Home Featured Extra Innings: Robinson Cano suspended again, Hall of Fame ballot released, early free agent signings, more

Extra Innings: Robinson Cano suspended again, Hall of Fame ballot released, early free agent signings, more

by Chris Brown

The Mets gained $24 million in further financial flexibility after Robinson Cano was suspended for PEDs again, the first few notable free agent signings of the offseason are in the books and the regular winter debate over Hall of Fame candidates has begun again. Let’s jump right into a few of baseball’s biggest storylines of late in this week’s edition of Extra Innings:

Robinson Cano just blew any chance he had of the Hall of Fame but gave the Mets more offseason options.

Major League Baseball suspended the veteran second baseman without pay for the entire 2021 season on Wednesday after he tested positive for the performing-enhancing drug stanozolol. This is the second PED suspension of Cano’s career, as the 38-year-old was banned 80 games in 2018 after testing positive for a diuretic (used as a masking agent) while with the Mariners. Cano will forfeit the entirety of his $24 million salary for next season.

Shocking could be used to describe the development, but baffling seems more apt. Cano has now forfeited $35.7 million in salary for his two PED suspensions, more than many major leagues make in an entire career. He made a dumb and completely indefensible decision with a drug that is easily detectable after getting caught for masking a PED before, and thus deserves all the criticism he gets and now loses any shot he may have still had at one day being inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

What makes this situation even more baffling is the risk-reward analysis for Cano. The risk: losing $24 million and the possibility of the Hall of Fame. But what was the possible reward? Cano was set to make $24 million per year for the next three seasons through his age 40 season. What was he hoping to accomplish? Mash at the plate for three years and get another huge contract? He was going to get paid the same high amount for the next three seasons regardless of whether he hit .300 with 40 homers per season or .130 with five homers per season. Unless he got suspended.

From the Mets’ perspective, they lose a player for next season who played well in 2020, hitting .316 with 10 home runs in roughly 50 games. But it’s certainly worth pointing out that the club’s new regime will now gain $24 million in financial flexibility for 2021, and the club is expected to be big bidders for several of the top free agents this offseason. They also have a ready-made replacement at the keystone, with the versatile Jeff McNeil able to slot in at his most natural position. The versatility of the team’s roster not only makes it easy to overcome the absence of Cano for 2020, but also leaves plenty of options for their front office, which could go after DJ LeMahieu, George Springer or any of the other big name free agents and adjust their lineup accordingly. 

The 2021 Hall of Fame ballot was announced this past week. It’s possible there will be no new inductees.

First, a few reminders about the Hall of Fame: 1) to become eligible, a player must have participated in 10 big league seasons and have been retired five years, and 2) to get into the Hall of Fame, an eligible player must get 75% of the vote from the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America — players remain on the ballot for up to 10 years before dropping off if not elected.

As for why there might not be any new inductees, let’s start with the 11 new names on the ballot this year: Mark Buehrle, AJ Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, LaTroy Hawkins, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino and Barry Zito. It’s a fun group of players, but not one that includes any clear first-ballot Hall of Famers, like we’ve seen with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Chipper Jones in recent years. Of this group, only Buehrle, Hudson and Hunter would seem to have any chance at all, and the history of voting would indicate that if any of them were to get in (Hunter likely having the best shot, but still not especially likely), it would likely take multiple years for them to reach the 75% threshold. 

As for the names returning to the ballot, there are no sure things either. Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, Sammy Sosa, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner have all never gotten more than one-third of the vote. Then there’s Scott Rolen (35.3%) and Omar Vizquel (52.6%). Both would seem doubtful to make it this year, but are only in their fourth year on the ballot.

Then there’s the three players at the top of this group who have gotten the closest to getting in and are running out of time. Barry Bonds (60.7%), Roger Clemens (61.0%) and Curt Schilling (70.0%) are all in their ninth year of eligibility. The arguments for and against these players are clear by now, with Bonds and Clemens connected to steroid use and Schilling’s reprehensible off-the-field behavior factoring into the votes for some. The percentage rise for Bonds and Clemens year-to-year has been slow, while Schilling’s percentage has climbed more steadily in recent years, suggesting he could reach 75% this year. The lack of sure-fire candidates could lead to more notable increases for those in the mix, or we could see no new inductees for the first time since 2013.

The results will be announced in late January. Any candidates elected this year will be honored at the ceremony scheduled for July along with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller. They were elected last year but their ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19.

The first notable free agent signings of the offseason haven’t provided much clarity on what to expect this winter.

On Nov. 7, the Blue Jays re-signed Robbie Ray to a one-year, $8 million contract to remain in their rotation in 2021. A little over a week later, the Braves inked another lefty starter, Drew Smyly, to a one-year deal worth $11 million. Neither of those pitchers were cracking the top 25 of free agent lists, but both certainly made sense for those clubs as relatively low-risk, high reward plays. But the roughly $10 million paydays don’t quite match the expectations many had for this offseason. 

Neither of these pitchers were going to get multi-year deals. Ray led the NL in walks (31) in 2020 despite only making seven starts in the league before being dealt to Toronto and posted a 6.62 ERA on the season. Smyly has battled injuries throughout his career, didn’t pitch in the majors in 2017 or 2018, and had a 11-19 record and 5.41 ERA in his most recent seasons entering 2020. But both also have the upside to make them worthy gambles — Ray can be one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball and Smyly pitched well in 2020 with increased velocity. 

What’s particularly odd is that in a market where every MLB team could have had one of baseball’s best closers, Brad Hand, for 2021 at a $10 million price tag but no one claimed him, these two pitchers are getting roughly $10 million. Are these moves a small sign that there will still be plenty of teams willing to spend what’d we normally expect on free agents? Or just two clubs willing to overpay a little for guys they’re interested in? Only time will tell.

Quick Hits: Epstein steps down, Bellinger has shoulder surgery, Clevinger signs extension

A few other items of note from this week…

  • Theo Epstein, the architect of the 2016 title-winning Chicago Cubs, is stepping down, the team announced earlier this week. General manager Jed Hoyer will replace Epstein in the role, and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that rival executives expect big changes to the club’s roster this offseason.
  • Dodgers star Cody Bellinger underwent surgery to repair his right shoulder, which he dislocated while celebrating his go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the NLCS. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, is expected to miss 10 weeks, putting him on track to be ready by the start of Spring Training. 
  • The Padres announced a two-part update regarding starter Mike Clevinger earlier this week. The right-hander agreed to a two-year, $11.5 million contract with the club … but is set to miss all of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Clevinger suffered a right elbow strain in one of his final starts of the regular season after being acquired from Cleveland. He’ll now rehab from the procedure with San Diego and is in line to return for the start of the 2022 campaign, making the deal in effect a one-year, $11.5 million contract.

What’s on Deck?

Thanksgiving week, so not a lot of key deadlines or expected announcements. November 20 is the deadline for clubs to add eligible minor leaguers to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. The next key offseason date is December 2 — the non-tender deadline. That’s the date by which teams must offer their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players a contract for 2021 or else non-tender them, making them a free agent. There’s an expectation that we’ll see more non-tenders this year given several teams’ desire to cut payroll during the ongoing COVID-19 economic losses and uncertainty.

Photo by bootbearwdc / Flickr

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