Hey this is cool: Today’s Cubs spring training game will be called by Pat Hughes … on TV!
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 12, 2021
I’ve always been a big fan of Hughes (who isn’t?), but I just don’t catch enough games on the radio. This will be a nice compromise.
Now let’s get to some news from the rest of the league …
Lindor Extension Talks Will Begin Soon
For all the reasons Brett laid out in his post, I wasn’t particularly worried to learn that the Cubs haven’t yet had any extension discussions with Kris Bryant this spring, despite it being the right time of the year for those sort of talks. But I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned that talks with him – or also Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez – wouldn’t begin at all. Like, what’s the hold up, right?
Well, fret not. If we can draw any parallels across teams (and I believe we can) then the latest news out of New York should have you feeling better. According to Jon Heyman and Robert Murray, the Mets aren’t beginning (haven’t begun?) their extension discussions with Francisco Lindor until this week. And considering how certain the industry always was that those conversations were always going to happen, I don’t think any perceived delay in Chicago is a concern.
Murray has some guesses at the cost and length of a Lindor extension, including comments from some anonymous agents, buuuuut I think they’re all probably too high. I *love* Lindor, but mentioning the deal Fernando Tatis Jr., 22, signed before saying “Lindor is worth more” when trying to compare the “free agent years” portion of the deal just doesn’t really track. There’s no doubt Lindor is due for a *monster* deal, especially if he forgoes free agency at the end of the year to sign on right now, but he’s not a $40 million/year player.
If I had to guess, I’d say the deal Mookie Betts got from the Dodgers (12 years, $365M but with a present day value of ~$307M due to the deferrals) is the absolute max. All things considered, I bet Lindor’s camp is just hoping to get to that $300M threshold (isn’t it crazy how quickly the $200M threshold became the $300M threshold? You can thank Manny Machado and Bryce Harper for that).
And although Javier Báez isn’t Francisco Lindor, the deal Lindor signs could inform Báez’s ask. With all love, Báez isn’t going to come anywhere close to Lindor’s deal, but if the Mets truly go nuts, the floor will likely be raised for all the shortstops in next year’s loaded class.
Rule Changes and MLB Impact
In case you missed the HUGE news yesterday, big rule changes are coming to minor league baseball this season, including limiting the shift, a pitch clock, bigger bases, pick-off limits, and a lot more. Guided in no small part by Theo Epstein, the goal of the changes are to create a product with more game action, more balls in play, better pace, fewer pitching changes, and less swing-and-miss. Not all of these rules will reach the majors, but make no mistake, the goal here is to see how they play so that they can later be considered for MLB.
And, in fact, the timing and rollout may have been very strategic, as Jayson Stark surmises: “So for any of this to happen, the players’ union will have to sign off on it. And that’s the way this is supposed to work, the way this has to work. But by trying these things out now, the union will be able to ask actual players what they thought. That’s a vital ingredient in this process.”
The current CBA is set to expire at the end of the year, so by implementing these rules in MiLB now, the league can solicit the input of the players whose union’s sign off they need to effectuate these changes at the big league level a year later. That’s both strategically sound (give players more control, and the process will be easier) and also the right thing to do.
You’ll also be heartened to learn that the league looped in “innovative analytics minds within the best and brightest front offices” to participate and create these specific rules.
For more on each rule, including the expected outcome, what it means, and some hidden wrinkles, check out Jayson Stark’s latest at The Athletic.
Jordan Hicks Good to Go
Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks – he of the 100+ MPH fastball – has not appeared in a game since June of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. But he’s making his return this season and has already taken a huge first step back with an impressive performance in a B-game earlier this week. And, yes, the velocity was already all the way back.
Hicks, 24, hasn’t yet reached the sort of results he likely will in a full, healthy season, but that’s no reason to downplay his return. He could be a huge boost for the Cardinals this year, in a division where every marginal win is going to be hugely important. If he recovers well from his B-game, he should get into Grapefruit League action within the week.
“He wanted to give his fastball a chance to see where he is,” says Maddux.
Hitters only saw it zip by.
Hicks opening statement to reclaim the closer role — by opening day? https://t.co/Y1DXr9MYow
— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) March 11, 2021
Renewals for Young Stars
When you are a pre-arbitration (a “0-3” player), your team is not obligated to give you a raise beyond the Major League minimum salary. Some teams, however, do offer one-year contracts to their players with relatively smaller raises depending on much they feel you’ve earned it. And this is generally a good thing – the Cubs made Kris Bryant one of the highest paid pre-arb players ever, for example. But some players decide not to accept a token raise and instead elect to force the team to “renew” their contract, potentially on a smaller salary, as a way to exercise their very limited rights. In reality it may not accomplish much, but it sends a message, and I’m sure it’s a matter of maintaining or exercising as much control/leverage/future negotiating power as possible.
Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil both chose to be renewed instead of accept a one-year deal (likely for a slightly higher rate) and discuss the decision here:
Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, two pre-arbitration players with basically zero rights in terms of compensation, explain why they chose to have the Mets renew their salaries instead of agreeing to terms: pic.twitter.com/w5AohEMeyk
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 12, 2021
Odds and Ends
• Nick Markakis has announced his retirement from MLB: “I just think it’s my time,” Markakis said. “My No. 1 decision and my main focus on this is obviously my kids and my family. I’ve been fortunate enough to do this for a very long time and not many people get to do what I’ve gone through. I’m thankful for every second and every minute.” The 37-year-old outfielder was an All-Star (2018), a Silver Slugger (2018), and a 3x Gold Glove award winner (2011, 2014, and 2018). He also made roughly $120M throughout his 15-year-career. So, yeah, he done did good.
• Zack Greinke has always been one of the best pitchers in baseball … and one of the most unique guys out there. So The Athletic called up 15 catchers from throughout his big league career to get some of their best stories and they are really, really funny. Greinke is a weird dude, but he’s the right kind of weird. That’s a fun read. Example story:
Tony Arnerich, Class-A Wilmington: In spring training, we were both staying at the hotel. I was facing him and I got to a 1-2 count and fouled off like three pitches. And then he just smokes me in the elbow with a fastball. That night, we were back at the hotel and we’re in the hot tub. My elbow is kind of barking and I’m like, “Greink, man, you know where you’re throwing the ball. What’s up, man? Did you hit me on purpose?” And he was like, “Well, I only had so many pitches, I didn’t want to waste them all on you. I wanted to face other hitters so I had to get you out of there.” I was like, “Oh my god.” His brutal honesty was so great.
• It just doesn’t look like this on TV/from the outfield camera view. This is NUTS (and see if you can tell the breaking pitches at this angle):
This is what 99 MPH looks like coming in … yo.
Yeah, I wouldn’t touch that. pic.twitter.com/b9sAFglo23
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) March 12, 2021
• Think about how crazy 750 PAs is. That’s *so many* plate appearances. And although his 82 wRC+ was just meh, he did steal 58 bases and scored 87 runs:
Juan Pierre took 750(!) plate appearances for the #Cubs in the 2006 season, 10th most PAs in a single season since 2000!
He slashed .292/.330/.388 (82 wRC+), but the defense was highly rated and he played all 162 games, so he was a 3.1 WAR player.
Just a fun, random fact.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) March 11, 2021