It’s a good time to be a great shortstop.
The 14-year, $340 million contract agreed to by Fernando Tatis Jr. last month is not something every player at his position can aspire to. Tatis is a 22-year-old star bursting with talent and personality, and the Padres are intent on challenging the Dodgers.
But as Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Trevor Story enter their final season before free agency, Tatis has increased the value of their shared position.
The same will be true for Trea Turner, who has two years remaining before he can become a free agent. Xander Bogaerts would benefit, too, if he elects to opt out of his deal after the 2022 season.
“It’s a super-competitive, super-talented [list of] shortstops,” Story said. “I think we all push each other in one way or another, even if we know it or not.”
Lindor could be the first domino to fall. Mets president Sandy Alderson readily acknowledges he wants to keep his new shortstop around after acquiring him from Cleveland.
“We’re committed to talking about it and I expect those conversations will start relatively soon,” Alderson said.
Lindor has said he loves New York. But he loves his leverage, too.
“They have to get to know me, and I have to get to know the organization,” he said. “It’s a little too early to start [negotiations]. I don’t know the organization and what their plans are.”
The Mets improved their roster over the offseason but passed on the highest tier of free agents. Signing Lindor is paramount from a credibility standpoint for new owner Steve Cohen.
Correa said he has not had any talks with the Astros, who lost one of their other stars, George Springer, to the Blue Jays via free agency.
If there is a deal to be done, Correa would like it to be soon.
“I leave that up to my agent and the organization,” he said. “I haven’t heard from them, since the arbitration was settled. If the Astros want to extend me, I’d like to get it done before the season starts.
“I’m not scared of free agency. But at the same time, and I’ve shared this before, this is the team I grew up with. I feel like this is my team and I feel like I belong here. But they have to feel the same way.”
Correa, who turns 27 in September, is the youngest of the would-be free agents and will use that to his advantage.
“It’ll take the right deal to stay here,” he said. “I’m not going to sell myself short. I know what I’m worth. I’m expecting to have a great, healthy season, which will help my case.”
The 28-year-old Story has a .909 OPS over the last three seasons. There’s a big gap in his career home (.994) and away (.760) splits, but that was once the knock on DJ LeMahieu and he has flourished with the Yankees since leaving the Rockies.
Story has ample reason to want to flee the poorly run Rockies but is making the best of the situation for now.
“I’m focused on personally being the best teammate I can be,” he said after reporting to spring training. “I try not to look too far ahead.
Bogaerts said two years is too far down the road to think about now. Opting out also would mean giving up a guaranteed $60 million over three years with a vesting option for $20 million more based on plate appearances.
Bogaerts was adamant about wanting to stay with the Red Sox when he agreed to the extension in 2019. The team has since been torn down around him. How competitive the new-look Red Sox are will factor into his decision.
DOWNS IS UP
Prospect is on Cora’s radar
When Alex Cora says 22-year-old Jeter Downs has a slow heartbeat, it’s a big compliment. It means Downs calmly reacts to situations on the field that might rattle other players his age.
“There’s something about closing down the game that comes natural to him,” said Cora, who is getting his first good look at Downs and Connor Wong, the two prospects who came from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade.
“They’re making Chaim [Bloom] look smarter,” Cora added.
Downs spent the offseason working out in the Miami area with Jon Jay, a 35-year-old outfielder with 11 years of major league experience.
“Jon is one of my favorite players,” Cora said. “They got into the mental side of it, how you prepare and go about your business. That’s something he kept preaching to Jeter.”
Downs has only 12 games of experience above Single A and will need time before he’s ready for the majors. Getting on a consistent development path will help as the Sox are already his third organization. Downs was drafted by the Reds in 2017 then traded to the Dodgers in 2018 as part of a six-player deal.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ The Red Sox will have to learn to live with Bobby Dalbec striking out, although his history advancing through the minors suggests his strikeout rate will drop as he becomes accustomed to how pitchers attack him.
Dalbec also should prove to be a plus defender at first base and will cut down some lead runners with his arm. Much like Mitch Moreland, who was a part-time pitcher at Mississippi State, Dalbec pitched at Arizona and will be aggressive throwing from first base.
He’s also a good base runner for a slugger, taking secondary leads that allow him to go first to third.
As Cora noted, Dalbec is a good baseball player, not just a good home run hitter.
▪ Cora is the fifth skipper to manage a team for an entire season then return after a one-year absence, the first since Billy Martin came back to the Yankees in 1985.
George Steinbrenner fired Martin after the 1983 season, making him a scout. Martin returned 16 games into the 1985 season when Yogi Berra was fired. The others were Jim Fanning (1984 Expos), Danny Murtaugh (1973 Pirates), and Leo Durocher (1948 Dodgers).
Fanning was fired after the 1982 season and returned with 30 games remaining in 1984 then replaced again.
Murtaugh resigned after the 1971 season for health reasons following a World Series championship then replaced Bill Virdon late in the 1973 season.
Durocher was suspended for the 1947 season for associating with gamblers and returned in 1948 only to switch over to the Giants midway through the season, a deal approved by both teams.
▪ Jackie Bradley Jr. generated plenty of debate among Sox fans about how far his defense carried his streaky bat. Not up for discussion was his character.
Bradley was honest, accountable, and thoughtful, never more so than last August then when the Sox voted to cancel a game against the Blue Jays in Buffalo to join the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation.
He also was endlessly gracious with fans, posing for photos and signing autographs. Here’s wishing Jackie and his family well.
Second thoughts from Nationals
The Nationals are considering hitting Juan Soto second, following the same data-based thinking the Red Sox briefly tried with J.D. Martinez last season.
Soto has primarily hit fourth in his career and last season had a Ted Williams-like slash line of .351/.490/.695 hitting third or fourth in 33 of his 47 games.
“I don’t mind wherever I hit,” Soto said. “They told me I would start hitting second and see if that’s the place for me.
▪ Rays uber-prospect Wander Franco hit a home run off Pittsburgh’s Miguel Yajure on Wednesday that couldn’t be found. The shot cleared the fence in right field in Port Charlotte, Fla., and soared over the building that houses the team offices 51 feet farther back. The ball wasn’t found on the roof and apparently landed in a parking lot beyond. Was it 500 feet? More? Nobody knows for sure. Franco, who turned 20 this past week, said it was the farthest he had ever hit a ball.
▪ There haven’t been any knuckleballers in the majors since 2019. But the Orioles have 33-year-old Mickey Jannis in camp. He was in the minors with the Mets from 2015-19. Steven Wright also is hoping to make his comeback and has thrown for several teams.
▪ The Phillies had little velocity in their bullpen last season but now have three or four relievers who can sit at 96-97 with their fastballs. There’s also more attitude among their relievers, too
▪ Yoan Moncada’s OPS dropped to .705 last season as he dealt with the aftereffects of COVID-19. “I had to battle to find my rhythm at the plate,” the White Sox third baseman said. “I can say I didn’t get it. This year it has been better. It’s something I can maintain.” Hitting coach Frank Menechino is working with Moncada on his plate coverage and being a tougher out.
▪ The White Sox have been impressed with non-roster catcher Jonathan Lucroy and have discussed keeping three catchers. But that doesn’t seem likely. “Ideally it’s not the way that we would go,” manager Tony La Russa said.
▪ Francisco Lindor, who quickly has become the centerpiece of the Mets, said his leadership skills were handed down by Mike Napoli. “The greatest teammate I’ve ever had,” Lindor said. “He taught me so much how to handle people.”
Greinke chasing unexpected goals
Zack Greinke, 37, is entering the final season of his contract with Houston having gone 21-8 with a 3.20 ERA the last two seasons.
He’s a six-time All-Star with a Cy Young Award, two ERA titles, six Gold Gloves, and 19 postseason starts.
So, what’s left to accomplish other than winning a World Series? Greinke said his aim is to reach 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases in his career. He’s one shy in both categories.
Greinke was caught stealing for the first time in his career on Sept. 3, 2019.
“I wanted to steal so bad because I knew it could be my last chance to get 10 stolen bases and I got caught,” he said. “I wanted it too much. That’s my only goal now.”
As for continuing his career beyond this season, “I guess I think about it,” Greinke said during an entertaining Zoom session. “It probably depends how good I feel and everything. Hopefully pitch a lot longer still. But a lot of things come into play on whether you’re allowed to pitch as long as you want to.
“But hopefully this season’s fun. Last year wasn’t very fun with all the craziness going on with [the pandemic]. Hopefully it’s better this year.”
Greinke said he keeps up a throwing program all year long, which allows him to avoid soreness during spring training. But his strength training and cardio work run on a different schedule.
“I work out different than most people. I work out when I want to work out kind of and do whatever I feel like doing that day,” he said.
Greinke’s four-seam fastball averaged 87.9 miles per hour last season, the slowest of his career. The differential with his changeup was 3.2 m.p.h., down from 6.1 in 2016.
But he makes it work and wants to keep pitching beyond this season.
“I’ve been able to stay healthy for a long time and still feel really good. Don’t see that changing, but you never know, I guess,” he said. “I feel good. My body moves really good still; throw hard enough, stuff’s still good.”
As for winning a championship, Greinke knows it’s not a one-man job.
“It’s a team game,” he said. “It takes a lot of people to do good to win a World Series. You need some breaks. It’s not as easy as saying you want to win a World Series and you win a World Series.”
Greinke said he watched “probably half” the Series last fall and saw his friend and former teammate Clayton Kershaw win his first championship.
“That was great. I was really happy for him,” Greinke said. “It looked like fun.”
MLB’s decision to annually celebrate Lou Gehrig Day on June 2 (the day his ironman streak started in 1925) should help raise more funds to find a cure for ALS. The announcement was particularly meaningful to the family of the late Pete Frates. “All the feels today!” Frates’s mother, Nancy, posted on Twitter. It also resonated with the family and many friends of the late John Martin, a beloved videographer with NESN who was a regular at Fenway Park . . . Baseball has its own lingo and the new spring training rule giving managers the right to end an inning if their pitcher exceeds 20 pitches quickly became known as “rolling an inning.” That seems to be because the catcher rolls the ball to the mound after getting a signal from the manager. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had some fun when the Rays’ Kevin Cash rolled an inning in their game Monday. “That’s a Kevin Cash move right there,” Baldelli said. “You’ve got to be pretty big to be able to change the game after the game has started.” The new rules seem extreme, especially if you’re a traditionalist. But they’re in place for a reason. With minor league camps not opening until April 1, teams don’t have the option of adding extra pitchers to their rosters. So rather than risk injury by overextending a pitcher in March or hurrying to warm up somebody, innings can be ended. White Sox manager Tony La Russa, reliably old school, is against it and has asked for extra relievers to be added to the roster. He doesn’t believe it’s fair to the fans . . . MLB is expected to approve the idea of teams playing exhibition games in April at their alternate sites, ideally against the opponent closest to them to cut down on travel. For the Red Sox, that would be Brooklyn if the Mets return there. But the Mets would be closer to Moosic, Pa., where the Yankees are expected to be . . . The Mets are conducting deeper background checks in their hiring process after the debacle with Jared Porter and will “be more intentional” speaking with women who have been in contact with candidates. Why such diligence wouldn’t have been conducted before speaks to how far behind baseball is dealing with sexual harassment . . . Happy birthday to Galen Cisco, who is 85. He was 6-12 with a 6.28 ERA in 51 games in two stints with the Red Sox. He was with them from 1961-62 and again for 11 games in 1967. Cisco went on to a long career as a pitching coach that included two World Series rings with the Blue Jays.