Chris Iannetta joined the Yankees on a minor league contract for spring training last season, hopeful of continuing what had been a long and successful career.
If it didn’t work out, he was comfortable going off into retirement.
The best memory Iannetta took from that experience came on March 12 when he lined an RBI double to right field off Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, a pitcher who had always given him trouble.
“That was my last at-bat before they shut the season down,” Iannetta said. “A long double, the opposite way off a tough pitcher. It felt poetic to me. If that was it for me, at least I got a hit.”
Iannetta stayed with the Yankees when spring training resumed in July. He made the team and was on the active roster for six games, although he never came off the bench. Iannetta was designated for assignment on Aug. 1 while the Yankees were at Fenway Park.
Iannetta cleared waivers three days later and was outrighted to minor league camp. But he decided to retire instead.
“That just wasn’t for me,” Iannetta said. “I went home.”
Home is Wrentham. Iannetta grew up in Rhode Island and was a star at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket before going on to play at North Carolina. That led to being a fourth-round pick of the Rockies in 2004 and making his major league debut two years later.
Iannetta played parts of 14 years with the Rockies, Angels, Mariners, and Diamondbacks. He is Colorado’s all-time leader for games, runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, and walks by a catcher.
Iannetta also played in nine postseason games along the way and earned roughly $40 million. That’s a career far better than most.
“I never thought I’d have one day of major league service time,” Iannetta said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to play as long as I did. It’ll take some time to set in, to realize what actually transpired. But I’ve always vowed to myself that when I was done playing, I’d never make too much of it.
“There’s so many people you come in contact with who were .200 hitters when they played and you talk to them and they sound like they were Babe Ruth. That’s never going to be me. I’ll always remember how difficult it was.”
At 37, Iannetta is ready for a new chapter. He has two daughters he can now spend more time with and is eager to visit parts of New England during the spring and summer.
“I haven’t been to a beach in Rhode Island since I was 16,” Iannetta said. “I was always somewhere playing.”
He also plays guitar and owns a winery with former teammate Vernon Wells. There will be no shortage of things to do.
Iannetta leaves baseball at what he considers a crucial time for a sport he loves.
“It can be a beautiful game out there on the field, but it’s becoming so sterile,” he said. “There are diminishing returns when all you see are home runs, strikeouts, and walks.
“The product that’s on the field is losing fans more than MLB realizes.”
As a catcher, Iannetta fundamentally understands the importance of analytics in evaluating players and preparing for games. But he feels the reliance on data has changed the game for the worse.
“How many times can you celebrate the umpteenth home run?” he said. “The subtle nuances are missing. Guys who pitched their hearts out and went deep into games, that’s a story people wanted.
“Now it’s exit velocity and who can hit the ball the hardest, not who’s actually a good hitter. The good baseball players are being marginalized.”
Iannetta believes how the game is being presented is part of the problem. The emphasis on home runs and fastball velocity neatly packaged in 30-second clips on social media obscures a bigger picture.
“The next generation of fans is absorbing baseball from Twitter and highlights. They’re not watching the entirety of the game,” Iannetta said. “The game isn’t slow. It’s actually very fast-paced if you watch everything that’s going on.”
Iannetta broke into the majors at a time when fans appreciated a runner being moved into scoring position or how an infielder could save a run by holding a runner at second base.
“Somebody taught you that when you grew up,” he said. “You don’t see that now. There’s a responsibility from the players and media. We’re losing that aspect of the game, and losing more and more fans.”
Iannetta was an active member of the MLB Players Association as a team representative and later a member of the executive board. He could stay involved in baseball that way or perhaps with a team. That will be determined over time.
“I lived the dream,” Iannetta said. “I’ll need to decompress, maybe six months to a year. There are still a lot of things I want to do.”
Yankees sticking with Sanchez
The Yankees held on to Gary Sanchez at the non-tender deadline and will pay him approximately $5.5 million next season based on his arbitration status.
That’s good money for a player who has hit .200 the last three seasons and struck out in 28 percent of his plate appearances. He also has regressed defensively.
Sanchez is poor at framing pitches and lunges after breaking balls like he’s trying to catch a butterfly. But he has hit 95 home runs in his last 366 regular-season games.
A league source said it wasn’t a particularly tough call for the Yankees, given Sanchez’s offensive potential.
But last season, Yankees pitchers had a 4.53 ERA with Sanchez catching and 3.79 when Kyle Higashioka was behind the plate. Higashioka also started five of the team’s seven postseason games. The Yankees’ patience cannot be unlimited.
▪ Say this for the Orioles, they’re honest about their plan. They traded shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Angels for two pitching prospects on Wednesday and non-tendered infielder Hanser Alberto.
“There will come a time when we flip the switch to maximizing wins in the upcoming season, but we’re not there yet,” general manager Mike Elias said. “This isn’t fun.”
The Orioles sold high on Iglesias, who hit .373 in 39 games last season with little power. He was due $3.5 million. Alberto would have landed approximately $3 million in arbitration. He crushes lefthanders and is a versatile defender. He’ll have no trouble finding a new team.
▪ The Dodgers flexed their financial muscle, swinging a deal to get righthanded reliever Corey Knebel from Milwaukee minutes before the Brewers would have non-tendered the former All-Star.
Milwaukee did not want to pay the $5.12 million Knebel would have landed in the arbitration process. But the Dodgers took that on to avoid letting a player they liked hit the open market.
Knebel, who missed 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, struggled last season. But that was only 15 appearances and pitchers often show improvement their second year after Tommy John.
At 29, Knebel is a good one-year gamble at what amounts to short money for a team such as the Dodgers.
▪ The Reds shed $10 million in salary by non-tendering four players, most notably righthanded reliever Archie Bradley. A team determined to contend the last few seasons is dialing back.
▪ The Blue Jays are making a concerted push for George Springer. They very badly need an outfield upgrade and his all-around skills — and leadership — would benefit a young team.
With Springer unlikely to return to the Astros, Jackie Bradley Jr. may be Houston’s new center fielder.
▪ Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has long been a fan of Kyle Schwarber. But with Clint Frazier emerging last season, where would Schwarber fit? The Yankees certainly don’t need a DH with Giancarlo Stanton locked in there.
Kluber is worth a look by Red Sox
Free agent righthander Corey Kluber lives in Winchester, about a 20-minute drive to Fenway Park depending on traffic. His wife, Amanda, is a native of Winchester.
The Red Sox badly need starting pitchers and a two-time Cy Young Award winner lives close by. Sounds perfect. There is mutual interest, too.
Except that Kluber will be 35 in April and has pitched one inning in the majors over the last 19 months.
A line drive fractured Kluber’s right arm on May 1, 2019. He came back to appear in three minor league games that season, but was then shut down with an abdominal strain.
The Indians traded Kluber to Texas after the season. He broke summer camp as their No. 3 starter but lasted one inning before suffering a season-ending tear in a shoulder muscle. Kluber avoided surgery.
Agent B.B. Abbott said Kluber would be ready for spring training.
Any relevant pitch data on Kluber predates two significant injuries. But given how thin the Sox rotation is, a short-term deal with incentives would make sense. If healthy, Kluber is a difference maker.
The Mets and Yankees also have interest in Kluber.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Given how much help they need, there are a number of non-tendered players who could fit. One in particular is center fielder Albert Almora, who was let go by the Cubs.
He’s a righthanded hitter who’s strong defensively. Almora’s OPS has dropped three years in a row and he was particularly dreadful at the plate last season. But new bench coach Will Venable is a booster, and the Sox need a good glove in center field so they can keep Alex Verdugo in right.
The Sox actually finished fifth in runs per game in the American League last season. It’s a good bet they’ll get a lot more offensively from Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez next season, which would make it easier to carry Almora’s bat.
▪ Adam Duvall hit four home runs in 13 at-bats in three games at Fenway Park last season, three over the Monster. He’d be an interesting option in left field. But that would mean shifting Benintendi to center.
▪ The Sox have flipped 25 spots on the 40-man roster since Chaim Bloom took over.
Players Alliance puts action behind words
The Players Alliance, a group of approximately 150 current and former Black major leaguers, was founded last season as a response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers and the national unrest that followed.
The idea was to promote baseball at all levels of the game in the Black community.
The percentage of Black players on major league rosters has dropped from 20 percent in the late 1970s and early 1980s to 8 percent last season. There were only two Black managers last season, Dusty Baker of the Astros and Dave Roberts of the Dodgers.
The Alliance, which is led by Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia, and Edwin Jackson, also offered players a platform to work in unison on issues of importance to them.
It has quickly proven to be more than lofty ideals.
The Alliance received a $10 million grant from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association and put that to work with a “Pull Up Neighbor” tour that is scheduled to hit 32 cities over two months.
It started Tuesday in the Bronx. A tractor trailer parked at Mullaly Park and Dellin Betances, Sabathia, and Eric Young spent time handing out baseball equipment, food, and personal protective gear including face coverings, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies.
The Yankees chipped in with team backpacks and meal vouchers.
Alliance members were on hand in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington later in the week.
Boston is not on the itinerary. A spokesperson said the Alliance wanted to have at least one player on hand for each stop and no members live in Boston in the offseason.
There are plans for an event in Boston during the coming season.
Chaim Bloom is a member of the Alliance’s executive advisory committee along with Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman, Kenny Williams, and others.
MLB and the Players Association still have not come to an agreement on having a universal designated hitter for 2021. The 15 National League teams and 20 or so free agents who could potentially fill that role are needlessly in limbo waiting for a decision despite the season having ended six weeks ago. That the sides can’t get together on something that should be easy and benefits everybody involved suggests the upcoming negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement are going to be slow and painful … In a 1,455-word post on Facebook, Curt Schilling wrote that he doesn’t believe he will gain admission to the Hall of Fame and after this year, “I will no longer participate in the Hall of Fame process.” Schilling, who fell 20 votes short last year, actually stands a very good chance of getting in based on how the vote has trended. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be on the ballot again next year as players have no say in that process. As long as a player receives 5 percent of the vote, he stays on the ballot for 10 years. Schilling also wrote, “Many of the writers have openly stated their hatred of my support of President Trump.” There is no evidence of that being true. But what is undeniably true is longtime Trump supporter Mariano Rivera received 100 percent of the vote from 425 writers in 2019. Rivera was a member of the President’s Council of Sports, Fitness & Nutrition at the time. I’ve voted for Schilling all eight times he’s been on the ballot. But he sure doesn’t make it easy … The Winter Meetings were originally scheduled for Dec. 7-10 in Dallas. They’re being held online this year and have already started and will go on for another two weeks. Among the groups that will meet are general managers, field managers, athletic trainers, team doctors, traveling secretaries, clubhouse managers, media relations managers, and even team photographers … Happy birthday to Kevin Cash, who is 43. He had two stints with the Red Sox from 2007-10, appearing in 102 games and developing a relationship with Terry Francona that led to a coaching job with the Indians and eventually managing the Rays … Condolences to the family and many friends of Mike Shalin, who passed away on Friday. Shalin covered the Yankees for the New York Post and the Red Sox for the Herald before becoming one of the official scorers at Fenway Park.