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MLB rumors: Rockies, Trevor Story agree to two-year contract; Starling Marte trade rumors heating up


Almost all notable free agents have signed, and we’re gradually shifting our focus toward spring training and the approaching hoof-beats thereof. That said, rumors still lurk among us, and we’re here to keep you updated on them. Speaking of which, here’s Friday’s crop of MLB buzz. 

Rockies, Story agree to extension

Shortstop Trevor Story and the Colorado Rockies have reportedly agreed to a two-year, $27.5 million contract extension. Story’s deal will cover the final two years of arbitration eligibility, and he is now set to reach free agency at 29 years-old, after the 2021 season. You can read more about the deal here.

Marte trade talk still going

Jon Heyman reports that trade talks regarding Pirates outfielder Starling Marte are “heating up” and that the Mets and Padres are heavily involved. The Pirates, who appear to be headed for a full teardown, are surely willing to part with Marte, and he’s of interest to certain aspiring contenders. 

Marte, 31, isn’t best deployed in center any longer, but he can still be a defensive asset at an outfield corner. He still adds value on the bases, and this past season at the plate he produced right in line with career norms (120 OPS+). Marte’s under contract for $11.5 million in 2020, and his pact includes a $12.5 million club option/$1 million buyout for 2021. That’s control with some flexibility from the team standpoint, and it adds to Marte’s trade value.

As for fits, the Mets have a fairly crowded outfield situation at the moment, so they’re not particularly desperate for Marte. The Padres have already added Tommy Pham to the fold this winter, and they’ve recently been connected in trade talks to Mookie Betts of the Red Sox. Betts is the better player, but as fallback options go Marte isn’t a bad one. 

Cubs, Souza close to deal

The Cubs are close to fortifying their outfield situation by signing veteran outfielder Steven Souza, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports.

Souza, 30, missed all of last season after tearing multiple knee ligaments late in spring training. In 2018, Souza struggled across 72 games in large measure because of a pectoral injury. In 2017, he enjoyed his last healthy and productive season, as he put up an OPS+ of 119 with 30 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 148 games. As a right-handed hitter, Souza could fit well as an occasional platoon partner for Kyle Schwarber or Jason Heyward in the outfield corners. 

Rosenthal goes on to note that Souza’s deal would be a major league contract. If finalized, it would be the Cubs’ first major league free agent signing of the offseason. 

Pence wants to keep playing

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, veteran outfielder Hunter Pence wants to play again in 2020. Following the 2018 season, it looked like Pence’s career might be over, but last season in his age-36 campaign he bounced back in a big way. In 83 games for the Rangers, Pence batted .297/.358/.552 with 18 home runs. As well, those strides came after some swing changes that gave Pence more loft and significantly higher exit velocity. That raises hopes that Pence’s gains may be sustainable, at least in the near-term. Don’t be surprised if he finds his way to at least an NRI before the offseason is over. 

Marlins chasing two former Cub relievers

According to Craig Mish, the Marlins are pursuing a pair of right-handed relievers who played for the Cubs last season: Pedro Strop and Brandon Kintzler

Strop, 34, pitched to a disappointing 4.97 ERA in 2019, but he was borderline dominant as recently as 2018. As for Kintzler, 35, he registered a 2.68 ERA in 57 innings last season with some of the strongest command-and-control numbers of his career. Given that Miami ranked 25th in bullpen ERA last season, they can use the help. 





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Dallas Keuchel becomes first player from 2017 Astros to issue apology for cheating scandal


Dallas Keuchel became the first former or current member of the 2017 Houston Astros to offer a public apology for the team’s sign-stealing scandal when speaking at a fan convention for the Chicago White Sox, his current team, on Friday. Here’s what he told reporters, courtesy of the Associated Press:

“First and foremost I think apologies should be in order for, if not everybody on the team. It was never intended to be what it is made to be right now. I think when stuff comes out about things that happen over the course of a major-league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of ‘Oh, my gosh, this has never happened before.’ “

“I’m not going to go into specific detail, but during the course of the playoffs in ’17, everybody was using multiple signs. I mean, for factual purposes, when there’s nobody on base, when in the history of major league baseball has there been multiple signs? It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point and time. Was it against the rules? Yes it was, and I personally am sorry for what’s come about, the whole situation. It is what it is, and we’ve got to move past that. I never thought anything would’ve come like it did. I, myself, am sorry.”

Kechuel, 32, was drafted by the Astros in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft and spent seven seasons (2012-2018) before signing as a free agent with the Braves in June. He finished his abbreviated 2019 season with an 8-8 record and a 3.75 ERA (121 ERA+). This offseason, Keuchel signed a three-year deal with the Chicago White Sox.

Allegations against the Astros illegally using a center-field camera to steal signs and relay the signs in real-time to batters were first brought to light by former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers in a bombshell report from The Athletic. After Major League Baseball’s investigation, commissioner Rob Manfred announced punishments for the Astros stemming from the club’s alleged sign-stealing scheme in a nine-page report. Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were each suspended a year from baseball, and later fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

Manfred later said that the league has no plans to vacate the Astros’ 2017 title or the Red Sox’s 2018 title. Boston is also currently under investigation for an electronic sign-stealing scandal of its own. As a result of the Astros investigation and subsequent report, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was heavily implicated in the investigative report on the Astros’ cheating scandal, was fired by Boston.

Keuchel pitched the following games during the 2017 World Series run:

  • ALDS Game 2 vs. Boston (8-2 win): 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO
  • ALCS Game 1 vs. N.Y. Yankees (2-1 win): 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO
  • ALCS Game 5 at N.Y. Yankees (5-0 loss): 4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO
  • World Series Game 1 at L.A. Dodgers (3-1 loss): 6.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO
  • World Series Game 5 vs. L.A. Dodgers (13-12 win): 3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO

With his public apology, Keuchel becomes the first former or current member of the 2017 team to offer a public apology for the team’s sign-stealing scandal. 

Although Keuchel is the first to publicly apologize, he might not be the last in the weeks and months to come. Last week at the Astros’ FanFest event, Alex Bregman, usually one of the most outspoken players in the game, didn’t have much to say about the club’s sign-stealing scandal. Bregman’s teammate Jose Altuve, however, was a bit more defiant, declaring the Astros would return to the World Series this coming season. After Altuve and Bregman’s comments, Crane said that the players will apologize and ask for forgiveness once they get together for spring training next month.





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Astros manager rumors: Brad Ausmus joins Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter, John Gibbons as candidates for job


The Houston Astros aren’t wasting any time when it comes to finding their replacement for former manager A.J. Hinch, who was ousted in the wake of the team’s sign-stealing scandal last Monday. After the club was reportedly connected to former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and former Baltimore Orioles skipper Buck Showalter for the position, another name emerged Friday. 

Former Tigers and Angels manager and former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus is now a candidate for the job, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. Ausmus, 50, spent 10 of his 18 seasons as a player in Houston uniform. He also managed the Tigers for four seasons and led them to a division title in 2014. Ausmus managed the Angels in 2019 and guided them to a disappointing 72-90 record before being let go in favor of Joe Maddon. Across five seasons as a major league manager, Ausmus has a record of 386-422 (.478). 

Former Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also set to meet with the club earlier in the week to discuss their managerial vacancy, according to McTaggart.

Astros owner Jim Crane announced the firings of Hinch along with general manager Jeff Luhlow following the completion of Major League Baseball’s investigation and punishment toward the Astros for their high-tech sign-stealing scandal. With less than a month until spring training begins, the clock is ticking for the Astros to find Hinch’s permanent replacement.

Baker, 70, spent time as a manager for the San Francisco Giants (1993-2002), Chicago Cubs (2003-2006) and Cincinnati Reds (2008-2013) before joining the Nationals for a two-year stint for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The three-time NL Manager of the Year (1993, 1997, 2000) won an NL pennant with the Giants in 2002 and has nine total playoff appearances.

“I’m just hoping to bring some love back to baseball, some integrity to the game, and I think I got relative respect in the game,” Baker told McTaggart. “There’s something missing. I need a [World Series] championship, and I’d like to bring a championship to the city of Houston.”

The Astros and Red Sox are searching for new managers less than a month before spring training as Alex Cora was also let go for their roles in Houston’s scandal.

With the Cubs, Baker led the team to its first division title in 14 years, and with the Reds, he led the club to their playoff appearance in 15 years. During his time with Washington, Baker led the Nats to an NL East title before losing to the Dodgers in the NLDS. The following season, the Nats took home the NL East title again before losing to the Cubs in the NLDS. Overall, Baker has a managerial record of 1,863-1,636 (.536) and a 23-32 postseason record.

Some of the other reported candidates for the Astros job include ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez and current Astros bench coach Joe Espada. Perez is interviewing for the position on Tuesday, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Perez played in the big leagues for 13 seasons and has experience managing in the World Baseball Classic and in the Puerto Rican winter league, but he has never managed for a MLB club. Perez was also the Astros bench coach during the 2013 season. He was a serious candidate for the Mets manager job after the club dismissed Mickey Callaway last offseason.

Espada, meanwhile, has already been interviewed by the club, reports MLB Network’s Jon HeymanEspada, 44, has spent the past two seasons with the Astros after previously serving on Joe Girardi’s staff with the New York Yankees. He was a legitimate candidate for the Giants and Cubs jobs earlier this offseason.

Cubs third-base coach Will Venable, former Rangers manager Jeff Banister and Dodgers special assistant Raul Ibanez are also reportedly in the mix for the position. Bruce Bochy’s name was also mentioned, but The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the longtime Giants skipper does not plan to pursue any of the available managing jobs this winter. Bochy retired following the 2019 season.





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How the top 10 MLB free agent signings project to perform during the 2020 season


Know what we should do right the heck now? We should start thinking and talking about the 2020 season. Hear this: We’re clear of the Hall of Fame announcement, almost every impact free agent is off the board, and pitchers and catchers begin wandering the byways of Arizona and Florida in less than a month. That means it’s time to begin pondering actual, real life, for keeps baseball. 

To that noble end, let’s discuss how the most coveted free agents of the 2019-20 class figure to fare in the season to come. Now that Josh Donaldson has landed with the Twins on a $92 million pact, that means the top 10 of our top 50 free agents are all spoken for. So let’s now dig into our SportsLine Projection Model and see what kinds of numbers the top free agents can be expected to churn out starting in late March. 

Speaking of the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter), here’s how its creator Stephen Oh describes it: 

“The model takes each player’s stats, determines the probability of every outcome per plate appearance (given the pitcher, batter, situation, etc.) and simulates a single game. We repeat the simulation thousands of times to calculate each team’s chances of winning. We use each game’s simulated win percentages to do our playoff forecasts and bets against the odds. In addition to tracking team wins/losses, we track the stats that the players’ generate in the simulations (both individual game and the sum of the entire season).”

Got it? Got it. Now let’s see what SportsLine sees in the offing for those top 10 free agents, in order of their ranking: 

Needless to say, this is a promising forecast for Rendon in the first year of a seven-year, $245 million pact with the Angels. While it’s a very slight step back from the numbers he put up in his final season with the Nationals, it’s in truth a superficial step back once you consider that Angel Stadium is a much more pitcher-friendly environment than Nationals Park is. (Yep, SportsLine takes into account home ballparks in its player projections.) This is exactly the kind of production the Angels are hoping for at the front end of Rendon’s contract, and it’s in keeping with his recent history.

Will the Yankees be disappointed if this is Cole’s debut season in pinstripes? Not particularly. Fans might expect more from their $324 million man, but that’s a strong season. Overall, though, this is a fairly bearish projection given Cole’s dominance over the last two seasons. He’s expected to top 200 innings for the fifth time in the last six seasons, but he’s also expected to post his highest ERA and lowest strikeout total since 2017. Given that Cole made huge strides after increasing his spin rate on Houston’s watch and given that he should be able to take those gains with him to the Bronx, this scribe will take the over on those numbers. 

Strasburg is back with the champion Nats on a seven-year, $245 million contract, and they’ll no doubt be pleased if he hits these numbers. He’s expected to come down a bit from his NL-leading 209 innings a season ago, but that’s a thoroughly reasonable expectation given his past health and durability issues. That 3.09 ERA would be the third-best qualifying mark of his career and a bit better than his current career mark of 3.17. In other words, SportsLine expects something close to peak Strasburg in his age-30 campaign.

Delight in this projection, Twins partisans. Donaldson is coming off a strong 2019 with the Braves, but going into his age-34 season decline is a distinct possibility. SportsLine, though, expects nothing of the sort. Donaldson is again expected to be durable and productive, and those 39 forecasted homers would be his highest tally since his MVP season of 2015. What you see above is close to an ideal scenario for Donaldson and Minnesota. 

Grandal is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and he’s also one of the top producers at the position. That explains why the White Sox were willing to commit four years and $73 million to him going into his age-31 season. SportsLine expects Grandal to continue being a “take and rake” threat the plate. That .508 SLG would be a career-best, and in terms of OPS, he’s projected to finish second only to Mitch Garver among catchers. SportsLine does expect some decline in durability, as those 122 games played would be Grandal’s fewest since 2015. Even if that’s the case, the Sox will more than get their money’s worth. 

MadBum’s first season in the desert on a five-year, $85 million deal is expected to go reasonably well. Age 30 and heavily used early in his career, Bumgarner is projected to make 30 starts but average less than six innings per. The 3.76 ERA, although it would be the second-highest figure of his career, would be an improvement over last year’s 3.90. Those 165 strikeouts would be the lowest full-season total of his career. Given the mileage on Bumgarner and the velocity loss, this isn’t a bad projection for 2020. It does, however, raise some concerns about how the back end of this deal will go for the D-Backs. 

The Phillies paid nine figures for Wheeler despite a spotty health history and a general lack of ace-ish results. They’re betting that Wheeler has leveled up on a fundamental basis, and that’s a defensible position when you look at things like spin rate and his command-and-control indicators. SportsLine, though, doesn’t see much of a leap forward in year one. The numbers you see above are very close to what Wheeler authored in 2019. If he repeats that performance, then he’ll be worth the money and improve the Phillies’ rotation. The next step toward ace status, however, would elude Wheeler. 

Don’t forget that at one point fairly deep into the 2019 season, Ryu was both the runaway NL Cy Young favorite and on pace to set the single-season record for K/BB ratio. Stretch drive struggles, however, knocked him down to second in the balloting and took a bite out of his numbers. While SportsLine doesn’t expect him to repeat last season’s workload, it does see Ryu as notching a qualifying number of innings for just the third time in his career. Ryu’s a low-velocity, deep-repertoire hurler who sometimes struggles with changeup command. Maybe that’s why the system expects him to put up a 3.72 ERA after running an ERA of 2.21 ERA since the start of the 2018 season (a span of 44 starts). On a rate basis, he’s expected to revert to his 2017 form, basically. The Jays inked him for $80 million over four years, so even with that level of regression Ryu would be of great benefit to Toronto. 

At age 36, Hamels is the oldest of our top 10, but what matters is skill retention. On that front, SportsLine expects modest improvement on the ERA front in Hamels’ first season with the Braves. He used to be a regular acquaintance with 200 inning seasons, but semi-serious oblique injuries have troubled him in two of the last three seasons. The system is picking up on that loss of durability when it tabs Hamels to barely top qualifier status. Given his age and recent history, that passes the smell test. He’s on a one-year deal with Atlanta, and all parties should be pleased with these kinds of numbers. 

Keuchel signed late with the Braves last season and had strong results despite not making his first start until late June (a normal spring ramp-up is pretty important for moundsmen). He pitched well enough to earn himself a three-year guarantee with the White Sox. He’s expected to make 31 starts (and 21 quality starts), and while the ERA is in the 4.00’s, he’ll still be quite useful to a Sox rotation that badly needs innings and stability. 


So there they are, etched in digital stone. If you’d like to check more of these projections for 2020, whether for fantasy purposes or in the service of emotional uplift, you can go here and frolic





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Derek Jeter falls one vote short of being unanimous Hall of Fame pick; why he deserved every vote


On Tuesday, iconic New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became the newest member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He and Larry Walker were voted into Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Although Jeter polled at 100 percent on public ballots, he fell one vote short of being the second unanimous selection in Hall of Fame history. He instead finished with merely the second-highest voting percentage ever. Here are the highest Hall of Fame voting tallies:

  1. Mariano Rivera (2019): 100.0 percent
  2. Derek Jeter (2020): 99.75 percent
  3. Ken Griffey Jr. (2016): 99.32 percent
  4. Tom Seaver (1992): 98.84 percent
  5. Nolan Ryan (1999): 98.79 percent

In a sport that isn’t all that great at marketing its superstars, Jeter was arguably the most popular player of his generation, a transcendent star who even non-baseball fans knew by name. He was the face of the game’s marquee franchise for two decades and his on-field accomplishments were historic.

Here are five reasons Jeter should have been the second unanimous Hall of Famer in history.

1. He’s one of the best shortstops ever

Simply put, Jeter is one of the best to ever play the game at one of the most demanding positions on the field. His defense was not good, we all know that, but he was such a great offensive performer relative to his position that he still ranks sixth among shortstops in career WAR.

Here’s the shortstop WAR leaderboard (min. 75 percent of career games at short):

  1. Cal Ripken Jr.: 95.9 WAR
  2. Ozzie Smith: 76.9 WAR
  3. Bill Dahlen: 75.4 WAR
  4. Luke Appling: 74.5 WAR
  5. Arky Vaughan: 72.9 WAR
  6. Derek Jeter: 72.4 WAR

Ripken and Smith are the only players ahead of Jeter who started their careers after World War II. Drop the minimum to 50 percent of career games at shortstop, and Jeter is still ninth on the leaderboard. Slice and dice it anyway you want, and Jeter is still a top-10 shortstop all-time.

Jeter made his MLB debut in 1995 but did not begin his big-league career in earnest until 1996. From 1996 through his final season in 2014, Jeter authored a .310/.378/.440 batting line in over 12,500 plate appearances. The average shortstop hit .266/.322/.391 from 1996-2014. He’s one of the top hitting shortstops in history (min. 8,000 plate appearances):

  1. Joe Cronin: 119 OPS+
  2. Barry Larkin: 116 OPS+
  3. Derek Jeter: 115 OPS+
  4. Luke Appling: 113 OPS+
  5. Cal Ripken Jr.: 112 OPS+

OPS+ is adjusted for era and ballpark, among other things, so it’s telling us Jeter was 15 percent better than the league average hitter during his career. That makes him one of the best hitting shortstops ever. As poorly as he rated defensively, Jeter was one of the greatest offensive forces in baseball history at one of the most demanding positions in the game.

2. He’s sixth all-time in hits

This is something that will never look out of place on a Hall of Fame plaque. Jeter retired with 3,465 career hits, the sixth most in history and the third most among players who started their career after World War II.

Here is the all-time hits leaderboard:

  1. Pete Rose: 4,256 hits
  2. Ty Cobb: 4,189 hits
  3. Hank Aaron: 3,771 hits
  4. Stan Musial: 3,630 hits
  5. Tris Speaker: 3,514 hits
  6. Derek Jeter: 3,465 hits

Injuries sabotaged Jeter’s 2013 season — he was limited to 17 games by ankle problems — and, if he’d stayed healthy, he very likely would’ve finished fifth all-time in hits and possibly even fourth. The hit total speaks to Jeter’s talent and also his longevity. Only three times in his 19 full seasons did he fail to play 145 games, and he is tenth all-time in plate appearances.

3. He was excellent in October

When the lights were brightest and the pressure most intense, Jeter thrived. He’s a career .308/.374/.465 hitter in 158 postseason games, closely mirroring his .310/.377/.440 regular season batting line, which is impressive. Not only is there increased pressure, but you’re also facing the best pitchers on the best teams in the game in October. And yet, Jeter thrived.

Many of Jeter’s greatest highlights came in the postseason. The Flip Play? Jeter made that play in a game the Yankees won 1-0 on the road while facing elimination. There was also the Mr. November walk-off homer in the 2001 World Series:

Jeter is the all-time leader in postseason games played (by 33) and plate appearances (by 185), so he had ample opportunity to perform in October, and perform he did. Jeter is the all-time postseason leader in hits (200), runs (111), and total bases (302). He was excellent during the regular season and at his best in October.

4. He has a squeaky clean image

Perhaps Jeter’s most impressive accomplishment was playing his entire career in New York and never once getting caught up in controversy. He had famous girlfriends, sure, but there were no Page Six exploits, no off-the-field shenanigans that soured his reputation, nothing. Jeter was never tied to performance-enhancing drugs or any other cheating scandal as well. His image is as clean as it gets. Jeter holds up under the most intense scrutiny.

5. Because he should be a Hall of Famer

Unanimous or not, every Hall of Famer winds up in the same place. There is no distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and everyone else and no distinction between unanimous Hall of Famers and everyone else. Once you’re in, you’re a Hall of Famer, and everyone in Cooperstown is on even ground. Jeter’s career so obviously warrants induction and thus everyone should vote for him. There’s no need to be mindful of unanimity, and it seems the voting body is coming around on that point of view.





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2020 Baseball Hall of Fame voting: Jason Giambi, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee among those to fall off ballot


On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced its most recent Hall of Fame election results. Per the rules, a player needs at least 75 percent of the vote in order to be enshrined, and at least five percent to remain on the ballot. Players are limited to 10 years on the ballot before their candidacy becomes subject to the whims of the Veterans Committee. 

Unfortunately, not every player on this year’s ballot was able to clear that five-percent threshold. Rather, 16 players finished below the line, ending their time on the ballot. That group included the following individuals, all on their first (and what will be their final) ballots:

· Eric Chavez
· Rafael Furcal
· Jason Giambi
· Paul Konerko
· Cliff Lee
· Alfonso Soriano
· Josh Beckett
· Heath Bell
· Adam Dunn
· Chone Figgins
· Raul Ibanez
· Carlos Pena
· Brad Penny
· JJ Putz
· Brian Roberts
· Jose Valverde

Giambi was the only eliminated player to cross the 50-win threshold. He was a five-time All-Star and an MVP Award winner. He finished 60 homers shy of 500, but it’s unclear if hitting that milestone would have made a difference for his candidacy due to his HGH use.

With due respect to the rest of the players involved, there are three others of note worth highlighting.

Chavez had a fantastic start to his career, accumulating more than 33 wins through his age-28 season. (Scott Rolen, for comparison, had 37 wins through that stage.) Injuries bested Chavez the rest of the way, however, and limited him to four subsequent wins.

Lee won an ERA title and a Cy Young Award, and he made three All-Star Games after turning 30. His peak was good, but it was not long enough to make up for the rest of his career.

Then there’s Beckett, who won both, a World Series and an ALCS MVP. Alas, his career lacked longevity. He had his last 30-plus-start season when he was 31, and he retired due to injury when he was 34. 

You can click here to see full voting results.  





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Baseball Hall of Fame: Derek Jeter says one vote that kept him from being unanimous pick won’t bother him


As expected, longtime Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was announced as baseball’s newest Hall of Famer on Tuesday night. Jeter and Larry Walker were voted into Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

“Everyone told me it was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t buy it. It was not a relaxing day. There was a lot of anxiety,” Jeter said after the announcement.

Given his greatness and popularity, it seemed possible, if not likely, Jeter would become the second unanimous Hall of Famer. Instead, he appeared on 396 of 397 submitted ballots, falling one vote short of unanimous induction. Here are the highest voting percentages in history:

  1. Mariano Rivera (2019): 100.0 percent
  2. Derek Jeter (2020): 99.75 percent
  3. Ken Griffey Jr. (2016): 99.32 percent
  4. Tom Seaver (1992): 98.84 percent
  5. Nolan Ryan (1999): 98.79 percent

Instead of being unanimous, Jeter finishes with the second highest voting percentage ever and the highest ever for a position player. Not a bad way to go into the Hall of Fame, that is. Jeter is sixth all-time in hits, a five-time World Series champion, a 14-time All-Star, and on the short list of the best shortstops in history.

How did Jeter handle the news that he was one vote short of joining Rivera, his longtime teammate, as a unanimous Hall of Famer? He wasn’t upset, I can tell you that much. Jeter was appreciative of the voters who did vote for him this year.

“I could care less,” Jeter said. “I look at all the votes that I got and it takes a lot of votes to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Trying to get that many people to agree to something is hard to do. That’s not something that’s on my mind.”

The identity of the voter who left Jeter off their ballot is unknown and it will remain unknown unless that person reveals their ballot publicly. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. You’re either a Hall of Famer or you’re not, no matter the voting percentage. Jeter is now a Hall of Famer just like Walker is a Hall of Famer, and Cooperstown is where he belongs.





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How Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame induction could clear the way for Rockies teammate Todd Helton


We all knew Derek Jeter was getting into the Hall of Fame when the announcement was made Tuesday evening, but we weren’t sure about Larry Walker. He did get in, thankfully, on his 10th and final try. Something Walker’s candidacy was fighting for years was the stigma surrounding the fact that he played a good portion of his career in Coors Field. 

Coors Field is notoriously the most hitter-friendly park in the majors, and until the Rockies installed a humidor for the baseballs in 2002 offensive numbers were off-the-charts extreme. Dinging offensive players for being on the Rockies became standard practice long ago, but there’s been a bit of an overcorrection when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. 

Well, at least there was until Tuesday.

Walker got in and Todd Helton’s vote percentage jumped significantly from 16.5 percent to 29.2. Walker’s induction might have cleared the way for his former Colorado colleague, too. Perhaps the barrier has been knocked down and we’ll see multiple plaques with the Rockies logo on them in the coming years. 

Looking at Helton’s numbers, yes, they are outrageously better at home than on the road. Here are Helton’s stats from a 17-year MLB career spent entirely with the Rockies:

Home: .345/.441/.607
Road: .287/.386/.469

There’s context needed, as with every Hall of Fame discussion. First of all, playing in Coors Field for home games has been proven to be a negative impact on road games. The players hit a certain way with the spacious dimensions of Coors and it just doesn’t carry over into success on the road. Sometimes when a player leaves Denver, he excels. Look at D.J. LeMahieu last year with the Yankees.

Further, Helton’s road line is good. Let’s compare him to some Hall of Fame first basemen. 

Helton on road: .287/.386/.469
Eddie Murray: .287/.359/.476
Orlando Cepeda: .297/.350/.499
Harmon Killebrew: .256/.376/.509
Willie McCovey: .270/.374/.515

Most players hit worse on the road and we were only using Helton’s road slash against those players’ career numbers. Pretty impressive, no? 

OPS-plus adjusts for ballpark and era, so it can be used as a measuring stick with the surrounding circumstances being relatively equal. Helton posted a 133 OPS+ in his career. That figure is comparable to Hall of Famers Bill Terry (136), Frank Chance (135), Cepeda (133), Murray (129), George Sisler (125) and Tony Perez (122). 

Sure, Helton is a far cry from Lou Gehrig (179), Jimmie Foxx (163) and Frank Thomas (156), but he still has Hall of Fame numbers when adjusting for ballpark. In JAWS and WAR, Helton sits just below the average Hall of Fame first baseman but comfortably ahead of several high-profile Hall of Famers (and many of the names mentioned above). To date, he’s the best player in Rockies history and that should probably count for something as well.

Another area where Helton was outstanding doesn’t have to do with his home park. He walked 1,335 times in his career compared to 1,175 strikeouts. In a free-swinging, high-strikeout era, Helton only struck out 100 times once (104 Ks over of 697 plate appearances in 2001). He walked more than he struck out nine of his 17 seasons, including a ridiculous 2000 season in which he struck out just 61 times in 697 plate appearances. He had 103 walks  in 2000 while clubbing 216 hits, 59 doubles and 42 homers. 

He finished fifth in NL MVP voting that season despite leading the NL in hits, doubles, RBI, average, OBP, slugging, total bases and WAR. Thanks, Coors Field.

With Walker getting in and Helton needing to add 45.8 percent of the vote in the next eight years, it appears we might have seen the last of the Coors Field stigma keeping worthy Rockies players out of the Hall of Fame. Look for a bump next season for the Toddfather and eventual enshrinement, thanks in part to Walker getting in on the 2020 ballot. 





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Alex Gordon, Royals agree to one-year, $4 million deal for 2020 season


The Kansas City Royals and left fielder Alex Gordon reached an agreement on a one-year, $4 million deal for the 2020 season, the team announced on Wednesday. Gordon has also waived his 10-and-5 clause and can be traded, but he will get a $500,000 assignment bonus if that happens, reports MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan.

The Royals unsurprisingly declined Gordon’s $23 million club option for 2020, but he will spend his 14th MLB season with the Royals, who drafted him as the second overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft.

Gordon, who turns 36 in February, had his best offensive season since 2015 last year. He hit .266/.345/.396 with 13 home runs, 31 doubles, 76 RBI and a .741 OPS (96 OPS+). Following the 2019 season, Gordon also won his seventh career Gold Glove. Over the last two seasons, Gordon has a 2.9 WAR and remains a reliable defensive option in left field. Gordon ranks as fifth-best among all outfielders in ultimate zone rating (UZR).

The three-time All-Star will be a steady figure for the rebuilding Royals next season. He’ll join a Royals outfield that includes Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, Brett Phillips, Hunter Dozier and Bubba Starling. With this offseason’s signing of third baseman Maikel Franco, Merrifield will likely shift to center field with Dozier moving to right field for the 2020 season.

Next season, Kansas City will begin its tenure with a new manager in former St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, as well as new ownership with John Sherman taking over for the late David Glass.





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Baseball Hall of Fame: How Astros cheating scandal will affect Carlos Beltran’s chances


On each BBWAA voter’s Hall of Fame ballot you’ll find the following instructions: 

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

That’s just broad enough to cover everything, which is the point. Within those 23 words, though, are some puzzling word choices. For instance, how is the voter supposed to discern between a candidate’s playing record and his playing ability? And how are those distinguished from his “contributions to the team(s)”? Then, of course, there are the three words — “integrity, sportsmanship, character” — that have come to be known informally as the “character clause” of the ballot instructions.

As we know all too well, the character clause has been wielded inconsistently over the years and decades. Right now, it’s keeping Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the greatest performers ever based on the numbers, out of the Hall because of PED allegations. It’s probably costing Curt Schilling some votes because of his controversial behavior on social media since his retirement. On the other hand, a number of players who used amphetamines in the 1960s and 1970s have been enshrined. Any number of racists and rogues from the early days of modern baseball have plaques. Gaylord Perry leaned heavily on a banned spitball to build his Hall of Fame credentials. Juan Marichal attacked a player with a bat during a game. Mickey Mantle squandered a non-quantifiable amount of his legendary talent through his lifestyle choices (and may have used a corked bat). Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb were involved in a gambling scandal. We could go on, of course, in citing examples of those who have fallen prey to the clause or had it conveniently ignored to their benefit. The point is its grossly inconsistent application.

Such longstanding uncertainty brings us to the recent sign-stealing scandals that have afflicted the game. You’ll recall that the Astros were punished for stealing signs via electronic means during their championship season of 2017 and beyond. As part of the fallout, Alex Cora, former Astros bench coach, was cut loose as manager of the Red Sox (penalties likely loom for Boston and Cora for similar behavior during their championship season of 2018), and Carlos Beltran was forced to step aside as manager of the Mets before he’d skippered even a single game.

According to MLB‘s investigation of the Astros, Beltran in his final season as a player helped devise the Astros’ sign-stealing system. He was the only player named in commissioner Rob Manfred’s report. This is all relevant because Beltran will appear on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2023, and he figures to be a borderline candidate for whom every vote will be precious. Thus the question is to what extent, via the character clause, will Beltran’s role in the biggest baseball scandal in a decade and his subsequent exit from the Mets affect his Hall candidacy. 

As for his merits, Beltran’s case is easy to make. Across parts of 20 big-league seasons, Beltran authored an OPS+ of 119 with 2,725 hits; 435 home runs; 565 doubles; 1,587 RBI; 1,582 runs scored; and 312 stolen bases. Beltran won three Gold Gloves and for years was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He made the All-Star team nine times and twice finished in the top 10 of the MVP balloting. On top of all that, Beltran had a legendary postseason career. In some quarters he’ll always be remembered for sitting on an Adam Wainwright called-strike curveball to end the 2006 NLCS, but that’s unfair in the extreme. In 256 playoff plate appearances, Beltran batted .307/.412/.609 with 16 home runs, which makes him one of the most productive hitters in postseason history. That figures to matter a great deal to voters and in a vacuum should more than make up for any perceived deficits in Beltran’s regular season body of work.

According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which evaluates Hall of Fame candidates based on peak and career value and compares them to inducted players at the same position, Beltran grades out as the ninth-most worthy candidate among center fielders. Of the eight names ahead of him, only one — Mike Trout — isn’t already in Cooperstown. In terms of peak and career WAR, Beltran is right at the average for Hall of Fame center fielders. If common sense prevails, then his postseason outputs will easily put him over the line in the minds of voters. That, of course, is no guarantee. 

Obviously, the sign-stealing scandal could complicate all of that, especially for voters who see Beltran as right on the edge of being Hall-worthy. Even a slight penalty for the scandal could be enough to knock him off those ballots. What will also be key is how voters remember Beltran’s response to the controversy. As it was still unfolding, Beltran issued a disavowal to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Sherman wrote: 

Carlos Beltran, a member of the 2017 Astros, denied knowledge of a camera that his team allegedly used to electronically steal signs that season, claiming that the World Series champions stole signs organically and legally.

“I’m not aware of that camera,” Beltran told The Post in a text message exchange. “We were studying the opposite team every day.”

In the full light of MLB’s probe, it’s hard to imagine that Beltran wasn’t aware of the camera. As such, he was almost certainly being dishonest in his text to Sherman. Will that small detail be remembered when it’s time for Beltran to be evaluated for a plaque? Or is it more likely that his genuine-sounding apology, first issued to Marly Rivera of ESPN, will be remembered? Here that is: 

“Over my 20 years in the game, I’ve always taken pride in being a leader and doing things the right way, and in this situation, I failed. As a veteran player on the team, I should’ve recognized the severity of the issue and truly regret the actions that were taken. I am a man of faith and integrity and what took place did not demonstrate those characteristics that are so very important to me and my family. I’m very sorry. It’s not who I am as a father, a husband, a teammate and as an educator. The Mets organization and I mutually agreed to part ways, moving forward for the greater good with no further distractions. I hope that at some point in time, I’ll have the opportunity to return to this game that I love so much.”

Therein you’ll find contrition and accountability, and that should mitigate some of the damage that’s been done to Beltran’s cause — provided, of course, that his apology is in anyone’s mind when the time comes to vote. 

Also perhaps to Beltran’s credit is that the sign-stealing scandal occurred in his final season as a player. In other words, there’s nothing to suggest that Beltran’s career numbers benefited to any meaningful degree from illegal sign-stealing over the years. (Recall that only electronic sign-stealing is banned, and that’s a semi-recent rules clarification.) While some voters surely concluded that, say, PED use inflated Mark McGwire’s career numbers across multiple seasons, there’s no plausible way to make a similar assumption about Beltran’s career with regard to banned sign-stealing. 

The ballot itself may also be working in Beltran’s favor. It probably won’t be an especially crowded one when it comes to obvious Hall of Famers. Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling with either be inducted by 2023 or off the ballot. Jeter will long have been in. Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz will each be on the ballot for a second year, assuming neither goes in as a debutante (Ortiz would seem to have a better shot at first-ballot status than A-Rod does). Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle will very likely be on their third ballots. Some players in recent history have suffered from crowded ballots, as voters can’t check more than 10 names in a given year. Beltran, though, figures to have no such worries. As well, appearing on the ballot alongside the far more tarnished A-Rod might prompt voters to put Beltran’s misdeeds into a fuller and more accommodating perspective. 

There’s also some time for Beltran to reconstruct his image. It’s seems unlikely that he’s going to be tabbed for another managerial gig in the interim, but if he’s able to work his way back into the game in some manner then it would serve as a tacit sanction of sorts. Also recall that — unlike former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, former Astros manager A.J. Hinch, and former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman — Beltran wasn’t disciplined by the league. Cora, once MLB rules on the Red Sox’s sign-stealing, will also likely be in for a lengthy period of ineligibility, which would be another point of distinction for Beltran. 

CBS Sports conducted an informal survey of some current Hall of Fame voters on the subject of Beltran’s candidacy, and the consensus was “wait and see.” For instance, here’s what one veteran BBWAA Hall voter said: 

“My policy is not to prejudge any candidate until he reaches the ballot. And especially in this case, I’m sure we’ll know more when Beltran shows up on the ballot — about all of this. His role. Their team. Every team. So I’m neutral right now on everybody.”

Almost every voter surveyed said something along these lines, which means that additional reporting or official disclosures on this matter could either hurt or help Beltan’s case, depending upon the particulars. If, for instance, electronic sign-stealing is found to be widespread in recent years — a reasonable possibility — then the Astros and Red Sox become part of an unfortunate trend as opposed to lone bad actors. That would help Beltran.

One voter offered up this perspective on Beltran: 

“I see a long and storied history of cheating in MLB and while this is more egregious than previous instances I see it as being of a similar kind to previous acts.”

“Not good but also not disqualifying” is likely going to be a common sentiment, particularly among the growing demographic of younger and newer voters, and that will be to Beltran’s benefit. 

So what’s the probable outcome, barring further revelations that damage Beltran? While this writer considers him to be a fairly obvious Hall of Famer, the consensus, to repeat, is probably going to be that he’s a good candidate but not a lock. The memory of this scandal in tandem with that uncertain status means that Beltran is probably not going in on the first ballot. After that “penalty phase,” though, Beltran’s acceptance of responsibility in tandem with the gradual on-boarding of Hall voters less inclined toward value judgments mean that he likely earns election on the second, third, or fourth ballot, depending upon his first-year baseline. Beltran’s role in the scandal, provided it doesn’t grow, will always be part of his story, but at worst it seems likely it will delay rather than prevent his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame — probably as, of all things, a New York Met.





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