Sunday Notes: Dispatches From the Winter Meetings in Nashville

Bob Melvin feels that the San Francisco Giants could use more star power. Hearing the team’s new manager say as much when he met with the media in Nashville earlier this week prompted a question from yours truly. Prefacing it by pointing out that the San Diego Padres team he led last year had no shortage of it, I asked the veteran skipper if it is possible to have too much “star power.”

“Not necessarily,” replied Melvin, whose 2023 Padres underachieved to the tune of an 82-80 record. “It just depends on the makeup. Look, the year before we went to the NLCS in my first year there. Last year was a disappointing season, but I don’t think there’s anything to make of it being a poor year because there was too much star power. They have some really good players there, it just didn’t work out as well.

“I am big on incorporating,” Melvin added. “I think everybody needs a role and everybody needs to feel they’re a part of it. That makes for a much better clubhouse. Everybody feels they’re important. There’s an enthusiasm to that. I think there’s a place for both.”

Scott Harris largely agrees with Melvin. When the subject of impact free agents such as Shohei Ohtani came up, I asked Detroit’s President of Baseball Operations the same question that I’d asked his San Francisco contemporary.

“There are obviously many ways to build a team,” said the 36-year-old executive. “My personal opinion is that you have to pay attention to the interaction between the players on the team. The pieces have to actually fir together, because we have to create a functional roster that A.J. [Hinch] can use to give us an edge every time we play. I don’t think team-building is as simple as star-collecting.

“You have to be mindful of in-game moves that will allow you to get an edge based on what the opponent does,” continued Harris. “I think you saw a little bit of that this year in Detroit, and you saw a lot of that in 2021 with us in San Francisco (where Harris was GM at the time). That’s my personal opinion. There are many other executives who have taken a different approach, but for me you have to pay very close attention to how the pieces interact with each other, and make up a dynamic lineup that fits together.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Andruw Jones went 9 for 16 against Denny Neagle.

Charlie Moore went 9 for 13 against Fritz Peterson.

Bob Coluccio went 7 for 9 against Mike Kekich.

Chris Davis went 6 for 7 against Chien-Ming Wang.

Jim Lefebvre went 6 for 9 against Bo Belinsky.

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Back in my November 12 column, I made note of how Cincinnati Reds pinch-hitters logged nine home runs and a 138 wRC+ over 146 plate appearances this past season. I asked David Bell about the process behind that success during his Winter Meetings media session.

“Our pinch hitters did do a great job,” Cincinnati’s manager told me. “The main reason for that was they did an amazing job of staying ready. One adjustment we made was making sure that they didn’t spend the whole game in the cage. They were into the game, out on the bench. When it got closer to the time that we may pinch-hit, they would go in and get loose and prepare themselves.

“Having been an assistant hitting coach at one point, I think that was important, because you can think too much when you’re down there. So, the credit goes to Terry Bradshaw and Tim LaMonte, who are our assistant hitting coaches, and to all of the guys who don’t start the games. They did a great job of staying ready.”

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Answering questions about recently-signed Wade Miley, Milwaukee Brewers manager Pat Murphy said that the 37-year-old southpaw is “getting smarter; a lot of these guys aren’t that smart and he’s one of those guys getting smarter.”

I proceeded to ask the personable bench-coach-turned-manager how he’d define “smart.”

“I was just throwing stuff out there,” said Murphy. [But] Wade is beyond-his-years competitive and beyond-his-years willing to help other people. Wade is about other people. To me, that makes him really, really smart. That’s what I was referring to. I wasn’t even talking necessarily about his pitching.”

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A quiz:

Roger Clemens has the most wins (354) among modern-era (since 1901) pitchers not in the Hall of Fame. Which modern-era pitcher not in the Hall of Fame has the second-most wins.

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Joe Castiglione was honored with this year’s Ford C. Frick Award, which recognizes excellence in broadcasting. The longest-tenured broadcaster in Red Sox history, Castiglione has been the team’s radio play-by-voice since 1983. The 76-year-old Hamden, Connecticut native began his broadcast career with the Cleveland Indians in 1979.

Philadelphia Phillies Director of Minor League Operations Lee McDaniel was honored with this year’s Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award, which is presented annually to an individual with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development. McDaniel has been in the game since 1990.

Rich Rice, VP of Baseball Communications for the Texas Rangers, is the recipient of the 2023 Robert O. Fishel Award for Public Relations Excellence. In related news, Cincinnati’s Rob Butcher announced during the Winter Meetings that he is retiring after 35 years on the job. The Reds’ VP of Media Relations won the Robert O. Fishel Award in 2006.

Vic Davalillo, an outfielder who played for six teams in a career that spanned the 1963-1980 seasons, died on December 6 at age 84. Used frequently as a pinch-hitter (390 plate appearances) the Cabimas, Venezuela native had his best year in 1972 when he slashed .318/.367/.413 with a 123 wRC+ for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dave Wehrmeister, a right-hander who pitched for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Chicago White Sox from 1976-1985, died this week at age 71. His final season was his best, as he logged a pair of wins, both of his career saves, and a 3.43 ERA with the White Sox. He threw four hitless and scoreless innings in each of his saves.

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The answer to the quiz is Tommy John, with 288 wins. There are 23 pitchers in the Hall of Fame with more than 288 wins, and 65 with fewer than 288 wins.

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Stephen Vogt will be a first-time manager in 2024, his having been hired by the Cleveland Guardians last month following a playing career that spanned the 2012-2022 seasons. The erstwhile catcher fielded multiple questions on in-game pitching decisions, and in answering one of them he cited the value of having Carl Willis in the dugout with him.

Just how much does Vogt plan to lean on the longtime pitching coach when making pitching moves? I asked him that question in Nashville.

“I mean, as much as I can without him falling over,” Vogt replied. “Obviously, with Carl’s experience and knowledge — I mean, he’s going to be heavily involved. Ultimately it’s my decision, and I’m going to own it, but Carl is going to be a huge support system. We’ll be talking constantly throughout the game.”

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Peter Bendix was a freshman at Tufts University in 2004 when he took a newly-designed course called Sabermetrics 101 (taught by Andy Andres, now at Boston University). Two decades later, the 38-year-old Cleveland native is now the President of Baseball Operations for the Miami Marlins, a position he was hired for in early October after 15 years in the Tampa Bay Rays front office. I asked Bendix for an example of what he learned in the course that stands out for its practical utility today.

“At the time, the concept of measuring defense analytically was pretty new,” replied Bendix. “The data available was much more rudimentary than we have now. Even the idea of being able to measure defense, and have that really be an important part of the statistical profile of a player, was eye-opening. There was a whole day devoted to defense in Andy’s class.”

To say that the ability to measure defense has evolved since the still-young executive’s days as a first-year college student would be an understatement.

“You can get metrics now that understand where the defender starts, how much ground he covered, how hard the ball was hit, and where it was hit,” explained Bendix. “All of those things allow you to measure defense better. And there are definitely still advancements to be made.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Roki Sasaki has reportedly asked the Chiba Lotte Marines to post him, thus making the 22-year-old right-hander eligible to sign with an MLB team. It is believed that the NPB club will be unwilling to do so at this time.

Shed Long Jr. is 8-for-49 with one home run for the Puerto Rican Winter League’s Cangrejeros de Santurce. The 28-year-old former Seattle Mariners infielder/outfielder played for the independent Atlantic League’s High Point Rockers this year.

Cole Winn is 1-0 with a 2.78 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22-and-two-thirds innings for the Puerto Rican Winter League’s Criollos de Caguas. The 24-year-old right-hander — Texas’s first-round pick in the 2018 draft — went 9-8 with a 7.22 ERA over 101 innings for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Round Rock Express.

Ty Buttrey is 0-3 with a 7.24 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13-and-two-thirds innings for the Dominican Winter League’s Leones del Escogido. The 30-year-old former Los Angeles Angels reliever made 14 appearances this year for the Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

Ronny Simon is slashing .324/.440/.471 with four home runs in 167 plate appearances for the Dominican Winter League’s Toros del Este. The 23-year-old infielder in the Tampa Bay Rays system slashed .250/.337/.400 with 13 homers in 553 PAs between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham.

Mallex Smith is slashing .302/.369/.430 with three home runs in 205 plate appearances for the Mexican Winter League’s Tomateros de Culiacan. The 30-year-old former big-league outfielder last played affiliated ball in 2022.

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As a rule, I don’t share quotes from media sessions when it wasn’t me asking the question. I’ll make an exception here and pass along words from Jerry Dipoto, who was addressing trade possibilities.

“Our pitching staff [has] a lot of talented players, and they’re almost all in their 20s,” Seattle’s President of Baseball Operations told reporters, myself included. “We get hit on them constantly. You’ll never tell somebody, ‘We don’t want to hear your overtures, so we’ll see what the market bears.’ As I said yesterday, we are going to lean into the thing that we do well, and if opportunity presents itself we have to listen. But by and large, we pitch it, we catch it, we’re very good at developing young players. We’re going to continue to focus on those.”

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Which of Ronald Acuña Jr, Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani. and Juan Soto will accumulate the most fWAR over the next three seasons? I asked that question in a Twitter poll on Friday, and before we get to the results, here are their fWAR totals over the past three seasons:

Acuña 14.9, Soto 16.4, Betts 18.7, Ohtani 26.4.

Their respective current ages — always a factor when making projections — are Acuña 25, Soto 25, Ohtani 29, Betts 31. Also notable is the fact that Ohtani has accumulated 10.9 of his 26.4 fWAR as a pitcher and he will be limited to DH duty next year after having undergone elbow surgery.

As for the poll results, 1,242 people cast votes and the winner — by a clear margin no less — was Acuña. The Atlanta Braves star garnered 49%, while Ohtani finished second at 36.6%. Somewhat surprisingly, Betts got just 7.7% support and Soto only 6.7%.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Cleveland Guardians improbably won this year’s draft lottery, a secret that the club’’s scouting director had to hold for two-and-a-half hours. Zack Meisel has the story at The Athletic (subscription required).

Bucs Dugout’s Connor Williams wrote about the Pirates’ offseason passivity.

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding talked to Todd Helton, who touted the Rockies’ young hitting talent.

At Yahoo Sports, Hannah Keyser wrote about how the collapse of the regional sports network is affecting MLB economics.

At The Los Angeles Times, Jorge Castillo wrote about how Shohei Ohtani’s free agency could be life-changing for the Japanese reporters who cover him.

San Diego Padres infielder Ha-Seong Kim 김하성 has filed a blackmail complaint against a South Korean baseball player he had a physical altercation with at a Seoul bar two years ago. Jee-ho Yoo has the story at the Yonhap News Agency.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Willie Mays’s annual salary when he won the National League’s MVP award in 1954 was $12,000, which is roughly equal to $137,000 in today’s dollars. Mays was worth 10.3 WAR and helped lead the New York Giants to a World Series title that year.

Salvador Perez batted .255, homered 23 times, and drew 19 walks this year. He batted .254, homered 23 times, and drew 18 walks in 2022.

Ted Williams won six batting titles. His walk totals in those seasons were 147, 145, 162, 126, 119, and 98. Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn combined to win 15 batting titles. Their walk totals in those years ranged from 35 to 82.

Hall of Fame right-hander Bob Lemon logged 37 career home runs. He went a combined 10-for-15 with six doubles and a home run against Don Larsen and Phil Marchildon, and 10-for-17 with two doubles against Dick Fowler.

In 1931, Boston Red Sox right-hander Wes Ferrell faced 1,227 batters and allowed nine home runs. He came to the plate 128 times and hit nine home runs.

Wee Willie Keeler had 13 triples and 12 doubles for the National League’s Brooklyn Superbas in 1899. Teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings had 10 triples and three doubles.

The California Angels traded Jim Fregosi to the New York Mets in exchange for Nolan Ryan and three other players on today’s date in 1971. Fregosi went on to log 318 hits, including 36 home runs, over the remainder of his career. Ryan went on to log 295 wins and 5,221 strikeouts.

The Houston Astros traded Kenny Lofton and another player to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Willie Blair and Ed Taubensee on today’s date in 1991. Lofton, who’d played in 20 big-league games prior to the deal, went on to finish his arguably Hall of Fame-worthy career with 2,428 hits, 622 stolen bases, and 62.4 WAR.

Players born on today’s date include Verdo Elmore, a native of Gordo, Alabama who went 3-for-17 in a seven-game cup of coffee with the St. Louis Browns in 1924. He is the only Verdo in MLB history.

Also born on today’s date was Jocko Conlon, an infielder whose career comprised 59 games with the Boston Braves in 1923. Not to be confused with Hall of Fame umpire Jocko Conlan, the Harvard University product logged 32 big-league hits, 64 fewer than the similarly-named arbiter had with the Chicago White Sox from 1934-1935 in his own brief playing career.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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sadtrombonemember
4 months ago

Got the quiz answer right this time. I knew that basically anyone with 300 wins was in and Tommy John was close.

I think it’s kind of crazy he’s not in. I realize he’s not the person who did the surgery but he was the one who had it, and his hall case is almost there even without the historic nature of his surgery and recovery.

Left of Centerfield
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I went with Moyer. Looks like he’s second with 269.

MikeSmember
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I just knew that before Clemens, he was always quoted as the guy with the most wins in baseball who wasn’t in. I briefly thought it might be a trick question and considered Kershaw/Greinke/Verlander/Sherzer, but I didn’t think any of them had as many as Tommy John.

I agree on his fame. You can’t really tell the story of modern baseball without it, so you can’t do it without him. It isn’t only pitchers either. Paul Molitor wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if TJS hadn’t been available in 1984.