Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Tuesday, Dec. 12.
Baseball’s winter meetings are in full swing. I went to a couple of minor league winter meetings in 1990 and 1991 and it’s not any casual deal. When I was there, hundreds of men and women dressed to the nines were hunting for the handful of available jobs. At the big league level the winter meetings are where chicanery meets skullduggery halfway. I’d rather have the rocking chair where I can write about the dealing, underhanded or otherwise happening in Orlando, a lovely city in my favorite state in the union.
Two major deals have gone down since the meetings began. For starters the Angels have won the long and sickening courtship of Shohei Ohtani. At 23 he’s the youngest Japanese player to reach the majors and that’s a positive thing if nothing else. Other players had to be older or they weren’t allowed to leave Japan. After tolerating several years of Masahiro Tanaka’s inconsistency in New York, and watching Yu Darvish cost his team the World Series with two abysmal performances in the games for which the Dodgers acquired him, I would think more than twice before making a major investment in a Japanese import. Tanaka has caused his team more long-term problems. He tore a ligament in his elbow in his first year of employment and, rather than facing surgery he has played through it. At times he’s been outstanding, at other times brutal. His nadir was on the Sunday night when Derek Jeter’s number was retired. Why the rotation wasn’t reworked so he wouldn’t pitch in that high-profile game we’ll never know. He gave up 8 runs in less than 2 innings. Admittedly, his second half of 2017 featured some of his best work, and at least as of now he hasn’t opted out of his contract which I certainly thought he would do. So as of this moment he’s still part of the Yankees’ staff.
Ohtani who is now with the Angels pitches righty and hits lefty. In his homeland he had a 42–15 pitching mark and hit .286. Whether he can do both, hitting and pitching at the much higher level expected in the majors is the great unknown. He’s been playing in the Japanese league since 2013. He played for the Nippon-Ham Fighters, a team that employed Goose Gossage a few decades back. Over there the team name is directly linked to a company rather than the city where they play. If companies tried that over here, you might see the Oscar Mayer Wieners playing the Michelob Ultras. MLB teams pulled out all the stops to try and acquire him because he threw a pitch that went 102.5 MPH which even Aroldis Chapman hasn’t done. I would take that 102.5 reading with a grain or two of salt because Ohtani is coming off surgery on his right ankle. Grant Hill could tell the Angels a thing or two about how tricky ankle surgery can be and how difficult a comeback can be on troublesome ankles. He lost most of 4 years to ankle problems and was still tormented by them after his comeback. Bill Buckner was playing the 1986 World Series on hurting ankles and Boston fans know how that worked out. Angels’ general manager Billy Eppler may find he’s on the hot seat and may hear those dreaded words “Artie (owner Arturo Moreno) wants to see you in his office.” Angels’ fans and executives alike have to hope Ohtani isn’t another Mo Vaughn, who was a treasure in Boston but got hurt his first night with the Angels and was never the same player.
The Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton is another puzzler to me. While in a dreamworld he and Aaron Judge could each hit 60 or more home runs in any given season, the reality is Stanton is another injury-prone outfielder and the Yankees already have two of those-Jacoby Ellsbury and an aging Brett Gardner. The word is the Yankees want to get rid of one albatross or the other but nobody wants them. Stanton, who turned 28 in November is younger than either of those but injuries have hampered him in the past. 2017 was his first injury-free season in several years. Yankee Stadium will seem like Heaven to Stanton for two major reasons. To start with it’s more hitter-friendly than the Marlins’ home park. Second, it’s usually at least 3/4 full of fans if not full to capacity. Too many of Stanton’s best feats of daring-do were done before small gatherings in Miami. A walk-off home run when the home team is two runs down in extra innings should gain Stanton wild cheers from an ecstatic crowd rather than polite applause from a handful of fanatics scattered about a large stadium.
His injuries are no joke. In 2011 it was his legs and eyes giving him trouble. In 2012 he needed knee surgery around the time of the All-Star game and missed the event along with a month of the season. He spent 6 weeks on the shelf in 2013 with a hamstring injury. He lost most of September 2014 after the Brewers’ Mike Fiers hit him in the face with a pitch. He suffered multiple facial fractures, cuts and damage to his teeth. He broke his wrist in June 2015, ending his season instantly. He only hit .240 in 2016 though he only missed 43 games. By any measure 2017 was his best year ever, earning the MVP award he got. He hit an insane 23 bombs in 35 games, a concept that makes Yankee fans’ hearts race. When the dust had settled he had hit 59 home runs.
While Yankee fans hope Stanton and Judge can bludgeon their enemies, reality says the Yankees need pitching, a third baseman and now a second baseman. Stanton couldn’t be acquired without giving up at least one major leaguer and Starlen Castro’s number came up. The other two names in the trade are buried in the low minors. Jorge Guzman is 21 and hasn’t gotten beyond Staten Island in short-season A-ball. The Yankees got him from Houston when they sent catcher Brian McCann to the Astros. The other player, shortstop Jose Devers is just 18. Castro has anchored the keystone sack for the Yankees for the last two seasons. He’ll be 28 in March, and is Dominican, unlike the Bearded Satan, as Cubans in Miami call Fidel Castro. He has hit over .280 and put up nearly 1300 hits since 2010 when he made his debut with the Cubs. Like Stanton, he’s a 4-time All-Star.
Marlins’ fans, what few are left are appalled by the Stanton deal, and if they noticed it they can’t like the fact that Dee Gordon went to Seattle for 3 nonentities. They thought they were getting the best in Derek Jeter, but apparently his greatness on the field doesn’t translate in the front office. Anybody in Florida know the name Michael Jordan? For myself I wouldn’t want to be a general manager for any of the teams I have mentioned-Angels, Yankees or Marlins. You just don’t know what you have until the games begin in late March.