MLBits: Eliminating the Opener, Rojas Extension, Predictable Gold Glove Nominees, A’s Stadium Progress, More

Did you ever hear that joke about the fly ball? Ah, forget it. It’s way over your head. 

Eliminating the Opener

I fancy myself a baseball progressive, but as I’ve said many times, I’m still not convinced the “Opener” strategy is all it’s cracked up to be. I fear it has the look of something smart teams do, but really gained most of its popularity because it was the Rays who did it first. Are the Rays often ahead of the times? Yeah, sure. But they’re also often making decisions on the directive to be financially efficient (and a bunch of in-and-out relievers is cheaper than a starter). All I’m saying is the tail could be wagging the dog here.

But even if we concede there’s something to be gained, it certainly does come at a cost, as we’ve seen with long, drawn out contests this October (particularly out of Los Angels). When you start the game with a reliever, a parade of relievers typically follows and it grinds the game down both directly (pitching changes take time) and indirectly (offense tends to suffer when you play the matchup game from the first freakin’ inning). So it’s not something MLB can afford to leave unaddressed.

Fortunately, according to Buster Olney at ESPN, it appears to be on the docket.

By limiting the number of pitchers on the roster and introducing a universal designated hitter that’s removed from the game when the starting pitcher is removed, MLB believes they’ve found a couple ways to incentive more traditional starting pitchers. Their goal would be to increase the number of balls in play and the pace of action while reducing the overall game time. Meanwhile, the Players Association may be on board with the spirit of the changes (I’m sure there’ll be disagreements on the particulars), as starting pitchers can generate more revenue than relievers: “According to numbers dug out by ESPN researcher Paul Hembekides, in 2017, teams spent $886 million on starting pitchers, or 21% of all dollars spent. In 2021: $682 million, down to 17.4%.”

And that’s just over the last four years. But as Olney points out, back in 2001, the average start of pitchers in the postseason was 6.0 IP. In 2021, that was down to 4.0 IP.

Rojas Extends in Miami

Okay, good for Miguel Rojas, who reportedly approached the Marlins to initiate an extension, but I don’t think you ever want to hear this from your negotiating partner (Marlins GM Kim Ng): “It was an extraordinarily easy thing to do.”

I’m mostly teasing, because there’s nothing wrong with Rojas getting his two-year, $10M extension. Sure, the Marlins were always likely to pick up his $5.5M club option for 2022, but is he a lock to get $4.5M more as a 34-year-old middle infielder who’s got great defense and positional flexibility, but just one above-average offensive season to his name (and in the shortened 2020 year, no less)? I’m not so sure. So locking down an extra $4.5M guaranteed in a place you love to play is fine. It doesn’t move the ball forward for others, but it’s fine.

“I just want to win, and I want to win here in Miami,” Rojas said.

This does make me wonder if we’ll see some other extension efforts before the presumed lockout/strike begins, and if so, could that include Willson Contreras for the Chicago Cubs?

Defensive Awards

The Cubs wound up with just one Gold Glove finalist this season (Zach Davies), but you should still go and peruse the full list of nominees at MLB.com. Then again, I’m willing to bet you could name most of the nominees without looking (or without watching a single game this season).

•   AL 3B always has Matt Chapman and Jose Ramirez.
•   AL C always has Salvador Perez
•   AL SS always has Andrelton Simmons
•   AL CF always has Kevin Kiermaier
•   NL C always has Yadier Molina and J.T. Realmuto
•   NL 1B always has Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt
•   NL 2B always has Kolten Wong and Ozzie Albies
•   NL 3B always has Nolan Arenado

And while some team/league changes muddy the history, Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, and Mookie Betts are almost always finalists, as well. There’s nothing really wrong with that – they’re usually finalists, because they’re usually quite good – but it just feels like 90% of these were decided before the season even began. And, as usual, the Gold Glove awards don’t do a great job of awarding multi-positional defenders.

The Fielding Bible Award Winners do include multi-positional defenders (Kiké Hernández wins this year), however, and I think they just generally do a better job overall. Check those overall MLB winners out right here.

Oakland A’s Stadium Update:

The Oakland A’s have been trying to get their new stadium built for … a long time, but there appears to have been a step in the right direction on Tuesday night: “Tonight’s vote by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is a historic action that creates a clear path to keep the A’s rooted in Oakland and build a world-class waterfront ballpark district that will benefit Bay Area residents for generations to come,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a written statement immediately after the supervisors’ vote.

The vote is technically non-binding, however, and MLB is keeping their options *wide* open: “The affirmative vote is a positive step,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in an email to the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the vote. “The A’s will continue to pursue the Oakland project as well as the Las Vegas alternative.”

Given Manfred’s well-known desire to expand the league by two teams sometime in the next decade or so, I’d guess that the Vegas alternative is little more than a play for leverage (wouldn’t he want to save that location for one of his new teams? I’d think so). It’s not like there aren’t other legitimate options out there (Nashville, Montreal for two), but Vegas seems to be the best option. And while they might not care if they get a new team or just the former A’s squad (The Aces, anyone?), Manfred probably has the big picture in mind. I think he wants to get this done in Oakland.

Odds and Ends

•   Albert Pujols may have dragged his offensive production up from the basement in which it resided last season (76 wRC+) to a more respectable 90 wRC+ in 2021, but he was still a negative-WAR player this year thanks to horrible marks on defense (at the least valuable defensive position) and no base running skills whatsoever. BUT … he wants to play again next season at age 42. He’s going to play Winter Ball in the DR this year, presumably to stay in shape, and then try to sign a new free agent deal for 2022. Good luck with that. Maybe he can join the party in St. Louis with Yadi and Wainwright.

•   David Schoenfield collected the “most haunting” moments of the MLB postseason over the last 30 years and there’s one obvious Cubs one on the list. I’m guessing I don’t have to say his name. Plus, I hear if you say Bartman in the mirror 5 times, he appears behind you. 

•   Red Pitching Coach Derek Johnson has been promoted to the relatively new, but expanding role of Director of Pitching for the Cincinnati Reds. If you recall, Johnson was the Cubs minor league pitching coordinator until 2016, when the Brewers stole him to be their pitching coach … until 2018, when the Reds stole him to be THEIR pitching coach. It sure helps to have all that inside information on hitters from your biggest rival, I bet. Wish the Cubs could get that one back.

written by

Michael Cerami began covering the Chicago Cubs for Bleacher Nation as a part-time contributor in 2015. One year later, he joined Bleacher Nation full-time, covering the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball. Today, Michael runs Bleacher Nation, contributing as a writer (Cubs, MLB) and an editor for all sections of the site, including the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks, as well as MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. In 2019, Michael was the co-host of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs Post-Game Show Outside the Ivy. You can find him on Twitter/X @Michael_Cerami

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