MLBits: Fergie Gets His Shot! Are Pitchers Ready for a Full Season? Fans at Spring Training, MiLB Realignment, More

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MLBits: Fergie Gets His Shot! Are Pitchers Ready for a Full Season? Fans at Spring Training, MiLB Realignment, More

Chicago Cubs

In his best season with the Chicago Cubs (1971), Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins earned 9.6 fWAR after throwing 325.0(!) innings of 2.77 ERA baseball. How someone manages to keep their ERA under 3.00 for 39 starts in the big leagues is beyond me – especially when that was practically routine for him – but man, that’s one impressive FanGraphs page.

Today, Fergie made Cubs fans even happier by not only going to get his vaccine (let’s keep this man humming!), but also sharing the experience and encouraging others to get after it when available:

Are Pitchers Ready? Are the Cubs?

MLB news has been moving quickly lately. For example, we now know that the extra-innings rule and seven-inning doubleheaders are both likely to return this year (still TBD on the DH). And we know that the season/Spring Training is expected to start on time and be a full 162 games.

But what we/the league/the players are less sure of is the impact a full 162 game season will have on players (namely, pitchers) who played in the shortest MLB season on record in 2020, if they pitched competitively at all. From Tom Verducci:

This year the danger in the air around them is particularly acute. All 30 teams face a great unknown: How do you transition pitchers from the shortest season in history to a full season? As an example, using Sixto Sánchez of Miami, how can you ask a 22-year-old pitcher who throws 98.5 mph and who threw only 47 innings last year to throw 180 innings this year? You don’t.

People around the league are tentatively expecting far more six-man rotations, pitching changes, and necessary depth – all of which might mitigate the clearly increased chances of injury, but won’t solve the problem all together (not to mention the effect it could have on pace-of-play). Teams with especially young pitching staffs are particularly worried, and I’d add that teams without decent depth should be as well.

Like, the Cubs.

The Cubs have two sure-fire starters in Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies. Then they have Alec Mills, who’s never made more than 11 big league starts in a season (and that season was 2020 …) and Adbert Alzolay, who’s made six big league starts TOTAL in his career. After that, the Cubs have no planned fifth starter, let alone 6-10 … and that’s the normal amount of arms you need for a regular season. The guys they do have are all young and have barely pitched at AA/AAA.

Needless to say, the Cubs need to add multiple starters still, and at LEAST one that’s like a sure-fire rotation member from Day 1.

Fans at Spring Training

According to a memo obtained by USA Today, fans may be allowed to buy spring training tickets soon, provided those tickets are sold in “small groups of pods” that are at least six feet apart from one another.

The league does not plan to mandate testing or proof of vaccination, or even temperature checks, electing instead for clubs to make their own policy (which … I don’t know). I think uniform policies are better, but I’m not a logistics type of man, myself.

And my reaction is sort of mixed. On the one hand, the vaccine has begun its rollout and by the time the regular season arrives, HOPEFULLY a useful portion of the public will have been vaccinated. And if fans can safely return to ballparks, that may be good for the general public, the players, the owners, and, perhaps most importantly, the employees of ballparks who’ve been out of work for so long. On the other hand, there’s an argument to be made that the virus is as wide-spread right now as it has ever been, so returning fans for spring training does feel a little rushed. Hopefully, it all goes smoothly.

The Next Minor League Step

120 minor league teams “invited” to be part of MLB’s new minor league system have officially received their “Professional Development Licenses,” which apparently means that they each have until February 10th to “decide whether to sign the PDLs and become part of MLB’s new minor league system, or decline and forge their own path.”

If a team does not accept the PDL, MLB could “invite” a different team instead. The general belief is that they’ll all accept (how could you not?), but you can see how much power MLB has snagged with respect to minor league operations in the wake of the pandemic (and shifts in the game before that, too).

Among the distinctions that stand out the most, note that these PDLs – which will replace the previous agreements between affiliates and big league clubs – will have ten year terms, up from what was historically just two to four-year affiliation agreements.

Some minor league operators have reportedly shown cautious approval of the many other changes (MLB insists it’ll be mutually beneficial), but most accept that the full breadth of the impact will not be known for a few years.

And, hey, it’s not like everything is running smoothly. The The Tri-City ValleyCats team, for example, has sued its former parent, the Houston Astros, and MLB, over their exclusion from the new group of 120 minor league teams. They’re seeking $15M and are clearly not happy with the path forged here by the commissioner:

“MLB’s intimidation tactics, which it used to pit MiLB teams against each other for the ‘privilege’ of not having their businesses destroyed, has gone on for years but was most vividly demonstrated by a May 2020 email in which Commissioner Rob Manfred emailed the ValleyCats’ owner condolences on the passing of his father, and then in the very same email, issued a veiled threat that any public statement made about MLB’s contraction efforts would be ‘unwise,’” the complaint said.

MLB disputes the reading of those correspondences (neither side provided them for the story). But it’s not as if MLB couldn’t have anticipated litigation when ending the affiliations of so many former minor league teams. This is the second such lawsuit we’ve heard about.

Odds and Ends:

•   What in the hell were they going for?

•   The Cubs current collection of young shortstop prospects reminds me of … the Cubs former collection of young shortstop prospects about 2-3 years before they won the World Series. And it’s likely that two of these guys (Cristian Hernandez and Ed Howard) will be among the Cubs top-5 prospects when re-rankings happen before the season, while 1-2 others could be candidates for the top-10 … and this isn’t even everyone!

•   And remember, accumulating shortstop prospects is wise, because good shortstops (1) are valuable and rare if they make it to the big leagues at the position, (2) often move to second or third or center as they grow up anyway, and (3) are among the most valuable trade chips (meaning you want to keep them at short for as long as possible anyway).

•   Cha-ching:

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami