Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 9, 2020

The Hot Stove Keeps Burning

And to think that pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet. The opening of the thirty Spring Training camps in Florida and Arizona – the unofficial but extremely welcome end of winter for fans of the Great Game – is still a couple days away, but this weekend brought no shortage of baseball news. There were former Astros finally speaking out on Houston’s cheating scandal, one other report tangentially connected to that sordid affair, the Mets being, well, the Mets, and above all else, there was the blockbuster trade that was, then wasn’t, and finally late Sunday afternoon was again.

With thoughts of answering to his current Tampa Bay teammates no doubt prominent, former Houston pitcher Charlie Morton expressed remorse over not having done anything to stop the systematic sign-stealing using live video feeds during the Astros’ 2017 championship run. His words echoed those of Dallas Keuchel, now with the White Sox, who two weeks ago became the first ex-Houston player to come clean. However, the most prominent individual last seen in an Astros uniform who was busy unburdening himself was former manager AJ Hinch, who was fired along with GM Jeff Luhnow just hours after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on the scandal was issued. In what was clearly the beginning of his apology tour, Hinch sat with veteran scribe Tom Verducci for an interview aired on ESPN. To his credit and as he had done in the wake of his dismissal, Hinch acknowledged his failure to stop the scheme. He also passed when given an opportunity to criticize Mike Fiers, the one-time Houston pitcher who exposed the cheating in an interview with The Athletic last fall. But Hinch was also stunningly vague when asked about other specific ways in which the Astros may have attempted to manipulate the game as recently as last season. The apology tour clearly has several more stops to make.

Then there was the news that Pete Rose had seized upon the debacle in Houston to apply once again for reinstatement from his lifetime ban for betting on major league games while managing the Reds. Rose’s attorneys called his ban disproportionate given the absence of penalties against any Houston players as well as the level of sanctions that are part of baseball’s drug program. What they did not offer was any of the evidence that Manfred specifically found lacking when he rejected Rose’s last application for reinstatement in 2015. The commissioner wrote then that Rose had “not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established in the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility.” Rose fans are strongly advised not to hold their breath waiting for a different result this time.

Mets fans surely wish their team had not been in the headlines, but then Mets fans rarely see their wishes come true. Just before the weekend the proposed sale of the franchise to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen was called off. The deal seemed suspect from the start, involving as it did an agreement that current managing owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff, the team’s COO, would continue in their roles for five years after the transfer of ownership. It appears that Cohen intended those jobs to be ceremonial, while the Wilpon’s had markedly different plans. At least Knicks fans won’t be left as the only ones in Gotham yelling during games for an owner to “sell the team!”

By the end of the weekend all those stories had yielded pride of place to the soap opera at Fenway Park, where John Henry’s edict that the Boston Red Sox reduce payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold for the coming season had signaled for months that superstar outfielder Mookie Betts, entering his final year before free agency, was likely to be traded. The meaning of Henry’s demand was itself a story through the winter, characterized at times as an order, at others a suggestion, and occasionally as little more than a passing wish.

For Sox fans the prospect of their team being worried about payroll costs was a new and unwelcome experience since Henry’s acquisition of the franchise in 2002. One of the richest of the Great Game’s owners, Henry had willingly opened his checkbook throughout his tenure in Boston. That eventually blunted the fans favorite lament about their big-spending rivals in the Bronx, but most were happy to forgo that tired complaint in exchange for four championships, the most recent just the season before last.  But the news that Betts, a four-time All-Star and perhaps the best player in the game not named Mike Trout, and overpaid but capable starting pitcher David Price were being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a three team trade meant the financial restructuring of the Red Sox was for real. Fans reacted bitterly, accusing Henry of being more interested in his ownership of the Liverpool soccer club than in his stewardship of the local nine.

Then before the deal was officially announced Boston’s front office appeared to have second thoughts, raising questions about the medical report on Twins reliever Brusdar Graterol, who was going from Minnesota to Boston by way of Chavez Ravine in the trade’s original configuration. What remains unclear is how much of that concern was real as opposed to a sudden case of cold feet at Fenway after the outpouring of venom from Sox fans. But having pulled the trigger on the trade, backing out of it and having Betts and Price report to Fort Myers this week would surely have been a disaster for Boston’s new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.

Late Sunday multiple sources reported that a reconfigured trade would go forward, with Graterol now staying in Los Angeles. The Twins will still acquire L.A. starter Kenta Maeda, along with another prospect and cash. In addition to Betts, Price, and Graterol the Dodgers will also receive cash from Boston. In a classic salary dump more fitting for Tampa Bay or Kansas City than a rich franchise like the Red Sox, Boston is getting three minor players from L.A. – outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Connor Wong and Jeter Downs.

Some in Boston are citing the infamous sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, one hundred years ago. But much of Ruth’s legacy was built after he left Fenway Park, so the closer comparison may be the 1916 trade of Tris Speaker, another future Hall of Famer, to Cleveland. Like Betts, Speaker was a recent MVP when Boston’s management decided it couldn’t afford him. Of course, recalling that trade just adds to the current misery of Red Sox fans. But perhaps all is not lost. If those prospects work out, in a few years the folks at Fenway can cheer for their very own Jeter.


Responses

  1. Hey Mike – Major blast from your past here. Since yesterday was primary day, albeit a mere 48 years 😲 after we had a “spirited exchange of views “ re: our then respective faves – which eventually led to our compromising on “McGuskie” – I was put in mind of you. At your convenience/leisure, please either respond by e-mail or call me @781-789-8691. PS Can we agree on Amy Klobidberg? PSS Love your baseball posts – we share a wavelength there fer shur.
    Best, John Lamond

    • Hi John,
      An obviously unexpected but entirely happy surprise! Thanks so much for reaching out. I’ll respond in more detail directly to you.
      M-


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