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MLBits: COVID and the 2022 Season, Mets Managerial Candidates, Astros Hire Female Dir. of Player Personnel, Vegas Baseball, More

Chicago Cubs

If you’re a baseball-only type of sports fan, you may not have realized just how big of an impact COVID has had on professional sports lately. The NFL currently has 103 players current in COVID protocols. The NHL has 64, and the NBA has 27, ten of which were on the Chicago Bulls. On top of that, the Montreal Canadians decided to switch to a fan-less game last night, just hours before puck drop. It is bad out there, my friends. And this is important to note with respect to MLB.

MLB and COVID

Why? Well, I’m not an epidemiologist (in fact, I had to Google that word to get the spelling right), but I am aware that the Omicron variant is ripping through the world right now. I also know that people tend to stay indoors during the winter, where it’s easier to both spread and catch COVID, putting winter sports leagues at a considerable disadvantage. It disrupts rosters, fan attendance, competitive integrity, revenue-generating events, etc. Enter MLB.

When COVID first began, MLB was arguably hit the worst among professional sports, given the shutdown’s timing and difficulty coming up with a last-minute plan to mitigate the risks and pay everyone accordingly. But we’re many months away from the start of the 2022 baseball season, assuming it’ll start on time with a new CBA, which should give MLB ample opportunity to prepare – a huge distinction from 2020.

There’s also the fact that baseball is played outdoors and shouldn’t be starting until months after what appears to be another new peak in cases.

I don’t want to be too optimistic – who’s to say there won’t be another variant in a few months? At least this time, MLB can observe what’s working (or not) with the other pro sports leagues to adjust their plans accordingly. And, of course, they could also bank on the fact that outdoor stadiums should allow more fans to return to games sooner and in greater numbers. It’s not nothing.

Mets Managerial Finalists

The New York Mets are out there looking for a new manager and have reportedly narrowed their list to three finalists: Rays Bench Coach Matt Quatraro, Astros Bench Coach Joe Espada, and the apparent front-runner Buck Showalter.

Showalter, 65, has his second interview with the Mets scheduled for today and is the leading candidate because of his experience. He managed the Yankees (1992-1995), the Diamondbacks (1998-2000), the Rangers (2003-2006), and the Orioles (2010-2018). He’s also a three-time Manager of the Year award winner with a career .506 winning%. The Mets are said to be looking at Showalter most because they’re in an extreme “win-now” mode with Max Scherzer in the door on a massive/short-term deal, but I’m not so sure they’d be making the right decision here.

I don’t think you can go wrong with Showalter, but I also know that Espada and Quartraro are highly and often-targeted managerial candidates for a reason. The Mets might be sacrificing the better long-term play by going with someone to help them “win now,” when the difference between Showalter and one of those guys on a 1-3 year time span may not be all that different.

I’m also just naturally inclined to think that whatever the Mets feel is best is totally wrong.

Astros Hiring Female Director of Player Personnel

With Kim Ng leading the Miami Marlins, the barrier for female executives in professional sports has begun to come down. There is still a LOT of work to be done to ensure the sort of front-office diversity that is not just right but also strategically beneficial, but the walls are at least starting to come down. How do I know?

Because the Astros just hired a female director of player personnel, Sara Goodrum, and it hasn’t been HUGE news. In other words, I think it’s starting to be normalized, which is an important first hurdle for progress.

Anyway, Goodrum was hired out of the Brewers organization, where she was the minor league hitting coordinator. So this is a pretty significant step up. And for however unpopular the Astros may have become since their sign-stealing scandal, let’s not forget that this is one of the most progressive and intelligent front offices in MLB, maybe professional sports. This is a big-time job in a key organization, and it went to a woman. That’s awesome.

While we’re on the topic, now seems like a good time to remind you that the Cubs have a female minor league hitting coach named Rachel Folden, who is an EXCELLENT follow on Twitter and likely has a very bright career ahead of her.

A’s Study Vegas Market

The A’s prepared a market feasibility study of Las Vegas as an exit-option out of Oakland, where their ability to build a stadium on their terms (while using roughly $1 billion of taxpayer money) has stalled, and surprise! It would be a huge hit.

There are no surprises there for multiple reasons. First, the A’s wanted this feasibility study to come out as rosy as possible for the purposes of leverage, so excuse me if this doesn’t exactly shock me: “It shows people are paying attention to this story (and) are really interested in the A’s being in Southern Nevada, which is super positive for us to hear,” A’s President Dave Kaval told the Review-Journal. “The results about attending games and prices and wanting to support the team, both for locals and tourists, was higher than our expectations. It further demonstrates the strength of Las Vegas as a sporting market.”

Indeed, that’s already a very specific concern with the company they hired to perform the study. The key quote here: Conversations with employees at CSL and similar firms have revealed to him the internal mandate is ‘not to provide an independent economic analysis,’ but ‘to provide something that will justify what the client wants.’ Like, say, an expensive ballpark.”

With that said … I don’t think it’s too crazy to believe. Las Vegas has long been targeted as a potential expansion site for MLB, and they just added the Raiders from Oakland, with plenty of success (they’re even getting the Super Bowl in a few years).

As always, MLB will not entertain expansion to 32 teams until the Rays, and A’s settle their ballpark decisions. So I just hope this gets done sooner than later.

Odds and Ends:

•   Some stray trade talk if you didn’t get enough out of today’s Lukewarm Stove.

•   It would be pretty neat if you voted for me in this silly Twitter competition that I didn’t know I was in, but also now really, REALLY want to win (not that I stand a chance in the later rounds against Cespedes Family BBQ, Pitching Ninja, Jomboy, Marcus Stroman, and others).

•   Noah Syndergaard will use No. 34, which carries special meaning for the Angels.



Author: Michael Cerami

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