Archive for December, 2016

Former Padres All-Star Chris Cannizzaro Dies at Age 78

Former San Diego Padres catcher Chris Cannizzaro—who was the organization’s first All-Star in the 1969 season—died Thursday night, according to Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune

He had lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“He taught me a lot about pitching and how to be a professional baseball player,” pitcher Randy Jones, Cannizzaro’s former teammate, told Kenney. “He was hard-nosed, old-school. He fit me perfectly, to tell you the truth.”

Jones added:

He wasn’t afraid to take charge. Like young (pitchers) could be stubborn, might say, ‘My curveball’s my best pitch.’ He’d say, ‘Well, you better learn how to use the fastball.’ Chris Cannizzaro would make you learn how to use it, and he’d stay on you. He’d push you. That’s old school, and you needed that. I always enjoyed that. He loved to compete and play.

Cannizzaro was a .235 career hitter in a 13-year career that included stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Padres, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was an original member of the 1962 Mets and was “regarded as a hard-nosed defensive catcher with a strong arm,” per Kenney.

In the 1969 All-Star Game, the National League needed a catcher to serve as Johnny Bench’s backup. Cannizzaro—who was batting .245 with two homers and 23 RBI at the time—got the nod, although he didn’t see the field.

“I was hoping I would get to play, but it was a thrill just to be on the team,” Cannizzaro said at the time, per Kenney. “It was something I’ll never forget.”

After his playing career, Cannizzaro decided to coach. He was the Atlanta Braves bullpen coach from 1976-78. He also coached in the minor leagues and at the high school and college levels.  

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New Year’s Resolutions for All 30 MLB Teams in 2017

If baseball is America’s favorite pastime, the country’s second favorite is making New Year’s resolutions—and breaking them. Doing so might result in some extra pounds in the spring or more clutter in the garage, but typically, it’s nothing that’s going to impact our 2017 negatively.

The same can’t be said for each of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams.

Some of these resolutions revolve around adding (or subtracting) pieces to a team’s roster. Others have to do with ensuring a team can keep its best player—or players—around for the foreseeable future. There are even a few that have nothing to do with the on-field action.

But one thing is for sure: Not following through on these resolutions will have consequences, some that resonate well past the upcoming season.

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Updating the Hottest Questions Remaining in the 2016-17 MLB Offseason

Much of the Major League Baseball offseason picture has been painted, yet it still looks incomplete.

Though we have a better idea of how the remainder of the winter—and, subsequently, the 2017 season—may play out, there are still questions left unanswered.

Let’s try to tackle what remains to be asked about this offseason and what these questions mean for players and teams alike heading into the 2017 season.

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How Good Can Cubs Offense Be If Jason Heyward Returns from Dead in 2017?

Last winter, the Chicago Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract. Less than 11 months later, they won their first World Series since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.

Here’s the rub: They did it as much in spite of Heyward as because of him.

Heyward played 142 games in his first season on the North Side and won a Gold Glove for his work in right field. His exploits in the batter’s box, however, defined abysmal.

He hit .230 and set career lows in on-base percentage (.306) and slugging percentage (.325). It’s not as if his stat line was undone by one cold stretch, either.

Heyward spread his mediocrity across the season, hitting above .250 in only one calendar month (June, when he hit .257) and posting an especially anemic .213/.270/.308 slash line after the All-Star break.

He did little to redeem himself in the postseason, going 5-for-48 with 13 strikeouts and starting the first three games of the World Series on the bench.

It was a disastrous season for the former All-Star. After getting paid like a superstar, Heyward hit like a scrub.

At the same time, he’s still just 27 years old. In 2015, he slashed .293/.359/.439 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases for the St. Louis Cardinals. On the strength of his bat and superlative glove work, Heyward ranked 13th in baseball with 14.6 WAR between 2013 and 2015, according to FanGraphs‘ measure. 

There’s a reason the Cubs gave him all that cash.

Now, the question becomes: Can Heyward bounce back? And if he does, how much more dangerous can this already potent Chicago lineup become?

Even though Heyward swung a soggy chicken strip, the Cubs ranked third in MLB in runs scored (808) and OPS (.772). 

After leading both leagues in strikeouts in 2015 with 1,518, they cut that number to 1,339 in 2016 and fell to ninth. 

The bats went cold for a worrisome stretch in the National League Championship Series, but stars such as first baseman Anthony Rizzo found their stroke in time to exorcise the billy goat. 

The Cubs will return with nearly the same lineup intact. Rizzo joins National League MVP Kris Bryant, shortstop Addison Russell, second baseman Javier Baez and veteran Ben Zobrist to form an enviable core.

The Cubs can also look forward to a full season from Kyle Schwarber, who was lost to a knee injury in early April and didn’t return to action until the Fall Classic, when he provided an inspirational boost at the plate.

Schwarber alone should move the offensive needle northward. He flashed big-time power in his 2015 rookie campaign, cracking 16 home runs in 69 games, and is entering his age-24 season.

That means the Cubs could probably endure another anemic year at the plate from Heyward. Even after trading Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for closer Wade Davis, they have a crowded outfield depth chart that features Schwarber, Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur and newly signed Jon Jay. 

Heyward‘s serving as a $28 million-and-change part-time defensive specialist strains credulity, though. The Cubs want more out of him.

It’s safe to assume Heyward wants more, too. He has an opt-out after 2018; a couple of strong seasons could equate to an even bigger payday. 

Cubs mental skills coordinator Darnell Howard showcased Heyward’s new, more upright swing in an Instagram post. Here’s a look at it next to Heyward‘s swing from last season, via Corey Freedman:

Will it yield better results? We won’t know until Heyward deploys it against big league pitching, but at least it shows he’s trying something.

It’s worth noting that Heyward has done this disappearing act before and rebounded. In 2011, after an All-Star rookie year, he hit just .227. The following season, he hiked his average to .269 and set career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (82).

The projection systems are bullish. Steamer foretells a .269/.348/.415 line with 14 home runs. The Cubs would take that with a smile.

Speaking of smiles, Heyward apparently kept his chin up through his 2016 struggles and famously delivered a rain-delay pep talk in Game 7 of the World Series. 

After the season, he earned optimistic praise from Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago:

He’s got a great attitude about everything. It’s just hard to make the kind of adjustments for some players in-season, because things are going so fast and you’re trying to compete.

But the offseason is a great opportunity to take a deep breath, slow things down, look at video, work with your coaches, really think about the swing. Think about the bat path and make some adjustments and develop some muscle memory, work on your feel and then take it into games.

We believe in Jason Heyward and his ability to tackle things head-on and make the necessary adjustments. And I think you’re going to see a much different offensive player next year.

None of this means anything until Heyward proves it between the lines. If you’re the glass-half-full type, however, there are reasons to swill the Kool-Aid.

Imagine a reinvigorated Heyward and healthy Schwarber mixed with a Cubs lineup that lost leadoff man Dexter Fowler but retained everyone else of significance. Factor in the possibility that young hitters such as Baez and Russell could make a leap forward.

Heck, even Bryant, who turns 25 in January, may be climbing toward his ceiling.

There’s a scenario where this offense goes from very good to scary great. More hitting from Heyward would be a key piece of that puzzle.

Chicago already won a title without much from him. Now, he has a chance to contribute to trophy No. 2.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and unless otherwise noted.

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Matt Wieters: Latest News, Rumors, Speculation on Free-Agent Catcher

Catcher Matt Wieters remains among the top players available in free agency, but his market appears to be heating up with multiple teams showing interest.

Continue for updates.

Braves, Nationals Among Teams Vying for Wieters

Thursday, Dec. 29

According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals appear to be Wieters’ top two suitors.

Per Heyman, Atlanta has long stood out as a landing spot for Wieters, but the Nats have jumped in to replace some of the production lost by the departures of catcher Wilson Ramos and infielder Danny Espinosa.

Heyman also named the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets as possible fits, although they may all be content with their current catching situations.

Wieters is coming off a 2016 season that saw him hit .243 with 17 home runs and 66 RBI for the Baltimore Orioles. He was also named to his fourth All-Star team in eight MLB seasons.

The 30-year-old veteran boasts considerable power for the position with three seasons of 20 or more home runs, and he is also capable defensively with two Gold Gloves to his credit.

Staying healthy has been Wieters’ biggest issue in recent years, however, as he appeared in just 101 games combined in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Wieters bounced back to play in 124 contests last season, and he is easily the best backstop still available.

Teams being cautious when it comes to offering Wieters a big contract in both money and term is understandable considering his durability issues, but he is a solid, reliable presence behind the plate when healthy.

Strong all-around catchers are at a premium in Major League Baseball, and both the Braves and Nationals would receive a significant boost by signing him.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Fact or Fiction on All of Week 9’s Hottest MLB Free-Agency, Trade Rumors

Fact—New Year’s Eve is fast approaching. Fiction—all of MLB‘s big-name free agents who remain unsigned will find new homes before the ball drops.

As you’d expect, having so many notable players still in search of employment has led to increased activity in the rumor mill. Now that Edwin Encarnacion has come off the board, some of those players who were seemingly in holding patterns are finally seeing significant interest from multiple suitors.

Free agents aren’t the only ones receiving attention, though, as the trade market remains active with plenty of speculation surrounding a pair of the American League Central’s best.

Will Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier or Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana be traded? Will Matt Wieters wind up spending the 2017 season close to where he played his college ball? Where will the “Party at Napoli’s” break out next?

We’ll hit on all that and more in this week’s edition of “Fact or Fiction.”

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These MLB Stars Are the Only Ones Worthy of 2017 HOF Enshrinement

The first year Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, I voted “not now.”

OK, technically I just didn’t vote for them, but as I explained then in a column for, it was more of a “not now” vote than a “not ever” vote.

“They may never get in,” I wrote, “but my guess is eventually they will.”

Eventually is coming.

It likely won’t happen this year based on early voting numbers tracked so carefully by Ryan Thibodaux. But Bonds’ and Clemens’ numbers went up last year after the Hall of Fame made changes in the electorate, and Thibodaux’s tracking numbers suggest they’ll rise even more significantly this time around.

Some votes switched after a Hall of Fame committee decided to enshrine Bud Selig, the commissioner who oversaw baseball’s steroid era. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports talked to some of those voters and explained why they switched.

The Selig decision didn’t affect my vote. I’ve voted for Bonds and Clemens since 2014 for reasons I explained then on Facebook.

Three years later, I feel the same way. And just as I did in 2014, I used the maximum 10 spots on this year’s ballot.

Here they are in alphabetical order (as they’re listed on the ballot), with the reasons why each one belongs.

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The Jaw-Dropping 2016-17 MLB Free-Agent Class That Might’ve Been

So, here it is. We’ve come to it at last. The point in the MLB offseason where the baseball news cycle is emptier than our holiday cookie jars.

This winter more than most, it was bound to come sooner rather than later. Trades are all well and good, but they’re the side dishes of the hot-stove season. The main course is free agency, and it was never a secret that it wouldn’t have much to offer this winter.

To wit, the best pitcher was a 36-year-old who was recently seen pitching in independent ball. Arguably the best position player was a 31-year-old outfielder who’s had only two great seasons. “This year’s free-agent class might be the worst I’ve ever seen,” wrote’s Keith Law. I can’t refute that.

I will say this, though: In the parlance of our times, the 2016-17 free-agent class could have been yuuuuuuuuuuuuge.

Officially, it takes six major league seasons to qualify for free agency. Realistically, it’s more like six and change. Subtract six and change from 2016, and you’re looking at players who broke into the majors in 2010.

As Matt Eddy wrote in introducing Baseball America‘s all-rookie team, 2010 was “a banner class” for rookies. Among those who made the team were San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, as well as Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. 

Already a pretty good list! And it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Bumgarner wasn’t the only future ace who first broke through in 2010. That was also the year Chris Sale debuted with the Chicago White Sox, and when Stephen Strasburg made his (quite memorable) debut with the Washington Nationals.

Those are three legit No. 1s who would have been ticketed for free agency this winter. That beats the number actually available, which was zero. 

Meanwhile, Posey and Stanton weren’t the only star hitters to establish themselves in 2010. Freddie Freeman joined the Atlanta Braves late in the year. Jonathan Lucroy joined the Milwaukee Brewers. Carlos Santana joined the Cleveland Indians. Although he wouldn’t find his footing until 2012, 2010 was also the year the Indians gave Michael Brantley his first big taste of the majors.

Santana would have been yet another slugger for a free-agent pile that also included Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo. Lucroy would have been a better catching option than Wilson Ramos or Matt Wieters. Even after his injury-shortened 2016, Brantley would have been the kind of consistent and athletic hitter this winter’s market sorely lacked. 

As for Posey, Stanton and Freeman, they’re true superstars when healthy. That’s debatable with Yoenis Cespedes and a discussion that can’t really be had about Justin Turner, Encarnacion and others.

And while nobody began the winter lamenting the lack of free-agent closers—Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon had that market covered—there could have been yet another elite relief ace for the taking. Craig Kimbrel made his Braves debut even before Freeman did.

This isn’t even counting the more established veterans who were ticketed to become free agents after 2016 until, all of a sudden, they weren’t. That list is headlined by three third basemen: Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Martin Prado.

Add it all up, and this winter could have had enough free-agent talent to match even last winter’s class. That’s saying something, as David Price, Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Chris Davis, Johnny Cueto and others made that arguably the best free-agent class in history.

The historic quality of this winter’s free-agent class is a discussion we’re not having, of course, because of extensions.

It’s easiest to remember Strasburg’s contract extension. Not just because it’s a seven-year, $175 million whopper that he signed in May with free agency mere months away, but also because of the reaction to it. Everyone saw it as a killing blow for an already thin free-agent class.

But that’s not what killed it. This was a case of death by a thousand extensions, a result of MLB’s rapidly changing landscape.

According to Maury Brown of Forbes, the nearly $10 billion MLB pulled in this year is just the latest stop in a trend that’s been going sharply upward since the early 2000s. Much of the new money is coming from new national television deals that were signed in 2012 and from local TV deals that, as FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards highlighted, have become en vogue in the 2010s.

In the meantime, there’s been a change in which players deserve this money. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote in 2014 about how MLB’s star power has shifted sharply toward younger players. Also in 2014, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted that teams have responded by allocating less payroll space to players in their 30s and more to players in their 20s.

It was between 2010 and 2014 that the status quo really took hold. Per MLB Trade Rumors, between 1996 and 2009, teams handed out a total of 124 contract extensions of at least four guaranteed years. Between 2010 and 2014, they doled out 100 such extensions.

The great players who arrived in and around 2010 got caught up in that. And while Stanton’s record 13-year, $325 million contract stands out, others fell prey to the essential reality of why teams became willing to hand out long-term extensions: They’re good investments that are also relatively cheap.

Nowadays, the jig may be up.

Young stars have continued to stream into the majors, but only 18 extensions of four or more years have been signed since 2015. The young stars may be getting the sense that trading free-agent years for early financial security isn’t necessarily a fair trade.

If such a feeling is indeed out there, you can’t help but wonder how much more pronounced it would be if many (or all) of the players named above had reached free agency this winter. 

While the contracts they signed established a trend of teams locking up their own talent, they weren’t needed to set the going rate for superstar talents. The max was set at roughly $25 million per year for a while, and nobody made it across the $200 million plateau without at least a nine-year contract.

But then, in 2014, Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera bumped the bar up to $30 million per year with extensions. They also needed just seven and eight years, respectively, to clear space in their bank accounts for over $200 million. 

That paved the way for Max Scherzer to follow suit in free agency after 2014 and for Price and Greinke to do the same last winter. Thus, the way was paved for even more lavish spending this winter.

Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors wrote in July that “there isn’t any question whatsoever” Bumgarner would have found over $200 million in free agency. The same likely would have been true for Sale, and possibly Strasburg as well. Of the position players, Posey and Freeman would also have been in line to pull in over $200 million. Despite his recent injury woes, Stanton might also have had a shot.

Elsewhere, Kimbrel might have made like Chapman and Jansen and landed a contract worth north of $80 million. Brantley, Santana and Lucroy would have been in for nice paydays as well. And of the veterans who could have hit the market, Longoria might have had a chance at earning over $100 million.

This offseason thus could have been a continuation of last offseason, which shattered previous records with nearly $2.5 billion spent on free agents (h/t Todd), and perhaps a necessary stepping stone to even more earth-shattering contracts in the insanely loaded free-agent class of 2018-19.

Of course, we’ll never know. But in lieu of real things to think about, thinking about what might have been will have to do.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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All 30 MLB Teams’ Updated To-Do List Heading into 2017

As always, it’s been a busy offseason around Major League Baseball, with teams already crossing off a number of items on their winter shopping lists.

Earlier this offseason, a piece entitled “All 30 MLB Teams’ Blueprint to an ‘A’ Grade in the 2016-17 Offseason” was written by yours truly as a to-do list of sorts for each team to follow.

As we get set to flip the calendar over to 2017, now seems like the perfect time to look back on that piece and provide an updated look at what each club has accomplished and still needs to accomplish before the start of spring training.

Ahead you’ll see the same to-do list we offered up for each team back on Nov. 10, with certain items crossed out based on what additions have already been made and a full breakdown of each item.

Also included are a few new shopping-list items for some teams, which are noted with a “New Addition” mention.

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4 Free-Agent Signings Set to Improve Their New MLB Clubs the Most in 2017

It makes sense that to improve a Major League Baseball club, a player could not have been on the team last season.

Though the Los Angeles Dodgers’ re-signings of Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill were monumentally important, they didn’t improve the club from its standing in 2016.

Instead, players who signed with new teams have the chance to make an impact in their new settings. All signings are not created equal, so here are the most impactful among them. Each of them fills a need glaring for each club when the 2016 season concluded.

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