The Blackhawks are playing surprisingly well (particularly with so many key players missing). The Bulls playoff odds are rising just as Zach LaVine became the 18th All-Star in franchise history. The White Sox are largely expected to win their division in 2021. The Cubs are coming off yet another division win, and frankly, have a perfectly fine chance of retaining that title despite all our handwringing. And even the Bears technically played postseason football last year.
There are a lot of other ways you could illustrate the status of those five teams, but if you choose to be optimistic about the current state of Chicago sports, it’s not particularly difficult. I just felt like saying so.
Here’s some baseball news from around the league …
Tyler Chatwood, Setup Man
Tyler Chatwood, now with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year, $3 million deal, will not be used as a starter this year, according to, well, him:
Righty Tyler Chatwood says current #BlueJays plan is for him to work as a late-inning leverage reliever. Is looking forward to the adjustment and expects his "stuff is going to play up."
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 23, 2021
For a brief moment at the beginning of the 2020 season, Chatwood looked like it was finally all clicking in the rotation. But then injuries and ineffectiveness (this time not particularly due to control or command) derailed his season and that was kinda that. But remember, Chatwood did have some success as a reliever for the Cubs in 2019 (54.0 IP): 3.67 ERA, 23.5% strikeout rate, 11.1% walk rate.
If he commits to that full-time, he can probably be effective. There’s never been any question about the quality of the stuff.
Mariners Pissing Off Their Own Prospects
The Mariners don’t need any more bad press at the moment, but that’s exactly what they got when top-5 prospect Jarred Kelenic and his agent decided to speak out about a perceived punishment for not signing a big league extension before he’s even hit Triple-A:
“It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,’’ said Brodie Scoffield, who represents Kelenic. “It was made crystal clear to Jarred — then and now — that his decision not to call him up is based on service time.
“There’s no question that if he signed that contract, he would have been in the big leagues.”
And that’s not just agent speak. Kelenic backed it up and doubled-down: “It wasn’t just communicated one time to me. It was told to me several times. That’s the God’s honest truth. It got old.” In other words, the Mariners told Kelenic he was big-league ready … if he signed an extension. Otherwise, not only was he not going to be up last year, he probably won’t be up until late April this year, when another year of team control is secured.
Given what we’ve learned about the Mariners executive mentality – their now-former president flat out said that there was no chance they were going to promote their top prospects last year no matter what – none of this should surprise you. (And we know service time games are a reality for most teams in baseball, including the Cubs.)
As Ian Happ has said, it’s probably good for the players that this stuff is coming out, fully, into the open. The way service time is controlled by teams, and directly impacts a player’s path to free agency, is something that needs to be addressed in the new CBA. The current CBA, which permits this kind of behavior, expires in December.
Nice Job, Royals
But hey, not every team operates the same way. If you need something to wash the bad taste out of your mouth, check out these comments from Royals GM Dayton Moore, who, to his credit, sure seemed to live by these words this offseason:
Royals GM Dayton Moore was asked today by @BillShaikin about putting a competitive team together in this time, amid baseball's current climate. Thought Dayton's response was fascinating. A lot of awareness: pic.twitter.com/i1BLhBVlaf
— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) February 24, 2021
Every Year is an Extension Year
This really should go without saying – and is certainly top-of-mind when executives try to use the presence of “walk years” as some sort of silver lining – but players are generally always trying really hard to be good.
If not for altruistic or competitive reasons, because money is *always* on the line:
Trevor Story has not talked to the Rockies about a contract extension, he said. "Yeah, it's a contract year," Story said, "but to me, every year is pretty much that way."
— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) February 23, 2021
The counter, of course, is that Marcus Semien’s *monster* 2019 season but down 2020 season did not help him get paid as much as he probably could have if those years were flipped. And psychology does play a role for certain players. You can’t just ignore the added benefits of working a little harder at the margins if there’s more incentive.
But Story’s comments make sense to me. They’re always trying to be good. An extension offer can come at any time.
Will one come for Story ahead of free agency in the big shortstop class? It remains to be seen. Would he sign it if it did, given all that happened with Nolan Arenado as soon as he signed? Also remains to be seen.
Royce Lewis Injury
Royce Lewis is the the 17th best prospect in MLB according to MLB Pipeline and the top prospect in the Twins organization. But unfortunately, he’ll miss the entire 2021 season due to a full tear of his right ACL. Without a normal Minor League season in 2020, this will make for a very long time without baseball.
There’s some murkiness on the initial source of the injury, but Lewis did slip on a patch of ice *in Texas* which made the issue worse. Awful. That is some seriously weird and bad luck.
The Dodgers’ payroll has taken a strange path over the past decade or so.
From 2013-2017, the team made roughly $150 million luxury payments, only to come under the competitive balance tax threshold from 2018-2020. But then, this offseason, when many other teams were practicing austerity, they soared past the luxury tax threshold. With Justin Turner and Trevor Bauer in the fold, the OC Register has the Dodgers payroll at something greater than $250 million, which will cost approximately $13 million in luxury tax payments (it would have been a LOT more had they been over in 2019 and 2020, like, say, the Cubs).
But president Andrew Friedman says there’s been no directive to shed payroll, even as he concedes that the team’s moves over the last three years (presumably referencing staying under the CBT) provided the very flexibility he was able to deploy to defend his title this year.
(This isn’t meant to be a direct shot at the Cubs – they did what they did, and added a lot of money to the books over the years. But pandemic or not, extensions or not, luxury tax or not … we are allowed to grade them on effectively managing whatever payroll they do have year-to-year and it’s not unfair to say that it could’ve been better.)
Odds and ends
• Joey Votto has always gotten my vote as one of the best pure hitters and offensive forces in MLB throughout his career. Obviously, we’ve gotten a closer look at him than most baseball fans over the years, but he always struck me as one of the toughest outs in the game. Over the past two years, Votto, now 37, has finally begun to come back down to earth (though still never becoming a below average offensive contributor) and he discusses his evolving approach with The Athletic.
• Interesting stuff (this kind of reminds me of Mike Trout’s many second-place finishes in the MVP races over the years) – the individual season-leader doesn’t always tell the full story. The briefly dominant run of Mario Soto:
Soto led the league in complete games in both 1983 and 1984, putting up 31 over those 2 years.
And in fact, Soto led the entire NL in complete games from 1981-1984, with 54 total. pic.twitter.com/huSJN44QId
— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) February 21, 2021
• Best Shape of His Life:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. says he lost more than 40 pounds in the offseasonhttps://t.co/tzUkG4lIXB
— CBS Sports MLB (@CBSSportsMLB) February 24, 2021
• In case you missed it, new Cubs broadcaster Boog Sciambi is right in the thick of niche Cubs culture:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 23, 2021