All these catcher trips to the mound? They’re becoming a problem
Does it drive you crazy when the catcher constantly goes to the mound to talk to the pitcher about who knows what?
It’s not just aggravating to fans and the media. It’s also aggravating to Major League Baseball, managers, and coaches. At some time this offseason this will become a front-burner issue, if it isn’t already.
For someone who hates changes in baseball, even I would admit there has to be a limit on catcher/pitcher conferences, doesn’t there?
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who caught 1,938 games in the big leagues, agrees there are too many conferences, but he said the reason for many of them is opposing teams stealing signs and thus the pitcher and catcher needing to change location indicators and signals.
“It used to be taboo, but now it’s tolerated as part of the game,” Ausmus said. “But I do believe that some pitchers and catchers are guilty of too many. Maybe a touch too many overall.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked if he has noticed more catcher mound visits or whether it was simply a hot topic because of the overall slow pace of play.
“A combination,” Farrell said. “I’ll be honest, the constant disguising of signals is the root of it. Better be safe than sorry. When you see it is in the critical moments with a man on second base. Just count how many trips to the mound there are with a man at second as opposed to when there isn’t a man on second. That’s probably all you need to know.”
Farrell sees a greater concentration in the area of stealing signs.
“You’re always looking for an edge, and there’s nothing wrong about that,” he said. “How do you combat it and how do you change on the fly as best as you can is the important thing.”
Farrell, like Ausmus, would like to see fewer mound visits.
“I would to like to see a reduction because at times it can disrupt the rhythm of the game. We’d like the ability to achieve what you want without making a trip to the mound,” said Farrell, who pointed out other reasons for visits.
“It may be a quick review of a tag play on a hitter in a key spot. The pitcher and catcher may be getting on the same page with a certain pitch. If there’s a shake-off, maybe the pitcher doesn’t feel convicted as to what the catcher is calling. If it’s a key spot with men in scoring position, let’s get it right.”
Farrell does believe MLB will review putting a limit on mound visits.
Meanwhile, Red Sox special assistant Jason Varitek sees things a little differently.
“My understanding was that nobody was worse than me when it came to mound visits,” said Varitek, who caught 1,488 games in the big leagues. “I know we’re doing things to speed up the game, but we’re also in need of protecting what goes on defensively with signs and stuff. I have about this much [about an inch width between his fingers] problem with it. None.”
Asked if he agreed that teams stealing signs is the biggest reason for catchers visiting the mound, Varitek said, “Could be. But that existed before. We couldn’t go into the majority of the venues and not protect ourselves. You have to get on the same page in a crucial situation. If you’re having a hard time stopping the relaying of signs, you’ve got to go out there. You’ve got to protect it somehow.
“You should make the trip if the situation calls for it.”
Varitek said it also depends on the pitcher and how you’re changing the signs.
“With aerospace engineers like [Craig] Breslow you could do something really complicated or with language barriers like [Daisuke] Matsuzaka from Japan you’d be less complicated,” Varitek said.
“If there’s three [mound visits] every inning that’s a different story, but if it’s a tie game in the 11th and you have to take three trips, then you do whatever it takes. You can’t not take a trip to consider the speed of the game. But it’s just like a pitcher getting the ball and getting right back on the mound and making the pitch. It helps the pace of the game. The rhythm is better. When there are too many mound visits the umpires step in and they say, ‘Let’s go, get back there, let’s go.’ ”
Former Red Sox president Larry Lucchino seemed to sum it up best when he told the Attleboro Sun Chronicle this past week, “If a catcher wants to talk to the pitcher he can do it on his own time.”
Phillies make sense for Stanton
None of us know where the Marlins sale will lead and what sidebars will come as a result, but this has become one of the most talked-about subjects among baseball people. One reason there’s so much intrigue is the elephant in the room — Giancarlo Stanton and his enormous contract.
There’s been plenty of speculation as to how it will end up, but there’s been significant chatter in a few organizations, most notably the Phillies, which tends to indicate the Marlins could have a route to dealing Stanton.
The Phillies make sense. General manager Matt Klentak has tried to give his young players room to develop. Some are developing on time, while others have struggled. At some point the fan base will get impatient because it’s a big market where there were glory days not long ago. The Phillies won one championship in Ruben Amaro Jr.’s tenure as assistant GM, but at the time they were an entertaining team with stars such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino to keep fans interested.
The Phillies have two things going in their favor now: money and prospects. So there’s a way to get better fast. They could adopt the Red Sox’ model of having a core of good young players while surrounding them with free agents, or veterans via trade.
There’s no doubt that if the Phillies don’t land Stanton, they would be major players for the 2018 free agent class that includes Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
One scenario I heard in Philadelphia this past week was that the Phillies would not only seek Stanton but would also need Christian Yelich in any deal with Miami. The reason is that the Phillies don’t have the best outfield prospects.
Stanton has a full no-trade clause and being dealt to the Phillies might not be an attractive choice. He’s a West Coast native, therefore the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Rockies might have more appeal. The Angels, after the big contracts they gave to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, may not be in the market to take on another. The Dodgers, with their unlimited resources, could.
Apropos of nothing
1. Pirates righthander Jameson Taillon wrote this back on May 8, when he had surgery for testicular cancer: “When I was a kid, I spent countless numbers of hours dreaming of being a major league pitcher. Always determined (borderline obsessed) with working hard to make it, I never doubted myself. However, as a naive little guy, I never realized each person has a different path and journey along their way to accomplishing their goals. Tommy John surgery, sports hernia surgery, a 105-m.p.h. line drive off my hard head, and this most recent discovery are just a few of the stops along the way . . . My journey hasn’t been the smoothest. But it is my journey, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Thank you to my family.” Taillon made his first start since that surgery on Tuesday, throwing five shutout innings in a 7-2 win.
2. The Twins remain one of the game’s biggest surprises, still atop the American League Central, but they’d be in even better shape if they could play well at home. The Twins have lost 20 of 34 games at Target Field, posting the worst home record in baseball. One of the big questions around baseball is will the Twins be buyers before the trade deadline or will they stay the course with their master plan? This, according to one major league executive, “will be a big issue. Because if you’re playing well as a team, you have to know as a player that management is also trying to win. If you don’t know that, it can really be demoralizing.”
3. My goodness, the Orioles’ starting rotation has been awful. On their recently concluded road trip, Baltimore’s starters were 1-7 with a 12.54 ERA (45 earned runs in 32⅓ innings).
4. A major league coach said to me recently, “It’s too bad the Rays wouldn’t trade Evan Longoria to the Red Sox. He’d be perfect for them.” Have to agree, especially if you believe that Sox third base prospect Rafael Devers will wind up playing a different position.
5. Pete Rose probably won’t see any chance for baseball reinstatement in his lifetime. The latest setback is the Hall of Fame itself deciding not to overturn the 1991 resolution banning Rose from baseball. “After extensive discussion, a vote was taken in which the Board ratified the resolution that was passed on Feb., 4, 1991, known today as Rule 3(E) in the BBWAA’s election rules. As such, anyone deemed permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball, including Pete Rose, may not be considered for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
6. Facts and figures from the amateur draft: Pitcher was the position most frequently chosen, players, with 660 being selected (472 righthanders, 188 lefthanders). The rest of the pool was comprised of 246 infielders (100 shortstops, 61 third basemen, 42 second basemen, 37 first basemen, and 6 utility), 205 outfielders, and 99 catchers. Four schools: Chipola College, Stanford, Michigan, and Texas, had 11 players each selected, tied for the most. Players from 46 states were taken, but not Idaho, Maine, Vermont, and North Dakota.
7. Great to see that the Red Sox drafted lefthander Rio Gomez in the 36th round. He’s the son of classy ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez.
Updates on nine
1. Andrew Miller, LHP, Indians — It’s almost shocking now when you see Miller struggle. He lost the first two games of the series against the Dodgers this past week, allowing five earned runs and two homers in 2⅓ innings, after giving up one earned run and no homers in his previous 27 appearances. One AL scout who was there said, “Just leaving balls over the plate. Not enough followthrough on his slider.” Suppose it happens to the best once in a while.
2. James Shields, RHP, White Sox — Often forgotten on a list of possible pitcher acquisitions simply because he hasn’t been that good in his White Sox tenure: 5-12 with a 6.11 ERA in parts of two seasons. Shields, 35, has been on the disabled list with a lat strain but is scheduled to make his return on Sunday. Scouts will be watching. If Shields can show over a few starts that he’s healthy and pitching better, he could be a low-cost (in terms of players) option for a team. While the Padres are paying $11 million of his $21 million salary over the next two years, it would appear the White Sox would have to eat a significant amount of the $10 million per year Shields is owed over the next two years from them.
3. Howie Kendrick, 2B/LF, Phillies — Kendrick is an emerging trade chip as an attractive righthanded bat. I asked Phillies folks whether Kendrick could be considered a third base option for a contender, and the answers were in the negative. But given his infield instincts one scout said, “He can get in front of it, knock it down, and make the throw. I’ll bet you could get by with him there and you’d take the chance because of his bat. But at this stage he’s better off in left field.” Kendrick did play 17 games at third base last season and made just one error. Lately he’s been seen taking ground balls at third. If he could play third, the Yankees and Red Sox would have interest.
4. Jhonny Peralta, SS/3B, free agent — Now that he’s become a free agent, the Red Sox are said to have “limited” interest in the possibility of adding him to Pawtucket. Peralta was once a top performer for Dave Dombrowski in Detroit as a hard-hitting shortstop.
5. Alex Avila, C, Tigers — Why is Avila hitting so well this year? The belief by Tigers officials is that his head is finally clear from the concussions he’s suffered the past couple of years. Avila has a 1.027 OPS.
6. Sonny Gray, RHP, Athletics — The A’s are following the Astros’ system closely. There’s mutual interest in getting something done for Gray as injuries have beset the Astros’ pitching staff and they need reinforcements both in the rotation and the bullpen if they are to continue their great start.
7. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers; Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox — These are the two names linked most often to the Cardinals, who need a righthanded-hitting outfielder. Kendrick also could be in the mix. The Giants have been looking for a righthanded-hitting outfielder all season.
8. Nick Markakis, OF, Braves — Markakis has improved his value with a decent season, hitting .290 with a .370 on-base percentage. The lefthanded hitter will come with money issues. He’s owed $11 million next season and the prorated portion of $11 million for the rest of this season.
9. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers — You wonder what Gonzalez’s future will be with the Dodgers with rookie outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger setting the National League on fire (18 homers) and looking like the next big star. Gonzalez has a degenerative disk in his lower back and Bellinger’s quick ascent raises doubt about Gonzalez, who has one year remaining on the massive contract he signed with the Red Sox. He’s scheduled to earn $22.357 million in 2018.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The road ERA for these Cub starters is shocking: Jake Arrieta 5.20; John Lackey 5.40; and Jon Lester 5.85.” . . . Happy birthday, Tom McCarthy (56).
The Rays began play Friday with 104 homers, second in the majors and on pace for a team-record 244 this season, the franchise’s 20th. Despite fielding a lineup that doesn’t have a history of going deep too often, the Rays have four hitters in double figures and have gotten homers from 16 players. The leaders: