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Major League Baseball Owners Ain’t Paying The Five by Scott Lewis

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“I Ain’t Paying The Five!” Martin Lawrence said on his legendary 90s sitcom “Martin” when his landlord, Mr. Lopez raised the rent by 5%. Martin proceeded to boycott the rent increase, and it brought on a zigzag with Mr. Lopez, leading to the heat being turned off in a blizzard with his wife Gina and friends Tommy, Pam, and Cole wanting Martin’s head when they found out that 5% was just $5.

Major League Baseball fans can relate to the same anger that Martin’s friends felt by seeing franchises they’re supporting crying broke when they’re not spending money on high-priced free agents.

There’s a lot of problems with MLB in 2021. The league has the lowest fan interest among the three major American sports; the lack of black players and MLB refusing to market the few black superstars they have.

We’ve been in a global pandemic for almost one year, and it’s starting to affect MLB, which lost up to $3 billion in 2020. Attendance which was already declining year after year, was a non-factor last season as the only objects sitting in the seats were cardboard cut-ups. Team owners will tell you these are the reasons why they’re not spending money in this current 2021 offseason, but that’s a lie.

In 2018 two of the most prized free agents in MLB history, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and the Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper were ready to hit the open market. Fans worldwide were eager to see one or both of the superstars end up on their team.

Oddly that was not the case, as many owners didn’t even meet with the two superstars. A stand-off would ensue amongst the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies eventually cracked and signed Bryce Harper to a thirteen-year $330 million deal with no opt-outs. The San Diego Padres became the surprise team who would steal Machado from the White Sox to a ten-year $300 million contract.

Growing up as a DIE HARD White Sox fan on the South Side of Chicago, the Padres stealing Machado from them was frustrating when I found out the contract’s difference was $25 million. To the average hard-working person, $25 million is generation changing, but a billion-dollar sports franchise like the White Sox, its mere pennies.

The White Sox took that $25 million that Machado wanted and gave it to Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay instead of doing something smarter and paying Machado. These negotiation tactics to not spend money are the frustrations of fans and teams worldwide. Now, the whole offseason game is a competition to see who can pay the least amount of money and still compete.

There are multiple models of this, such as the tradition of holding young prospects down in the minor leagues for an extra year even if they’re ready to play in the majors so they can keep an additional year of control on their contract. Players are irritated, as you saw, Kris Bryant’s case in 2015 when the Cubs held him back a few months to keep an extra year of contract control. The relationship between the Cubs and Bryant hasn’t improved six years later as Bryant heads into his final year under contract.

There are rare instances where a team will call up a new prospect without a contract as the Padres did with Fernando Tatís Jr. in 2019, but that is not the norm. The White Sox have one of the brightest young talented teams in the league and didn’t call up their prospects Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert until they both agreed to team-friendly deals that locked them in for the next six seasons. There’s a lot of things we can look at to blame this particular situation, but the number one problem is the new style of winning championships where you rely strictly on your farm system instead of spending money on ready-now talent. The Kansas City Royals were the first to start this method when they rebuilt in 2011 and won the World Series in 2015. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros would follow this model by winning the World Series in 2016 and 2017, although the Astros cheated and that’s a story for another day.

We’ve seen three examples of that model working and another team like the White Sox trying to win with the same method. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation, and he commented on the Cubs trading Yu Darvish earlier in the offseason in his interview with Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times:

“There’s a lot of smart guys in front offices. Figure something out that’s easier to do than trading away a [star]. Just, for example, a potential Cy Young [Award winner] in [Yu] Darvish, who has been one of the top five pitchers in baseball for a year and a half, for prospects that could potentially be good, but they’re 17, 18 years old. And [Kyle] Davies is a great pitcher, but to me, that’s just not . . . For the Chicago Cubs to do that, it’s not good. It’s just not good.”

I loved what Kershaw said because it sums up the player’s and fans’ feelings about where the game is going and not paying these players the money they deserve. The Dodgers combine the two methods of having a great farm system and spending money like they did last year when they traded for former World Series Most Valuable Player, Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox gave up on a 27-year-old generational talent because they wanted to cut costs. The Red Sox are third on the Forbes list of most valuable major league franchise at a little over $3 billion, but they wanted to cut costs; it’s asinine. The Dodgers won the World Series last year and Mookie led the charge. The Dodgers turned up the heat this offseason by finalizing a three-year $102 million deal with the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer as they attempt to repeat.

MLB has many problems, but until massive market teams start to pay the five, it will be hard to see interest in MLB get better, and that’s not good for anybody.

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Fernando Tatís Is Ready To Be The Face of MLB

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For years, sports fans in America have criticized MLB’s lack of exposure, reach, and publicity compared to the NBA and the NFL. All three sports are prevalent in the country, yet there is always that feeling that MLB lacks a valid player with legendary skills and a marketable persona. The sport lacked someone like what LeBron James represents to the NBA. But fear no more.

Ever since he was a prospect, talent evaluators rated Fernando Tatís Jr. highly. The San Diego Padres knew all along that they had a unique player in him, a true five-tool hitter capable of hitting for average and power while boasting blazing speed, excellent defense, and a great arm at shortstop. Thankfully, the performance and numbers were there for him as he tested his skills against major league pitching.

In his first exposure, in 2019, Tatís hit .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases in just 84 games. But he struck out in 29.6% of his plate appearances, and people thought he would struggle the following season. Boy, they were wrong. His average did dip to .277, but he kept hitting dingers at a torrid pace: 17 in 59 games, and the essential improvements came in his plate discipline, as his walk rate increased from 8.1% to 10.5%, and his strikeout rate dipped from 29.6% to 23.7%.

The Padres saw Tatís talent might have made him virtually unaffordable if they went the traditional year-to-year salary route with him. The Padres offered him a 14-year, $340 million extension on February 17, which he accepted. The Padres know they can build around him for the long haul, and he helps put people on the seats of Petco Park like no other player. You could say he is one of the league’s very best assets on the field and from a revenue standpoint.

Tatís may not be better than Mike Trout, but he does have something that the Los Angeles Angels outfielder lacks; swag and charisma. And that’s not a knock on Trout. People are different, and there is nothing wrong with Trout’s quiet confidence. That doesn’t make him a worse person or player than Tatís. Perhaps if MLB had made a genuine sustained effort to use Trout’s image to promote baseball in America at all levels, we wouldn’t be talking about the Padres’ shortstop as the current and future image of Major League Baseball. It’s unclear if they will make that effort with Tatís, but he does make it a bit easier to sell the product, in my view.

Tatís stellar performance, coupled with his confident demeanor, captivating bat flips, tape-measure home runs, league-leading exit velocities, and evident love for baseball, gives him the edge over just about every other young star in the circuit. He plays the game the right way, even if his style has gotten him in trouble from time to time.

Do you think it is a coincidence that Tatís will be on the cover for MLB The Show 2021? Not a chance. He earned that with blood, sweat, and tears. Now we can enjoy stealing bases, making impossible plays at shortstop, and hitting long dingers while pretending to be Fernando Tatís, the new face of Major League Baseball.

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The Fatal Four-Way by Scott Lewis

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It’s my favorite time of the year; winter is over, and the weather is getting better. It means one thing, it’s time for some baseball. The crack of the bat, smell of grass on the field, the optimism for your team in the air, I love it. Last year MLB fans were robbed of an entire 162 game season due to the pandemic hitting the country right in the middle of last year’s spring training. All the players were sent home and wouldn’t pick up a bat or glove for another four months before a truncated 60 game season started, which eventually led to the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the World Series for the first time in 32 years. As the Dodgers begin their quest to defend this title, there are so many storylines, but I want to focus on not just the Dodgers but the three teams that are the most equipped to derail them.

Let’s start with the team in the Dodger’s backyard, the San Diego Padres. Last season the Padres were one of the most exciting teams, led by superstar shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr.

The Padres made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 last year, running into their division rival, the Dodgers, short-handed with injuries in their starting rotation.

The Padres got swept at the hands of the future defending champions—Padres general manager A.J. Preller went to work this past winter by adding not one but two former Cy Young pitchers in Yu Darvishsefa and Blake Snell. Darvishsefa is coming off a big comeback season last year with the Chicago Cubs, where he posted a 12-3 record with a 3.33 ERA. Blake Snell was the ace of the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays; he was also the focus of the considerable World Series controversy. He was pulled too early in game six after shutting the Dodgers down just for the Dodgers to feast on that Rays bullpen and eventually win the championship.

With newly acquired pitcher Joe Musgrove, a healthy bullpen, and one of the most explosive offenses in the majors, the Dodgers are going to have their hands full with not just winning the division against the Padres but a potential first-round matchup.

Now let’s head to the Bronx, home of the New York Yankees, aka the “Evil Empire,” aka “the Bronx Bombers,” aka those damn Yankees! The Yankees are coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign filled with injuries to key players, leading to them finishing 2nd in the AL East behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Yankees had a late-season push, getting them one of the final AL Wild Card spots where they would sweep the Cleveland baseball team—following that, they lost a very hard-fought division series to the Rays. The Yankees are coming into this season healthy for the most part, led by MVP candidate Aaron Judge; the Yankees are supposed to have one of the league’s most potent offenses that can carry them to a pennant and maybe even a World Series.

The Yankees Achilles heel this season will be their starting rotation. The starting rotation consists of perennial Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Deivi García.

There are a lot of questions about the Yankees’ rotation and just how bad or how good this unit will be outside of Cole. Former Cy Young winner Kluber was signed this winter after spending a season with the Texas Rangers where it was cut short due to a tear in his throwing shoulder. The Yankees are hoping for Kluber to return to his old form when he was dominant in Cleveland.

One can only hope that Taillon finds his old form after coming off Tommy John surgery. Severino is not coming back until mid-summer because of the same injury; this may derail the Yankees’ chances of not only beating the Dodgers but even coming out of the American League.

Now I want to take a trip to my favorite place globally, the South Side of Chicago. The Chicago White Sox are coming off a season where they made their first playoff appearance since 2008, led by the reigning AL MVP José Abreu and 2019 AL batting champion Tim Anderson.

The White Sox were eliminated in the Wild Card round by the Oakland Athletics due to the lack of a consistent third starting pitcher and a manager who could not manage a bullpen to save his life. Despite White Sox fans’ claims that the front office doesn’t spend money, White Sox GM Rick Hahn went to work to address the three main issues that led to elimination. The White Sox hired Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa to lead this young ball club. Hahn also acquired All-Star pitcher Lance Lynn from the Rangers to solidify that 3rd starter spot in the rotation and signed the closer who ended their season, Liam Hendricks from the Oakland A’s, to give them a bonafide closer in that bullpen.

The South Siders now have former Cy Young winner Lucas Giolito, World Series Champion Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, and the promising Dylan Cease. Cease is a pitcher who can be solid if healthy in Carlos Rodon and stud prospect Michael Kopech.

On paper, the White Sox have the best bullpen in baseball with young flame throwers Garrett Crochet, Codi Heuer, Aaron Bummer, and Liam Hendriks. Despite the White Sox losing stud left fielder Eloy Jiménez for most of this upcoming season, the White Sox have one of the best lineups. José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Yoan Moncada, and the guy many refer to as the Cuban Mike Trout, Luis Robert, the White Sox are the best equipped to come out of the American League and challenge the Dodgers.

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about the defending Champions. The Dodgers begin this season with the monkey off their back after failing in October and keeping the core pieces that won the championship. They added 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer this winter to bolster that already deep rotation of Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urías, Dustin May, and the future walking Hall of Famer, Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers have the best offense in the entire major league, lead by former MVP Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and the returning Justin Turner.

There will be many challenges to the throne, especially the three other teams I highlighted and the yearly surprise teams that nobody saw coming. When it’s all said and done in late October, the Dodgers are best equipped to become the first team in over 20 years to repeat as champions and have a party that Los Angeles has been on hold for 33 years.

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The Chicago White Sox Are Here to Stay, & Here’s Why by Andres Chavez

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When talking about Major League Baseball’s emerging powerhouses, the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, and New York Mets get all the headlines, perhaps rightfully so. After all, they were busy during the offseason and managed to get most of the high-profile free agents and trade targets.

However, one specific organization in the American League Central division is about to shatter all expectations: the Chicago White Sox. After several years of watching the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins advance to postseason play, the South Siders finished one game short of the division crown.

Led by an MVP season by slugger José Abreu  (.317/.370/.617 with 19 homers in 60 games, plus a jaw-dropping 60 runs batted in), the Pale Hose made it to the Wild Card round. There, Chicago lost to the Oakland A’s 2-1 in the best-of-three series.

White Sox fans should feel joy instead of disappointment because the team’s contention window is opening. They have a great core of talented hitters, from catcher Yasmani Grandal to young studs Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn, Eloy Jiménez, and Luis Robert. Established stars such as Yoan Moncada, Abreu, Tim Anderson, and Adam Eaton, returning for the 2021 season, will guide the franchise and get the best out of the young talent.

In 2020, the unit was the second-best offense in the American League, judging by Weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+, a useful stat that encompasses offensive production like few others. The White Sox, as a whole, ran a collective 113 wRC+ last year (100 is considered “average”), only trailing the New York Yankees (116) in the junior circuit. However, if there was an area that the front office could improve, it was starting pitching. And boy, did they deliver.

On December 8, the White Sox acquired right-hander Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers for Dane Dunning and Avery Weems. Lynn, who led the majors in innings during the 2020 campaign with 84 and finished with an excellent 3.32 ERA, is the type of power pitcher that can make sure Chicago can compete with the American League’s best teams in a playoff series. He and Lucas Giolito will form a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, and Reynaldo López will complete the unit. If that’s not enough, Michael Kopech, who will start the year in the bullpen, is an option to make starts at some point in 2021. He was a top prospect not too long ago

Liam Hendriks’ arrival on a three-year deal (with a club option for a fourth) means that the White Sox’s already strong bullpen got even better, as he is quite possibly the best closer in baseball. Matt Foster, Codi Heuer, Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer, and Garret Crochet, plus Hendriks, had ERAs under 2.50 in 2020, which is insanely good, and they will all return this season.

Most of the White Sox’s projected big league roster is 26 or younger: Vaughn, Madrigal, Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, Giolito, Cease, Crochet, Heuer, Foster, and Kopech, to name a few. Chicago is here to stay because it has young, elite talent both on the major league roster and minor leagues. They managed to bring the right veterans to complement that exciting group of youngsters in the last couple of years. The South Siders will be great for years to come, starting in 2021.

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