Monday, June 1, 2020

How Wacky Will a 2020 MLB Season Be?


Here we are again, another critical week in terms of baseball resuming for a 2020 season. The MLB owners sent their non-starter of a proposal to the players, and the players have responded with what ownership describes identically. We need to bridge that gap, and quickly, but if we do what is it all going to look like?

There’s a couple of assumed certainties already in play that, regardless of where all of the chips fall, these thing should take place in some form or fashion.

Universal DH

While it’s long been suggested that the National League brings about a higher level of strategy in having to deal with an incapable batter, the universal DH makes too much sense. It creates 15 more jobs, a better market in free agency for the position, and relieves fans from having to watch a pitcher flail away before becoming an assumed automatic out.

The Twins are well positioned here with Nelson Cruz, and they’ve got a host of other candidates that could cycle through for reps as well. This is going to happen in 2020 if there’s baseball, and it’s likely to be adopted by the new CBA as well.

Season Length

The most economical strategy would be to play more games. However, owners get relief from player salaries should the season be shortened. Ownership proposed an 80-game schedule while the players went with a more aggressive 114 game approach. The former allows for somewhat of a resumption situation while the latter would have teams playing into October with a later Postseason.

At this point it’s expected we see teams play in their home stadiums. There won’t be any fans and the schedules will likely be shuffled to include a significantly higher portion of regional contests. At this point, I don’t believe we’ll see any division re-alignment.

Expanded Postseason

This has been proposed by both sides, and the players took it a step further to suggest doing so in each of the next two seasons. The Postseason is where owners rake in the largest revenues, and this would allow more teams and longer coverage. Players are also talking about competing in these games during November, which would likely mean more neutral site contests in warm weather cities.

Baseball’s schedule being 162 games allows for it to be the ultimate marathon prior to the Postseason. Although the one-game Wild Card is a point of contention, it places a premium on winning your Division. In more of a sprint schedule, it makes sense to open things up a bit and allow the cream of the crop to rise up.

Large Taxi Squads

There’s little reason to expect anything but minor league baseball to be banged this season. The logistics alone are cumbersome, and then there’s the reality that Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to downsize. Teams are going to have expanded rosters, and then there will be some sort of ready-and-waiting guys capable of taking over.

Organizations could run intrasquad contests at their Spring Training sites, and there may be an opportunity to have a group of players travel near the team. Minnesota’s closest affiliate is Cedar Rapids, but who knows if that will have a factor on future decisions.

At the end of the day I think what we’ll have to remember about Major League Baseball in 2020 is that you still have to catch and hit the ball. The logistics and optics of the game will likely be drastically altered. In a sport tied so tightly to its record book, we’ll have questions about how they all stack up for years to come. Should a World Series happen, and a winner be crowned however, they’ll have taken the trophy on the same uncertain playing field everyone else is dealing with.

Let’s just hope we’ve got a season to worry about. Buckle up.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Baseball's May Day is Coming

No matter how far we distance ourselves from Covid-19, 2020, and the ripple effects of a worldwide pandemic, I’ll remember a couple of specific dates as they relate to baseball. Tuesday May 26, 2020 could end up being another one of those days. In the midst of Memorial Day we wonder what lies ahead tomorrow.

Thinking back to March 11, the sports world began to stand still. That day the NBA put everything on hold, and less than 24 hours later not only was the MLB season halted, but also March Madness was put on ice as well. We’re now multiple months away from that date, but a return appears on the horizon.

After Major League Baseball owners attempted to go back on their word in regards to prorated player salaries for whatever season that would take place, and do so in a public attempt at employee shame, we’ve got an impending alteration. It’s expected that Tuesday May 26 will bring forth a new proposal from ownership. Players will be expected to move off prorated salaries, but owners will budge on a revenue split that looks very much like a salary cap.

Although it’s the economics of each deal that continues to be at the forefront of any reports the largest hurdle remains that of health precautions. With no level of certainty regarding what’s next in the wrath of this specific pandemic we can be certain that whatever transpires will be a massive outlier. Everything about sports, and life in general, during the current landscape of precaution will remain an oddity for years into the future.

It’s hard to believe, and the growing consensus aligns here, that baseball will not return for this calendar season. Everyone has far too much to gain from resumption, and squabbling would set ablaze and unfortunate fallout in regards to the bigger picture. With potential for a CBA-induced lockout just a year from now, setting back the sport even further ahead of time could be a death knell when popularity enhancement has long been the drive.

Rob Manfred has done a lot of negative during his time as commission of Major League Baseball. Tuesday May 26, 2020 has the opportunity to go a long ways in presenting a launching pad for a restart of a sport that both the country and world need.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Mike Trout Winning Off the Diamond


Update:

Goldin Auctions actually crashed twice while auctioning off this card. Per the Action Network it sold for $900,000

During this global pandemic one thing that has seen a massive boost in the sports world is collectibles, or trading cards, affectionately categorized as The Hobby. With something for everyone, and fans of every sport, your bound to find a way to pique your interest. In the modern baseball world, the Angels outfielder is king, and Mike Trout did it again over the weekend.

As the unquestioned best player in the game today, Trout holds a special place at the top of the modern baseball card collecting ranks. His base cards transcend “common” status, and his rarer pieces fetch exorbitant prices. It’s the 2011 Topps Update that has become his iconic rookie issue, but some of the prospect cards, namely the 2009 Bowman Chrome Autograph, have driven the market bonkers.

Back in 2018 the eccentric Dave “Vegas Dave” Oancea grabbed Mike Trout’s 2009 Bowman Chrome Superfractor 1/1 autograph for a cool $400,000. He noted having turned down offers near $1 million and said he was sitting on it until a $5 million offer came through. You’ll have to excuse his crass nature in the video, but it appears his statements aren’t nearly as outlandish as one may have assumed.
On Sunday night a 2009 Bowman Chrome Red /5 Autograph of Trout’s wrapped up through Ken Goldin’s auction house. That card brought in $525,000 and obviously doesn’t reach the same height as a 1/1. Assuming the red that was sold wasn’t Oancea’s, he too owns one of those cards as well as a handful of the orange version numbered to 25. To say the man is sitting on a mountain of Mike Trout moola is probably putting it lightly.

This explosion isn’t just in a single card though. ESPN’s The Last Dance brought tons of buyers for Michael Jordan cards out of the woodwork. Trout’s standard base issue 2011 Update has gone from a $500 card last February to a $3,000 card today. Topps has been rolling out limited print to order Project 2020 cards with different artists and the early offerings are now in such demand the price exponentially multiples on the secondary market before each card even gets into the hands of collectors.

You should never view pieces of cardboard as an investment similar to that of a stock or bond. However, classifying trading cards as pieces of cardboard is also severely missing the point if you know what you’re looking for. The return is not there for every purchase, but it’s become more than clear the hobby has a place in today’s current culture and it certainly looks like it will be here to stay.

Only a select few people are interested in buying a baseball card selling for north of $500,000, but you can bet that number grows in multiples as you back off the buy in, and there’s lots of fun to be had at any level. Mike Trout, Michael Jordan, or whoever is the next big thing, you can bet their faces on cardboard will attract plenty of fans.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Miguel Making Good in Year 27


Take some time to watch Ballplayer: Pelotero during quarantine. Everyone has plenty of that right now and remembering the mega-prospect a teenage Miguel Sano was should not be lost on anyone. Now today, on his 27th birthday, we get to look back on what’s been accomplished.

Through parts of five Major League seasons Sano has amassed 8.5 career fWAR. He was in the running for a Rookie of the Year award, has made an All-Star Game, and surpassed the 100-career homer plateau. He’s also been asked to play right field, suffered significant injury, and experienced a demotion from the big leagues all the way back to Single-A.

To suggest Miguel Sano’s career with the Twins has been eventful would be putting it lightly.

Here’s the thing though, we’ve been given more than a glimpse into the reality that the mega-prospect was worthy of all that hoopla. No, he’s not the skinny shortstop that he was way back in those Dominican days, but that was also never the expectation. He’s since moved from the hot corner to first base and plays the part of a hulking corner bat. He’s the definitive member of a team dubbed the “Bomba Squad” and his efforts of late rewarded him to the tune of a $30MM contract extension.

It would always be hard for a guy with Sano’s profile to create substantial value in multiple avenues of the game. He’s an average defender at best, and he now plays a non-premium position. Should he assume Nelson Cruz’s designated hitter role in the years ahead, that becomes even more of an accepted reality. At the plate though, he’s one of the most feared hitters in the game, and since buying into his ability the production has only taken steps forward.

The argument I’ve always made in relation to Sano is that there was never a talent issue. He’s got the ability to be one of the best power hitters in the whole sport. What has always held him back was the reliance on that fact, rather than the execution and effort in order to accomplish it. Maybe it was the guidance of Nelson Cruz, maybe it was the leadership of Rocco Baldelli, or maybe it was Sano himself deciding he was done settling; any or all of those things could be true, but we’re at a point where the Twins are getting the best version of a player they’ve long hoped for.
Sano has already vaulted himself up organization leaderboards. Only Tom Brunansky had hit more home runs through their age 26 season than that of Sano. He’s got the ability and time to become Minnesota second best home run hitter ever, and he’s already suggested that his desire would be to play out his entire career in Minnesota.

We’re way too far off to make any determinations regarding the dust settling, but I think it’s pretty hard not to be excited about what is yet to come. Finding ways to play himself out of a lineup spot, or lacking commitment to produce at anything but his best, are both hopefully behind him. If those realities remain true, then the entirety of the Twins organization will be in store to reap the benefits of this guy for many years to come.

Happy 27th Miguel, and here’s to lots of fun ahead.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Did Major League Baseball Stumble into a Money Pit?


Back in April I wrote an article at Twins Daily about how the Stay at Home orders all but forced creativity upon baseball. The Twins Trevor May architected an MLB The Show Players League and by the end we had matchups on ESPN. With classic games being televised left and right, it was the initiative today that caught my eye.

Here’s the thing, classic games are awesome, but it’s a slog for many to get through countless hours of a known outcome. Speaking specifically about myself here, it’s exactly the reason I’m not fond of re-watching movies, no matter how good they are. Committing a substantial amount of time only to know the end result isn’t an opportunity I jump at.

On Opening Day, or what was supposed to be such, I tuned into Periscope to watch the Twins and Tigers game 163. It was a blast being there for that game, and it was probably the first time I’ve re-watched it since. The desire for action was significant given the removal of baseball on the day it was supposed to start. Fast forward to where we are today, and I haven’t watched a single re-run since. I stayed up for KBO Opening Day action, and I got all in on the Players League. Outside of that, it’s been pretty desolate on the sports front.
Then there was a tweet from Ken Rosenthal that reminded me MLB.com was streaming non-stop coverage of some of baseball’s greatest half innings. One event for each of the 30 teams, hours of content, but broken up into just minutes of the best action. If this concept sounds familiar it’s because that’s exactly what the NFL has done in monetizing the Red Zone Channel. By cutting to action only in the biggest situations, fans are constantly kept abreast of the most exciting parts of a game.

Rob Manfred has stumbled over his own shoelaces constantly when it comes to thinking of ways to draw in new fans. Thinking that pace of play is a substantial deterrent, or that pitchers facing a minimum number of batters, or even that a timer to speed up aspects are the answer, he continues to miss the mark. The product right now may be the best it’s ever been, but the accessibility of that product remains a massive hurdle.

Games are blacked out even on the league owned streaming service. Players are not widely accessible across all markets, and promotion of the game is often done better by anyone not directly affiliated with the sport (who then immediately face copyright claims). This little endeavor on a random Wednesday afternoon could have unlocked something big though.

Imagine an avenue to watch any game going on with runners in scoring position, the bottom of the ninth, or a late inning comeback. You’d consistently see new and emerging stars on the greatest stage, and you’d do it while introducing those players to fans that otherwise may not have watched that team. It would be a way to consume baseball in conjunction with your own team, and something fans would see as a significantly less daunting commitment. As a Twins fan I’m not watching an entire game between the Marlins and Pirates, but I’d love to see Brian Anderson with a late game opportunity to walk it off.

There’s hurdles and red tape to work through with any new idea, but pushing those boundaries is something that baseball has failed to do time and time again. It’s when those types of initiatives are embraced that Rob Manfred will have begun to make the impact he’s long been looking for, and we’ll all be appreciative fans because of it.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Baseball Returns! Sort of…

When the calendar turns to May 5 over in Korea, we will officially have the Opening Day we never knew was necessary. Thanks to COVID-19 shelving Major League Baseball thus far in the United States, we are clamoring for sporting outlets. The NFL Draft drew massive numbers, and The Last Dance draws wonderfully on ESPN. Now, if you stay up late enough (rise early enough), we’ll get KBO action.

It’s been weird to think about so little to cover as it relates to the Minnesota Twins or Major League Baseball I’d have numerous opinions and thoughts on the entire league, as well as the focal organization as a whole, but we have few things in the vein of new developments. That’s left Off the Baggy a bit light, as well as doing a similar number on go-to Twins site Twins Daily.

Recently there however, I did write about a Minnesota slugger we never got to see in all his glory with the Twins. ByungHo Park was both injured and then ineffective when he traveled to the United States in hopes of continuing his KBO production. It was a perfect storm of unfortunate events and it never worked out for either party. Now back in his homeland, Park has been the pride of the KBO power production once again.
Unfortunately, we won’t get a chance to see the Kiwoom Heroes on ESPN in the first week of broadcasts. The network is broadcasting one game a day and Kiwoom did not make the cut. For Opening Day central time zone viewers can catch first pitch between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions at midnight. Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez will be on the call.

I’m looking forward to staying up for the experience, and any form of baseball is better than the state we’re currently in. It will be interesting to see how the KBO game is received here, but I certainly hope that it’s batflips proving a key component to defeating this virus and the boredom brought on by it wiping out sports.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Baseball is Ready to Unite Us All

We’re now quickly approaching May 1, a time in which Major League Baseball originally was slated to resume for the 2020 season. COVID-19 has continued to disrupt those plans, and the lack of sports has become frustratingly difficult. However, when we do get resumption (and that remains inevitable), I can’t help but reflect on two big returns.

As things stand, we still have no idea when baseball will be back. The Coronavirus pandemic has dealt body blows to our country and around the world. Continuing efforts to react and respond to the situation has left resumption of what was once normal everyday life a complete secondary goal. That being said it seems that May will be a pivotal month for baseball.

Today Jeff Passan wrote about the return of Major League Baseball, some of the ideas in place, and most importantly that the reality is trending from an if to a when. May could be the month that lays groundwork for future answers. We’re still likely a ways from seeing plan put into action, but having actual blueprints drawn out is a very integral part of the process.

We have seen baseball halted before, not like this, but invoking similar feelings. There have been wars, tragedies, and events that have reach far beyond the diamond. When trying to anticipate what it may be like when we hear “Play ball!” again, I’m quickly drawn back to a pair of East Coast experiences.

If you think about the hurt that 9/11 brought to the country, there are few greater pains than a mass killing in the name of hatred. I was just 11 at the time, but I know when we further distanced from the actual event that September 21 night in Queens was a big one. Mike Piazza hit a home run to dead center that shook the entire nation. I’m not a New York fan and supporting either of the Major League franchises there will never happen. I do know however; the country needed that homer.

Years later Boston was at the center of an attack. With bombs going off during one of the most prolific events in the world, not only did the Marathon come to a halt, but so too did a city. I remember tracking the news about a manhunt that had people shuttered in their homes and led to the eventual capture of a coward hiding in a boat. The surreal emotions brought on by the initial impact and days that followed were truly mind boggling.

When we had resumption of sport in the Massachusetts epicenter there he was, former Twins castoff David Ortiz. By this time Big Papi had become Boston. He was a fan favorite and will go down as one of the best hitters to ever play the game. After honoring all the brave men and women that vowed to keep the city safe, Ortiz did as he often does and gave us the “This is our f****** city” level of emotion.

I don’t think suggesting a worldwide pandemic is along the same lines of hatred these other two instances sought out to prove, but there’s a unifying factor when we experience something together. The nation, and world, are going through this same event in a very similar way. Sports provide a distraction that allow us to turn from everyday life, and we can come together through fandom that unites people from so many different backgrounds.

Give me flags flying, flyovers causing chills, and maybe the pop of the mitt bringing a tear to an eye. We likely won’t be in the ballparks to witness it, but baseball will be back, and we’ll all be better for it.