If you are in a fantasy baseball league (I am), or if you ads just an ardent fan of the sport (I am), or maybe if you're just wondering what the heck is going on (uh huh), you may have noticed that spring training started with some of the game's biggest stars without a contract. Two have finally signed, but what they got mens this practice is likely going to continue for years to come.
On February 21, the San Diego Padres shocked the baseball world when they announced the signing of shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado to a ten-year, 300 million dollar deal. Just over a week later, on Friday, the Philadelphia Phillies made even the most baseball-hardened jaws drop, announcing a 13-year, 330 million dollar deal for Bryce Harper.
While you pause and contemplate those numbers, especially the Harper deal, let me tell you this. If you think waiting until this close to the start of the season to see these deals, which used to get done in December or January, is a bad thing, it's likely going to only get worse. If you look at this as owners versus players, the players won. Harper didn't get the 400 million dollars that he reportedly asked for, but no one thought he'd get a ten-year deal, let alone 13. It was thought Machado would get seven or eight years in the 250 million dollar range. He got more.
Had either player 'settled' for a shorter deal, it would have been a victory for the owners. Players in the next few years would likely shy away from long negotiations, and want to get a deal done by Christmas, which used to be normal. Next year's class includes Boston slugger J.D. Martinez, who just went through this last year, has an opt-out in his contract, and will likely not hesitate to do it again. St. Louis first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is also out there, and after 2020 comes arguably the best player in the game—Mike Trout.
In the early part of spring training, there's an old line that says pitchers are ahead of the hitters. In spring training free agency, it's the other way around. Machado and Harper finally have their deals. Guys like 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and elite closer Craig Kimbrel are still waiting. It was presumed they were waiting for Machado and Harper to sign, but their asking prices still seem to be in the baseball stratosphere, and owners are not seeming to want to board those rockets. Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Wheeler are all slated to be free agents in November. You have to wonder what they are thinking.
True, pitchers arms break down. Clayton Kershaw, who wisely re-negotiated an extension with the Dodgers this off-season instead of opting for free agency, may not be ready for Opening Day. However, position players get hurt too. How's that ten-year deal for Albert Pujols looking for the Angels right now? He still has three years remaining at about 30 million dollars a year. More money, by the way, than Harper will be getting this season.
Which gets is back to Harper. Machado got his money from San Diego and good for him. His deal is exactly what the Nationals offered Harper to stay in Washington. It apparently was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, and Harper left. The amazing part of the Harper story, if true, is that the Dodgers offered him 45 million dollars a year, but only for five years. The 330-million dollar total from Philly is a North American sports record—barely ahead of Giancarlo Stanton's deal with the Miami Marlins (since traded to the Yankees), but if Harper, who lives in Las Vegas, accepted the LA deal, he would have been the first to break the 40-plus million dollar a year mark. He said so in his introductory news conference, that longevity was the most important for Harper. He has a full no-trade clause, and cannot opt out of his contract early. He'll be in Philadelphia until 2031.
Thirteen years is a long time. Harper will be 39, I'll be pushing 70, and California's bullet train from LA to San Francisco might actually be running. Space X could be taking people to the moon, and Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump could be campaigning to be President. Although those ideas may be a little ridiculous, it is not out of the realm of possibility that current top prospects Vladimir Guerrero, Junior and Fernando Tatis, Junior (who would be in their mid 30s) would be in the middle of 15 year, one billion dollar contracts. Hopefully they'll sign those contracts in December instead of making us wait until March.
Gold Sox are back: It was announced via news release that the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox will field a team in 2019 and will play in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League. They will also return to a Thursday through Sunday home schedule, although it's unclear how many road games they will play. The club is now owned by a consortium of community members including Sierra Central Credit Union CEO John Cassidy, Al Montna of Montna Farms, former Gold Sox owner Tom Lininger, and former major league catcher Matt Walbeck. Former manager Jack Johnson will be a special advisor to General Manager Tommy Liniunger, who once played for the club, and the new manager will be former Gold Sox player and current coach at Cal State East Bay Michael Frantz.
Dodgers have new announcer: With Vin Scully's retirement, gone are the days of one person in a broadcast booth, but now the list of broadcasters continues to expand. It was announced over the winter that Charley Steiner is reducing his workload (if you can call what he does work), so the team has added veteran Tim Neverett. Neverett spent the last three years with the Red Sox, and also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies. Neverett is an easier listen than head play-by-play man Joe Davis, and will fill in when Davis is on national assignments. He'll also do radio when Steiner is out. Kevin Kennedy, who had been the fill-in radio analyst for the last five years with Rick Monday shifting to play-by-play, was let go, and it appears Monday will no longer have any radio play-by-play duties.
Always read the label: It may not be false advertising, but MLB Network's '30 Clubs in 30 Days' season preview series is a little misleading. They look at one team for an hour each day (Sunday it was the Dodgers) and go through their strengths, weaknesses, pitching, defense, etc., and the outlook for 2019. The thing is, they are taking a couple of days off before moving on to the next team. Yes it's 30 clubs in 30 days, but not 30 clubs in 30 consecutive days, which is what they lead you to believe.
Now that's using your head: The best line of an early spring training telecast goes to Cleveland Indians TV analyst. Rick Manning. In Friday's game against the Dodgers, a Cleveland baserunner stole second, but the throw from Dodger catcher Will Smith beaned pitcher Dennis Santana right in the back pocket. Santana was okay, and all of the players were laughing, except Santana. “Of course not”, said Manning, “He's the butt of the joke.”