THE BIG HIT | Offseason Moves

Cody Bellinger signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers for 11.5 million dollars, avoiding arbitration, and setting a record for first year arbitration eligible players.

Mookie Betts signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox for 27 million dollars, avoiding arbitration, and setting a record for arbitration eligible players.

Kris Bryant signed a one-year deal with the Cubs for 18.6 million dollars, avoiding arbitration, and setting a record for arbitration eligible players named Kris Bryant.

And so on and so on…

Never before has bookkeeping been so sexy!

Alright, that’s not totally true, this isn’t Friday night sexy stuff. It’s more Sunday afternoon sweatpants and “honey, do you want to order a pizza?” sexy. But all of these moves (and more) just might set the stage for some real, old fashioned baseball trades. Whether Bryant, Betts, Lindor, and Arenado actually find themselves traded is still a mystery, but I, for one, am hoping we get one of those all-time classic deals. Talent for talent. A big name goes one way, and another goes the opposite direction. It’s… here comes a fancy word… fun. 

It’s why fantasy baseball became so popular. 

It’s why franchise modes on baseball games take so much of our lives. It’s why Theo Epstein became a general manager at twelve. The art of the deal and the tradition of trading humans around like assets is a part of baseball’s appeal to us fans. We love a good trade.

Unfortunately, baseball trades probably aren’t as romantic as we all dreamed about growing up. Gone are the deals made with handshakes fueled by bourbon, cigar smoke, and the desire to fund your next Broadway musical. In its place are high tech reports, player management teams, and investment banking-level financial concerns. Though, I’d like to think at least one cigar is smoked during these negotiations. 

But I remain hopeful that one blockbuster deal will go through. Lindor or Betts to the Dodgers sounds juicy, but the recent rumors of Nolan Arenado going to St. Louis seems oddly right. While the Dodgers seem unlikely to give up Gavin Lux. (Who could blame them?) The Cardinals have the payroll flexibility and names they’re willing to part with to make it happen. Perhaps Dakota Hudson or recently acquired prospect Matt Liberatore? Maybe both? Plus, Arenado is also pals with Paul Goldschmidt and who doesn’t like playing sports with friends?!?! All signs point to a big deal. 

Of course, big deals always have those inherent big risks… and is that the other side of our obsession with trades? Is it like rooting for car crashes at race? While I don’t actively dream about teams getting hosed in deals, I do enjoy looking back through the benefit of hindsight and history at those deals that looked great at the time… but turned out oh so bad. 

Orioles fans just clinched up.

Yeah, last week was the anniversary of perhaps one of the worst trades in history. On January 10th of each year, Orioles fans gather at Boog’s Barbeque and cry into their meat.

Pity poor Glenn Davis. 

The guy was absolutely one of the National League’s best sluggers during the late eighties. While pulling his baseball card out of a wax pack wouldn’t wow you and your friends, Davis earned his spot in the conversation of best first basemen. (Quick: Great 85 – 90 first sackers: Mattingly, Clark, McGwire, Grace, and… and… Alvin Davis?) Between 1985 and 1990, he had three thirty plus home run seasons back when that would get you on the Sportscenter highlights as opposed to being a back-up infielder like now. He also had two seasons of OPS+ over 140. Davis was 29, arbitration eligible, and the Astros needed to move him. Sound familiar? 

The Orioles felt they had something brewing and the idea of getting Davis to complement Ripken (The Ironman one, not the F**k Face bat one.) and up and comers like Leo Gomez, Chris Hoiles, and Big Sam Horn was too tantalizing to pass up. So, they did what a lot of teams might be doing over this next month — packaged up some kids and shipped them out for a proven star. Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, and Pete Harnisch found themselves on the way to Houston. Davis grabbed his mustache trimmer and went to Camden Yards. 

Oops.

Davis got hurt in spring training, the Orioles finished 67-95, and Davis was out of baseball after the 1993 season. Schilling might one day get into the Hall of Fame if they keep the doors locked when he drives by, Finley helped two teams get to the World Series, and Pete Harnisch won 111 ball games in a solid career. (Though, not for nothing, but the Astros didn’t know what they had either — shipping Schilling and Finley out of the Astrodome sooner than later as well.) That’s how it goes when you play the Trade Game. 

So, will anyone pull the trigger this week or soon after? 

I hope so. 

But only time will tell if it was all worth it… 

Larry Walker, Hall of Famer?

If you poke around Baseball Twitter long enough each day, you’ll eventually run into a Larry Walker For The Hall of Fame Thread. Walker is in his last year of eligibility and there is a great push from fans to get him elected into those hallowed halls of fame. And good for those fans — because Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer. 

But first — can we just sit here in amazement that Walker has already been retired for 15 seasons. He was just a rookie with the Expos, like, two months ago. Next you’re going to tell me I’m in my forties. Ha Ha Ha — oh no.

That Walker has struggled to get into the Hall of Fame since first appearing on the ballot in 2011 is perplexing. But since falling to his lowest vote percentage of 10.2 in 2014, the former Expo, Rockie, and Cardinal has seen his vote totals rise each season. Last year he notched a 54.9 percent. The door seems to be opening just a little. Derek Jeter is a sure thing for 2020, but beyond that there are some other players on the bubble or players that are being frozen out. Walker could do it… and he should.

His numbers are there. Yeah, yeah… he played in Colorado in the late 1990s, but contrary to popular belief not every game was played with a batting tee. We’re not talking Vinny Castilla or Ellis Burks here. (Though, Burks was always one of my personal favorites and had a great career.) Larry Walker was a classic five tool player and I’m not sure if the Denver air helped him catch the ball better or swipe second faster. He was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, three-time batting champion, and his 1997 MVP season was video game cover worthy. (And, yeah, All-Star Baseball 1999 with Walker on the cover remains one of my favorite games to this day and I know I’m not alone.) Walker was one of the most dominant stars of his era and he had a long run. This wasn’t five seasons and a slow drift into the sunset. 

Walker’s first big year was 1992 when at 25 he hit 23 home runs, drove in 93, and finished 5th in the National League MVP voting. He would then register ten more seasons at the top of his game and that includes batting .309 with 51 RBI in an injury shortened 2000 season. His age 35 season of 2002 saw him drive in 104 with an OPS of 1.023. Even when finishing out his career in St. Louis he was a threat at the plate and made a fan in Tony La Russa.

Stats are going to get you in. They should. That’s why we track them, no matter the era, and on that alone Walker should be in. Yet beyond that, Walker just has the feel of a Hall of Fame player from his era. It’s just a gut thing. He was one of the best of that time. That he played a lot of games in Colorado should not be held against him. That he played in an era that has a cloud of suspicion over it should not be held against him. (He was never considered to be one of “those” players by the way.) What should be considered is that for most of the 1990s and a good portion of the 2000s, players, coaches, and managers alike spent a lot of time trying to make sure Larry Walker didn’t beat them at the plate or in the field and more often than not… they failed. 

Here’s hoping Larry Walker becomes the first Colorado Rockie to enter the Hall of Fame. 

This week in baseball history…

… the games continued when on January 15th, 1942, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his unofficial blessing for Major League Baseball to remain operational during the second World War with what is now called the Green Light Letter. Though, he could not make the final call, FDR left that up to the owners, the President offered support for the idea of the games continuing as it would provide invaluable recreation for the citizens of a country now diving headfirst into the conflict. Baseball had truly become the nation’s pastime and it was needed now more than ever. 

That wasn’t always the case, though, and it was a fair question asked of the President. Just a day prior, baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis had sent a handwritten letter to the President asking if the games should go on, writing “time is approaching when, in ordinary circumstances, our teams would heading for spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether baseball should continue to operate.” The cantankerous Landis (that’s me being nice) had no guarantee that the President would give his blessing because the last time around, baseball was considered nonessential. Literally. 

As World War I raged on and eventually pulled in the United States, Major League Baseball carried on. The 1917 season was played as normal… and that did not sit well with the leaders of the nation or the very nation itself. “Work or fight”was the saying of the time and baseball was not exactly considered work. Though some players were drafted and many enlisted, nothing much else was done outside of some donations of money and baseball gear for the soldiers. The game came under fire for not doing more for the war effort and, in something that is often not talked about in baseball history classes, the 1918 season was brought to an early close on Sept 2nd. (Though, the government begrudgingly allowed for the World Series to take place and the Red Sox won their last title until the Curse was reversed.) Baseball tried then to assert itself as a key ingredient in the normal enjoyment of American life, but no one was having it. So, with that in mind, you could almost feel the owner’s collective trepidation about rolling on into the 1942 season as it all was normal. 

Yet baseball had grown by then. Yes, it was considered the National Pastime really early on its history, (no one even gave flagpole sitting a shot!) but by 1942 it had taken on a new place of importance. From Babe Ruth becoming the Sultan of Swat to Dimaggio and Williams inspiring kids everywhere, the characters the game presented where now real-life myths. The nation did need this simple game to keep them going. It’s how a normal human being at the time could possibly cope with the horrors around them. “Nazis are trying to take over the world?” a steel worker would think as they grabbed a local paper. “Uh. How’d them Dodgers do last night?” Baseball needed to keep going.

Of course, the game did contribute more to the war effort beyond just playing games — including more night games as FDR suggested to help people working late shifts still get a chance to go catch a game — as many of those mythical stars stepped out of the game and into the military. This was always part of the plan, though. FDR’s Green Light Letter strongly suggested that players of military age should go “without question” into the service. So, many did, and the league saw many people that would not normally have played get time between the lines. But the President assured them that game’s popularity would not suffer. (This despite many fans expressing worry about night games being easy target for enemy bombers.) The game endured. 

It is a bit surreal to read all of this now, particularly in light of real-world events, and think back to a time when it was just expected of you to join up no matter your station in life. This is not meant to be a comment on current players, celebrities, or the culture itself. Life changes. Times as well. Yet this week in baseball history is a good reminder of both the importance of the game and its place in the very fabric of our function society as well as the fleeting nature of it all when placed up against the greater needs of humanity. 

Here’s a salute to those that choose to fight. 

Walk Off Quote

“If I didn’t have to hobble up those steps in front of all those people, I’d be out at that ballpark every day.”- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States and baseball fan.

***

Ken Napzok lost an arbitration hearing to himself, but is the author of Why We Love Star Wars and host of The Napzok Files podcast feed. 

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