Mets majority owner Fred Wilpon is the new chairman of MLB’s finance committee, a move that was met with raised eyebrows given that he was a victim of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. However, that’s not a concern to commissioner Rob Manfred, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes. “I understand the whole Madoff thing,” Manfred said, “but before and since, Fred Wilpon was an extraordinarily successful businessman. The committee — the finance and compensation committee — really deals with two issues, principally: executive compensation, which he’s more than capable of dealing with, and a central office budget. Obviously, to be a successful businessman, you have to know how to budget.” More from the AL and NL East..
News out of the AL and NL West..
“Just because we didn’t win doesn’t mean it didn’t work out,” insisted Bautista. “It helped build a core for our team. And the last two years we’ve added to that core. I think the players really appreciate the commitment that [General Manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] has made to building our team.”
Here’s more from today’s column..
On this date in 2012, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada announced his retirement at a New York press conference, as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes. At the time, the 40-year old five-time All-Star catcher left Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as the only remaining players on the team from the group that led the Bombers to four World Series titles in five years. Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..
With the 2014 free agent class thinning out behind James Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, and Rafael Soriano, the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff takes a look ahead at the 2015 free agent market. Davidoff predicts David Price will sign the richest contract of the class – if he doesn’t ink an extension first. He also predicts Matt Wieters will sneak his way into a big contract while Justin Upton could be seriously hurt by his move to San Diego.
On Sunday, Rob Manfred took over as the new commissioner of Major League Baseball, assuming the post held by Bud Selig for 23 years before he retired.
And one of his first acts in his new role was to pen a letter to the game's fans via MLB.com.
In the letter, Manfred highlights the great honor bestowed upon him in becoming the new commissioner and the level of responsibility the position carries. He talks about continuing to grow the game internationally and trying to modernize it without losing sight of its traditions.
But perhaps the most noteworthy of his goals, and the one he initially seems to be closely tying his tenure to, is the desire to increase interest in the game among young people, especially in underprivileged areas:
My top priority is to bring more people into our game—at all levels and from all communities. Specifically, I plan to make the game more accessible to those in underserved areas, especially in the urban areas where fields and infrastructure are harder to find. Giving more kids the opportunity to play will inspire a new generation to fall in love with baseball just as we did when we were kids. Expanding Little League, RBI and other youth baseball programs will also help sustain a steady and wide talent pool from which our clubs can draw great players and create lifelong fans.
He also spoke of eliminating the defensive shift, as Mark Simon of ESPN shared:
That's a move that could potentially gain some traction, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Of course, achieving all of his goals won't happen overnight and dealing with the inevitable issues and controversies that come with being at the helm of a professional sports league will provide its challenges. His philosophy for the future seems to be a sound one, however.
"One piece of advice that I will keep in mind is, 'Trust your instincts and be your own guy.' And I intend to do both," he told Paul Hagen of MLB.com.
One of the perks that comes with being the commissioner? Getting your signature on the official game ball. The MLB on Instagram presented the new ball on Sunday:
In the post-steroid era, it makes sense that Manfred's main impetus would be attracting young followers as the average age of the game's fans continues to get older. Certainly, Manfred will hope he never has to wade through the murky waters of a scandal the scope of the steroid debacle like Selig did.
Eliminating the defensive shift would also be an intriguing course of action that would force teams to rethink their strategy in terms of how to overcome power hitters with a penchant for pulling the ball.
It's a new day in baseball. It's Manfred's job to ensure that it is a better one as well.
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“I know what I’ve signed up for,” Vogelsong told SFGate. “If I’m starting, I’ll pitch when they tell me to pitch and stop when they tell me to stop. If I come out of the bullpen, I’ll pitch when they tell me to pitch and stop when they tell me to stop.”
Vogelsong gives the Giants a deeper rotation with two starters returning from surgery. Both Matt Cain and Tim Hudson are expected to start, but there is still a question of how well the surgeries have gone. Vogelsong might start the season if Hudson’s ankle is not ready. If both starters return, however, it is unclear where Vogelsong will fit into the roster.
Vogelsong had spoken to a number of teams after last season and was in negotiations with Houston until earlier this week. He flew to Houston and met with the manager of the Astros, A.J. Hinch, but Vogelsong said, “some things happened that just weren’t comfortable. Negotiations broke down. It’s crazy, but as soon as I re-engaged with the Giants, it was like a big weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Vogelsong has a long history with the Giants. He has pitched on two World Series teams and pitched 182 innings in 2014. When Vogelsong returned to the majors from Japan in 2011, it was the Giants who brought him back.
Vogelsong, and his wife, Nicole, are fans of San Francisco and have made the city their home. He is notoriously superstitious about the meal he eats prior to playing and there is no Super Duper Burger in Houston.
"I have a wife [Nicole] that loves San Francisco and loves the fans," Vogelsong said prior to the contract signing, "and I've got her chirping in my ear every two seconds." Now, she doesn’t have to worry about where they are going to be for the next year at least.
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James Shields is having an awful offseason.
The veteran starter posted a 3.21 ERA in 2014 and has racked up at least 200 innings of work in eight consecutive seasons, and yet he is still looking for a new employer as spring training rapidly approaches. Shields is by far the most prominent MLB free agent left scrambling for a job, but he's not the only quality contributor on the market who remains unsigned.
There aren't a lot of bats on the free-agent front, but there's still an array of pitchers—especially late-inning relievers—who have been overlooked this offseason.
Friday night, the Chicago Cubs, which had been used to getting good news during the past few months, got a piece of devastatingly bad news: "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks, the greatest player in franchise history, died at the age of 83, per ESPN.com.
Undoubtedly, the team will honor Banks by wearing a commemorative patch this season, but the Cubs must honor him by more than just wearing his patch on their jerseys—they must honor him with their play on the field.
Banks, who made his debut on Sept. 17, 1953, was so many things to so many different people.
He was a beacon of light for many African-Americans in Chicago, as he was the first black player to ever wear the Cubs uniform. He was a source of optimism for a fanbase that sorely needed it. Most importantly, he was a lover of baseball, and because of that, fans couldn't help but love him.
You would think it would be viewed as a curse to be the best player in the history of a cursed franchise, but Banks never viewed it that way. He saw it as a blessing.
While he might have never played a single postseason game—despite playing in 2,528 in the regular season (most in big-league history without appearing in a playoff game)—he tried to will the Cubs to the promised land every season.
It never quite happened for him, and it still hasn't happened for the Cubs, who will be entering their 44th season without Banks in the starting lineup this spring. While it's a shame Banks won't be around to see the Cubs ever win a World Series, this team needs to seal the deal in honor of its late legend.
That's not to say the Cubs need to win the World Series this year—that's pretty lofty expectations for such a young team—but in the next three to four years, they should definitely be challenging for titles.
None of the young players coming up through the system saw Mr. Cub play, but they likely know what he means to the organization. They need to bring the toughness Banks did day in and day out. They need to have the perseverance he had, knowing the team needed to earn every little thing.
Most importantly, they need to love baseball—because with their talent, the rest will fall into place.
Ernie Banks never saw the Cubs win a World Series, but one thing is sure: If the Cubs are on the brink of a World Series title anytime soon, Banks will be smiling down among the baseball gods.
He won't be saying his patented "let's play two," but rather, he will simply be saying, "let's just win one."
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Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has had the busiest offseason of any GM, making nine trades involving 27 players in total. His most recent deal, swapping shortstop Yunel Escobar for Washington Nationals relief pitcher Tyler Clippard, was his best one of the winter.
The Athletics needed someone to fill in at short after allowing Jed Lowrie to walk, and they got their man from Tampa Bay. But it was Zobrist, not Escobar, as he was flipped to the Nationals for Clippard four days later.
Shortstop is arguably the weakest offensive position in the league, and Escobar has long enjoyed a reputation as an above-average hitter. His best season came with the Atlanta Braves in 2009, when he hit .299/.377/.436.
The problem is, he hasn't hit at such a high level since 2011. His OPS has fallen under .700 in each of the last three seasons, and he's only hit double-digit home runs in three of his eight major league seasons.
Middle infielders don't often carry a lot of power, so Escobar's waning power isn't a deal-breaker on its own. But his 31 career stolen bases are surprisingly low for such a tenured shortstop, and if he's not a threat in the batter's box or on the basepaths, where is he a threat?
The answer: he's a threat in the field—for his own team.
Defensive regression is natural for an aging shortstop, and Escobar is 32. Many players' arm strength and/or agility starts disappearing around then.
Escobar was actually a good defensive player as recently as 2013, when he posted a 10.7 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), more than double his previous career high and third in the majors among everyday shortstops, per Fangraphs. For comparison, Lowrie had a -6.7 UZR that season, third-worst in the majors for his position.
But Escobar's UZR shot down to an abysmal -17.0 in 2014, worst among starting shortstops by a wide margin. His range has all but disappeared, and the Nationals are expected to play him at second base, as the A's would have.
Escobar never wanted to play for the A's, and he would have been a horrible fit in Oakland. The A's weren't going to win over Bay Area fans by employing a middle infielder who once wrote an anti-gay slur into his eye black.
After the A's claimed Escobar on waivers last August, his agent, Alex Esteban, told CBS' Jon Heyman he was "very concerned" with Oakland's selection. Tampa Bay pulled Escobar back from waivers after Esteban continued to drop hints about Escobar's aversion for suiting up in Oakland.
Clippard, on the other hand, shows no signs of fitting in poorly for the A's. The Washington Post's James Wagner called him "an earnest, thoughtful and funny teammate, who was always accountable—good or bad—for his performances and the teams’s performance."
He has been named to two All-Star Games despite functioning as a set-up man—not a closer—for most of his career. With a 2.68 ERA in just over six years with the Nationals, he's been one of the most consistent relief options in baseball throughout his career.
Clippard was the Nats closer in 2012 and has the stuff to end for the A's—which he may be expected to do after Sean Doolittle's slight rotator cuff tear.
Oakland acquired a similarly steady relief arm last season in Luke Gregerson, who turned in a 2.12 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in his one season with the A's. Clippard is more of a power arm than Gregerson, but he should be just as good in an eighth-inning set-up role once Doolittle returns.
The A's are flush with back-of-the-rotation starters, some of whom may turn into bullpen guys. They don't actually have too many true right-handed relievers like Clippard, though, so he and Ryan Cook will be counted on as dependable late-inning arms.
Fans have bemoaned Beane's trading of five of the A's seven 2014 All-Stars, but Clippard appeared in last year's Midsummer Classic for the National League team. Oakland flipped an old, defenseless middle infielder with little pop for a shutdown bullpen arm.
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