Tommy Lasorda died over the weekend at the age of 93. He was originally signed by the Phillies as a minor league player but then released. The then-Brooklyn Dodgers picked him up in the late 1940s and he spent the rest of his life with the Dodgers’ organization save for one year when he was sold or traded 3 times and wound up back with the Dodgers. From there he became their coach or manager from 1973 to 1996. After retiring from baseball, he became a de facto ambassador for the sport itself.
Rest in peace, Tommy Lasorda.
Even though that introductory note is somewhat dispiriting, let me stick to the topic of baseball this morning. MLB has been on hiatus for two-and-a-half months since the end of the World Series in October. In “normal times” we would be about a month away from “pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training” and there would have already been a lot of trades and free agent signings on the books by now. That is not nearly the case in January 2021; there have been two “significant” trades and a free agent signing or two, but much of the expected news from the “Hot Stove League” has been silent.
The “party line” for the 2021 MLB season is that it will start on April 1st and will run for a full 162 games. That pronouncement was made last July even before the truncated 2020 season began. A lot has happened since then and we have – presumably – learned a thing or two about “staging sporting events in a pandemic” since then. There has been talk of delaying the start of the season until May and playing only 120 – 140 games for the regular season. Naturally, the players’ union opposes that proposal so there is still some uncertainty as to when the season will begin and how long it will run.
[Aside: I swear that the MLBPA would oppose a cancer cure if the MLB owners “invented” it and the MLB owners would do the same if the situation were reversed.]
Allow me to toss another coal into the “Hot Stove” here and cite an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:
“Waiting game: Major League Baseball is taking its time deciding whether the National League will use the designated hitter this season, making it difficult for teams to know whom to acquire. It’s as if Commissioner Rob Manfred is begging for more bad publicity.”
In that backdrop of uncertainty, there have been two offseason trades labeled as “blockbusters”, one other trade that could be interesting in retrospective and a lot of hemming-and-hawing on the free agent market:
- “Blockbuster” #1: This move is actually two moves that were made so close in time that they appear to have been part of a grand scheme. The San Diego Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Rays and Yu Darvish from the Cubs in about 24 hours. The Padres sent 4 prospects to the Rays for Snell and four more prospects to the Cubs for Darvish. [Aside: The Padres also signed a highly sought-after Korean infielder, Ha-Seong Kim.] It would appear that the Padres are taking aim at the Dodgers’ hegemony in the NL West. Interestingly, these moves might make it seem as if other teams in the NL West are far off the pace. If that is the case, might that lead the Rockies to want to trade Nolan Arenado? Now, that would produce a “blockbuster” swap…
- “Blockbuster” #2: The Mets acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Indians for two minor leaguers and two young players who have been OK for the Mets at the major-league level but nothing more than that. It is hard for me to think that this is much more than a salary dump by the Indians because the talent levels of the players involved are not nearly in balance.
- Potentially interesting trade: The Nats acquired Josh Bell from the Pirates. Bell had a disappointing season – to say the least – in 2020 but he made the All-Star team in 2019 and he is only 28 years old. To acquire Bell, the Nats gave up two minor league pitchers. Is Bell an “All-Star caliber player” or was 2019 a mirage? Could be interesting…
There are more than a hundred free agents out there who remain unsigned. Some of them will fade into oblivion as their careers come to an end, but there are plenty of valuable assets out there on the market – – and we are theoretically only a month away from the start of Spring Training. I will list here only a dozen that I think should be interesting to more than a few teams:
- Trevor Bauer – Starting pitcher
- Jackie Bradly Jr. – Outfielder
- Alex Colome – Reliever
- Didi Gregorius – Shortstop
- DJ LaMehieu – Second baseman
- Jake Odorizzi – Starting pitcher
- Marcel Ozuna – Outfielder
- JT Realmuto – Catcher
- George Springer – Outfielder
- Marcus Stroman – Starting pitcher
- Masahiro Tanaka – Starting Pitcher
- Justin Turner – Third baseman
We are fast approaching the time when Scott Boras will emerge from wherever he spends his time to announce that the lack of offers in the free agent marketplace – – particularly the lack of offers to his clients – – is proof positive of owner collusion. If history is a guide, he will offer hearsay evidence at best to support his collusion theories and the baseball writers will report them lending various levels of credulity to them. And then they will evaporate until late next January…
Finally, let me close today with a note from longtime Dodgers’ infielder, Steve Garvey, about Tommy Lasorda:
“Lasorda’s standard reply when some new kid would ask directions to the whirlpool was to tell him to stick his foot in the toilet and flush it.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………