The MLB offseason is not yet two weeks old, and we’ve already seen a significant number of notable developments, from multiple managerial hires to the completed purchase of an MLB franchise and signs of a slow offseason for player signings ahead. Let’s dive into a few of the biggest recent storylines in this week’s edition of Extra Innings:
As curious as the White Sox’s hiring of Tony La Russa, in the end it’ll be judged as these moves always are: by the on-the-field results.
White Sox fans were promised progress. The team’s owner decided nostalgia was the best way to get it.
After missing the playoffs in 11 straight seasons, the White Sox took a huge step forward in 2020, posting their best winning percentage (.583) since 2005 with the combination of an emerging young core and battle-tested veterans. But after falling from first to third in the AL Central standings in the final weeks of the regular season and getting bounced from the postseason in the Wild Card Series by the A’s, the club decided to fire manager Rick Renteria.
As for the team’s likely path to replace Renteria, The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg wrote, “[GM Rick] Hahn said he wanted to do a deep dive into the pool of available coaches and managers, interview people from forward-thinking organizations and find the right fit for a young, up-and-coming team. When he described the manager he was looking for, it sure sounded like former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who was fired for his role in the sign-stealing fiasco that rocked baseball, pre-pandemic.”
But Hinch, who is now the new manager of the Detroit Tigers, and would have come with at least some controversy, didn’t get a formal interview. By all accounts, once team owner Jerry Reinsdorf discovered that Tony La Russa, a longtime friend of his and White Sox manager in the 1980s, was interested in the job, the search was essentially over.
La Russa is many things: a Hall-of-Famer, a three-time World Series champion, the third-winningest manager of all time, and highly respected throughout the game. He’s also 76, hasn’t managed in nearly a decade and there are legitimate questions about his ability to adjust to managing in a different era than in 2011, when La Russa led the Cardinals to a title before announcing his retirement. It’s clearly an odd fit for a club entering a new era of its own.
In the end, though, it’s all going to come down to results on the field, as it always does. The White Sox are positioned to be competitive in the American League for years and years to come, and ultimately it won’t matter who’s on the top step if the results are there. Little of the White Sox fan base was seemingly inspired by the La Russa decision, but so long as his presence doesn’t clash with the dynamics of the players, that excitement will return.
On the flip side, should the White Sox fall short of expectations for a few seasons, we’ll all be looking back to Reinsdorf’s decision to turn back the clock to the manager he regretted allowing to be fired nearly 35 years ago without appearing to really consider any other candidate.
The Mets now have the richest owner in Major League Baseball, and that could have an on-the-field impact before long.
The record for the most expensive purchase of a North American sports franchise now belongs to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, who purchased the New York Mets after MLB owners voted late last week to approve the sale of the team for a reported price tag of roughly $2.4 billion. An entity controlled by Cohen will own 95% of the franchise while 5% will be retained by the former majority owners, the Wilpon and Katz families. Former GM Sandy Alderson will return as team president.
Aside from occasional headline-grabbing comments, MLB owners aren’t typically discussed on a regular basis when it comes to on-the-field impacts. But there are a few aspects of the Mets’ ownership change that could have an immediate impact on the team’s outlook and even free agency across the league.
Cohen’s financial resources are expected to lead to increased spending by the team, something that could very well begin this offseason. Catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder George Springer and starting pitcher Trevor Bauer — three of the top free agents — would all fill a need for the Mets, and it would be mildly surprising if the team didn’t sign at least one of the top players on the market. Should Cohen decide he wants to make a splash with Realmuto, for example, a club like the Phillies may find themselves outpriced in their attempt to keep him.
Despite missing the postseason for the last four years, the Mets have the core to compete right now, and Cohen knows that. The club is expected to become more analytically driven under his ownership, and there’s also the unquantifiable x-factor of the culture shift that’s expected as well. Less than an hour after the news of the sale, Noah Syndergaard took a dig at the Wilpons, saying he hopes Cohen will treat personnel in the organization “like people and less like expendable commodities.” Cohen said that all team employees will be receiving restored pre-pandemic salaries, reversing the cuts of up to 30% that began back in March.
It’s impossible to say with any certainty what the Mets will do this offseason. But one thing I am fairly confident in is that Cohen won’t sit around watching a good team with a few obvious holes fall short of the playoffs year after year without making a splash.
With COVID-19 uncertainty, MLB offseason figures to be slow, brutal for players.
With the pandemic-shortened 2020 season resulting in no fans in the stands until late in the postseason, the 30 MLB teams combined to lose $8.3 billion overall, commissioner Rob Manfred told Sportico in late October. While the league has announced plans for a normal 2021 schedule, there’s still a huge degree of uncertainty on what next season will look like with the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. far from under control.
As a result of those losses and lack of clarity regarding revenue projections for 2021, teams across MLB are looking for ways to cut payroll this offseason, which is bad news for the growing class of free agents. No better evidence exists of this than the situation with Brad Hand. The Indians declined what would normally be considered a very reasonable $10 million option in the left-hander, who’s considered one of the best closers in the league and led baseball with 16 saves in 2020, and placed him on waivers. Their hope was that one of the other 29 teams would claim him for the cost of that option and Cleveland thus wouldn’t have to pay a buyout to him. But not a single team in Major League Baseball decided to claim Hand at that price.
The very top free agents still seem set to cash in at a high level, but with teams likely to non-tender an increased number of players prior to the Dec. 2 deadline, the tier of players below that top group figure to see teams willing to commit less money, at least initially. We’ve seen slow offseasons for signings in recent years, but all indications are that this offseason could move at a snail’s pace and result in decreased salaries across the board. Only adding to teams’ likely hesitancy early in the offseason is the uncertainty about the future of the DH in the National League. Buckle up for an interesting offseason.
A different method was used in determining Gold Glovers in 2020, and it had mixed results.
In a typical MLB season, 75% of the weight toward the selection of Gold Glove winners comes from voting by managers and up to six coaches per team. But the regional schedule of the 2020 regular season prevented voters from getting a proper in-person look at all the league’s candidates, so the system was changed to be entirely based on the Society for American Baseball Research’s Defensive Index.
Eighteen Gold Gloves were handed out in all, and 11 of them went to first-time winners, including Luis Robert, Joey Gallo and Javier Baez. The entire AL infield (aside from catcher) was made up of players who earned a Gold Glove for the first time.
There were also plenty of the usual suspects, including Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove, and Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, who captured the award for the fifth straight year. Arenado is now tied with Scott Rolen for the third-most Gold Gloves among third baseman all-time and trails only Ichiro Suzuki (10 straight) in most consecutive wins of the award to begin a career. Betts, meanwhile, joined Willie Mays as the only players in MLB history with an MVP, World Series, 30 HR/30 SB season and 5+ Gold Gloves. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who retired after the 2020 campaign, also won his eighth such award.
Every winner is certainly deserving of the award, though the system used this year seemed to lead to a few obvious snubs. The Twins’ Byron Buxton led all AL center fielders in defensive runs saved above average (Robert won), Carlos Correa out-ranked Seattle’s J.P. Crawford in several key defensive statistics, and the story is similar of the Braves’ Dansby Swanson compared to Baez.
In the end, individual Gold Gloves aren’t especially monumental. But they are taken seriously as a part of a player’s resume. This year’s solely stat-based system was clearly imperfect, but so is the normal system, where reputation alone can carry too much weight among coaches, and an adjustment for 2020 made sense. The smaller sample size did likely lead to some statistical anomalies which had an impact on the bottom line, though.
What’s on Deck?
Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce the winners of the major 2020 awards next week. Announcements will be made Monday through Thursday on MLB Network broadcasts at 6 p.m. ET in this order: Rookie of the Year (Nov. 9), Manager of the Year (Nov. 10), Cy Young (Nov. 11) and MVP (Nov. 12).
Wednesday, Nov. 11 is also the deadline for free agents who were extended a $18.9 million qualifying offer to accept or reject it. Six players — Trevor Bauer, Kevin Gausman, DJ LeMahieu, J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and Marcus Stroman — received qualifying offers from their clubs. Bauer has rejected the Reds’ qualifying offer, and Gausman and Stroman appear to be the only players who would possibly accept.
Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr