Sports

NICK CAFARDO | SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES

Could a shorter season work in Major League Baseball?

Commissioner Rob Manfred is on the record for being against reducing the number of games in the regular season because there’d be too many lost gates.

LM Otero/Associated Press/File 2015

Commissioner Rob Manfred is on the record for being against reducing the number of games in the regular season because there’d be too many lost gates.

The next collective bargaining agreement — which will be negotiated this year — must address a very important topic: protection of the players.

The modern game requires players needing more time off to recover from grueling travel schedules, as schedule-makers have to accommodate the huge rights fees that national and local media outlets are dishing out, as well as season-long interleague play.

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To accomplish this, the CBA talks should include two possible solutions — reduce the number of regular-season games or expand the roster size to 28, with 25 active on game days.

Said one American League executive, “Getting 30 owners to go along with anything that will cost their franchises money will be a hard sell. The only way you sell it is if you can prove that more time off will protect their assets.”

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And therein lies the hope.

From this reporter’s point of view, I’d hate to see a reduction in games. I love the baseball season and the everyday aspect of it. Managers have gotten better at identifying when players need time off. If you have just invested $217 million in David Price, for instance, wouldn’t it be swell to give him six or seven days between starts a few times a season?

The 162-game schedule has existed since 1961 in the AL and 1962 in the NL. In the days of 154-game schedules, baseball travel was a far cry from today’s luxury charters complete with every amenity imaginable. But there are a lot of quick turnarounds, especially when a team has to play Sunday night and then play in another city on Monday.

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Though conditioning is prioritized, players are breaking down faster. Some feel they need a day or two off a week. The iron man days of Cal Ripken are over. Players used to fight the manager to play every day, but now they don’t protest as much when they have scheduled days off.

A smaller schedule would mess with traditional stats. It’s a whole new world of advanced stats, so playing it out for 162 for the sake of statistics doesn’t matter as much as it used to.

A reduction in the schedule will certainly be brought up in CBA talks. How serious this topic gets depends on who you talk to and how much of a reduction both sides would be agreeable to.

Commissioner Rob Manfred is already on record as saying there won’t be a return to the 154-game schedule because there’d be too many lost gates. As an NL owner pointed out to me recently, “We need the gates to make our business profitable. I don’t see reducing our gates by four [home games] would work in that regard. That’s a big gulp.”

Baseball season length
Note: Variances exist in many years because of strikes, cancelled games, rainouts, and added tiebreaker games.
1961-2015
162
1904-1960
154
1901-1903
140
SOURCE: Baseball-reference.com

Manfred could always propose more playoffs games to help make up for the lost regular-season gates.

MLB has heard it from the union about scheduling fiascos, and it’s not that MLB is trying to stick it to the players, but it has things that get in the way, such as networks. When ESPN spends a gazillion dollars for rights, MLB isn’t going to step in and not schedule Sunday night games because the players get tired.

Expanding rosters to 28 players (25 active) would give teams more positional options and the ability to rest players more often.

The game is changing, and rosters need to change with it. It seems silly to have five starting pitchers active when four of them won’t get into the game.

Trade market hasn’t closed yet

It’s getting deep into the offseason and plenty of deals could still be made before spring training.

For example, the Rays and Cubs seem to line up for a trade. Tampa Bay could deal either Jake Odorizzi or Alex Cobb if Chicago is willing to give up Javier Baez or Jorge Soler.

Cubs president Theo Epstein is trying to turn Baez into a younger Ben Zobrist, while Soler has big-time slugging potential, though he isn’t the greatest right fielder. The Rays need controllable young hitters and Soler and/or Baez would fit very nicely in their lineup.

The Cubs have the look of a World Series team. They added a great defender and lefthanded swinger in Jason Heyward, added a veteran presence to the lineup in Zobrist, and John Lackey will join NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in an excellent top three. They could use another young, controllable pitcher and the Rays have what they want.

The Angels could use a lefthanded bat and there are plenty of trade possibilities available, from Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce to the Colorado trio of Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson. Gonzalez would come with the most cost, and quite frankly the Angels don’t have a lot of prospects to give away.

The Orioles also need a lefthanded bat and Gonzalez would be ideal playing half of his games at Camden Yards. The Orioles would have to part with a pitcher such as Kevin Gausman to get this done. Right now that scenario seems unlikely unless the Orioles can sign a free agent like Yovani Gallardo to help the rotation.

Brett Gardner could be a valuable trade chip for the Yankees.

Elsa/Getty Images/File 2015

Brett Gardner could be a valuable trade chip for the Yankees.

With outfield prospect Aaron Judge not far off, the Yankees could deal Brett Gardner for pitching. It’s plausible to imagine a Gardner-for-Andrew Heaney swap, considering Angels GM Billy Eppler was Brian Cashman’s assistant and likes Gardner’s defense, speed, and leadoff capability.

The Braves also have an intriguing outfielder in Nick Markakis. With three years and $33 million remaining on his deal, Markakis could be a target of the Angels, among others.

The Dodgers could deal Andre Ethier and would be willing to pick up some salary. The Brewers would love a taker for Ryan Braun, whose five-year, $105 million extension begins this season. The Rangers could shop Josh Hamilton, though they believe he’s ready to rebound.

Stay tuned for what could still be an active trade market.

Apropos of nothing

1. Xander Bogaerts ranked sixth among MLB Network’s top 10 shortstops. The list was based on advanced offensive and defensive metrics. The top 10, from top to bottom: Francisco Lindor, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Correa, Brandon Crawford, Jhonny Peralta, Bogaerts, Addison Russell, Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius.

2. You have to give the Marlins credit — they truly have remade their team. Hiring Don Mattingly as manager and Barry Bonds as hitting coach should provide dividends. Miami signed Dee Gordon to a five-year, $50 million extension, signed Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year, $80 million deal with a second year opt-out, and decided not to trade ace Jose Fernandez and talented center fielder Marcell Ozuna. “Everybody thinks Mets and Nationals [in the NL East], but the Marlins could be the sleeper team,” said a rival GM. “Still think they need more pitching, but their all-around team is better.”

3. The Red Sox and Yankees are coming together for charity Feb. 11 in New York. “A Conversation with Baseball Rival Clubs,” featuring Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and Yankees senior vice president Brian Cashman, will take place at NYY Steak in midtown Manhattan. Proceeds will benefit Red Sox and Yankees charities. Tickets are available at redsox.com/businessofbaseball.

4. A big step was taken in St. Petersburg last week when the city council approved a measure where the Rays can pursue stadium sites in the Tampa/St. Pete area. Previously, the Rays were unable to do so based on the lease they signed with Tropicana Field, which runs until 2027. “It’s been a long time coming for us, a lot of work in the organization,” principal owner Stu Sternberg said on the Rays Radio Network. “Basically, it means we get to start to look around, explore the region, and see where the pitch-perfect place is for our home for decades to come.” This isn’t good news for the city of Montreal, which has made overtures to the Rays. The biggest question remains, will the Rays draw fans even with a new facility?

5. I’d rather have Justin Upton than Yoenis Cespedes.

6. I’m amazed nobody has hired Medford’s Mike Pagliarulo as a hitting coach. He was in line to become the Marlins’ hitting coach before they gave the job to Bonds. Pagliarulo interviewed with the Red Sox to be their minor league hitting coordinator, but that job went to Greg Norton.

7. Love what the Diamondbacks did this offseason (Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller), but the Giants will be the team to beat in the NL West.

Updates on nine

1. Ian Kennedy, RHP, free agent — The Royals on Saturday agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract with Kennedy, a 31-year-old middle-to-end-of-rotation starter but one who has been consistent in his career. Something to beware: Kennedy throws a lot of curveballs and his success rate with the pitch is declining. In 2013, batters hit .171 off his curves. In 2014, that figure jumped to .271. And last season, opponents hit .289 off the pitch. That trend could get worse if he switches to the AL.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, free agent — Cespedes had a five-year, $90 million offer from the Orioles. But with two-time home run champion Chris Davis agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million deal with Baltimore early Saturday morning, the Cespedes offer appears to be off the table. Cespedes may instead have to sign a shorter-term deal with the Mets or hope the Tigers make a substantial offer.

3. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Yankees — Commissioner Rob Manfred has yet to rule on Chapman’s domestic violence case. The reason the Yankees feel there won’t be hefty punishment for Chapman is the fact no charges were brought by the police for the alleged incident, in which Chapman reportedly tried choking his girlfriend and then fired eight gunshots in his garage. Manfred can rule with an iron fist if he feels there’s enough evidence to warrant severe punishment. Manager Joe Girardi has said Chapman will open camp as the closer. There’s still a possibility the Yankees could move Andrew Miller.

4. Cliff Lee, LHP, free agent — While there’s been a great deal of inquiry, some teams say they haven’t been able to get a good read on Lee’s readiness. Is he ready to join a team right away or is he eyeing a midseason return after elbow issues wiped out his 2015 season? According to an official from an NL team, Lee wants to sign with a strong contender. An AL official said he knew very little about Lee’s offseason program and progress. Another NL official thought Lee was asking for a high base salary. If the 37-year-old lefty is progressing well, he would be a good gamble for teams like the Royals, Astros, Rangers, Orioles, Pirates, Yankees, or Blue Jays.

5. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays — While the Blue Jays are exploring extensions for Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista will likely test the market after the 2016 season. We’ve mentioned the Red Sox being a top landing spot for him either as a DH, first baseman, or corner outfielder. He’ll be 36 entering the 2017 season, but Bautista’s swing would still warrant a three-year deal and his power would play well at Fenway.

6. Tim Lincecum, RHP, free agent — Lincecum has received a few inquiries and is generally seen as “inventory,” according to an executive for an NL team. He could be useful to second-division teams like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or Atlanta. For the moment, ties with the Giants have been severed, but who knows?

7. Shane Victorino, OF, free agent — Victorino is healthy again, switch-hitting, and ready to contribute to a team like only he can. Agent John Boggs said there have been inquiries, but teams are waiting for the free agent outfield pool to thin out. “We have a couple of teams that have been nibbling, but don’t know when they become fully engaged,” Boggs said.

8. David Freese, 3B, free agent — Quality third basemen are certainly hard to come by, which makes Freese’s availability sort of a head-scratcher. Is he someone the Red Sox might consider if he’s still out there by spring training?

9. Jonny Gomes, OF, free agent — We figure, at some stage, Gomes will surface to help a contender. Again, the problem is the abundance of unsigned outfielders. It has to be a team that thinks it can win now and values something that Gomes’s leadership provides and analytics don’t measure — chemistry.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “Over the last five seasons, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, Dan Haren, and Rick Porcello each have 57 losses; only Ubaldo Jimenez (58) and Jeremy Guthrie (60) have more.” Also, “John Lackey and Cole Hamels each faced 261 batters in their third plate appearance in a game, the difference is that those batters hit .266 against Lackey and .210 against Hamels.” . . . Happy birthday, Mark Malaska (38), Walt McKeel (44), and Denny Doyle (72).

Red Sox-Cubs World Series? Book it

In 2003, baseball’s lovable losers, the Cubs and Red Sox, were each one win away from advancing to the World Series. It never happened, of course; although the Red Sox have since won three titles to end their long drought, the Cubs haven’t been to the World Series since 1945 or won it since 1908. In Las Vegas, the thinking is that a Red Sox-Cubs World Series may happen. Which teams Vegas likes in 2016 (as of Jan. 8):

Cubs: 7/1. Overpaid for Jason Heyward but he’s still an upgrade in the outfield. Ben Zobrist slots in at second and boosts the lineup. Added John Lackey to an already solid rotation and obtained Adam Warren to fortify the back ofthe bullpen orthe end of the rotation.

Red Sox: 8/1. David Price provides the ace, Craig Kimbrel a young closer, Carson Smith a lateinning bullpen arm, and Chris Young outfield depth.

Giants: 10/1. A pretty nice big three: Madison Bumgarner is joined in rotation by Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

Astros: 12/1. A mixed bag — they have to hope untested Ken Giles is the realthing in closer role. Outstanding lineup and top of rotation (Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh) return.

Mets: 14/1. They haven’t added much, and may not have slugger Yoenis Cespedes, but that rotation . . .

Nationals and Rangers: 15/1. The Rangers haven’t added much, but will have a (hopefully) healthy Yu Darvish to go with Cole Hamels atop the rotation.

Yankees and Dodgers: 16/1. The Yankees’ new closer, Aroldis Chapman, is facing suspension, but when he returns a back three of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Chapman is tough to beat.

Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Pirates: 18/1. The Blue Jays lost GM Alex Anthopoulos, and David left for a division rival, but the lineup remains potent.

The bottom feeders: Phillies: 350/1, Braves: 350/1, Rockies: 250/1, Padres: 120/1, Athletics: 120/1, Brewers: 120/1, Marlins: 120/1, Reds: 120/1.

Here are odds at other Las Vegas sites:

Bovada

Cubs and Giants: +500.

Red Sox: +800.

Mets and Nationals: +1400.

Blue Jays and Dodgers: +1600.

Astros and Cardinals: +1800.

Five tied at +2000.

Odds Shark

Cubs and Giants: +500.

Red Sox: +800.

Mets: +1400.

Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Royals: +1600.

Astros, Cardinals, and Nationals: +1800.

COMPILED BY RICHARD McSWEENEY

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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