Major League Baseball made 29 of the 30 managers available to the media this past week, the video sessions making up for the usual in-person interviews done at the Winter Meetings.
The only manager absent was Tony La Russa of the White Sox, who is due back in an Arizona court on Monday to answer to charges of driving under the influence earlier this year.
A sampling of the more interesting comments:
▪ Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi, who has old-school sensibilities, embraced almost all of the new rules last year. “I liked the extra-inning rule. I think it keeps the fans engaged more,” he said. “It’s hard to say because they weren’t in the stands. But from a TV standpoint, I would think I’m going to stay up this little extra time to watch this because there’s a good chance this is going to end fairly quickly.
“The [seven-inning] doubleheaders I like because you don’t wear your players out nearly as much. I would be in favor of that, too.”
Girardi didn’t like the three-batter minimum because it made it tougher to hold down the opposing offense, which was part of the motivation behind it.
Nearly all of the managers said they’d welcome the return of seven-inning doubleheaders and the extra-inning tiebreaker.
▪ Girardi on his bullpen last season: “I really believe that we could have told the hitters what was coming, and it wouldn’t have turned out as bad as it did. I really do. It was one of those years when nothing seemed to go right.”
▪ Dave Roberts on what he learned about Mookie Betts: “You can do some digging on a player. You can look at the back of a baseball card. But I think you don’t really know until you spend time with a player.
“For me, I never have seen a superstar player be as engaged as Mookie is. I used the word ‘present.’ Whatever he’s doing, whoever he’s talking to, he’s engaged and he’s present. That just speaks for what type of character and what type of teammate he is.
“It lets everyone know that you can also help others, be in tune with other people — teammates, coaches, front office, fans — and still perform. People get so caught up in their own world, right? But I think Mookie has this ability and understanding that to win a championship, you’ve got to elevate everybody around you.”
▪ Dusty Baker on Kevin Cash taking Blake Snell out of Game 6 of the World Series: “If a guy’s dealing, you let him keep dealing. If a guy’s struggling, then that’s the time to go get him. It’s a combination of what you plan for the day and what you see is happening on the day. That’s the whole thing about managing, you have the ability to adjust.”
▪ Baker on living with decisions that backfired: “We are judged at the mercy of how the players perform. If they perform as you anticipate, then you’re a genius. If they don’t, you’re a dunce … I’m still hearing about Russ Ortiz and that was 2002 [in the World Series]. I see people on the street and they’re like, ‘Dusty, why’d you take Russ out?’ ”
▪ That his team won 10 of its final 16 games gave Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo a sense of hope after finishing in last place. But it took a while.
“I was pretty bitter for the first several weeks of the offseason, even watching the postseason. It was a tough pill for me to swallow,” he said. “We didn’t have a great start and that cost us. I felt if we had more time, I feel like we were playing better baseball and would have run some people down.”
▪ Twins manager Rocco Baldelli on whether some players and coaches might resist getting the COVID-19 vaccine: “This is obviously a very challenging question and topic.
“There’s at least some precedent for MLB and the Players Association talking about these types of things. We have PED agreements; we have supplement agreements. We have a lot of things we have discussions about and eventually come to some sort of decision on. We rely on experts to tell us as much as they can about all aspects of this. The vaccination itself, what it actually is, how it applies to daily life, how it applies to what we’re trying to do in baseball. I think there are a lot of things we’re still learning about.
“We know different people think very differently about vaccinations. But we also know that the world is a much safer place because of vaccinations.”
▪ Rockies manager Bud Black has a thought on how to use the designated hitter.
“Start with the DH and then if your starting pitcher is removed, you lose the DH,” he said. “Then the pitcher [or a pinch hitter] has to hit from that point on. That would potentially do away with what we refer to now as the opener. There’s been talk of that avenue.”
▪ Oakland manager Bob Melvin on the idea of Billy Beane leaving the organization: “At some point in time he’s going to do something bigger and better. He’s pretty well-versed in other sports and the business world, as well.”
Beane’s RedBall Acquisition Corp., is in discussions to potentially join with Fenway Sports Group.
▪ Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell was excited to see Giannis Antetokounmpo agree to a long-term deal with the Bucks. That market now has Antetokounmpo, Aaron Rodgers, and Christian Yelich.
“I have a Giannis jersey sitting here. It makes you proud to be a sports fan in Wisconsin is really what it does,” Counsell said. “It’s a really cool thing. I think of kids right now. I think of kids growing up watching sports in the state of Wisconsin and having these iconic, historical players playing for their teams.
“It’s the kind of thing that makes you a sports fan for the rest of your life. Christian Yelich has cemented a generation of Brewers fans.”
Price point could drop with opt-out
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said it’s uncertain if David Price will play next season. Price, 35, opted out of last season and remains concerned about the pandemic.
“As things become more clear, David will make a choice for him and his family,” Roberts said.
The Red Sox would carve $18 million off their luxury-tax payroll if Price sits out the season. They saved roughly $6 million last season.
▪ Rockies reliever Scott Oberg, a Tewksbury native, is recovering steadily from thoracic outlet surgery done in September to address his issue with blood clots.
Colorado manager Bud Black said Oberg is back to playing catch.
“He’s going to be fine,” Black said. “He’s feels real comfortable where he is.”
Oberg, 30, was 14-2 with a 2.35 ERA and five saves from 2018-19 before missing last season.
▪ The Yankees have rotation issues beyond Gerrit Cole.
Luis Severino is not expected back until midseason as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Then there’s Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Mike King.
“Hopefully we’re able to add to that bunch,” manager Aaron Boone said.
The Yankees also have 28-year-old Domingo German, who was 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 2019 before serving an 81-game suspension for domestic violence.
“He’s pitching his way back into the conversation,” Boone said.
German has made five starts for Toros del Este in the Dominican winter league. The righthander gave up 13 earned runs over 16⅓ innings in those starts.
“I’m hopeful he can come in and impact us like he did in ’18 and ’19, especially ’19,” Boone said.
▪ Agent Scott Boras said the Cubs have “big plans” for Kris Bryant. That came as news to manager David Ross.
“I have no idea what he’s alluding to,” Ross said. “Not even the slightest.”
As for free agent Jon Lester, Ross is optimistic the lefthander will return to Chicago.
“I keep my fingers crossed,” Ross said. “I’ve talked to him numerous times via text messages.”
▪ Mets president Sandy Alderson doesn’t hide the idea that he’s open to a major deal, the kind that would bring Nolan Arenado, Bryant or Francisco Lindor to New York.
▪ The Rockies believe Ian Desmond will return after opting out of last season. The 35-year-old has $8 million left on his contract and a $2 million buyout.
▪ Agents, players, teams — most everybody is annoyed by the lack of progress by MLB and the Players Association in settling rules for next season, particularly regarding the universal DH.
“Maybe in the commissioner’s office, the DH may stand for dragging their heels,” Boras said.
Red Sox need more from Benintendi
The Red Sox clearly need additions to improve, particularly to the pitching staff. But gains from within also have to be part of the solution.
Andrew Benintendi has hit .255 with a .751 OPS the last two seasons and regressed defensively. At 26, he’s at a career turning point.
“The Andrew that we saw in October 2018, that’s the Andrew we want,” manager Alex Cora said. “I don’t think he was that bad in ’19. Talking to him, he tried to make some adjustments as far as hitting the ball in the air. He became a little bit stronger. He wasn’t out of shape, actually. He was in great shape. But his mind-set was a little bit different.”
Benintendi struck out in 16.9 percent of his plate appearances from 2016-18 and stole 42 bases in 50 attempts. He has whiffed 23.5 percent of the time since with 11 steals in 16 attempts.
There’s been a lot of talk this winter about how baseball needs to have a better product. That an all-around player such as Benintendi felt the need to change his approach is part of the problem.
His issue is mind-set, not mechanical.
“I’ll take Andrew Benintendi the complete player,” Cora said. “I want him to get on base, be fast on the basepaths, steal bases, play better defense. If we get that guy back, we’re in a good position.”
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ They need a second baseman, but there’s little chance they’ll outbid the Yankees for D.J. LeMahieu. They have a much greater need for starting pitchers and maybe that’s where another Yankee could fit.
Masahiro Tanaka is a free agent and there is little momentum toward a reunion in New York. General manager Brian Cashman says his priority is to bring LeMahieu back, but he has been largely silent on Tanaka.
Maybe that’s just a sign of respect. Tanaka wasn’t the ace New York hoped, but he was 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA over seven seasons. If the Yankees want to move on, so be it.
The Red Sox need reliable arms and Tanaka fits that definition. He is 13th in the majors in innings the last five seasons. Tanaka also knows the terrain in the American League East.
Tanaka pitched poorly in two postseason games (8 innings, 11 earned runs), but that’s not a disqualifier assuming he’s healthy.
Tanaka averaged $22.1 million with the Yankees. He’s not going to approach that again and could be a short-term fit at Fenway.
▪ Hunter Renfroe is a 28-year-old outfielder the Red Sox signed this past week. He played at Mississippi State. Hunter Renfrow is a 24-year-old Raiders wide receiver. He played at Clemson.
Turns out they know each other.
“Me and Hunter Renfrow actually have a really good relationship,” Renfroe said. “We keep up with each other often and wish each other luck.”
Another step needed by MLB
Major League Baseball’s decision to reclassify the Negro Leagues as being among the statistically recognized major leagues is a worthwhile step if only because it will magnify the accomplishments of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, and the other stars of those leagues.
That MLB used the word “elevating” to describe its action was unfortunate. As Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick pointed out, those players never sought MLB’s validation when they were alive. They knew their leagues were legitimate.
If commissioner Rob Manfred truly wants to fight injustice, he’ll better use the power of his office to influence hiring practices in the sport.
The Angels, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Rangers all hired executives for decision-making roles within baseball operations this offseason. Miami chose Kim Ng, making her the first female GM. The other four teams picked white men.
The Cubs and Phillies are still planning to hire GMs. For now, White Sox vice president Kenny Williams remains the only Black person in a lead role within baseball operations.
That’s an injustice far more in need of redress than old statistics.
Jared Porter on his journey from Cape Cod League intern to GM of the Mets: “I’ve always been a big believer, and the term that I use with people, is that you need to dominate the job that you’re in. If you dominate the job you’re currently in, you’re going to get more opportunities down the road. I’ve been very focused at each level, at each stop in my career, at doing a great job whatever role that I’m in. I felt like if I do that, then I’m going to get opportunities to progress, and that has happened.” In a testament to how business is being conducted these days, Porter took the Mets job without having actually met manager Luis Rojas in person. All their communication process was done via Zoom or over the phone … Minor league realignment gave the Twins their Triple A team at CHS Field in St. Paul, a 13-mile drive from Target Field. The Twins will save an estimated $500,000 in airfare, hotel, and travel hosts for calling up players. Their Triple A team was previously in Rochester, N.Y. … The Mets are expecting Chili Davis to return as hitting coach. Davis, 60, opted out of last season because of the pandemic. The Mets hired another former Red Sox coach, Dave Jauss, as their bench coach. The former Amherst College player returns to a post he had in 2010 … MLB.com ranked the top 100 prospects for the June draft. The list included three Boston College players: outfielder Sal Frelick (25), righthander Mason Pelio (31), and shortstop Cody Morissette (43) … Happy birthday to Cecil Cooper, who is 71. The first baseman was with the Red Sox from 1971-76 and hit .283 with a .772 OPS before being traded to Milwaukee for Bernie Carbo and George Scott. Cooper went on to become a prominent player in Brewers history, hitting .302 with 201 home runs and 944 RBIs over 11 seasons. Cooper’s 30.4 offensive WAR trails only Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Ryan Braun in franchise history.