Happy Hot Stove Season

Well, we’re officially here. The Fall Classic is wrapped, and now, as the weather gets exponentially colder, we’re left with the memories of the 2022 season, and all the anticipation and hope for the 2023 season. Hot stove season is upon us.

For some, it’s time to move on to other sports. Football is mid-season. Basketball is just getting underway. The World Cup is set to kick off. And, we’re nearly halfway to the Premier League mid-season.

But, for the baseball fan, now is the time to dig in. Get out the depth charts and strategize who will be picked to round out the upcoming roster. We’re talking about payrolls, who is really worth their weight in WAR, and which players will be silly to opt-out of their contract.

For me, it’s catch-up time. During the regular season, I spend nearly all of my time watching my beloved Chicago Cubs, or following the Midwestern competition.

The teams I slept on throughout the past season were largely the Marlins, the Giants, the Rangers, and the Diamondbacks. Today’s game was the Twins/Rangers match-up from July 9th.

The Rangers put up three runs in the bottom of the 2nd. The Twins come back in the top of the 4th, with 6 hot runs driven by two dingers from Miranda and Sanchez. The Rangers add another four runs in the bottom of the 4th and it feels close until the Rangers put it away with another two runs in the bottom of the 8th.

Nathaniel Lowe picked up a Silver Slugger award with a breakout season with .302/.358/.492 with 27 home runs and 76 RBIs. But, it simply wasn’t enough for the Rangers. They ended the season just below the middle of the list.

Interestingly, the Rangers led the field with Stolen Bases (a whopping 128 bags). They tied the Yankees with hits (1,308). They were eighth in the league for home runs (198).

But, they were 13th in the league for runs batted in (670). They were 7th in strike-outs (1,446). Their on-base percentage (.301) was 25th in the league. Ultimately, their offensive production simply wasn’t enough. Defensively, they weren’t that great either.

Did the Rangers have the worst season in the league? Nope, but there were plenty of holes in their game.

The 2022 Fall Classic

Woof. What a post-season and World Series. Again, the Houston Astros make their way into the final series, but this year with a surprise twist. The Philadelphia Phillies meet them for what turns out to be six games. That’s right, the 87-75 Phillies come from way behind to defeat the Cardinals, the Braves and the Padres to face off the expected ALCS winners, the Astros.

The Phillies played with heart. The Astros played with whatever you call it where there isn’t a trash can banging in the background. (Yeah, I’m still salty about 2019, but more about that in a minute.)

Harper, Hoskins, Schwarber, Realmuto, Marsh, Bohm, and Castellanos were all fun to watch. And, they gave the Astros a real run for their money. But the Astros had an insanely deep bullpen. Cue the scary music whenever Pressley or Abreu would come out of the Astros’ bullpen.

But, in the end, the Astros did it. Even potentially fairly this time. And, hats off to manager Dusty Baker. He’s done a tremendous job in restoring a lot of confidence in the club.

So, congratulations to the Houston Astros, with exception to the following players: Aledmys Díaz, Alex Bregman, Bryan Abreu, Framber Valdez, Jose Altuve, Jose Urquidy, Josh James, Justin Verlander, Kyle Tucker, Martin Maldonado, Michael Brantley, Ryan Pressly, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel.

As a part of the pre-2020 Houston Astros, your wins and skills will always be challenged by the cheating scandal. While its difficult to prove who was involved without your admissions of guilt, it’s nearly impossible to prove that you weren’t involved at all.

Someday, there will be talk of these players being up for consideration in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Others have been kept out for less. Gambling on games? You didn’t cheat anyone out of a fair game. PEDs? The players only impacted their own capabilities? Sign stealers? Y’all cheated fans out of a fair game.

Hot Take: The Road to Toronto

Throughout the season, the clubs’ trips to the Rogers Center in Toronto has been the outing of who is COVID-19 vaccine compliant and who is not. Canada is holding onto the COVID-19 restrictions much tighter than the US, so when a club heads north, it tells you a lot about who has gotten their vaccines in order, and who hasn’t.

This time, it’s the Cubbies who have to deal with this. Fortunately, only two of their players have decided not to be vaccine compliant. Pitchers Justin Steele and Adrian Sampson will be on the restricted list and waiting back and home for the boys to make their trip to face the Blue Jays.

Steele has pitched a lot of innings. Is he the Cubs strongest pitcher? Well, he’s pretty good.

But, he also has chosen to remove himself from an important series by deciding not to get vaccinated.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s also baseball in 2022,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said on Thursday in Chicago. “Really, every team has had to go through this exact situation in some form or manner when they go up in Toronto, and we’re no different. We’re just doing it in August.”

MLB.com

And yeah, we’re supposed to respect everyone’s personal choices on their own healthcare. I apply this across nearly all situations. But, is it dumb? Yeah, as a hot take, it is dumb. He’s also relatively injury-prone.

Steele is also making decent money. $705k in the 2022 season as part of his annual contract. Ok, that’s not Stroman, Heyward, Hendricks, Miley, or Contreras money, but it’s nothing to shake a stick or a bat at either. I’d assume you and I would probably do what we needed to do to be professionally available at those salary levels.

And that’s the rub. Maybe this is the MLB version of “quiet quitting,” but if all I needed were a couple shots to make sure I could start at an opposing team’s field, and you’re giving me a $705k bag, yeah, I’m going to let the doctors inject whatever they need to into me to get me to the ballpark. Are there dumber situations out there? Sure. Yankee’s Chapman will be added to the IL list for an infection he got while getting some ink. Still, it makes sense to me that anyone who gets to play this game as a profession, should be willing to do what it takes to protect themselves and others from this disease.

All Things in Life Need Balance

And, in 2023, the MLB will rollout a balanced schedule. What this means is that every team in the MLB will play every team at least once.

Technically, the balanced schedule should limit the advantage that strong teams in weak divisions have over other teams with deeper divisions. Also, this brings a lot of great exposure for teams across all markets, and should be a huge win for baseball fans.

“This new format creates more consistent opponent matchups as Clubs compete for Postseason berths,” MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak said in a release, “particularly in the recently expanded Wild Card round. Additionally, this fan-friendly format provides fans with the opportunity to see more opponent matchups, with a particular focus on dramatically expanding our most exciting Interleague matchups, and offers more national exposure to the star players throughout our game.”

MLB.com

Personally, I love this schedule. Living in Des Moines, IA, the closest MLB stadium is Kauffman in Kansas City. As a Cubs fan, nothing compares to a game at Wrigley, but I’ll take baseball where I can get it.

2023 Kansas City Royals Schedule

So, for example, within a 2.5 hour drive, I can catch the the A’s at Kauffman in May, as well as seeing the Mets in early August. The Dodgers will be there at the end of June/beginning of July. The Cubs will play the Royals each year, and in 2024, the Cubs will likely be in KC.

I think about the experience that my friends living in major markets have, compared to those of us living in Triple A towns. Will seats go fast when some of the biggest clubs in the MLB come to KC? Probably. Will lines be long? For sure. But, that’s hopefully what a bit of this schedule will add to the romance of major league baseball.

Let’s Talk about Tatis Jr.

Fernando Tatis Jr is a beast. The stats say all you need to know. His slugging percentage over the past three seasons is .596, which means he’s got power. He gets on base. Between 2019 and 2021, he racked up 81 home runs. He rounds bases. He is a powerful core of the San Diego Padres.

He’s also getting $340 million over 14 years. Well, except for the rest of the 2022 season and the start of next season. That is because, in part, beyond all of this insurmountable wealth, he apparently doesn’t have any professionals in his life consulting him on appropriate ringworm treatments.

This is the same guy who got himself into a motorcycle accident prior to the season.

I’m not an investment professional, but if you have a contract worth $340 million, you have to surround yourself with people who are going to help you protect the investment that is you.

I have been informed by Major League Baseball that a test sample I submitted returned a positive result for Clostebol. I should have used the resources available to me in order to ensure that no banned substances were in what I took. I failed to do so. 

I want to apologize to Peter, AJ, the entire Padres organization, my teammates, Major League Baseball, and fans everywhere for my mistake. I have no excuse for my error, and I would never do anything to cheat or disrespect this game I love.

I have taken countless drug tests throughout my professional career, including March 29, 2022, all of which have returned negative results until this test. 

I am completely devastated. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on the field competing with my teammates. After initially appealing the suspension, I have realized my mistake was the cause of this result, and for that reason I have decided to start serving my suspension immediately. I look forward to re-joining my teammates on the field in 2023.

Statement by Tatis Jr via CBS Sports

Clostebol is a muscle-building agent. You won’t find it in ringworm meds in the US. I don’t know. It seems fishy. Now his people have him on a late summer apology tour. He just wrapped up a press conference to apologize to everyone on the planet.

Via TJ Sports

“I’m truly sorry. I have let so many people down. I have lost so much love from people. I have failed,” Tatis continued. “I’m going to remember what this feels like, and I’m not going to put myself in this position ever again. I know I have a lot of love that I have to recover. I have a lot of work to do, it will be a very long process. I’m learning, I’m maturing.”

Fernando Tatis Jr.

He’s got to build back trust. He already wasn’t part of the equation this situation, as he was rehabbing from his wrist injury. The Padres are going to be ok. His judgement has created a missed opportunity for the team that really was pulling things together. They’re 17.5 games behind the Dodgers at this point, but they’re still relatively strong.

I hope Tatis Jr. finds himself some good counsel in the upcoming years. His judgement to date is really messing with his future.

Having a Catch

As the 2022 Field of Dreams game opened between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, the camera found Ken Griffey, Jr, standing among the stalks of corn. He emerges on the field, followed by his father, Ken Griffey. Jr turns to Sr and asks, “Hey Dad, do you want have a catch?” The two proceed to start tossing the ball back and forth to each other.

Video clip courtesy of MLB and the Griffeys

The moment sparked a deep emotion within me. Even at 43, the memories of playing catch with my dad in the yard are still fresh and vivid. Among all the memories I have with my dad, playing catch feels like the one that is steeped in the most tradition.

Catch at our house was usually in the evening, after dinner. Dad had likely spent a long day, embroiled in adult work life, in his office at his desk, or at conference room tables across from clients. My dad was a sales guy. It wasn’t where his career had started out, but it became the part of his career with the greatest momentum. His sales career afforded us a comfortable life, with plenty of the family style vacations you’d expect from the 1980’s…pack up the car and traverse the country, seeing the kinds of attractions that would capture your imagination from the lobby of a motel, where a rack of brochures about cave tours, alligator farms, scenic by-ways and more would promise a family all the fun that could be imagined during those Reagan years.

The relationship I developed with my dad was accentuated by sports, namely Chicago sports. We spent winters and springs watching the Chicago Bulls chase after the championship title. In the early fall, Sunday afternoons might include a bit of a Chicago Bears game, before nodding off for a quiet nap in the family room between lunch and supper. Our old tube television would glow brightly from day games from Wrigley. The radio in the garage was usually tuned either to NPR or a distant Chicago station to pick up a Cubs game.

My dad was there when I picked out my first baseball cap, a Minnesota Twins cap that featured the “M” logo. I’m sure he would have encouraged me to grab a Cubbies cap at that point, but he understood the mania that surrounded Kirby Puckett.

Through it all, we’d walk out of the garage and snag our ball gloves off a shelf. Dad had an old Spalding glove. He had played on the company’s slow pitch softball team. He used an outfield’s baseball glove and the pocket was deep and big, considering he was fielding softballs with it. I’m almost completely certain mine was a Franklin, but the printed logo had long faded after summer after summer of use and abuse. The wrist band would be slotted through my handlebars for days on end of riding my bike to friends’ houses with the hope that we might play a bit of catch and then tugged off to settle next to my dad’s glove when I returned home.

But, there we would be, at opposite ends of the front yard, tossing the ball back and forth, talking about what had transpired throughout the day and what we had on our minds about the upcoming weekend or the next family vacation.

I was not a great ballplayer, but catch was definitely my speed. I was, however, a good son, and was happy to build those memories with my dad, night after night, hanging out in the front yard tossing the ball back and forth.

To all those parents and their kids out there: Making a memory of playing catch at the Field of Dreams is clearly awesome. But, don’t neglect the impact of those moments in the yard. They will be remembered long after either one of you hang up the glove for the last time.

The Return of Jeff McNeil

We gotta talk about The Met’s Jeff McNeil. It has been a lot of fun watching the Met’s this season, but especially Jeff McNeil.

Jeff’s 2022 Topps Heritage Look

Let’s take a look at where pitches are being thrown at McNeil’s at-bats.

Credit: Savant Illustrator

Admittedly, 2021 was a tough year. As of 8.7.2022, McNeil’s 2022 batting average is a .304. He’s been hot recently, with a BA well above that. Maybe McNeil is getting back into the groove. Hope so. Hope by the end of the season he’s back to the 2018-2020 levels, and 2021 is well in the rear-view mirror. Just think back to McNeil’s 3-run homer on May 28, 2022. This guy shuts down the hecklers.

Credit: Baseball-Reference.com