As the Astros, Braves, Dodgers, and Red Sox played on, the rest of baseball shifted into offseason mode.
Four interesting developments that caught our eye:
Yankees retain Aaron Boone
On one hand, of course you want to keep a manager who has delivered four consecutive playoff appearances and is 110 games over .500.
On the other hand, the Yankees have been moving further away from the World Series the last two years, not closer.
Aaron Boone received a three-year contract with an option. That must have been welcome news for the Red Sox’ Alex Cora, who is signed only through 2022 with team options for 2023 and ‘24.
General manager Brian Cashman, who is under contract through 2022, said Boone remains the best choice for the Yankees.
“If he was entering the free agent market, I believe he’d be the No. 1 managerial candidate in baseball,” Cashman said. “We would be going to market looking for someone like him.”
Boone said he had to “work through” the situation in his head to decide what direction to take with his contract about to expire. He even gave some consideration to exploring other options.
“It was puzzling at times … it was a trying year,” Boone said. “Even going back to 2020 it’s been a trying couple of years for a lot of reasons.”
Ultimately this is more a Cashman problem than a Boone problem. The Yankees are weak up the middle at catcher, shortstop, and center field.
Cashman acknowledged the Yankees need a more flexible roster, one that is more athletic and makes better contact.
“This was a tough team for some reason to figure out,” he said. “This was a year that I would say might be my toughest.”
The Yankees almost certainly need a shortstop from outside the organization. But with 20-year-old Anthony Volpe seen as the shortstop of the future, it will be a challenge to find the right fit.
“Bottom line, shortstop is an area of need,” Cashman said, acknowledging that Gleyber Torres belongs at second base. “I need to upgrade that position.”
The big change the Yankees made was with their coaches. Third base coach Phil Nevin, hitting coach Marcus Thames, and assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere were fired.
On Thursday, first base coach Reggie Willits left the team to become a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma.
“Some of the things that transpired were unexpected. In the offensive category there were a lot of unexpecteds,” Cashman said.
Cashman said the notion within the industry that the Yankees are too dependent on analytics is “overstated.” Boone also said it isn’t true.
Who they bring in as hitting coaches will reveal more about how balanced their approach is between data-based coaching and more traditional methods.
Mets still searching for leadership
The Mets have known for eight months they wanted to hire a president of baseball operations. But it somehow took until October to determine Billy Beane and Theo Epstein weren’t interested, and David Stearns wasn’t available.
Now they are sorting through the next level of candidates.
Within baseball, there’s a perception that the job will come with built-in hazards. Outspoken owner Steve Cohen expects instant success or close to it. Assistant GM Bryn Alderson, the son of team president Sandy Alderson, will have a prominent voice within the department.
Would a new baseball boss report directly to Cohen or through Sandy Alderson?
“It’s potentially an awkward situation,” said an American League executive. “But it’s also a great job because they have resources and winning there would be something special.”
The Mets need an experienced leader but may have to settle for assistant GM-level candidates from teams such as the Dodgers, Rays, Brewers, and Giants.
It’s a decision they must get right at every level given the team’s recent history. Jared Porter was hired to run baseball operations last winter but lasted only a month after it was found he sexually harassed a female reporter five years earlier.
His replacement, Zack Scott, is now on leave after being arrested for DUI.
Meanwhile, the Mets also need a manager and risk good candidates landing other jobs as they search for a president of baseball operations.
One thought: Bring Carlos Beltran back to manage if he’s willing. Giving Cora a second chance paid off for the Red Sox and the Tigers are thrilled with the work A.J. Hinch did this season.
Why is Beltran still an outcast?
As always in Queens, nothing goes to script. But the Mets have a lot to fix and need to get their leaders in place to prepare for next season.
Cardinals seek a new manager
The unexpected and still largely unexplained firing of Mike Shildt after 3½ successful seasons has raised questions.
Shildt didn’t answer any of them, making a statement that thanked people throughout the organization but refusing to take questions.
“I was taught not to talk out of school, and while clearly there were differences that led to this parting of ways, out of respect for the organization and the people who run it I can only express my gratitude and all of those philosophies that were shared over the many years, most of which [were] together, allow us to part ways as professional friends,” Shildt said.
“What differences there were will be left to remain unsaid ... by me.”
The Cardinals are expected to hire from within. But it appears president of baseball operations John Mozeliak sided with hitting coach Jeff Albert over Shildt. So where does that leave the next manager?
Carlos Correa’s seemingly impending departure from the Astros
No doors have been closed, but around the Astros there’s a sense that Carlos Correa is gone after this season.
He wants to be paid like one of the best shortstops in the game and owner Jim Crane has never approved a bigger contract (in terms of overall value) than Jose Altuve’s five-year, $151 million extension.
Correa, who turned 27 last month, is worth much more than that.
But where is he going?
Correa leads a deep class of free agent shortstops that includes Javier Báez, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Trevor Story.
The second level includes Freddy Galvis, José Iglesias, and Andrelton Simmons.
The Cubs need a shortstop, as do the Nationals. But are they at the point in their respective rebuilds where a deal like that makes sense? The Yankees are in the market, too. But as was mentioned earlier, they may not be seeking a long-term solution.
Reuniting with Hinch in Detroit could make sense.
“I see it all as positive. I see it as a great thing,” Correa said earlier this month. “I’m at a point in my life now where I’m happy, and that’s how I live my life, based on doing things that make me happy. Playing baseball makes me happy. Spending time with my family makes me happy. I’m going to be a father, so nothing will make me happier than [that].”
For all his excellence, Correa brings baggage. He’s one of the cheating 2017 Astros who were booed at parks across baseball this season.
It’s impossible to know to what degree his career statistics are a product of knowing what was coming, but it’s certainly a significant percentage. Even now, there is suspicion the Astros are adept at legally stealing signs and using whistles to alert their hitters.
Will a team want to invest a big contract in a player their fans may dislike? Or at the very least distrust?
There should be a way for Correa and the Astros to come together. He’s a team leader in action and words, and was a vocal defender of teammates after the sign-stealing news broke in 2019.
Beyond what he has done on the field, Crane owes Correa for taking on that situation the way he did.
Correa also has to pay a price for cheating. He can’t expect the sport to look the other way and give him a $300 million deal.
“I don’t think a deal with Houston is dead,” a major league source said. “Maybe they deserve each other.”
WAIT AND SEE
For now, Benintendi
deal is a loser
Andrew Benintendi hit .276 with a .766 OPS for the Royals. His WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com was 2.4 and he could be a Gold Glove finalist in left field.
Franchy Cordero, the one major league player obtained when Benintendi was traded, hit .189 with a .497 OPS in 48 games for the Red Sox and was designated for assignment on Thursday.
His WAR was minus-0.7. As was feared when the deal was made in February, Cordero looks like a good player but isn’t one when he takes the field.
The value in the deal for the Sox, or so they hope, will come down the road. They also obtained 23-year-old righthander Josh Winckowski, 19-year-old righthander Luis De La Rosa, 23-year-old righthander Grant Gambrell, and 19-year-old outfielder Freddy Valdez in the trade.
Winckowski finished the season in Triple A and is in the Arizona Fall League. He could be in the majors midway through next season.
Gambrell was 1-6 with a 7.16 ERA in eight starts for High-A Greenville. Injuries have been an issue.
De La Rosa and Valdez were in the Florida Complex League. De La Rosa had a 3.04 ERA over 26⅔ innings and Valdez showed a good plate approach (.356 OBP) without much power.
Check back on this trade in two years. It’s the most Tampa Bay-like deal Chaim Bloom has made.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
⋅ I’m a Jeter Downs skeptic. At 23, he has already been traded twice and that’s a red flag.
Downs was traded by the Reds in 2018, going to the Dodgers to help make up for the money Cincinnati took on by acquiring Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig.
Then the Dodgers traded Downs to the Red Sox 13 months later as part of the Mookie Betts deal.
Plenty of great players have been traded. But two organizations decided Downs was expendable when other prospects weren’t. Then Downs hit .190 with a .606 OPS at Triple A Worcester this season.
But Downs was 5 for 14 with three homers in his first four games in the Arizona Fall League. A good performance in the AFL would ease the question marks that arose at Worcester.
Downs has been primarily a shortstop in the minors with some games at second base. How he fits long term with the Sox remains to be seen given the glowing reviews of Marcelo Mayer and Nick Yorke.
⋅ Jonathan Papelbon hit 91 on the scoreboard radar gun at Fenway Park when he threw out the first pitch before Game 3 of the ALCS. Maybe that explains why Kevin Plawecki went out to catch.
Papelbon also ran in from the bullpen for the pitch. Because of course he did.
At age of 41, it’s
Daisuke Matsuzaka rejoined the Seibu Lions on Tuesday and faced one hitter before coming out of the game to a standing ovation from the crowd at MetLife Dome.
At 41, Matsuzaka is retiring after a 21-year career in pro ball that started with Seibu when he was 18.
Red Sox fans won’t be surprised to learn Matsuzaka’s exit from baseball was with a five-pitch walk.
Matsuzaka was Seibu’s record-setting ace from 1999-2006 before he joined the Red Sox in a celebrated deal that didn’t work out.
He was 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA the first two seasons with the Sox. Matsuzaka won Game 7 of the 2007 ALCS and Game 3 of the 2007 World Series, and threw a gem in Game 1 of the 2008 ALCS, shutting out the Rays for seven innings at Tropicana Field.
But after training hard to help Japan win the 2009 World Baseball Classic, he was never the same. Matsuzaka had a 5.53 ERA over the next four seasons and made only 55 starts.
“The attention he got was eye-opening. He did an amazing job for us in ‘07,” former teammate Alex Cora said. “Just the uniqueness, so many pitches. He was good, a great teammate. It was a great career.”
Matsuzaka was known for pitching slowly and not challenging hitters. He also was followed by a large group of media from Japan and attended to his own staff of trainers, massage therapists, and the like.
But Matsuzaka did love baseball. He played for the Mets from 2013-14, then returned to Japan and played parts of three more seasons.
Left unanswered as Matsuzaka goes off into retirement: Was there ever really a gyroball? He supposedly threw the mysterious unhittable pitch, which was said to spin like a football. But nobody ever saw it in action.
“I’m still looking for the gyroball,” Cora said.
Dusty Baker was asked if his success with the Astros might aid the cause of experienced managers getting more chances as opposed to newcomers aligned with analytics. “Everything goes in cycles. I thought I was pretty successful before I got this job,” Baker said. “As far as carrying the torch, being an African-American manager, I’ve been carrying a torch for a long time. Not only for people of age, but also, people of color at the same time. There’s only two [Black managers], man. You’re sharing the torch. So I don’t think about it. I just try to do my job to the best of my ability, and hopefully people will notice and give others a chance the way that I got a chance” … Eddie Rosario hit .271 with a .903 OPS in 33 games for the Braves after being acquired from Cleveland on July 30, then went 16 for 34 with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs in his first nine postseason games. It was a salary dump by Cleveland, which acquired Pablo Sandoval in the trade and immediately released him. Atlanta president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos made some savvy deals to reload his outfield after losing Ronald Acuña Jr. to a knee injury, but none better than that … The Northeastern baseball team is rallying around freshman righthander Phil Di Blasi Jr., a Boston College High graduate who is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. Check out the @GoNUbaseball Twitter account for ways you can help Di Blasi and his family … All the best to ESPN’s Dick Vitale, who was diagnosed with lymphoma. Vitale is known for his enthusiastic calling college basketball games, but he’s also an avid baseball fan who regularly attends Rays games at Tropicana Field and sits next to the visitors’ dugout … Cardinals prospect Lars Nootbaar told Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com that he trademarked his last name and wants to develop a healthy candy bar … Happy birthday to Rafael Devers, who is 25 and has already played five seasons in the majors and hit .279 with an .847 OPS, 112 homers, and 367 RBIs. Ed Jurak is 64. The infielder played for the Red Sox from 1982-85 and hit one home run over 259 at-bats. Sox fans from that era also may recall the time Jurak used his first baseman’s mitt to scoop up a rat that ran on the field at Fenway Park and dropped it in a trash can. Ken Ryan, the pride of Seekonk, is 53. The righthander was 9-9 with a 3.66 ERA from 1992-95.