Pace of play committee lacks right voices 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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videoLOS ANGELES -- Another in the season-long burst of complaints erupted recently over one of the on-the-fly rule changes that were implemented in 2014. An official with Major League Baseball privately conceded that the criticism, in this particular case, was fully warranted.

“We didn’t think about that possibility,” he acknowledged privately. “We probably should have.”

The sport’s worst nightmare still has a chance to play out, that a crucial October moment will hinge on one of the still murky corners of instant replay or Rule 7.13, which addresses home plate collisions. Overall, however, it’s been a year of significant progress, a long step in the right direction. More calls are correct, through replay, and we haven’t seen a single injured catcher or base runner carried off the field because of a home plate pileup, which really was the driving force behind 7.13.

But the official’s statement -- “We didn’t think about that possibility; we probably should have” -- should echo in Major League Baseball’s Park Avenue hallways.

When immediate changes are needed, it’s important that baseball reacts swiftly, as officials did with the ill-fated transfer interpretation earlier this year, and with the recent clarification of Rule 7.13. When possible, however, it would be good for more percolation, more consideration, more thought. It’s why the new committee to address pace of play comes with some surprises.

Reds already focused on '15 bounce back 

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Joey Votto and Jay BruceUSA Today Sports, Getty Images It has been a frustrating season for Joey Votto (62 games played) and Jay Bruce (.217 average).
ST. LOUIS -- The 2014 season began evaporating for the Cincinnati Reds the first week after the All-Star break. Three straight losses against the Yankees, three more against the Brewers, another to Washington … a flurry of failure from which they have never recovered.

So here they are playing out the twilight of the summer game, and for some, there are already thoughts about what will be different next year. Bryan Price, the manager of the Reds, sat in the cinder-block office assigned to the visiting manager Sunday in St. Louis and recited his team's record: 71 wins, 84 losses. "That team," he said, "is not a 71-84 team."

Not with Aroldis Chapman at closer, finishing out a season in which he has 97 strikeouts in 50 innings, with one homer allowed.

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The Jeter Tour has hurt the Yankees 

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Derek JeterJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite poor statistics, Derek Jeter has remained at shortstop and in the No. 2 lineup slot.
ST. LOUIS -- Some folks employed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1995 have spoken with reverence for what took place on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, when Cal Ripken played in his 2,130th and 2,131st consecutive games. The response of the fans to Ripken, and the celebration of baseball on those two days, could not have been more touching, and Ripken’s handling of those 48 hours was exceptional, from the home runs that he hit to his willingness to come out of his shell of routine and share the moment.

A lot of the same folks who worked for the Orioles would also have told you that they would never want to again play a role in a player building a consecutive-games streak like Ripken’s.

Because they believed that for the team -- the group of players whose purpose is theoretically to win games -- Ripken’s streak was not a good thing and that he should have had days off, for his benefit and for the sake of the team. They would tell you Ripken’s streak became onerous for the baseball operations people for whom he worked because it clouded all decision-making and became bigger than the manager.

Years from now, there will be folks who worked for the New York Yankees this year who will say the same thing about Derek Jeter's final season -- that the organization’s long-established devotion to winning games has been superseded by its effort to cast Jeter in the best possible light, pretending, with his placement in the field and the lineup, that he gives the team the best possible chance to win.

The Yankees have earned a championship grade for ceremony this season, creating memories for fans and fueling an important narrative, at a time when that probably feels right. The enduring image of the NFL’s 2014 season thus far is a piece of Atlantic City security camera videotape, while Major League Baseball has been able to pause and honor Jeter for his glories and how he has served the sport so well.

But somewhere along the way, the Yankees drifted off course and winning became secondary to the 2014 Derek Jeter fairy tale.

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10 days, 10 burning questions 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Jon Lester, Matt Shoemaker, and Norichika AokiAP ImagesA trio of key cast members for the production of the season's 10 final days.
KANSAS CITY -- Ten days left in the regular season. Ten burning questions.

1. Will Oakland pull out of its flat spin?

The Athletics have surrendered 15.5 games in the standings to the Angels in 39 days, which might otherwise seem impossible if you weren’t watching the Athletics play. Oakland faced a possible sweep Thursday, with Nick Martinez on the mound for the Rangers -- this is a pitcher who allowed 52 walks in 122 1/3 innings going in. After Texas scored four runs in the top of the first against Sonny Gray, the Athletics saw a total of 19 pitches in the first two innings against Martinez.

When stuff like this is happening

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Trading Cueto makes sense for the Reds 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Johnny CuetoFrank Victores/USA TODAY SportsReds starter Johnny Cueto ranks in the top five in the majors in wins, ERA, strikeouts and WAR.
The Cincinnati Reds will finish this season with a losing record, but their 2014 struggles may well take them beyond that bit of ignominy. It's possible they will finish last in the National League Central, and they have a chance to finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball (which would mean their first-round pick in the 2015 MLB draft would be protected from the compensation drain).

They have developed significant needs and are facing a major overhaul that will be problematic in the face of rising payroll concerns, which they began to address when they allowed the Brewers to take reliever Jonathan Broxton last month. Broxton will make $9 million next season, and the Reds need as much financial flexibility as possible.
Their situation is so acute that the Reds should at least think about a bold, aggressive move to improve the team's overall talent and gain better payroll footing: They should trade Cy Young Award candidate Johnny Cueto.

Some rival officials just don't see the Reds making this move, because generally speaking, owner Bob Castellini has never been a big believer in deferred gratification.

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Previewing the qualifying-offer market 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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James Shields and Nelson CruzGetty ImagesJames Shields and Nelson Cruz are both candidates to get qualifying offers this offseason.
As the saying goes, those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Not one of the 22 players who were extended qualifying offers the past two winters accepted them, and in a lot of cases, that made sense. But it's a strategy that failed for some players.

Stephen Drew turned down a qualifying offer of $14.1 million last fall, and then, after failing to sign with a team in the winter, waited until May to sign with the Red Sox under the premise -- loyally regurgitated in many corners -- that he would benefit from not being attached to a qualifying offer this fall.

This has turned into a disaster. After taking $4 million less in salary than he would've gotten in a qualifying offer, Drew was behind in his timing when he returned to major league action and has never recovered. He is batting .156 overall, with an OPS of .527 (250 points lower than last season), and with the Yankees he's hitting .132. He probably will get just a fraction of what he would've gotten this fall with a qualifying offer, which is expected to be between $15 and $15.5 million.

Similarly, Kendrys Morales rejected a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Mariners before eventually signing with the Twins -- who then traded him back to Seattle. As of Wednesday morning, he is hitting .205 with the Mariners, .223 overall, with seven homers in 350 plate appearances. At 31, he will be a free agent again, in a market already saturated with DH candidates, and he won't get anything close to what a qualifying offer might've netted him.

With that in mind, here are the candidates for qualifying offers in the upcoming market, and whether the player in question can expect to get an offer.

James Shields, SP, Royals: YES. Shields has had another solid season and the Royals intend to give him a qualifying offer so they can get a draft pick when he signs elsewhere.

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To-do lists for Orioles, Angels, Nationals 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia & Matt WilliamsUSA TODAY SportsManagers Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Matt Williams have the luxury of coasting to the playoffs.
BALTIMORE -- There will not much rest at all for Miguel Cabrera, it appears, no chance for him to stay off his right ankle and let the pain from his bone spur subside. If Wade Davis becomes weary in the next 14 days, he probably won't have much choice but to push through it; the same could be true for Tony Watson, Justin Wilson and Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, and for the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez. If Sean Doolittle isn't quite 100 percent, his 98 percent or 90 percent or 85 percent will just have to do.

David Robertson threw 35 pitches Friday, 11 more on Saturday, then made another appearance Sunday … and had absolutely nothing, giving up three consecutive extra-base hits in a walk-off loss to the Orioles. The Yankees' playoff hopes are dying, and Robertson's effort was like CPR; he had to do what was required in the moment. This is the stretch drive, the last mile in the Major League Baseball marathon, and the players for the Tigers, Royals, Pirates and other teams will have to push through.

But there are a handful of contenders who likely will secure playoff bids in the next few days, leaving them time to be much more specific in their preparation for the postseason.

For instance, you have the Orioles. After their comeback win against what appeared to be a completely exhausted Robertson on Sunday, Baltimore's magic number for clinching the AL East is down to three, and while manager Buck Showalter has spent recent days running away from any hypothetical suggestion that the Orioles might make the playoffs, you'd have to imagine a to-do list like the one below might be forming in his head:

1. Keep shortstop J.J. Hardy properly rested.

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Davis' mistake may cost him eight figures 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Chris DavisAP Photo/Gail BurtonChris Davis' OPS is down 300 points this season, and he now has a PED suspension on his record.
BALTIMORE -- This cannot be overstated: Chris Davis is a really nice person. Routinely gregarious, cheerful, helpful, self-deprecating. He is eminently likeable in the way that a wagging St. Bernard is, and that great demeanor is probably what will prevent at least some of his Baltimore Orioles teammates from absolutely blasting Davis publicly, and saying out loud what some of them really feel.

If you gave some of his teammates truth serum, some of them would tell you that his act of taking Adderall after having already tested positive once -- and getting a mulligan -- was at the very least absolutely inexplicable, and at worst, incredibly selfish. There is anger in the Orioles’ clubhouse about Davis’ 25-game suspension because he violated union rules that the players built and agreed to follow, but mostly because the Orioles have a chance to win the World Series, and now one of their few power hitters won’t be available for at least one round (and maybe two) of the postseason.

Sure, if the Orioles play deep into October and Davis becomes eligible to play and demonstrates he can help, they’d take the big lug back, because they need him and they like him. Plus, it’s not going to help anybody for his teammates to crush him with words, because the 28-year-old Davis already has done enormous damage to his career.

The timing of this suspension, occurring at the end of what has been an incredibly disappointing season, could not be worse and will cost him a lot of money beyond the $1.5 million or so lost while he is serving his penalty.

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Oakland's collapse could be worst ever 

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:32
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Geovany SotoAP Photo/Paul BeatyThere have been many collapses over the years, but baseball now offers the parachute of expanded wild-card play.
On the morning of Aug. 10, the Oakland Athletics not only had a 4-game lead over the Angels in the American League West, they also had the majors’ best record: 72-44, on a pace to win 96 games. They were regarded as the best team in baseball, with the most prolific offense (to that moment), a dominant bullpen and a rotation that had been bolstered by the addition of World Series hero Jon Lester.

Sure, the Angels had made up some ground in the standings, but Oakland was positioned to win the division for the third straight year. Making the playoffs? A foregone conclusion, given how well Oakland had played and the enormous gap in the standings between the Athletics and the teams that might be involved in the wild-card race -- Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle, for example. At the time

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Stanton's injury could cause MLB change 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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Giancarlo StantonAP Photo/Morry GashMarlins star Giancarlo Stanton is likely out for the season after being hit in the face by a pitch Thursday.
On this date in 1952, the Pittsburgh Pirates did something no other team had done before. From NationalPastime.com:

At Forbes Field, the Pirates become the first team to use protective head gear, a precursor to the batting helmet that protects the players' temples. Branch Rickey's innovation, worn both at the plate and in the field in the Bucs' twin bill split with Boston, is a plastic hat with a foam layer attached to the hat band.


On Sept. 9, 1979, Bob Montgomery -- the backup catcher for Boston’s Carlton Fisk -- took the final at-bat of his career, a moment notable because it was the last helmet-less at-bat by any hitter in a major league game.

When the rule requiring batters to use helmets was put in place eight years before, all the players who hit without them to that point were grandfathered into the regulation and allowed to continue to hit without the additional protection for the sake of their comfort.

The composition and shape of helmets has changed many times through the years, from something that was little more than a lined hat to the high-tech stuff we see now, when the composition of the helmets has been through military-style testing. All with regard for player safety.

There was no protection in place for Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, when he was hit directly in the face by a pitch thrown by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers; Stanton suffered dental damage and fractures.

Chase Headley
AP Photo/Kathy WillensChase Headley of the Yankees will miss a few games after being hit by a pitch Thursday.
A few minutes after Stanton was hit, Chase Headley was drilled in the chin; Headley is likely to miss a few days.

Stanton is expected to miss the rest of the season, and just as the Buster Posey injury of 2011 spurred a lot of conversation about home plate collisions and player safety, the injury to Stanton -- one of the game’s greatest stars -- will inevitably spur this question: In the name of player safety, can more be done to protect hitters?

The answer, without question, is yes.

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Could be a quiet offseason in New York 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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AldersonAP Photo/Mark HumphreyMets GM Sandy Alderson seems unlikely to up the team's payroll for the 2015 season.
As one small-market general manager said recently, Major League Baseball is at its strongest when the big-money teams are thriving and driving interest in the largest pools of potential customers. Parity is nice, and it's a good thing when fans in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Kansas City are reminded that winning is possible.

But MLB is better off in those times when Chicago's Cubs are threatening to break through, or when Los Angeles' Dodgers have a chance to be great. The business of the sport needs to be utilitarian at its heart: The most good for the most people.

Which brings us to the strange state of baseball in New York.

In one borough, the Yankees have been trying to win so much that they have spent themselves into a corner, and in another, the Mets don't seem to be prepared to do much of anything.

The other day, Mets GM Sandy Alderson appeared to be signaling to the fan base that the team's payroll -- which ranks in the lowest third of the majors -- is probably not going to grow for next season. This is what he said:
"… [I]mproving a team isn't always a function of just dollars spent," Alderson said Monday while visiting veterans at the VA Hospital in Manhattan, prior to the Mets' 3-2 win against the Rockies. "Most of the improvement that came from the Mets this year had little to do with the overall [spending] … so it doesn't equate. We'll have some flexibility. We'll be able to do some things. We just have to see what's there."

The truth is that the expectation within the organization is that the team's payroll will again be in the range of $82-85 million, with $36 million of that, of course, absorbed by the salaries of two players, David Wright and Curtis Granderson.

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MLB should act now on domestic violence 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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Rob ManfredAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoRob Manfred should see the NFL's failures as a call to action for MLB.
It’s as if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has fully mapped a minefield for MLB commissioner-elect Rob Manfred through trial and error, with pieces of Goodell’s reputation scattered all over as a result. As Manfred prepares to take over four and a half months from now and begin his own legacy, he can have a full understanding of how domestic violence -- once something not to be spoken of by previous generations, once expected to be a private matter -- is now regarded as intolerable by a society that has gained tolerance in so many other ways.

The high ground can be clearly seen and identified, and Manfred has an opportunity to do the right thing, in the way that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver did in the Donald Sterling case, and what Goodell did not do in the Ray Rice situation.

Manfred should go where other sports have not gone before, without fretting over the possible response of the players' association, and announce that Major League Baseball will have a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.

If you hit your spouse, Manfred should announce, if you physically abuse your children, you will not be employed by Major League Baseball or any of its 30 teams -- as a player, as a coach, as a manager, as someone working in the front office. If you hit your spouse or children, you will not own a baseball team.

Manfred is a smart person and he would know that the implementation of a no-tolerance policy against domestic violence would be subject to labor grievances, to lawsuits. But Silver faced the same complications as he considered discipline of Sterling, and decided that whatever the cost faced by the NBA would be worth it in the end. Because he now has rebranded his NBA, his leadership, as fully principled.
[+] EnlargeAdam Silver
Andy Marlin/USA TODAY SportsAdam Silver's quick action on Donald Sterling was lauded.

Manfred should do the same thing, because it's the right thing to do, but also because he knows by now that there will be a day, maybe today, maybe next month, maybe next year, when Major League Baseball will face the issue of domestic violence because of the actions of one of its own. Some player or club employee is going to have an incident, sadly. It's inevitable.

Something will happen, and a society that has reframed its view of domestic violence through the Ray Rice case will stare down Manfred and ask: What are you going to do now?

There is no reason for Manfred to wait for that time to respond. He has the chance to be progressive, to declare where baseball stands on this, just as Silver did with racial intolerance.

Major League Baseball was slow to react to the growing backlash to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but after the infamous congressional hearing of March 17, 2005, Bud Selig moved from playing defense to playing offense. He has pushed for tougher testing, toughened the policy. Now, he does not miss an opportunity to say that Major League Baseball has the toughest drug-testing policy in professional sports, a rendering vetted by drug-testing agencies. He has earned that right.

Manfred could do this right now on the question of domestic violence. Yes, there could be a day when a high-profile player valued by Major League Baseball would be lost to the sport because of a no-tolerance policy, and there’s no way to know for sure if an arbitrator would back a suspension and loss of salary. But Manfred cannot be wrong in doing the right thing on this issue. All he has to do to know that is to see how Goodell’s leadership is disintegrating, after he did the wrong thing.

Notables

• During two days of being around

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Suggested rule for repeat PED violators 

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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Melky Cabrera im Rogash/Getty ImagesMelky Cabrera, center, who will miss the remainder of the 2014 season, is headed for free agency.
DETROIT -- An injury has ended the season for a 10-year veteran, and a strong season it was: .301 batting average, .351 on-base percentage, 54 extra-base hits, 81 runs. He is 30 years old and a switch hitter, and he will have suitors.

But the extent of the market for Melky Cabrera, who suffered a finger injury Friday and will miss the last three weeks, may be largely defined by what has happened in the past rather than what he did in 2014.

Club executives speak privately of the guessing game they must play when a player has a history of using performance-enhancing drugs, and Cabrera, of course, was suspended in 2012 after testing positive while with the San Francisco Giants.

He managed to get a two-year, $16 million deal from the Blue Jays that offseason, and he'll probably do better than that this time around.

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The secret to Posey's hot streak 

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
9:50
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Buster PoseyLeon Halip/Getty ImageGiants backstop Buster Posey homered off David Price Saturday, his 20th of the 2014 season.
DETROIT -- Tilted back in his chair in the visitors clubhouse at Comerica Park on Saturday morning, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy started to explain Buster Posey's recent hot streak by talking about his history as a great hitter, about a swing that has always been simple and effective.

But in the midst of that, Bochy veered and focused on a tangible change that Posey has made. Bochy said he might’ve gotten too passive in his plate appearances earlier this season, perhaps getting himself in a hole in the ball-strike count.

As if to demonstrate the point, Posey came to the plate against David Price, a pitcher who issues few walks and fills the strike zone with fastballs, and Posey jumped on a first pitch for his 20th homer of the year, the fifth run in San Francisco’s 5-4 victory on Saturday.

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A.J. PierzynskiAP Photo/Elise AmendolaHitters aren't powerless, but hitting numbers have plunged across the game.

My favored theory about the decline in offense is drawn, to some degree, from what we’ve seen in recent years in the postseason, when scouting and specialized in-game decisions are routinely taken to the next level.

Night after night in last year's AL playoffs, the question of whether Max Scherzer or Anibal Sanchez or Justin Verlander or Sonny Gray or Jon Lester might throw a no-hitter seemed open-ended. Yes, the Detroit Tigers had a great rotation in the championship series against Boston, but remember, the Red Sox led the majors in runs scored with a deep lineup in 2013, and in that series against Detroit the Red Sox had 73 strikeouts in 193 at-bats, and hit .202.

Verlander had a great fastball last fall, Sanchez had a nasty changeup, and Scherzer painted. But that type of dominance isn't going to happen without detailed scouting, without pitchers and catchers and managers and coaches knowing how to use the information.

And more and more, the level of detailed information and implementation has climbed during the regular season. Hitters are under siege, because

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