394 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021. Opponents used the shift in 92.8% of Seager’s plate appearances (607 of 654) this year, according to MLB Statcast data, and his weighted on-base average was .397 with no shift and .327 with shifts.

“All ball-in-play data is readily available to clubs, and you’re able to sort of see where certain tendencies were in terms of where guys hit certain types of pitches and who was standing where and who wouldn’t be standing there next year,” Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “I’m sure every club, us included, has a system for projecting the impact of the shift or lack of a shift on certain hitters and pitchers.”

Teams will not be prevented from moving a left fielder to short right field for left-handed pull hitters.

“Generally speaking, if some kind of creativity is possible in baseball today, you will see it,” Boston Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom said. “So I definitely wouldn’t bet against seeing something that you might be able to imagine as long as there’s some configuration where it makes sense. And I think it’ll be fun. Constraints bring creativity out of people and I think we’re going to see that and we’re all going to be trying to do it.”

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

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
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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.