Paying Respects to Tom Terrific

Last night, the baseball world was rocked by the tragic news of Tom Seaver‘s passing at the age of 75. The most famous New York Mets player in team history had suffered from dementia in recent years, staying out of the public eye. In addition, he reportedly had complications from COVID-19.

My earliest memory of Seaver was in a Cincinnati Reds uniform, shortly after leaving Metropolitans in a 1977 trade that shook The Big Apple. I saw a magazine photo of Seaver captured in the middle of his delivery. His back knee was almost touching the dirt. The Reds were still “The Big Red Machine”, with the likes of Pete Rose, Tony Pérez, George Foster and Ken Griffey, Sr. They were constantly on national television. Many weekends, I stayed with my grandparents and Grandpa always watched baseball. This was before cable, and the Reds got a lot of exposure on NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week, and ABC’s Monday Night Baseball.

In early 1983, we got cable TV. With it came New York City’s WOR-TV (channel 9) and WPIX (channel 11), who carried the Mets and Yankees, respectively. That season, Seaver returned to the Mets in a trade with the Reds. I finally had a chance to watch him pitch on a regular basis. Watching baseball on cable TV was the catalyst for my love of baseball, and Seaver was a part of it. “Tom Terrific” was on the downside of his long career, but he was still really good. He was 38 years old, with over 4,000 innings under his belt. As a result, the blazing fastball had vanished, replaced with guts and guile. Still, it was a delight to watch him pitch.

In 1985, by then with the Chicago White Sox, Seaver won his 300th career game against the Yankees in the Bronx. WPIX aired the game, with Bill White, Frank Messer and Phil Rizzuto on the call. It was a delight for me to watch, 14 years old at the time.

Tom Seaver went on to win 16 games in 1985, and split the ’86 season between Chicago and the Boston Red Sox before calling it a career.

Seaver was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1992, earning 311 career wins. He logged 4,783 innings and 3,640 strikeouts (6th all time) with a lifetime 2.86 ERA. His career WAR, an amazing 109.9. Tom Terrific, indeed.

My thoughts are with his wife, Nancy and his children and family. Rest in Peace, Tom Seaver. Thank you for the childhood memories.

 

The San Diego Padres – A Team You Should Know

The year 2020 has brought some levels of insanity to everyone’s lives, almost immediately since the ball dropped in Times Square in New York. Too many things have happened this year just in Major League Baseball, it would require a lengthy post all on it’s own.

One example in the baseball world is the emergence of the San Diego Padres. Perpetually a losing team, the Padres regularly lost 90 games a year over the past ten years, resulting in no playoff seasons since 2006. However, team Executive VP and General Manager A.J. Preller has slowly and methodically added blue-chip prospects and players via draft, trades and free-agency.

The Padres have a deep farm system, drafting #1 pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore in 2017, shortstop CJ Abrams (#2 prospect) in ’19, and C Luis Campusano (#4 team prospect) in the 2017 draft. In trades, Preller acquired star player Fernando Tatis, Jr. from the Chicago White Sox for James Shields. Secondly, as part of a three-team deal, the Padres shipped OF Franmil Reyes to the Cleveland Indians and got their fifth-ranked prospect OF Taylor Trammell from the Cincinnati Reds. Furthermore, Preller received rotation stud Chris Paddack from Miami for Fernando Rodney in 2016. Lastly, San Diego sent OF Hunter Renfroe to Tampa Bay, bringing back OF Tommy Pham and sensation Jake Cronenworth.

Equally important, San Diego signed RHP Luis Patiño and LHP Adrián Morejón as international free agents in 2016. Both show a lot of promise, with Patiño making his debut this year, Morejón made his big league debut in 2019. Both guys throw hard, although one is a lefty, the other a righty. We’ll let Rob Friedman, the “pitching ninja” show you Morejón’s filth.

 

Luis Patiño. Nasty.

 

Twenty-eight year old starting pitcher Dinelson Lamet came to the organization as an international free-agent signing in 2014, signing for $100,000. Again, another pitcher with a blazing fastball, Lamet has been disaster for opposing hitters.

 

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention A.J. Preller’s biggest acquisition, Manny Machado. Something of a surprise at the time, he signed his name to a ten-year deal just prior to spring training in 2019. He will be with the Padres through 2028 (Machado does have an opt-out after ’23) at 32M/year.

First baseman Eric Hosmer came to San Diego just a year before Manny, in another surprise free agent signing. This contract is more team-friendly, at 21M/year through 2022, where he has an opt-out. If Hosmer chooses to stay, his salary lowers to 13M per year through 2025, his age 35 season.

What do you get when you put all this together? A team that is 18-12 and has a chance to not only reach the playoffs, but make a deep playoff run. A fun team to watch that has been boat-racing opposing the opposition. The Slam Diego Padres!

Yes, this team cranked 5 (FIVE!) grand-slams last week! This resulted in copious amounts of runs helping them win seven straight games. It all started with Fernando Tatis hurting the Texas Rangers‘s feelings. Jomboy will break it down, as he does so well.

 

This is a young team and will have it’s ups and downs. Before the seven game winning streak, the Padres lost five in a row. There are bound to be ebbs and flows. I was concerned how the team would respond after manager Jayce Tingler didn’t completely support Tatis after his grand-slam with the score already somewhat out of hand. However, to Tatis’s and the team’s credit, it didn’t adversely affect them. I believe this team is built for the long-haul, and A.J. Preller deserves praise for constructing it.

To put a cherry on top, the Padres have an excellent play-by-play man calling their games on Fox Sports San Diego, Don Orsillo (and Mudcat Grant). It’s going to be a fun second half of this year’s sixty game schedule.

George Steinbrenner

Today marks ten years since New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away at the age of 80.

“The Boss” bought the team in 1973 from CBS for 10 million dollars. From Day 1 until the day he passed, he invested in his team, his city and the fans. The Yankees were an also-ran organization, it’s glory days of the 1950’s/early 1960’s were long gone. He made it a mission to make the Yankees winners within three years. He spent freely to add Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson as free agents.

It took exactly three years to make the Yankees winners. In 1976, the Bronx Bombers made it to the World Series, only to be swept by Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine”. Undeterred, the Yankees went back to the World Series in 1977 and ’78, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers both times. They faced them yet again in 1981, losing in six games.

Lean years followed, as the Yankees showed signs of aging. Steinbrenner worked to keep his team winning, however some free agent signings and trades weren’t panning out. He re-hired Billy Martin for 1983, brought him back early in 1985 and again in ’88. Martin was only a band-aid over a bigger problem. A rebuild of the organization was badly needed to replenish the farm system.

In 1990, Steinbrenner was suspended by then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent from day-to-day management for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on star outfielder Dave Winfield. This brought opportunity for GM Gene “Stick” Michaels to begin the rebuild. He responded, drafting the core of players who would eventually make the Yankees winners for more than a decade.

Although Steinbrenner’s suspension was to be permanent, “The Boss” was reinstated in 1993. Seeing the work Micheals put in to re-stock the farm system, he was less inclined to rule with the iron-fist he was accustomed to. The Yankees became winners again, winning titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. The ’09 series win was especially meaningful, as it was the final World Series of Mr. Steinbrenner’s life. His son Hal, by then George’s successor, dedicated the title to his father, saying “This one’s for you!”

Hal Steinbrenner is less willing to spend freely the way his father did, but I’m guessing George was smiling down from the heavens last December when the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a 324 million dollar deal.

George Steinbrenner’s 37 years of Yankees ownership put the team back on the map and took it into the stratosphere. His family’s ownership is the gold-standard of the way sports owners should run their teams.

I hope you are resting comfortably, Boss. I can’t believe you’ve been gone ten years.

It’s Opening Day!

It’s finally here!

Opening Day in MLB is a holiday in my household. Personally, I feel that it’s better than Christmas. Baseball is my favorite thing in life after my son. Every team in baseball is full of optimism and dreams of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in October.

And the weather is warmer in the vast majority of the country than it is on Christmas!

There is literally nothing on the agenda for me today than watching our national pastime. Good luck and best wishes to whomever you root for.

Enjoy the day, everybody!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League Central

Welcome back! Pitchers and catchers have been in camps across Florida and Arizona, getting acquainted or reacquainted with each other. This week, position players will be in camp looking to get things started. In addition to players on 40 man rosters, there are several “non roster invitees” with each team, looking to make good impressions. Some are young guys, usually early round picks that teams are excited to see, and the rest are veteran ballplayers trying to latch on somewhere.

On Friday, we took a look at three non-roster invitees on each team in the AL East who To start off your Monday. Let’s pick three NRI’s on each team in the AL Central to talk about.

Chicago White Sox

  • Blake Rutherford (RF) – Rutherford, a 2016 1st round draft pick, came to the White Sox in the summer of 2017 from the New York Yankees in the deal that sent David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx. Rutherford, 21, spent last year in High-A ball where he posted a .293/.345/.436 slash line to go with seven home runs and 78 RBI. A left-handed hitter, Rutherford is tall and lanky (6’3″, 195), can play all three outfield spots and can steal a few bags (15 in 2018). He is expected to begin 2019 with the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
  • Ryan Goins (INF) – Goins began the 2018 season with the Royals, where he posted an anemic .226 average in 41 games. He was released at the beginning of July and signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia the following day. The 31 year old Goins spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A team where he hit .220 over 42 games. At least he was consistent. He’s no more than minor league filler, but will provide steady infield defense no matter where he plays.
  • Evan Marshall (RHP) – If 28 year old Evan Marshall never throws another major league pitch, he’s come out on top. He’s overcome and returned from brain injury from a 105 mph comebacker and he and his wife, Allie, had a major health scare when their four-month son Ryan became ill. Thankfully, it appears both Evan and Ryan are healthy now. Here’s hoping Evan can resume his major league career on Chicago’s South Side in 2019.

Cleveland Indians

  • Dioner Navarro (C) – Wait, what? The 35 year old switch-hitting catcher hasn’t played a major league game since 2016, when he split the season between the White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, hitting a weak .207. In 2018, Navarro played 20 games with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, with pedestrian results. Surprises can happen, but I will be stunned if he plays another MLB game.
  • Matt Joyce (OF) – After hitting a career-high 25 home runs in 2017, the left-handed slugger lost his mojo in ’18. He finished the season barely above the “Mendoza Line” at .208 and only seven HR’s in 83 games. After two seasons in Oakland, Joyce signed a minor-league deal with the Tribe a little more than a week ago. He rebounded nicely in ’16 after having a rough 2015 season in Anaheim, but at age 34, the odds are a bit longer.
  • Alex Wilson (RHP) – Signed to a minor league deal the same day as the aforementioned Matt Joyce, Wilson came from the Tigers, where he spent the last four seasons. He had decent numbers last season, posting a 1.05 WHIP to go with a 3.36 ERA. The 32 year old Wilson isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He “only” throws 92-93 with his heat and has a cutter (86-88) he employs well. Wilson could be a guy the Indians make good use of, especially after losing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to free agency

Detroit Tigers

  • Casey Mize (RHP) – 21 year old Casey Mize was the number one pick in last year’s amateur draft after a successful collegiate career at Auburn University. He has a fastball that ranges 92-96 and can reach back for a little more when he needs it. Mize made five brief starts in the low minors, all but one at High-A ball in Lakeland (Florida State League). Over his 11.2 innings, he struck out ten and walked only two. Look for Mize to spend all 2019 in the minors, and at the very least the first month of 2020 so the Tigers can keep an extra year of team control.
  • Daz Cameron (OF) – Cameron, a 2015 first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, was acquired by Detroit in the 2017 mid-season trade that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. The young center-fielder, the son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron, began 2018 in High-A Lakeland. He was promoted to Double-A after 58 games, and again promoted to Triple-A Toledo after a good showing in more than fifty games in Erie. In AAA, the sleek right-handed hitter struggled a bit in his brief 15 game stint as a Mud Hen. Look for him to begin ’19 in Toledo, but he could be in the Motor City by September, maybe even mid-season if he tears it up.
  • Pete Kozma (INF) – Thirty year old Pete Kozma will never be confused for a good hitter, but hard work and determination are a staple of his. After his days with the Cardinals ended after 2015, he bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers, to Detroit. He even found time to play 24 games with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League. Expect Pete to play in Toledo this year, assuming he stays with the organization. If nothing else, Kozma’s work ethic and experience will be more important to the team than his actual play.

Kansas City Royals

  • Drew Storen (RHP) – The ink on Storen’s minor league deal isn’t even dry, having signed his contract on Friday, Feb. 15.

If he doesn’t make the team, he has an opt-out he can exercise on March 25. Storen spent 2018 recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, last pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. If Drew is healthy, he will be a serviceable reliever. Storen, now 31, doesn’t have the velocity he had when he was closing for the Nationals in the early part of this decade, but he knows how to pitch. It’s no-risk, high reward potential for the Royals.

  • Homer Bailey (RHP) – Also pulled from Cincinnati’s recycling bin is former Red Homer Bailey, he of one of the most hideous season stat-lines in recent history. All he did over his 20 starts was go 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA and WHIP of 1.63. He is still only 32, and the velocity is still more than good enough, averaging more than 93 with his gas. Perhaps a much needed change of scenery and some mechanical adjustments will do Bailey good. Another no-risk/potential high reward.
  • M.J. Melendez (C) – 20 year old Melendez was Kansas City’s second round pick in 2017 and is rated as the team’s fifth-best prospect in their system. He spent last year in A-ball in Lexington of the South Atlantic League where he hit a respectable .251 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 111 games. It’ll be a while before Melendez reaches the majors for good, but rubbing elbows with the boys in the big-club now will be good motivation for him to work hard and get back.

Minnesota Twins

  • Royce Lewis (SS) – Royce is the top prospect in the Twins organization and was the number one pick of the 2017 amateur draft. Lewis, 19, spent last season split between Single-A Cedar Rapids, where he hit .315, and High-A Fort Myers (.255). His combined stats were respectable, logging .292/.352/.451 with 14 HR’s and 74 RBI. He stole 28 bases in 36 attempts. Lewis had 21 errors in 112 games, but experience and maturity will help clean that up. Look for him to start the season in High-A ball and advance to AA Pensacola later in 2019. If he really crushes it, a promotion to AAA Rochester late in the season isn’t be out of the question.
  • Lucas Duda (1B/DH) – Like a lot of current free agents, the market just hasn’t been there this offseason. The lefty power-hitting Duda took what he could, signing a minor league deal last week. The Twins need a first baseman after Joe Mauer retired, and this is a low-risk deal that will pay off if the 33 year old Duda has a rebound year. He’s never going to hit for average, but if Lucas hits closer to the 30 jacks he tallied in 2017, it’ll be well worth it.
  • Tim Collins (LHP) – Collins first made it to the major leagues back in 2011, when he made the Royals team out of spring training. He stayed in Kansas City through 2014, then missed the 2015, ’16 and ’17 seasons because he had two Tommy John surgeries. The 28 year old Collins resurfaced in 2018 with the Washington Nationals, making 38 appearances. The 5’7″, 168 lb. lefty is small in stature, but still generates a good fastball, still reaching 93-94 even after his elbow surgeries.

And with that, we’ve knocked off the AL Central Division. On Wednesday, we will turn our eyes to some non roster invitees in the AL West. Please join us!

Wild Horse Galloping to Cincy

Things had been mostly quiet on the western front since the end of MLB’s Winter Meetings more than a week ago. A late afternoon trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds was equivalent to pouring gasoline into the proverbial hot stove.

At 4:25 PM EST, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan fired off a tweet that warned the baseball world that a trade was imminent.

As you might predict, that got baseball Twitter all kinds of fired up. Several tweets from the winter meetings resurfaced regarding the possibility of Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig being involved in a potential deal. Nine minutes later, Passan sent out another tweet, this time with the specifics.

This is clearly a salary-dump move that benefits each team. Homer Bailey had been absolutely dreadful since signing his deal with the Reds a number of years ago, and moving Kemp and Puig allows the Dodgers room to make their much anticipated run for Bryce Harper in their now-vacant right field. It also has been noted on Twitter that Kemp and Puig weren’t very happy with manager Dave Roberts‘ platoon system and were looking to move on from LA because of it.

In other news, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted that free agent shortstop Manny Machado won’t be making any decision on a new team until after the New Year.

This also likely means Bryce Harper won’t be making a decision until after New Year’s Day either. So grab a Snickers bar and your blanket and toss another log into the stove. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Stay warm, be safe and enjoy your loved ones! 😎🎅🏽

Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.