Mondays are tough enough without a Cubs game and without knowing what’s going on around baseball. So let’s start the week off with an MLBits …
- This past offseason was jam-packed with free agent stars, both young and old, and a ton of variety. There were great pitchers, strong hitters, gold glove defensive players and everything in between. Of course, that’s what led to a $2.5 billion spending spree across all of baseball. But the upcoming class, on the other hand, is looking exceedingly weak. As of a week ago, it was at least headlined by a young, legitimate ace in Stephen Strasburg, but after the Nationals locked him up through 2023, the class is now headlined by Yoenis Cespedes and trails off very quickly after that. Jeff Passan previews what could be the worst baseball free agent class in decades here at Yahoo Sports, and I’m once again relieved that the Cubs were so aggressive over the past two winters.
- Did you catch the big fight this weekend? No, you didn’t miss any pay per view MMA or Boxing matches, I’m talking about the, perhaps inevitable, matchup between the Rangers (Rougned Odor) and the Blue Jays (Jose Bautista). Brett got into it a bit here and here, but you can read about the many angles to the fight all over today (here, here, here, here and here, for some of the most interesting examples). The boiled down version is that Odor took offense at Bautista’s pretty late slide into second base (which came after Bautista was plunked), prompting the typical “let’s size each other up” event that’s relatively common in sports. Except this time, Odor cocked his arm back and unleashed a devastating blow to Bautista’s chin. The benches cleared and a pretty long fight ensued.
- Later, the Blue Jays responded in the bottom half of the inning by plunking Prince Fielder in what was probably one of the most obvious retaliation pitches in recent memory (Read mine and John Baker’s thoughts on retaliation from last summer). It’s hard to discern just how much of this brawl and ensuing retaliation was due to Bautista’s now-infamous bat flip in the 2015 ALDS, but if it that were the case that would be pretty lame. There’s plenty of interesting takes on this, so read up and let me know what you think. (My favorite part was Adrian Beltre’s ability to calmly and successfully restrain Bautista throughout the entire scrum. Dude commands a good bit of respect, eh?)
- Like me, you’ll probably be extremely happy to learn that Starlin Castro is thriving with his new team in New York. Before Sunday’s game, Castro rode an eight-game hitting streak (the longest for the Yankees this season) and was called the team’s most consistent hitter by manager Joe Girardi. The fans have reportedly taken to him quite well, too, and he’s felt right at home. Although he says he misses Anthony Rizzo, I can’t tell you how happy I was to read this article at the Chicago Tribune. Castro had long been my favorite Cub before being traded, and I’m glad to see him happy and doing well. Good for him.
- In a nice long form piece, Andy McCullough recounts the inner turmoil that led to pitcher Dan Haren’s retirement from baseball (after finishing last season with the Chicago Cubs). Haren had long been one of the better pitchers in baseball, but his career (and velocity) trended downwards, like they tend to, especially in his latter years, though he was much younger than most when it started to happen. But still, it’s interesting to see how hard he was on himself and how much better he wanted to be. The line that stuck with me the most was “I was always on the verge of wanting to retire, because I never wanted to get released, just for the embarrassment of it.” Haren is a pretty fun/funny follow on twitter (@ithrow88) and I hope he gets to continue being a part of this game in whatever capacity that may be, if he wants it.
- With the Theo Epstein contract extension negotiations going on in the background, the Washington Nationals just extended GM Mike Rizzo through 2018. The terms of the contract have not yet been disclosed, but they might not impact Epstein’s deal all that much. Epstein is already set to become the highest paid executive in all of baseball, and that mark was set a couple years ago by the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman. Rizzo won’t raise that bar, so this is mostly just interesting, NL relevant news.
- Human nature suggests that players might perform better and be more focused at the most pivotal moments/late in ballgames, but is that actually the case? Speaking with a number of players, managers, and coaches, David Laurila tries to see what those involved in the game think of that here at FanGraphs. For the most part, players answered the same “Every at bat matters … but the high leverage ones make it a bit easier to really bring it.” Former Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan agrees, but adds that “being able to stay focused is an ability. It’s a gift that the great players have.” We don’t always consider all of the intangibles that the “great players” bring to the game, but if we did, focus would be chief among them.
- Mallex Smith is an exciting young player for the Braves, but now he’s mostly on my radar for dancing.
- Lastly, Joey Votto played a little prank on the fans in Philadelphia and it made me relive something terrible from my childhood:
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) May 16, 2016