Maybe catching isn’t as demanding and difficult a profession as lumberjacking or deep sea fishing, but it’s hard, man. There aren’t many people out there who can live up to the position’s enormous physical and intellectual demands, fewer still can do all that and hit at a level that registers as more than “automatic out” to opposing pitchers.
Even in the latter reaches of this year’s postseason, guys like Austin Hedges, Yadier Molina, and Martín Maldonado kept getting starts because they were a safe pair of hands behind the plate, even as the outs piled up at a rate that would’ve been unacceptable at any other position. Surefire two-way stars like J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, and Adley Rutschman are rarer than at any other position, and the ranks of first-division starters swell and wane as a Jose Trevino suddenly learns how to hit, or an Austin Nola’s throwing becomes problematic.
So when a catcher comes along who can hit — like, really hit — that’s a rare thing. Even if the defense isn’t ideal, a catcher with a dangerous bat is worth, well, let’s ask the St. Louis Cardinals. Turns out they think it’s worth the five years and $87.5 million they just gave Willson Contreras. Read the rest of this entry »
The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
Carlos Beltrán was the quintessential five-tool player, a switch-hitting center fielder who harnessed his physical talents and became a superstar. Aided by a high baseball IQ that was essentially his sixth tool, he spent 20 seasons in the majors, making nine All-Star teams, winning three Gold Gloves, helping five different franchises reach the playoffs, and putting together some of the most dominant stretches in postseason history once he got there. At the end of his career, he helped the Astros win a championship.
Drafted out of Puerto Rico by the Royals, Beltrán didn’t truly thrive until he was traded away. He spent the heart of his career in New York, first with the Mets — on what was at the time the largest free-agent contract in team history — and later the Yankees. He endured his ups and downs in the Big Apple and elsewhere, including his share of injuries. Had he not missed substantial portions of three seasons, he might well have reached 3,000 hits, but even as it is, he put up impressive, Cooperstown-caliber career numbers. Not only is he one of just eight players with 300 homers and 300 stolen bases, but he also owns the highest stolen base success rate (86.4%) of any player with at least 200 attempts.
Alas, two years after Beltrán’s career ended, he was identified as the player at the center of the biggest baseball scandal in a generation: the Astros’ illegal use of video replay to steal opponents’ signs in 2017 and ’18. He was “the godfather of the whole program” in the words of Tom Koch-Weser, the team’s director of advance information, and the only player identified in commissioner Rob Manfred’s January 2020 report. But between that report and additional reporting by the Wall Street Journal, it seems apparent that the whole team, including manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, was well aware of the system and didn’t stop him or his co-conspirators. In that light, it’s worth wondering about the easy narrative that has left Beltrán holding the bag; Hinch hardly had to break stride in getting another managerial job once his suspension ended. While Beltrán was not disciplined by the league, the fallout cost him his job as manager of the Mets before he could even oversee a game, and he has yet to get another opportunity.
Will Beltrán’s involvement in sign stealing cost him a berth in Cooperstown, the way allegations concerning performance-enhancing drugs have for a handful of players with otherwise Hallworthy numbers? At the very least it appears likely to keep him from getting elected this year. What remains to be seen is whether voters treat him like Rafael Palmeiro and banish him for a big mistake (a positive PED test) in the final season of an otherwise impressive career, or like Roberto Alomar and withhold the honor of first-ballot induction for an out-of-character incident (spitting at an umpire) before giving him his due. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Tuesday’s 40-man roster deadline led to the usual squall of transaction activity, with teams turning over portions of their rosters in an effort to make room for the incoming crop of young rookies. Often, teams with an overflow of viable big leaguers will try to get back what they can for some of those players via trade, but because we’re talking about guys straddling the line between major league viability and Triple-A, those trades tend not to be big enough to warrant an entire post.
Over the next few days, we’ll endeavor to cover and analyze the moves made by each team, division by division. Readers can view this as the start of list season, as the players covered in this miniseries tend to be prospects who will get big league time in the next year. We’ll spend more time discussing players who we think need scouting updates or who we haven’t written about in the past. If you want additional detail on some of the more famous names you find below, pop over to The Board for a more thorough report.
The Future Value grades littered throughout these posts may be different than those on the 2022 in-season prospect lists on The Board to reflect our updated opinions and may be subject to change during the offseason. New to our thinking on this subject and wondering what the FVs mean? Here’s a quick rundown. Note that because we’re talking about close-to-the-majors prospects across this entire exercise, the time and risk component is less present here and these FVs are what we think the players are right now. Read the rest of this entry »
The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
“A hard-charging third baseman” who “could have played shortstop with more range than Cal Ripken.” “A no-nonsense star.” “The perfect baseball player.” Scott Rolen did not lack for praise, particularly in the pages of Sports Illustrated at the height of his career. A masterful, athletic defender with the physical dimensions of a tight end (listed at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds), Rolen played with an all-out intensity, sacrificing his body in the name of stopping balls from getting through the left side of the infield. Many viewed him as the position’s best for his time, and he more than held his own with the bat as well, routinely accompanying his 25–30 homers a year with strong on-base percentages.
There was much to love about Rolen’s game, but particularly in Philadelphia, the city where he began his major league career and the one with a reputation for fraternal fondness, he found no shortage of critics — even in the Phillies organization. Despite winning 1997 NL Rookie of the Year honors and emerging as a foundation-type player, Rolen was blasted publicly by manager Larry Bowa and special assistant to the general manager Dallas Green. While ownership pinched pennies and waited for a new ballpark, fans booed and vilified him. Eventually, Rolen couldn’t wait to skip town, even when offered a deal that could have been worth as much as $140 million. Traded in mid-2002 to the Cardinals, he referred to St. Louis as “baseball heaven,” which only further enraged the Philly faithful.
In St. Louis, Rolen provided the missing piece of the puzzle, helping a team that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1987 make two trips in three years (2004 and ’06), with a championship in the latter. A private, introverted person who shunned endorsement deals, he didn’t have to shoulder the burden of being a franchise savior, but as the toll of his max-effort play caught up to him in the form of chronic shoulder and back woes, he clashed with manager Tony La Russa and again found himself looking for the exit. After a brief detour to Toronto, he landed in Cincinnati, where again he provided the missing piece, helping the Reds return to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. Read the rest of this entry »
The National League Rookie of the Year award was announced on Monday evening, with Michael Harris II of the Braves taking home the honor. Harris earned the hardware by collecting 22 of 30 first-place votes from the BBWAA writers, convincingly beating out teammate Spencer Strider, who only collected eight (and was left off one ballot completely), including mine.
Getting inappropriately annoyed with year-end awards — more specifically in 1995, the year Mo Vaughn beat Albert Belle in the AL and Dante Bichette confusingly finished second in the NL — was one of the things that got me reading Usenet. A high schooler at the time, I had little idea that it was the start of an astonishing career path. And even back then, I was frustrated that the writers who voted for these awards didn’t always make convincing arguments about their picks and, occasionally, offered no justifications at all. I still believe that this kind of transparency is crucial for the legitimacy of any type of award. This is ostensibly an expert panel — if it’s not, there’s no purpose for the award to exist — and as such, a secret ballot is not appropriate the way I believe it is for, say, a presidential or parliamentary election.
In my previous Rookie of the Year ballots, I gave my first-place votes to Corey Seager, Pete Alonso, and Trevor Rogers. The last one basically ruined my social media for a week. I had expected more writers to pick Jonathan India, but I felt (and still do) that Rogers had a slightly stronger case for the award. While it wouldn’t have changed my vote, I freely admit that I would have preferred to be one of three or five Rogers voters rather than end up being alone!
As usual, I will now endeavor to explain why I voted for the players I voted for. Read the rest of this entry »
Say this for the Cardinals: They do a very good job of keeping the band together. On Wednesday, the news broke that Adam Wainwright will return to the team for his 19th and final major league season. On Saturday, St. Louis revealed that Nolan Arenado has declined to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, meaning that he will remain in the fold through 2027, making $144 million (much of it deferred) for the five-year period.
In his second season with the Cardinals, the 31-year-old Arenado set career highs in WAR (7.3) and wRC+ (151) — numbers that ranked second and fourth in the NL, respectively — and hit .292/.358/.533 with 30 homers. He made his seventh All-Star team and is a finalist to win a 10th Gold Glove; if he does win the award, he’ll tie Mike Schmidt for the second-highest total behind only Brooks Robinson (16). As he also led the NL in bWAR (7.9), and therefore edged teammate Paul Goldschmidt in both versions (Goldy had 7.1 fWAR and 7.8 bWAR), he stands a reasonable chance of winning the NL MVP award. But whether or not he does, the Cardinals couldn’t have asked for anything more from their third baseman.
When Arenado signed his eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies in February 2019, his contract included no-trade protection as well as the ability to opt out after the 2021 season. His relationship with the organization began to sour quite quickly after that deal came together, however, and he was traded to St. Louis in February 2021 along with $51 million in guaranteed and conditional payments. As part of the trade, he agreed to defer about $50 million, payable over the 2022–41 timespan; accepted a guaranteed salary of $15 million for 2027; and received an additional opt-out after the 2022 season. By opting out either after last year or this one, he could have saved Colorado about $20.57 million from that $51 million figure, but because he’s staying, his old team is on the hook for that money, which includes $5 million annual payments from 2024 to ’26. He’s the gift that keeps on giving to the Rockies’ beleaguered front office. Via Cot’s Contracts, he’ll receive $35 million for 2023 and ’24, and subsequent salaries of $32 million, $27 million, and $15 million. Read the rest of this entry »
No matter how many photo ops he posed for with the retiring Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, no matter how many cameos he made in the broadcast booth, Adam Wainwright never actually said that 2022 would be his last season in professional baseball. And sure enough, as first reported by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wainwright will return to the Cardinals in 2023.
Surely, if Wainwright were to pitch anywhere this year, it would be here. The Cardinals, perhaps by dint of producing so many memorable players in this century, do seem to be uniquely sentimental about their old guys. And Wainwright has been pitching there so long he probably still refers to Missouri as “French Louisiana.” Still, this is no mere victory lap. Wainwright is not the all-spinning, all-conquering ace he was 10–12 years ago, but he can still pitch. This past year, in a season during which he turned 41, he finished second on the Cardinals in innings and strikeouts and 13th and 32nd in the entire league in innings and ERA-, respectively. That’s quite impressive for someone who’s older than Blade Runner.
There are two main questions regarding Wainwright’s outlook this year: What can one last season do for him; and what can he do for the Cardinals? Read the rest of this entry »
Matt Mervis didn’t get a ton of opportunities to hit at Duke University. He hit a ton this summer in his second full season of pro ball. Signed by the Chicago Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2020, the 24-year-old first baseman went deep 36 times across three levels — 15 of his dingers came in Triple-A — while slashing a robust .309/.379/.606. Currently competing in the Arizona Fall League, he has four home runs to go with an 1.103 OPS in 36 plate appearances with the Mesa Solar Sox.
Mervis’s ability to clear fences is his calling card, but that’s not how he views himself as a hitter.
“I have power, but I wouldn’t call myself a power hitter,” said Mervis, who went into yesterday as the AFL’s co-leader in home runs along with Heston Kjerstad. “I like to be a hitter. I hit for average and hate striking out. I try to move the ball, and if it turns into a double or a home run that’s great. I’m a big guy and hit the ball hard naturally, so it was really just simplifying my swing that led me to driving the ball more this year.”
Mervis does recognize that extra-base power is a big part of what will get him to the big leagues. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, slashing singles would be a path to nowhere.
“I’m a left-handed-hitting first baseman and it’s what we’re supposed to do in a lineup,” acknowledged Mervis. “That was the case long before the game turned to home runs and strikeouts. I grew up watching guys like David Ortiz, Prince Fielder, and Anthony Rizzo, a bunch of left handed hitters with a bunch of power. I don’t put pressure on myself to do that, but I obviously want to hit home runs and help us win.” Read the rest of this entry »
On ESPN2’s Phillies-Cardinals broadcast, Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez — like everyone has at some point this postseason — explained why baseball has become a Three True Outcome-driven sport. You know the gist: Pitchers have become so good it’s hard to string together sequential offense. Better to wait for a mistake and swing like hell when it comes.
For the first time since 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies have won a playoff series, and Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina have taken part in a meaningful professional game for the last time. These things are so because of mistakes: Who made them, which ones went unpunished, and which ones decided a tense 2-0 game. Read the rest of this entry »
Playoff baseball is a game of rapid reversals and slow-motion disasters. When heartbreak comes, it will either slap you in the face or gradually immure you in slime.
We saw both at Busch Stadium on Friday afternoon, as the Cardinals struck a lightning blow against the Phillies, then — just two outs from a commanding series lead — turned around to find out that the world was ending at a walking pace. A 2-0 ninth-inning lead turned into a 6-3 loss over the course of one bizarre half-inning. The Phillies are now, improbably, merely one win from advancing to the NLDS. Behold the fallout, a win probability chart that looks like a slide whistle sounds:
Read the rest of this entry »