I accidentally dried my eyeball with my towel this morning, so my day is off to a great start.
• We’ll start with something that’s just great – Jake Arrieta, who most recently worked with J.T. Realmuto, sending out the love for Willson Contreras:
Jake Arrieta on @WContreras40 being a top catcher in MLB.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 22, 2021
• We’ve seen Contreras’s development over the past few years, and so it’s not at all hard to believe that Arrieta is going to get an up-close look at that improvement since he last paired up with Contreras. And from where I sit, if Contreras’s in-game management (and framing) are now where we think they are? Arrieta’s probably right that Contreras is right there among the best overall catchers in the game, together with Realmuto (and I’d probably add Yasmani Grandal for now).
• Looks like we can eliminate one reliever from the crowded Opening Day bullpen competition already:
LHP Adam Morgan, who had elbow flexor tendon surgery in early Oct., isn't in Cubs camp yet and will be behind the other pitchers. The former Phillie is on a non-roster deal with a camp invite.
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) February 23, 2021
• Whether the timeline was already known to the Cubs or not, there are just so many arms in camp – and so much need for arms throughout the year – that the Cubs probably aren’t beefing too hard about the idea that Morgan might not be able to debut until some number of weeks into the season (if that’s how things play out).
• Former Mariners president Kevin Mather spoke publicly about service time manipulation (i.e., holding prospects down in the minors not because their talent and development requires it, but specifically in order to gain more team control under the current CBA (or to pay less in arbitration)), and it wound up costing him his job. Given the reactions we’ve seen from the players around the league, it’s not a surprise that Mather got bounced – because he gave the players all kinds of ammo for the CBA negotiations. Consider the reaction of Cubs players association rep Ian Happ (NBC):
“I think this is something that players have known for a long time has been happening in different places, at different times,” Happ said in a Zoom press conference Tuesday. “Not just with the service time manipulation, but with the way free agency is viewed, and with just a number of the issues that were talked about. It’s not something that players are unaware of. And I’m glad that fans and more people are able to hear that and process it because as a fan of the game, you don’t want to think of your favorite players being viewed that way ….
“I think that it’s a good thing that the fans can see some of the underbelly of the game and some of the issues that we have, especially leading into the end of this year and into a bargaining cycle,” Happ said. “It’s unfortunate that that is how a number of people think on the other side and in and around baseball. I don’t think that that’s an isolated incident, and I think that it’s very important that people understand that. I hope that both sides can work together to improve that because the system allows for it.”
• This is great news for Brennen Davis’s development opportunities this year:
Brennen joining MLB camp certainly raises possibility he could start in AAA Iowa in April, which will be the only minor league level playing competitive games, though I still anticipate he waits for Double-A, and this is just an opportunity for 5 weeks of big lg instruction.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) February 24, 2021
• In a normal year, you might see a top prospect like Davis able to participate in big league camp in a way more ad hoc, swinging in and out kind of way. But this year, because there is a 75-player limit on big league Spring Training, there had to be actual room for Davis – or other prospects – to come and participate alongside the 40-man roster guys and the non-roster invitees who are competing for a job on the big league roster.
• As for Bryan’s point about AAA/AA, remember that AAA is starting a month earlier than AA, so if you’re a minor leaguer looking for game action in April, AAA is going to be the only way. That said, there are still plenty of developmental opportunities at minor league spring training, so it’s not as if there’s some “cost” to keeping a very young, very-limited-pro-experience prospect like Davis in Arizona until the AA season kicks off. Heck, the guy hasn’t even played at High-A! We’re already assuming he skips that level after his time at the alt site last year.
• Speaking of which, it’s just so nice to be thinking about minor league baseball actually having a season again:
• Galaxy phones, sleepwear, therapy products, vacuum sealers, and more are your Deals of the Day at Amazon. #ad
• A fun spelling bee:
• I would brag that I would get them all right, but it’s because I have had to type those names dozens and dozens of times. Well, maybe not Mark Grudzielanek, as his time with the Cubs preceded BN by about five years, but who can’t hear in their head Harry Caray trying to spell ‘Grudzielanek’ backwards on the air?
• Oh wow that’s crazy:
"Harrison Bader Wants a Gold Glove More Than a World Series" https://t.co/jrU3culOrL
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 23, 2021
• Dig that Cubs players do this kind of thing:
Cubs’ @DavidBote13 showed his support & gratitude for our frontline heroes by chatting virtually with our Respiratory Therapy Team at Advocate Condell Medical Center this evening. Watch as David gives heartfelt advice on how to stay strong when things get tough. #CubTogether pic.twitter.com/dbQUJtj4HJ
— Advocate Health Care (@advocatehealth) February 23, 2021
• The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a step closer to emergency use approval after the FDA staff endorsed it today. The next step comes Friday, when full approval is tentatively expected. An analysis this week of the trio of relevant vaccine manufacturers, together with updated projections from Johnson & Johnson, indicates there will be enough doses produced to cover all adult Americans (about 300 million) by June:
• Since we know that, unfortunately, not all adults who are able to receive the vaccine will ultimately choose to do so, you can see why “open season” for young and healthy adults might arrive some time in late April or May. The actual logistics and deliveries and scheduling and all that remains an open question, but the impact for baseball here is that we could see the vaccine made available to players and personnel at some point in April without any meaningful “line-jumping.” And attendance capacities in certain areas of the country could plausibly expand rapidly in the summer.
• I’ll just say some more, since we’re on the topic, and it’s relevant to sports participation and attendance, among other things. This is just my perspective, but it’ll inform the way I cover baseball this year and the return of fans to the stands: I am increasingly of the mind that once we pass the point where (1) everyone who is eligible to receive a vaccine has had a chance to get it, and (2) hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are sufficiently low as to not threaten capacities, then we should probably drop the artificial restrictions on the things we can do. There has to be a line somewhere eventually, and that feels like the right balance to me based on everything I’ve read, and just my own personal sense of what I want life to look like for my kids (and myself!). NOTE: That position is subject to change if we suddenly learn that the vaccine actually does not prevent virtually all serious illness (so far, they do), or that it does not prevent a significant percentage of transmission (so far, data indicates they do), or that it actually does harm children at a much higher rate than seen so far. But if those three data points hold, and if hospitalizations remain low (comparable to other illnesses), I don’t really see any reason to extend artificial restrictions beyond the date on which everyone who wanted a vaccine had the opportunity to get it.