Author Archive

Kent Emanuel Is Back in the News

Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re in the mood to contemplate, contemplate this: A college pitcher becoming the subject of a New York Times story, especially a story that was indifferent to his results. Kent Emanuel did it. In 2013, Emanuel, the Friday night starter at the University of North Carolina, became the poster boy for a watershed moment in amateur baseball.

North Carolina, the no. 1 team in the country heading into that year’s NCAA tournament, had a slapstick run to that year’s College World Series. The Tar Heels found themselves in a winner-take-all game against Florida Atlantic with advancement out of their regional at stake. I vividly remember watching this game on TV, the way Boomers remember where they were for the moon landing or JFK’s assassination. What looked like a pretty routine game got turned on its wear when Florida Atlantic scored six runs in the top of the ninth. The two teams traded crooked numbers in both the ninth and 12th innings before the Tar Heels won by submission, 12-11, in 13 innings. Read the rest of this entry »

Spencer Strider Has a New Toy. Let’s See How It Works.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For my money, the best pitcher in the National League right now is Braves right-hander Spencer Strider. The 25-year-old with the Kurt Russell-in-Tombstone mustache struck out 281 batters last year, which is impressive in any context, all the more so because he did it in just 186 2/3 innings, while using two and a half pitches. He’s got an upper-90s four-seamer, an outrageous slider, and a changeup that he uses sparingly against lefties and basically not at all against righties.

Strider’s slider (which is a top-three Shel Silverstein poem) is clearly capable of serving as a secondary arsenal all on its own. That’s because Strider can add or subtract from the pitch at will. Last year, he threw more than 1,000 sliders in the regular season, and those pitches varied in velocity by 10 mph, in spin rate by more than 500 rpm, in gravity-adjusted vertical movement by 16 inches, and in horizontal movement by 10 inches. In short, it’s technically one pitch, but with a lot of room to change speed and shape.

Nevertheless, Strider has added a curveball this season, and after a soft launch in spring training, he threw it in anger for the first time on Friday. Read the rest of this entry »

Having an Actual Ace Is Pretty Sweet, Isn’t It?

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It was the dawn of a new era in Baltimore, as the new owners made their first real impression on their new adoring public. Michael Arougheti bought a round at the bar. David Rubenstein visited the MASN booth and held forth on the Magna Carta with Ben McDonald; the conversation had to drift that far afield because Rubenstein’s two-inning television appearance was extended when Patrick Sandoval simply could not get out of the inning. Before Rubenstein left, he asked (I’m choosing to interpret this as a sick burn rather than a genuine point of inquiry) if MLB had a mercy rule.

The Orioles won 11-3. Every Baltimore starting position player reached base and either scored or drove in a run; eight of the nine recorded at least one hit. And only three of the 10 hits went for extra bases. This was one of those methodical conga line outings in which the Orioles won not so much by knockout as by submission. Had the norms of the game allowed the Angels to tap out without shame, they might’ve done so. Read the rest of this entry »

Jordan Montgomery Finally Has a Job

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Some 49 hours before their first regular season game, the Arizona Diamondbacks brought up the house lights to end the 2023-24 Hot Stove League. Jordan Montgomery is headed west on a one-year contract with a vesting option.

The 31-year-old Montgomery had been a well-regarded high-volume starter, but the 2023 postseason brought him to the verge of stardom. The Texas Rangers traded for Montgomery at the deadline, and with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer battling injuries, it was the big South Carolinian who emerged as the team’s ace. He won three games in the postseason, including Game 7 of the ALCS in a multi-inning relief appearance on two days’ rest, and was one of the World Series champion’s breakout stars.

That championship, of course, came at the expense of Arizona, his new team. The Diamondbacks, having come so close to winning it all, had already brought in reinforcements by trading for third baseman Eugenio Suárez and signing outfielder Joc Pederson and lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez. Last October, this was a team with an improvised rotation; with Montgomery, Rodriguez (once he returns from his season-opening IL stint), Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, a full year of a maturing Brandon Pfaadt, and a healthy Tommy Henry, it’s among the best in the sport. Read the rest of this entry »

A Living Embodiment of the Idiom: “Penny-Wise but Pound-Foolish”

William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

It remains a heartbreaking but immutable fact of baseball life that you cannot steal first base.

So over the weekend, Cleveland Guardians outfielder Myles Straw passed through waivers. He’s no longer on the 40-man roster and will start the season in Triple-A, despite having a guaranteed three years and $20.45 million remaining on his contract.

On this, the day (at least idiomatically) of Ezequiel Tovar’s contract extension, Straw serves as a solemn reminder of the dangers of getting too attached to a fast guy with questions about his bat. Read the rest of this entry »

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Except Michael Lorenzen’s Contract

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I want to stress how outrageous it is that Michael Lorenzen was not the first former Cal State Fullerton two-way player to sign a free agent contract this winter. The guy who beat him to the punch, J.D. Davis, played 144 games for the Giants last year, starting 116 of them at third base. He’d gone through arbitration. More to the point, on March 1 he was the presumptive starter for a team with playoff aspirations, and he was under contract on March 10.

Then Davis got cut in order to save a few bucks in the wake of the Matt Chapman signing, and he ended up signing for less than half of his original salary with the Oakland A’s. There, he’ll be managed by Mark Kotsay, a former Cal State Fullerton two-way player.

While all of that was happening, Lorenzen was sitting by the phone. Or more likely, given his physique, he was lifting the phone just to get a good pump in, even though the only sound on the other end was a dial tone. Finally, overnight just six days before his team’s first regular season game, Lorenzen has a deal with the Texas Rangers: One year, $4.5 million, with an additional $2.5 million possible in incentives. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Throw a Logan Gilbert-For-Cy Young Prediction at the Wall and See if It Sticks

Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

I went to high school in a state with an extremely late calendar, and I took a lot of AP classes. Which meant that from about the second week of May until the end of the school year in late June, most of my class schedule was pretty pointless. It’s hard to get a bunch of overworked, checked-out teens to focus in class with nothing on the line, especially when said teens have just seen the sun for the first time in six months. Full credit to the teachers who were able to thread that needle, but in general we watched a lot of movies and played a lot of rummy while the clock ran out.

And that’s sort of where we are in spring training. With most rosters all but set and the Dodgers and Padres already playing meaningful games in Korea, the only thing left to do is find a live rooster — was it a live rooster? — to take the curse off Jake Cronenworth’s glove. And that’s not gonna take all week.

So let’s make a prediction. Read the rest of this entry »

2024 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Jay Jaffe and Ben Clemens examined the state of first and second base. Today, we wrap up the infield positions, starting with a look at the league’s shortstops.

Shortstop is an incredibly important position. A team that can find someone to field it competently and put up significant offensive numbers can profit substantially. You’d think it’d be difficult to find a player who can do both. And yet, out of the 30 shortstop situations around the league, there are only a handful of real stinkers. Everyone else has a recent blockbuster free agent, or an emerging top prospect, or at the very least a solid starter. Teams know the value of a good two-way shortstop, so when they find one, they treasure him: Of the top nine teams in this ranking, seven have a starting shortstop who’s currently on a contract worth more than $150 million. Read the rest of this entry »

The Marlins Have One of the Best Rotations in Baseball. They Just Can’t Use It Right Now.

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Marlins righthander Max Meyer, an electrifying arm whose debut campaign two years ago was cut short by Tommy John surgery. I had been a big fan of Meyer’s game dating back to his days at the University of Minnesota, but in the pros he’d stumbled into a situation that’s fascinated me for years: the Marlins’ starting rotation.

The Marlins are a weird organization, battling from the bottom up against a tightfisted owner. They’ve seen off numerous well-regarded figures in both front office and field management — Michael Hill, Don Mattingly, and most recently Kim Ng — and from a cultural perspective they’ve vacillated between Florida’s two great cultural signifiers: the blue blazer and the pink flamingo.

But by God, they’ve tried stuff. And sometimes, they’ve been successful. Over the past five seasons, they have more playoff appearances and more postseason series wins than the Mets, Giants, Cubs, or Mariners. Most of all, they’ve been good at developing pitching. Read the rest of this entry »

Sweet Snell of Success

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It was closer than a lot of us thought it’d be, but Blake Snell has found a job before the Second Coming. The reigning Cy Young winner, left unemployed past St. Patrick’s Day by the merciless vicissitudes of the market, has come to terms with the San Francisco Giants on a two-year, $62 million contract with an opt-out after the 2024 season. Snell’s compensation includes a $17 million signing bonus, payable in January 2026, and a $15 million base salary in 2024.

The contract itself is something of an anticlimax for a player who supposedly turned down a similar AAV over six years because he wanted the same annual compensation over nine. And it’s not the one-year megabucks prove-it contract I speculated about six weeks ago. It’s probably not even worth the eyes emoji he posted to Instagram last Sunday.

Snell’s agent, Scott Boras, ran out the usual playbook — leave it late, hold the line, appeal directly to ownership. Boras has gotten more players nine-figure contracts than most agents have in their email contacts, and this is how he does it. And at the risk of being a huge bummer about Snell getting a top-10 AAV ever for a pitcher, the plan seems to have backfired. Read the rest of this entry »