January 26, 2018


The Milwaukee Brewers have clearly indicated that they are "all in" for the 2018 season.

The Brew Crew has traded for disgruntled Marlin outfielder Christian Yelich in a deal which gives back four prospects to Florida.

The 26-year-old Yelich hit .282/.369/.439, with 18 home runs, over 695 plate appearances with the Marlins last season. He should slot in as Milwaukee’s everyday center fielder, and may be the club’s leadoff man in 2018. Yelich is young, productive and under cost control through 2021. The move not only gives the Brewers a star-caliber center fielder, but one at a minimal cost for years to come.

The cost for Yelich wasn’t cheap. Milwaukee gave up four players in the deal, including their number one prospect, Lewis Brinson (#16 in MLB) .Also in the deal are outfielder Monte Harrison, their No. 5 prospect (#75 in MLB), infielder Isan Diaz their No. 9 prospect and Jordan Yamamoto, according to Baseball America.

Brinson, 23, is the key to the deal. He has limited major league experience, but he has hit .287/.353/.502. Brinson is considered major-league ready, and should have an opportunity to be a full-time starter with the Marlins in 2018. Harrison, Diaz and Yamamoto have yet to play above High A so they’ll likely spend 2018 in the minors.

Then, the Brewers made a surprising move by signing outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five year, $80 million contract. The Brewers now have a glut of outfield talent: Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips. The surplus of outfielders means the Brewers can trade one in a deal to get a quality starting pitcher if they cannot land free agents Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish (for whom reports said has been given an offer by the club).

Cain had a great season with the Royals in 2017. He hit .300, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 26 SB and a 5.3 WAR. Paired with Yelich, who hit .282, 18 HR, 81 RBI, 16 SB and 3.9 WAR, Milwaukee may have the best outfield in the NL with Santana hitting .278, 30 HR,85 RBI, 15 SB and 3.0 WAR.

The Brewers were in the hunt late into last season. The new additions have dramatically improved their chances at a wild card or division title.

January 25, 2018


It was announced that the Hall of Fame has elected four new members.

Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman compose the BBWAA's 2018 National Baseball Hall of Fame class.

The only person that had any real debate was Hoffman, a closer. Many HOF junkies still cannot grasp the fact that closers, with limited innings per year, are Hall of Fame worthy. Many think of closers as being the "NFL kickers" of baseball; a member of the ball club but mostly on the roster for "chip shot" points.

Previously, five pitchers are currently in the Hall, chiefly for their accomplishments as relief pitchers: Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley.  Eckersley, who was considered the first modern closer pitching exclusively in ninth inning situations, also had a significant career as a starting pitcher and even threw a no-hitter in 1977. Another pitcher entered the Hall in 2015 was John Smoltz, who was primarily a starter, but spent four seasons as a dominant reliever for the Braves.

The history of baseball began with the starting pitcher pitching the entire game. It was expected when he took the mound in the first inning, he would be on the mound to the last out in the 9th. Early century teams had only a few pitchers on the rosters to begin with . . . a three man rotation was not out of the question. Lanky, rubber arm pitchers were the norm in the dead ball era.

Then in the 1920s and 1930s, the concept of a "fireman" came into the game. A relief pitcher would come into the game to "put out a fire" or rally by the opposing team. In the past, a starter was really only taken out if he had gotten injured or shelled beyond hope of recovery.

The lone fireman concept evolved slowly into the modern bullpen, where a manager has seven or eight relief pitchers on the roster to mix and match against hitters in every single game. From the modern bullpen concept, the 9th inning "closer" emerged as the most valuable reliever on a staff.

Closers are used when a team is ahead in the final inning by 3 runs or less. The "save" concept was created by the dean of baseball writers, Jerome Holtzman, as a way of trying to quantify the effect a relief pitcher has on the game's outcome. Many people have been critical of the "save" stat as being overblown to irrelevant. Purists believe that every inning has the same importance; getting three outs.

Others suggest that the "pressure" of closing a game is a special skill that not all pitchers can handle. One example of this was the Cubs 2016 mid-season trade for Aroldis Chapman, a dominant closer who helped the Cubs end their long championship drought.

Indians manager Terry Francona added the concept of a "stopper" in Andrew Miller to the bullpen mix. He used Miller in any inning, from the third to the 9th, to put out rallies or to keep the game within reach. The idea of a floating "closer" to be used throughout the game has increased the overall importance of the bullpen depth.

The Kansas City Royals, on their run to a championship, decided that an unstoppable bullpen was more valuable than a dominant starting five rotation (which is hard to find). By having a set of terminators for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings, all the Royals asked their starters to do was to throw 5 quality innings.  It saves wear and tear on their starters, and gave the entire bullpen "ownership" of games and victories.

Whether Hoffman or any relief pitcher is worthy of a Hall of Fame plaque is one of those baseball discussions that fans and writers will have forever.

January 17, 2018


The hot stove league is colder than the outside temperature.

There have been many reasons and theories floated about on why several marquee free agents have not signed contracts a month or so before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Player agents think "collusion" by owners in trying to cut down player salaries.

Teams retort that they are being cautious about spending, especially the big market spenders like the Yankees and Dodgers who have been aggressively managing their rosters to get under the luxury tax threshold. The CBA's luxury tax is a soft salary cap - - - it does not stop a team from over spending that amount, but it comes with increasing severe penalties including loss of draft picks.

Under the current trend, baseball draft picks are more important than signing a old free agent. General managers believe in the mantra of "controllable" players - - - young stars that the team can hold onto for six seasons. A team with a core group of players in their mid-20s (like the 2016 Cubs) can win a championship at league minimum salaries. The league emphasis now is on drafting and developing home grown players, and pushing them through the minor league system faster.

Owners are getting leery of having large amounts of "dead money" on the books. A veteran free agent wants more years to their final contract than their performance. Teams used to view the extra two years on a long term deal a player "bonus." But with the tax ramifications and the looming prospect of broadcast revenue going down (as cable viewership and advertising rates to drop by 2020), owners do not want to be spending tens to hundreds of millions of dollars on players who are no longer on their roster.

Some teams are also gearing up for tax code changes. Two have been touched upon briefly in the media: new depreciation rules and entertainment deductions. Under the Bill Veeck Rule, baseball teams were allowed to depreciate player contracts (Veeck convinced the IRS that a player's performance level will drop over age like a piece of equipment) as well as deduct the actual salary paid to the player. This double deduction was a tax windfall to teams, especially with big money deals. But that is apparently going away under the recently passed tax bill. On the revenue side, limits on corporate entertainment expenses will adversely impact sky box sales and corporate season tickets given to clients or vendors. Teams cannot budget renewals of those big ticket items if corporations will not be able to deduct the cost.

And then there is future spending concept.

Next year's free agent market is much better than 2018: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Kuechel, Charlie Blackmon, Daniel Murphy, Adam Jones, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Miller, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, Andrew McCutchen, and Craig Kimbrel could be available.

As Yahoo Sports reported, Cubs team chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein talked about that dynamic during the Cubs Convention this past weekend. "It's a number of factors. Every team has to make decisions in their own best interest, and that's what's going on," Epstein said  when asked why this off-season has been so slow-moving. "But there's some macroeconomic trends in the game that probably after the last collective-bargaining agreement teams are just trying to position themselves the best way they can, probably in some cases with one eye on next season's free-agent market, trying to get their payroll where they want it to be. It's hard to say it's any one reason. It's probably a combination of factors. But I don't know that we've ever seen anything quite like this."

"Next year's free-agent class is different than this year's free-agent class," Ricketts said, putting it mildly. "I think what you're seeing with teams out there would rather have dry powder a year from now. … There's a lot of pieces and parts, but ultimately, I think teams are trying to keep their powder dry."

Perhaps, but the Cubs' front office keeps stating its desire to add a starting pitcher before this off-season is over. Epstein opened the door to that acquisition perhaps not being of the bank-breaking variety, though, indicating over the weekend that it could be a move that simply provides depth for a starting staff realistically no deeper than five guys at the moment. Until then, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb are still the top free agent starters who have not generated much interest or a bidding war for their services.

The Cubs also have other looming financial commitments if you look further into the future. Kris Bryant (who just set an arbitration renewal record deal), Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javy Baez are all slated to become free agents after the 2021 season. The team's top four starting pitchers - Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood - are all slated to become free agents after the 2020 season. 

Epstein has admitted in the past that he has had to be creative in structuring his payroll because he is working with a tight budget from the business side of the team. Saving money on this year's budget can be used next year. But Epstein is also very fond about "his guys" like Schwarber, Bryant and Russell to let them get away to free agency. He needs to start balancing long term extension offers to the key players. 

So this off-season will probably remain very quiet until the end of January as teams take a much longer term view of their operations and finances.