Over the weekend, I was thinking about former Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, and his insanely productive 2005 season, during which he made the All-Star team, earned his second Gold Glove award, became a first-time Silver Slugger, and finished 3rd in the MVP voting.
And that led me to this great game against the Dodgers back on June 1st, 2005, when he was at the absolute height of his powers:
Derrek Lee was UNSTOPPABLE in 2005.
On June 1st, he went 5-5 against the Dodgers, with two line drives to LF, two line drives to RF, and his 17th home run.
His slash line by the end of the day?
.380/.467/.727 (200 wRC+) 🙀 pic.twitter.com/RY6PjcxNpq
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) May 9, 2020
By the end of that day, Lee had a 200 wRC+, which means he was effectively 100% better than the league average player at the time (I just really love saying that). Unfortunately, he’d go on to break his wrist the following season and never quite return to his former glory. Or so I remembered.
While it’s true that Lee got knocked down a peg in 2006 (112 wRC+), 2007 (132 wRC+), and 2008 (111 wRC+), I simply didn’t remember how awesome he was again in 2009 – probably because that was such an otherwise forgettable season. But in 148 games (his last full season in Chicago), Lee slashed .306/.393/.579 (150 wRC+), which was the 7th highest of any player that year – incidentally, just one spot behind Ben Zobrist (152 wRC+).
It was also good for the 32nd best overall offensive performance in Cubs history and the 6th best Cubs offensive season since the turn of the century. So I guess my point is … Lee *did* make it back to the top of the mountain after the heartbreaking injury in 2006. It just took him a few years to get there.
COVID-19, Anthony Rizzo, and Players at Greater Risk
Today, the league will discuss its plans for the 2020 season in a conference call with owners. Tomorrow, that plan will be presented to the players union. With any luck, both sides will keep the long-term health of the sport in mind and come to an agreement that puts baseball (safely) back in our lives as soon as possible.
NOTE: I’m not particularly optimistic about that – given the revenue-sharing proposal that came out earlier today – but perhaps still they can still work through it. Positive thoughts. Optimism. Hope. Etc.
But bringing baseball back *safely* isn’t a binary proposition. Even if we had sufficient testing capabilities, certain players with complicated medical histories are at a far greater risk if they do catch the virus. For example, David Dahl had his spleen removed in 2015; Scott Alexander, Adam Duvall, and Jordan Hicks have diabetes. Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia last season, and Kenley Jansen has undergone two heart procedures.
And then there’s the Cubs’ two cancer-survivors, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo was one of the players to address this issue with Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic, and while his individual case is strong, the issue remains alarming. “I’ve spoken to my doctors,” Rizzo said in April. “Obviously, this thing is unstoppable if it gets you the right way. But they said I’m cured and as strong as ever and that everything functions the right way. If I was to get it, they’re not overly concerned, like they would be with older people who have had conditions before.”
If the league eventually re-opens, players almost certainly *are* going to end up catching COVID-19, but they’re not all in a position to fight it off safely, as we might otherwise expect. This is very important to keep in mind, as the union likely demands as many safety guarantees as they possibly can out of any such deal.
Mocking the Five-Round Draft
Sadly, the 2020 MLB Draft will be only five rounds. Although nuance definitely abounds, the decision to shorten it *this much* still strikes me as an enormous mistake the league will eventually regret. In any case, the Cubs first pick in the 2020 draft comes at No. 16 overall. And given this front office’s history of success drafting hitters, I thought you might want to take a look at the CBS’s ranking of the top-25 position playing draft-eligible prospects.
Although, for what it’s worth, the latest mock draft projects a college pitcher – Auburn right hander Tanner Burns – to the Cubs with their first pick:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) May 11, 2020
The Cubs Had the Coolest Prospects
Don’t judge MLB.com for identifying the coolest player on every team in MLB … we all need content right now, and we’re doing the best we can.
In any case, I’m sure we all know that Javy Baez was chosen as the Cubs coolest player – and for good reason: “A strong argument that he is the coolest player in the game. If an alien came to Earth and you needed to explain to them why baseball is so fun, having them watch Báez play a game would be an excellent place to start.”
But I noticed something else interesting: The coolest player on the Mariners (Dan Vogelbach) and the Royals (Jorge Soler), according to MLB.com, were both brought up as Cubs prospects. And maybe the second coolest player on the Yankees (Gleyber Torres) and White Sox (Eloy Jimenez) were also Cubs prospects.
So, basically, the Cubs had the coolest prospects.
No WBC in 2021, No Olympics for Major Leaguers
The World Baseball classic took some time to get off the ground, but anyone that remembers the last one – in 2017 – knows it finally caught a stride with the introduction of the Cubs coolest player:
Sadly, due to COVID-19, there will not be a fifth WBC in 2021.
Source to ESPN Deportes: World Baseball Classic will not be played in 2021
— Enrique Rojas/ESPN (@Enrique_Rojas1) May 11, 2020
That is yet another frustrating blow to a sport who’s been taking hits in popularity each and every year. Hopefully, the WBC can get back on track soon enough. With the right players, we know how it can take off.
Relatedly, Bryce Harper thinks it’s “dumb” that Major leaguers can’t play in the Olympics, to which I agree:
The Olympics provided a huge international platform for the Dream Team in the 90s and took the NBA global. Baseball has been playing more overseas games in recent years, and the Tokyo Olympics would be an incredible international platform for MLB stars.
— joon lee (@joonlee) May 8, 2020
Harper Was “Hurt” by Nats Free Agent Offer
Given how much has happened between then and now, Bryce Harper’s free agent journey feels like ancient history, but a new wrinkle found its way to the spotlight here in May. According to Harper, he met with the team owners around Christmas 2018 and told his agent, Scott Boras, to “get a deal done” with the Nationals thereafter. But when the offer came in, well, I’ll let him explain it: “I got back an offer, man, and it hurt, Harper said. “So we kinda just turned the page.”
As you may recall, we eventually learned that Harper’s deal would’ve deferred money until 2072 – LITERALLY – which just seems so abundantly short-sighted. Clearly, Harper was willing to return to the Nationals, but if your first offer is so bad that even a player who wants to return is forced to turn the page, you missed the mark. I’m not saying something *had* to get done, but do actually insult him like that? Come on.
Harper also mentions a huge one-year offer from the Astros, a big push to sign him from the White Sox, and the Dodgers four-year deal with a huge AAV.
Playing Baseball in a Pandemic
Former Brewer Tyler Saladino is playing baseball in the KBO – one of only five Americans in that now active league – and he explains what it’s like to play baseball right now via MLB.com:
“You have the job to do, but honestly, it really hits me every time I get to go out there right now,” Saladino said. “It kind of stinks playing empty, quiet games. We’ve still got our cheerleading band banging the drums and they play stuff over the speakers, but the lack of fans does make it feel kind of weird. At the same time, knowing that everyone was back home getting to watch it — man, it’s hard to describe. It’s surreal.”
Given the success of The Last Dance, I imagine sports producers everywhere are scrambling for the next big documentary. We already heard of the Summer of ’98 documentary in the pipeline, but now there’s another one to put on your calendar:
Millions knew "Doc", few knew Roy.
Here’s a first look at Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story – Coming May 29th pic.twitter.com/GCbisfUJtS
— E60 (@E60) May 7, 2020