Baseball may be getting younger, but 2015 has had its share of old guys who have played very well and added leadership to their teams.
If you had to pick the Old Guy of the Year, you’d lean toward David Ortiz, who finished the season with 37 home runs, 108 RBIs, and a .913 OPS.
We’re not homing in on a certain age, but it’s obvious which old guys did better than others and which will be asked to provide that old guy leadership next year, as well.
The Astros may prove not to need one of those guys, but when you ask manager A.J. Hinch, the players, and other people in the organization, their one void seems to be an older, Raul Ibanez type that would bring the team together with veteran leadership.
Torii Hunter, for instance, was that guy for the Twins, who barely missed the playoffs. He is currently mulling another year in Minnesota because the Twins feel they need him at least one more time to bring together their young roster. His off-field impact was felt perhaps even more than his on-field impact, but that part was good enough for the Twins to want to devote a starting roster spot.
For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira had excellent years on the field, but both, particularly A-Rod, were invaluable in the clubhouse and in the dugout during games. Rodriguez also was the one who got Nathan Eovaldi to throw his splitter more as opposed to trying to blow hitters away with his high-90s fastball.
Carlos Beltran will be going on 39 when he returns to the Yankees for the final year of his contract, after a season in which he started slowly but wound up with a .276 average with 19 homers, 67 RBIs, and an .808 OPS.
There’s Adrian Beltre, the Rangers’ 36-year-old third baseman, who sets a great example on and off the field. Class all the way, and still a very productive hitter (.287, 18 homers, 83 RBIs) and a Gold Glove-caliber defender. Beltre, who suffered an an upper-back injury in Game 1 against the Blue Jays, has really excelled since his one year in Boston.
You have pitchers in this group, as well. At 38, A.J. Burnett was terrific for the Pirates (9-7, 3.18 ERA in 164 innings), a mainstay in their rotation. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, 40, and lefthander Mark Buehrle, 36, had excellent seasons in helping the Blue Jays get to the postseason. Buehrle was not included on the Division Series roster after fatigue set in over the final month of the season and his streak of 14 seasons of more than 200 innings finally came to an end.
The Mets’ young pitchers credit the wisdom provided by 42-year-old Bartolo Colon in helping them to navigate through lineups.
It was tough finding old guys up the middle, but how about Brandon Phillips? At 34, the Reds’ All-Star second baseman hit .294 with 12 homers and 70 RBIs in his 14th season. At 33, Ian Kinsler continued to excel at second base for the Tigers, hitting .296 with 11 homers and 73 RBIs.
Shortstops are getting younger around the majors. At 36, Jimmy Rollins was pretty much at the end for the Dodgers and lost his starting job to rookie Corey Seager. But Rollins has proven to be, like Hunter, good for the clubhouse because of his character.
Then you have A.J. Pierzynski. His stint in Boston wasn’t pretty, but in his 18th year in the majors Pierzynski was a starter again, and he hit .300 for the Braves. He’s been asked back for a 19th season. It’s been a significant career for Pierzynski, who won a championship with the White Sox and who has caught more than 100 games nine times, including this season at age 38.
David Ross, who is also 38, remains Jon Lester’s catcher with the Cubs and has one more year on his contract. On a very young team, Ross is almost like a father to some of the players, and he’s had a similar effect with the Cubs that he did with the Red Sox. He’s a player the Red Sox lost prematurely. He should have been re-signed given his leadership for the 2013 team.
Then you have the productive home run hitters. The Mariners’ Nelson Cruz is 35 and hit 44 bombs. Toronto’s Jose Bautista is 34 and hit 40 homers. Teixeira, with 31 homers and 79 RBIs, was on his way to 40/100 before a shin injury limited him to 111 games.
Teixeira was an MVP candidate, even though he kept downplaying the possibility. His loss proved to be devastating to the Yankees, who needed his righthanded pop and never got it the rest of the season.
Other pitchers? How about 36-year-old Cardinals righthander John Lackey, who went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA and pitched 218 innings? And in the pen, until he was stung by a line drive that broke a bone in his wrist, Koji Uehara was having a fine 40-year-old season as the Red Sox’ closer.
LaTroy Hawkins, 42, came to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline and contributed as a late-inning reliever. Rafael Betancourt (40), Joel Peralta (39), Matt Thornton (39), and Jason Grilli (38) were contributors to their respective bullpens.
Yes, it is a young man’s game, but the old guys provided value in 2015.
DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY
Schwechheimer learned from best
Ben Mondor will live on in New Orleans (Triple A, Marlins) and Port Charlotte, Fla. (Single A, Orioles), two franchises that soon will be bought by a group led by Lou Schwechheimer, who for 36 years, along with team president Mike Tamburro, helped make Mondor’s Pawtucket Red Sox pioneers of minor league baseball.
While Larry Lucchino’s new PawSox ownership group struggles with trying to replace Mondor’s legacy after buying the team, Schwechheimer has moved on, but he’ll never forget his time with Mondor.
“Ben was like a father to me,” said Schwechheimer, who has a million stories. “I’ll never forget, Ben had a consultant in one time to study McCoy Stadium and the guy suggested that he charge for parking. Ben threw him out of the stadium. That was Ben. The fans always came first. We had free parking and we could have made more money, but Ben always wanted to take care of the families.”
Schwechheimer also recalled, “We knew every season ticket-holder and their families. That’s how Ben built this franchise. When he bought it, there was a hole in the center field wall. He turned McCoy into a facility that people loved and adored. He created an atmosphere where he lived the two principles that were so important to him, that the fans were always right and he took care of the players.”
The players gave back, sending letters well into their major league careers about their experiences in Pawtucket.
And Mondor took care of Schwechheimer and Tamburro. In 1986, after Schwechheimer had turned down jobs with the Red Sox and Yankees, Mondor took out a piece of paper and demanded that Schwechheimer sign it.
It was an agreement that Schwechheimer would become part-owner of the team. Tamburro signed one as well. So from 1986 on, without anyone ever knowing, Schwechheimer was an owner.
“Ben always told me it would be worth my while to stay, and he appreciated the fact I had turned down so many job offers from Haywood Sullivan and John Harrington to stay in Pawtucket,” Schwechheimer said. “I probably could have made 10 times more money, but we had something here that we really believed and that we poured our life into.”
When Schwechheimer enrolled at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he promised Mondor he would never miss a game. And in return, Mondor picked up the tuition.
Minor league baseball has become very corporate and overmarketed at times. But when I asked Schwechheimer about New Orleans, he indicated the team would be run much like in Pawtucket.
Schwechheimer knows he will never forget McCoy Stadium and the great love fans have for the facility.
“It’s hard to leave, but I never wanted my career defined by one entity,” Schwechheimer said. “We’re hoping we can be as creative and passionate in our new life as we were in our old. We’re moving on, but I will never forget Pawtucket.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Most baseball people believe the Red Sox’ youngsters will continue to improve, but one veteran general manager cautioned, “It doesn’t always work out that way. That’s the tricky part for the Red Sox. The assumption is [Xander] Bogaerts and Mookie Betts just get better, but sometimes players fall back. Go back and look at the Royals. They had very good young players like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas, but they didn’t get better every year. There were some bumps and setbacks on the way to where they are now.”
2. The pace of play initiatives started well, cutting game times by 8-9 minutes, but after a competitive second half in which batters took more time in and out of the box, the result was games being pared by about six minutes on average. “We think that’s a start,” said commissioner Rob Manfred. “I think pace of play will be a continuing issue as we move forward.”
3. Love that Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor’s nickname is Stinky.
4. “Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk” by Doug Wilson is out soon. Wilson details Fisk’s life and times, his split from the Red Sox, and what made him a Hall of Fame catcher.
5. Despite the Red Sox seeking a more aggressive offensive approach, they led the majors by seeing 24,709 pitches. The Cubs were next at 24,645. No team took more called strikes than the Red Sox (4,642). The Athletics were next with 4,536.
6. Kudos to Adam Katz. He pulled off the best contract for a client when Hanley Ramirez inked a four-year, $88 million deal with a fifth-year option.
7. Our note last week on former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro remaking himself as a manager got a lot of responses, including one from Tony La Russa. “Ruben is a very smart baseball man,” La Russa said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he could be a very good major league manager. He’s an ex-player who understands the game.”
8. Michael Nolan, a 23-year-old former Oakland Athletics prospect who was shot Sept. 18, died of his wounds last week. Nolan underwent surgery last Tuesday to relieve pressure on his brain but died Thursday afternoon at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Police said the shooting took place shortly after midnight on Sept. 18 and might have been precipitated by a drag racing incident involving Nolan two days prior. Nolan, who was an 18th-round pick in 2014, was at a Burger King with friends when the shots, fired from a car, hit Nolan. Nolan, a 6-foot-7-inch lefthander, was drafted out of Oklahoma State. He underwent Tommy John surgery and never pitched for the A’s.
9. Former Padres manager Bud Black remains a top candidate for the Nationals’ job.
Updates on nine
1. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox — Don’t expect a tying-up of Bogaerts, as it’s not the modus operandi of agent Scott Boras, who doesn’t do team-friendly contracts, or Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who tends to wait later in the arbitration process and closer to free agency to do such deals.
2. Ben Cherington, former GM, Red Sox — Cherington said he did not interview with the Phillies for their vacant GM job, as had been speculated on some media fronts. Cherington seems content to sit out the year and regroup.
3. Danny Salazar, RHP, Indians — There’s no question the Indians are going to deal a starting pitcher for a hitter this offseason. As the year went on the Indians seemed more content to deal Salazar than Carlos Carrasco, who they made available at the trading deadline. Word is they’ll continue that way this offseason.
4. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Yankees — Ellsbury has always approached things the same way, whether he’s 22 or 32. When he’s not 100 percent, he’s not going to perform at a high level. His age had nothing to do with his less-than-stellar 2015 season, which saw him benched for the wild-card game. Ellsbury will likely rebound next season, steal bases and hit home runs again. What suffered most was his defense. “He’s just one of those guys who has to be 100 percent. Some guys are just like that,” said one Yankees official. “He’s not that old that he would be declining.”
5. Brian Cashman, GM, Yankees — Cashman is trying to replace Bill Eppler as his assistant GM. One possibility is Tim Naehring, who Cashman respects. Naehring, one of Cashman’s top pro scouts, has turned down advancement opportunities in the past, choosing to raise his family in the Cincinnati area. Jim Hendry, who works as an adviser, could also be a possibility, as could Kevin Reese. Cashman said he wants to hire from within.
6. John Lackey, RHP, Cardinals — It is not out of the realm of possibility that Lackey could wind up with the Cubs next season as a free agent, according to one major league source. It was Theo Epstein who signed him as a free agent in Boston. Lackey is also a close friend of Jon Lester, who will push Epstein in that direction. Lackey played for the major league minimum of $500,000 this season but also reached incentives that made his contract worth more than $2 million.
7. Tim Bogar, bench coach, Rangers — It looks like Bogar, the Red Sox’ bench coach under Bobby Valentine, could be the front-runner for the Seattle managing job after new GM Jerry Dipoto fired Lloyd McClendon. Dipoto and Bogar are friends and both are big on analytics. Bogar was forced upon Valentine and the relationship had major issues from the start. Bogar was dismissed by the Red Sox after Valentine was let go.
8. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds — With Chapman available, it’ll be interesting to see whether Dombrowski goes full bore for the bullpen stud over the ace for the rotation. He could do both if he signed the ace and then gave up prospects/and or major league talent for Chapman. The Red Sox, besides including prospects, could deal Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, or Clay Buchholz as part of a package that might satisfy Reds GM Walt Jocketty.
9. Chris Davis, 1B/OF, Orioles — He remains a priority for the Orioles, but suffice to say, Boras will shop his prized hitter until he drops. Davis homered in a major league-high 33 wins, beating out Jose Bautista by two. Nelson Cruz led the majors with homers in 17 losses.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Matt Harvey pitched four games against the AL East and had a 0.67 ERA.” . . . Happy birthday, Pat Dodson (56).
The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw became the first pitcher to strike out 300 batters since Randy Johnson in 2001 when he fanned seven in an abbreviated start in the regular-season finale, giving him 301 on the season. He became the 15th pitcher in major league history to fan 300, but only the fifth to do it while averaging 11 or more K’s per 9 innings. The only pitcher to reach the milestone in fewer than Kershaw’s 232 innings was Pedro Martinez in 1999 (213).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.