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Scott Miller’s 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Maybe Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez and others who were on the cutting edge of the performance-enhancing-drug era eventually will be voted into the Hall of Fame by the general electorate. Maybe last month’s election of former commissioner Bud Selig will be the tipping point.

But that’s nonsense.

And it’s largely a non sequitur.

One new “narrative” to emerge this winter in advance of next Wednesday’s announcement of the 2017 Hall of Fame voting results is this: If Selig, who oversaw the game when it reeked of cheaters who distorted the record book, is in the Hall of Fame, then it gives voters who in the past have not supported the steroid crowd the green light to reverse course.

But it isn’t that clear-cut. Selig, like fellow Hall of Famer Tony La Russa three years ago, whose greatest managerial successes came with PED-enhanced players in his lineups, was put into the Hall of Fame by a small, 16-person veterans committee, not by the general electorate.

I was not on those committees and did not cast a vote for them. So why should that compel me to cast votes for those who clearly cheated the game and their fellow players when I haven’t done that in any of my previous 17 years of voting?

Another issue, and one I believe too few people understand when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, is that voting is a one-man (or woman), one-ballot exercise. This isn’t groupthink, and it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) some sort of organized movement to try to push a single agenda through.

Personally, as long as the so-called “character clause” is included in election rules (“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which he played”), I do not intend to vote for those buried in steroid guilt or under a mountain of circumstantial evidence.

Now, if some of those players wind up being voted into the Hall despite my stance, that’s how the breaking ball breaks. If Bonds, or Clemens, or anyone else shows up one day on the stage at Cooperstown, if that’s the will of the voters, then it will not be a time to rant and rave and throw fire and brimstone. It will be a time to celebrate them, even if some of us disagree with the choice.

This is a miserably difficult topic, and like so many other issues in this country right now, it is a bitterly divisive topic. There are no foolproof, correct answers. But I believe each voter must come to terms with their conscience. Some of those whom I respect the most in the baseball-writing business, including some close friends of mine within that group, vote for known steroid users and always have. I disagree with them, and they with me. And they have very good reasons, and I respect their opinions. That’s life. Not everyone is going to see things your way.

Some voters, who rightfully are uncomfortable with the baseball writers’ doubling as the “morality police,” have asked the Hall of Fame to issue guidelines regarding the vote. Hall officials have responded that they are very pleased with the way the writers have conducted the voting over the decades and are refraining from issuing guidelines.

To me, however, the Hall issued its guidelines long ago with the aforementioned character clause. If one day the tide turns and I’m in the minority, so be it. If one day Bonds, Clemens and Ramirez are elected to the Hall, a part of me will be relieved and happy, because it’s not right for a Hall of Fame not to include the very best players. But it’s less right to turn a blind eye to the cheating, and that includes everyone from the commissioner to the owners to the players’ union and the media.

In the end, as with any vote, you must assess what’s important, assimilate the information and come to a conclusion in which you can look yourself in the mirror. So that’s a big part, as always, of how I filled in this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.


Jeff Bagwell

This is his seventh year on the ballot, and it is the first time I voted for him. Bagwell, along with Mike Piazza (who was elected to the Hall last year), is one of those gray-area players about whom there has been some steroid suspicion but never any proof. As such, from his first year on the ballot, I wrote that I would wait a few years before voting for him while waiting for any new information to surface. It hasn’t, and he’s never been formally linked to steroids. As Jay Jaffe notes in his always essential JAWS Hall of Fame evaluation method, Bagwell ranks as the second-best first baseman in the post-World War II era.

Bagwell missed election last year by a mere 15 votes, and after Piazza’s induction, Bagwell should clear the bar this year. He won the 1994 NL MVP award and ranked in the top 10 in voting five other times, including finishing in the top five twice. His career on-base percentage of .408 ranks 39th all-time.


Vladimir Guerrero

Maybe the best bad-ball hitter in baseball history, Guerrero could do damage to pitches an inch or two off the ground, an inch or two over his head or anywhere in the strike zone. He was a marvel to watch, easily one of the most dominant hitters of his era, doing it for both average (.318 career average) and power (449 career homers).

He hit .300 or higher in 13 seasons, including 12 in a row from 1997 to 2008. He hit 30 or more homers eight times and knocked in 100 or more runs 10 times. Before his legs started to deteriorate, Guerrero also put together two 30-homer/30-steal seasons (and he had one 39-homer/40-steal season).

He led the league in intentional walks five times, signifying how respected he was by rival clubs. As B/R colleague Danny Knobler notes, Guerrero in 2006 compiled as many unintentional walks as intentional walks (25 of each), which doesn’t make him overly friendly to modern analytics. Nor does his play in right field measure up that well in the advanced stats field, though he made up for part of that with his exceptionally powerful arm. Nevertheless, Guerrero’s power and dominance put him on my ballot.


Trevor Hoffman

Tough crowd, the voters, when it comes to closers. It was utterly predictable last year that Hoffman would not reach the 75 percent threshold needed for election based on history: Nobody who pitched exclusively as a reliever throughout his entire career has ever been elected to the Hall on his first ballot. John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley each worked as a starter at times during his career. Hoffman never did.

That said, whatever your feeling on closers—and I’ve graded them harshly in the past (I did not vote for Lee Smith, and I do not vote for Billy Wagner)—601 career saves is a staggering number. Hoffman is a Hall of Famer; the only question is how long it will take him to reach 75 percent of the vote. This year? Next year? Stay tuned.


Jeff Kent

I voted for Kent because his 351 career home runs as a second baseman rank him as the all-time leader at the position. That said, I’m still not 100 percent comfortable with myself for having started voting for him a couple of years ago. He played in an offense-oriented era in which new ballparks became more hitter-friendly, and defensively he was no gem.

As I wrote last year, he was a very good player. But one of the best of all time? Some numbers suggest yes. But body of work overall…he’s borderline, no question.


Edgar Martinez

Along with Bagwell, the biggest change in my ballot. This is the first time I’ve voted for Martinez, and it is his eighth year on the ballot. Not sure if that’s a him-problem or a me-problem—maybe a little of both.

Bottom line: In the past, I withheld my vote because, to me, if you’re a one-dimensional player (read: closer or DH), your numbers had better be off the chart in whatever area you specialize. Martinez’s traditional numbers are not. He finished with only 2,247 hits and 309 homers. Both are light in terms of a DH and the Hall.

Yet every year, Martinez is one of the guys I have agonized over. Three things spurred me to change my mind late in the game on him.

First, his .418 career on-base percentage. While the homers don’t knock your socks off, that on-base percentage does. He ranks 21st in history. That’s the number that kept nagging at me during the years I did not vote for him. It’s sensational.

Second, Martinez’s 1995 Division Series against the New York Yankees was one for the ages. He hit .571 (12-for-21), reached base 18 times in five games and knocked in 10 runs. Furthermore, his 11thinning double clinched the series for the Mariners in Game 5, which helped turn Seattle into a baseball city and spurred taxpayers to vote for what today is Safeco Field. It was one of the greatest baseball moments in the history of Seattle, and while that does not fit into your traditional statistics, there should be room in the Hall of Fame for that kind of history.

Third, too many of Martinez’s peers during the time in which he played have told me over the years that he was the best hitter they ever saw, or that he should be a Hall of Famer, or some combination of the above.

The latest came last spring during a long conversation with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. I was working on a piece on Red Sox DH David Ortiz in advance of his retirement and spoke with Reggie about Ortiz. It was during that conversation when Jackson, unsolicited, passionately told me that not only does Ortiz belong in the Hall, but so does Martinez.

All of this, over all of these years, has conspired to convince me that maybe I’ve been wrong in not voting for Martinez, and I’m fixing that now.


Fred McGriff

One of the greatest hitters of his era, McGriff‘s biggest problem is that the guys who were gobbling steroids during the 1990s put up enough cartoon numbers to shove McGriff into the shadows and relegate him, nearly, to forgotten-man status. Maybe if he had hit just seven more homers to reach that big ol‘ round number of 500, he would get more Hall of Fame support. As it is, he checked in at just 20.9 percent of the vote last year, far below the 75 percent needed.

Still, 493 homers make a pretty good case. He ranks 28th all-time, and as I wrote last year of McGriff, remove some steroids frauds from the list and he comes close to cracking the all-time top 20. Not a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, to be sure, but borderline. And borderline enough that I would vote for him.


Mike Mussina

Time and place, to me, make Mussina more of a candidate than you might think. That time and place were…the 1990s and the 2000s, and the American League East. Pitching in a loaded division against some of the best New York Yankees teams of all time, and against many other bashers, and then pitching for the Yankees against historically good Boston Red Sox clubs, and more bashers, Mussina compiled 270 wins and a sterling 3.68 ERA. He was as consistent as a metronome, compiling 11 seasons of 15 or more victories.

While I know wins aren’t as sexy as they once were based on today’s analytics, to rack up that many means Mussina was in the game enough to make a difference on a heck of a lot of occasions. We know starting pitchers have been underrepresented in Cooperstown since the inception of the DH, and Mussina certainly is deserving.


Tim Raines

Raines is the best leadoff hitter this side of Rickey Henderson, and his .385 career on-base percentage is good enough to play on any team. His stolen-base rate of 84.7 percent ranks second-best all-time among those with 300 or more attempts.

Raines received 69.8 percent of the vote last year, and he’s still got some running to do: This is his 10th and final year on the ballot. If he doesn’t bump up to 75 percent of the vote, his Cooperstown fate will be left in the hands of future veterans committees. Here’s hoping he cruises into one more base this winter—a plaque in Cooperstown.


Close Calls

A few words about my near misses:

Curt Schilling

This has zero to do with his politics and everything to do with his middling 216 career victories and a whole lot of mediocre seasons. I know some numbers (specifically, his strikeouts) point to Cooperstown, but I would take Jack Morris in his prime any day over Schilling in his prime. And if there is no place in the Hall for Morris…


Ivan Rodriguez

One of the best catchers of all time without a doubt, Rodriguez under most circumstances would be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. But for now, I’ve got him in a holding pattern, similar to where I had Piazza and Bagwell. In his book Juiced, Jose Canseco details injecting Rodriguez with PEDs. Pudge has since denied taking PEDs, so here’s another gray area.

Because of that, I’m holding off for a bit, and let’s see if any new information emerges and what Rodriguez says about it. He will be on the ballot for 10 years; I’d rather wait a bit for reasons I just stated rather than rush to vote him in right away.


Larry Walker

I looked hard at Walker, and while he’s very close, in my book he falls short of being a Hall of Famer. His offensive numbers were good, especially in the Coors Field years, but he was injured and off the field far too often. During his 17-year career, Walker played in as many as 150 games once, and he played in as many as 140 games just four times. I look at Walker and I see a very good player who could have been great. I do not see a Hall of Famer. His great moments simply weren’t great long enough.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Bryce, Machado, Championship Coffee and Looking Ahead

A free-agent storm is on the way, some big names can’t find homes and some unintended victims of MLB‘s new CBA…


1. Forecast Two Years From Now: Nuts

Talk about attention deficit disorder. As free agents Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista go door-to-door asking, “Brother, can you spare a free-agent contract?” this winter, one reason things are moving so slowly is because even the industry’s executives are looking ahead to the free-agent class two years from now.

It may be the best ever: Bryce Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP award, will be on the market. So will Josh Donaldson, who won the 2015 AL MVP award. Manny Machado, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting in 2015 and fifth in 2016, is free. So, too, are starters Matt Harvey and Dallas Keuchel, and closer Zach Britton.

If that isn’t enough, Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause in his Los Angeles Dodgers contract that winter, as does David Price from the Boston Red Sox.

Harper and Machado will be entering the free-agent market at the age of just 26. Britton and Keuchel will be nearly 31, Donaldson 32, Harvey 29 and, if they use the opt-out, Kershaw will be 30 and Price the old man of the lot at 33.

Executives are making roster moves right now with an eye to 2018. It’s one reason why the Washington Nationals acquired Adam Eaton from the White Sox: They are leveraging themselves for the real possibility that they will lose Harper to free agency given that he is expected to demand a deal worth $400 million or more.

It’s why, other than the Aroldis Chapman signing last week, the New York Yankees mostly are concentrating on young talent and short-term veterans (like signing Matt Holliday to a one-year deal this winter for $13 million).

The executives know what’s up ahead, a winter unlike any of us has ever seen.

“As we bring more youthful executives into the game, there seems to be a tide to young players,” superagent Scott Boras, who represents Harper, Britton and Harvey in that group, said at the winter meetings last Wednesday at National Harbor, Maryland. “I think the information that is going to ownership is that those players who are 26-, 27-, 28-year-old free agents are very, very highly coveted.

“A lot of clubs have now marshaled their positioning to that age group.”

Every club is going to have money to spend for the foreseeable future, too, with the game expected to surpass $10 billion in revenues in 2016 once the final figures are in. Of course, without a salary cap and with different teams taking in more money than others, some clubs still will be far more equal than others. But the way Boras sees it, each club likely soon will have $200 million or more of revenue at its disposal before even selling tickets.

“Consequently, clubs who have the ability to attract a major superstar are going to be far more in than in prior times because of the success of the game,” Boras said.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman happened to be talking about his own free agent this winter, closer Kenley Jansen, but he could have been speaking about anybody in any year when he told reporters last week, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register: “The free-agent market plays out to the point of doing more than what you rationally want to do.

“If you do what you rationally want to do, you will finish third on every free agent.”

Who knows, perhaps there will be more fallout, too. The expiration of Machado’s contract coincides with the last year of Baltimore manager Buck Showalter’s deal.

“We’ve got control of him for two, two years?” Showalter said last week. “This year and one more. That’s when my contract runs out. Timing’s everything.”

Everyone laughed at the notion that Showalter could cruise on out the door with his best overall player before the Orioles are weakened immensely in the post-Machado term.

Of course, laughs come easy now, two years ahead of what for some clubs surely will be Armageddon. The laughing will be more difficult for a lot of people when the winter meetings come to Las Vegas (of course they would be there, right?) in December 2018.


2. World’s Greatest Athletes, MLB and…Coffee?

We already have Boras down as a staunch advocate of the free-market system. He long has been vehemently opposed to the slotting system for determining bonuses that can be offered to amateurs drafted each June. And in discussing his reaction to the new collective bargaining agreement, he not surprisingly expressed displeasure with the part of the deal that places a hard cap on international amateur signing bonuses that ranges between $4.75 million in the first year of the agreement to $5.25 million or $5.75 million.

Boras’ gripe: Baseball is waging a battle with other sports for the best athletes in the world, and with the new CBA capping the money available, he thinks those athletes will gravitate hard to other sports. Of course, limitations on signing bonuses take a bite out of the paydays of agents everywhere, as well.

“Most upsetting thing to me is that baseball only has so much earth where the game is played,” he said last week. “We only have a few cultures that really, there’s an opportunity to play baseball in the world. If you go back to the 1930s, the most popular sports in the United States were track and field, boxing, horse racing and baseball. Now, baseball’s included, but we have three other sports in hockey, football and basketball that have eroded the others.

“I think we have to be very cautious. If baseball’s not out pursuing the best athletes in the world, you’ve gotta really look at this and say, ‘What are we doing?’ I was raised on a farm and water’s valuable. If you want to save water and you don’t use it on your crops, you don’t have crops.”

In making his pitch, Boras mentioned not only NBA and NFL signing bonuses, but the college baseball landscape, too.

“We have a grand disadvantage in something out of baseball’s control, and that is the number of college scholarships [available],” Boras said. “We have 11,000 scholarships in football, we have 3,000 in baseball. And you have a young man who’s 6’6” and they need an immediate value. He’s 14, 15 years old and his family is looking for immediate value. He’s looking for a college scholarship or he’s looking for a bonus. And with baseball being last in offering those scholarships, our industry has to look ahead in getting the greatest athletes in the world.

“We have to consider that in how we compete with other sports. So when we get into CBA and even looking beyond that, we have to say as an industry, we’re making $10 billion, should we really build the Berlin Wall to youth? We just cut off the American players and limited them well below the NBA and NFL. And now we’re doing it with the Latin players as well.”

Boras doesn’t think much of the current luxury-tax system, either, in which high-spending teams are taxed a percentage of their payroll over a certain threshold (It’s been $189 million, it will rise during this CBA).

“Under the old CBA, I think the old luxury tax was the Center for Disease Control,” he quipped. “And now the luxury tax should be Starbucks. Because if you want championship coffee, you’d better be visiting there often.”


3. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch Bautista

Whenever Joey Bats signs his free-agent deal, the anticipation is that he will quote actress Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech from years ago and exclaim to the signing team and city, “You like me, you really like me!”

By far, the most entertaining moment at last week’s winter meetings came when general manager Dan Duquette told the Baltimore Sun‘s Eduardo A. Encina that though Bautista’s agent reached out to the club, the Orioles wouldn’t even consider signing Bautista because, essentially, Baltimore fans hate him.

“That’s true,” Duquette said. “That’s true. The agent called and I said, ‘Really? Jose is a villain in Baltimore and I’m not going to go tell our fans that we’re courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they’re not going to be happy.'”


4. Ruffled Feathers of the Week

Angry that the Washington Nationals acquired outfielder Adam Eaton because the move likely meant the club would shift Trea Turner from center field to shortstop and himself to the bench, Danny Espinosa skipped the club’s annual Winterfest on Saturday.

By Saturday night, the Nationals had shipped Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels, who were in the market for a second baseman.

Meanwhile, at Pittsburgh’s PirateFest over the weekend, All-Star Andrew McCutchen admitted that the very public rumors that the club nearly had him dealt to the Washington Nationals this month can’t help but bother him.

“I’d be lying to you if I told you none of this bothered me,” McCutchen said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Stephen J. Nesbitt. “Of course it did. I’m human. If someone cuts you off while you’re driving, you get bothered. To have my name talked about possibly getting traded, yeah, of course that got to me.

“We all have these dreams of being something. My dream is to be a Pirate my whole career. My dream is still to win multiple World Series. We all have those dreams. Sometimes, with my name being popped up there, it did kind of make me think, whoa, those dreams could be altered a little.”

At age 29, McCutchen had one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting .256/.336/.430 with 24 homers and 79 RBI. The days of his 2013 NL MVP award seem further and further away. Among other things, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has talked to him about the possibility of moving to a corner outfield spot, likely right field, as his defensive metrics have declined as well.

“Andrew is a professional guy that I think keeps things in a pretty good place,” Hurdle said at the winter meetings last week. “I think it’s another part of his career that he’s getting to work through, walk through, and he’s got a great support system. That’s one of the things I shared with him, is there anything I can do to help lessen the distraction, to be there, talk, whatever.”

McCutchen is still young enough to resurrect his career. The 2017 season, wherever he is, will be enormous.


5. Unintended Labor Consequences

As part of the new CBA, the players’ per diem meal money will shrink to $30 per day from $105 per day because, among other reasons, each club now will be required to provide a clubhouse chef for players who increasingly eat in the first-rate clubhouses in the new ballparks.

While few folks are likely to feel sorry for the players, there is fallout that will hit the blue-collar ranks, and it is unfortunate: Clubhouse attendants stand to lose thousands of dollars annually in tips each summer. And ancillary members of a team’s traveling party, who don’t make nearly as much as the players and depend on the per diem as a way to supplement their modest salaries, are taking a hit, too.

Traveling media relations folks, for example, who sometimes work 18 hours a day during the season and average only between $40,000 and $50,000 in salary, qualify for per diem and because of this will lose some $5,000 or so in income.

Media relations directors can make up to $80,000 or $100,000 per year, but the vast majority of assistants who work 80-100 hours a week and are away from home half the summer earn only half of that.

Meanwhile, visiting clubhouse attendants who are in the $40,000 salary range and depend on generous tips to get beyond just scraping by will be hit extremely hard now, too.

Here’s hoping (but not expecting) that the individual clubs will move in to help ease the financial loss for the behind-the-scenes personnel who help make the game go but don’t share in the wealth. It’s probably too much to ask, but it’s the right thing to do.


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Christmas shopping: The hustle, the bustle, can put you in a foul mood more quickly than Orioles fans thinking about Bautista.

2. Edwin Encarnacion: So, can we show you some real estate in Cleveland, Edwin?

3. La La Land: Darling of the Golden Globe nominations announced this week, the musical tells the story of Corey Seager and Kershaw singing and dancing and wooing free agents Jansen and Justin Turner back to the Dodgers for another championship run in 2017. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are in there somewhere, too, I think.

4. Snow days: The absolute best, the Mike Trout of ways to get out of school. Even well beyond my school years, when I hear snow has caused school closings, wherever I am, I can’t help but smile and feel 16 again.

5. Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize: A no-show at Saturday’s ceremony in Sweden, he’s like the Manny Ramirez of the Nobel Prize ceremony.


7. Plus, 2017, too?

Lord over the peeps at your favorite watering hole or neighborhood basement with this one:

The answers: Koji Uehara closed out the 2013 World Series for the Red Sox, Wade Davis (just acquired from Kansas City last week), who closed out the 2015 World Series for the Royals and, of course, this year’s last-pitch thrower, Mike Montgomery.

Question now is: Can the Cubs win again in 2017 and employ relievers who tossed the clinching pitch in four of the past five World Series?


8. Chatter

• Yankees GM Brian Cashman may have awarded Chapman a record-setting contract for a closer at five years and $86 million, but he isn’t jumping for joy. The part he’s not thrilled about is Chapman’s ability to opt out after the third year, which is just when the Yankees envision having a chance to begin their next dynasty. “Oh, I don’t like it,” Cashman said during a conversation after the Rule 5 draft just before departing the winter meetings last Thursday. “It’s just, at the end of the day, I know that the competition we were up against were giving opt-outs in Years 1 and 2. So at least we were able to put it in Year 3.”

 The Tigers’ retooling effort is on hold. They did not trade J.D. Martinez, despite strong talk that San Francisco is interested. They did not deal Ian Kinsler, despite the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a clear need there. Justin Verlander stayed in Detroit while the White Sox traded ace Chris Sale. And USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported that Detroit GM Al Avila did not receive one phone call on slugger Miguel Cabrera, signifying that maybe Detroit will wind up keeping him and paying the $220 million owed him over the next seven years.

 With Ian Desmond in the fold and Mark Trumbo maybe on the horizon, the Colorado Rockies, who have endured six consecutive losing seasons and have not played in the playoffs since 2009, are spending money on free agents for the first time since Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Must be the Denver school system.

 The Dodgers are still in the market for a second baseman, and one intriguing question is whether new Twins executives Derek Falvey (president of baseball operations) and Thad Levine (general manager) will deal Brian Dozier following his 42-homer season. “As Derek and Thad have said, we have to be open-minded about just about anything that people would bring to us just to try to increase our chances of doing what we need to do both in the short term as well as going forward,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor at the winter meetings.

 Harper doesn’t have much time this month for all of the speculation on his price tag when he becomes a free agent in 2018 because he’s speculating on his own future this week: He’s getting married in San Diego.


9. The Devil(s) Made Him Do It

The Nationals’ Winterfest was highly entertaining over the weekend simply in calculating who wasn’t there. Angry Espinosa wasn’t the only no-show:

Duke basketball was bragging about its celebrity fan, too:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. Thanks for reading this year, thanks for making Bleacher Report such a go-to place and if you haven’t seen this Christmas video, you must (it’s Nobel Prize committee endorsed!).

“Who’s got a beard that’s long and white? 
“Santa’s got a beard that’s long and white.
“Who comes around on a special night? 
“Santa comes around on a special night.
“Special night, beard that’s white
“Must be Santa, must be Santa,
“Must be Santa, Santa Claus.”

— Written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Aroldis Chapman’s Record $86M Deal Is Old-School Excess for New Yankees Era

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The New York Yankees need Aroldis Chapman the way they need red socks, or birdcages containing blue jays and orioles in the grand foyer of Yankee Stadium.       

Not only would the aforementioned be utterly ridiculous, but the absurd notion also includes mention of the three teams that finished ahead of them in the AL East last summer, by the way. And, the teams that could school them again next summer.

And yet, the Yankees agreed to terms with the closer they traded in July as midnight neared Wednesday simply because they could. The five years and $86 million that it reportedly took to entice Chapman to return not only is a record-setting deal for a closer, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, but it also raises more questions than answers in the Bronx.

Starting with, how many leads, exactly, are the Yankees going to turn over to Chapman without improving a rotation that ranked 10th in the American League with a 4.44 ERA last summer?

Look, all the credit in the baseball world to the Yankees for squeezing four players from the Chicago Cubs in July for Chapman, including prized shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres. Maybe Torres becomes the next Derek Jeter. He was’s 28th-best prospect in the game at the time of the deal. The kid is legit.


Between that and the haul general manager Brian Cashman received in the Andrew Miller deal with Cleveland, the Yankees beautifully kick-started a campaign to restock their organization with top-shelf young talent who can lead to the next Yankees dynasty, if kids like Torres and outfielder Clint Frazier and lefty Justus Sheffield develop the way everyone in the industry expects them to develop. Frazier and Sheffield were considered two of Cleveland’s three best prospects when Cashman shipped Miller to the Indians in July.

The plan was going so well. Rivals soon would resume their old-time position of despising the Yankees because there would be an embarrassment of riches in Bronx talent.

Then came Gary Sanchez, who popped up in the second half of the season as if he were the second coming of Yogi Berra. Finally, the Yankees had a plan for the future and were committed to it. We all watched them go, and few could believe they took off after ejecting Alex Rodriguez from the plans and benching Brian McCann. Even when the Yankees agreed to terms with aging slugger Matt Holliday on Sunday, they kept it together and held it to a one-year deal for $13 million to avoid clogging up another potential path for youth.

But that rotation. Ouch. And then rival Boston this week plucked ace Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox, adding him to David Price, Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, knuckleballer Steven Wright, lefty Drew Pomeranz, on and on and on. The Red Sox, whose rotation ranked third in the AL with a 4.22 ERA last summer, went out and fed an entire case of spinach to one of their strengths. You can see the bulging Popeye muscles in that team from here.

And the Yanks add…a closer?

And not only on a contract that shatters the previous record for a closer by $24 million, but one in which Chapman is granted a full no-trade clause for the first three years and a limited no-trade in his final years, including the stipulation that he cannot be traded to a team in the state of California, per ESPN’s Marly Rivera and Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal?

Granted, Chapman, who turns 29 in February, is not just any closer. Yes, his cheese electrifies an entire ballpark and lights up radar guns like Christmas trees. Yes, he was instrumental in the Chicago Cubs’ winning a World Series title this year.

But the Yankees are nowhere near a World Series right now.

Maybe sometime in Chapman’s five-year deal they will be, and maybe then it will be time for a columnist to eat his words (been there, done that; they taste like chicken, with the very faint aftertaste of crow).

Right now, Chapman teams with Dellin Betances in the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen, and that will make many nights easier for manager Joe Girardi. It’s not as good as the first part of last year, when Miller was still around (after April, though, when Chapman returned from his 30-game suspension for domestic violence), but it’s enviable.

And look, the simple fact that the Yankees acquired a very good package of players from the Cubs in July and now bring Chapman back as a free agent in one sense makes the Yankees look exceedingly intelligent. It’s what big money can do for a club, and the Yanks made good use of that avenue. In one sense, no harm, no foul.

Combined, Chapman went 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 36 saves for the Yankees and Cubs in 2016, including a 2.01 ERA and 20 saves for the Yankees in the season’s first half.

“The attraction of him is that we know he can pitch in New York, and he doesn’t have a draft pick attached,” Cashman told New York reporters this week, per “Then it just comes down to money and terms.”

The Yankees can do money. Always have. Kenley Jansen, the other hot free-agent closer on the market, does have a draft pick attached because the Los Angeles Dodgers made him a qualifying offer. And the fact Chapman has proved he can pitch in New York, that’s not a small thing. Not everybody can. Cashman’s scouting report is dead on.

But none of that is the point here. The point is…a closer? Really? Now?

It’s what the Yankees prioritized, shaky starting rotation be damned.

Maybe they’ll get the last laugh. Maybe Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow holds together, maybe Michael Pineda and Luis Severino suddenly grow up and maybe CC Sabathia channels his younger self. Maybe. It’s a lot to ask.

Holy Mariano Rivera, what a move, even if we could see it coming practically since the day Chapman packed to join the Cubs.

But from here, it’s sure not a move that closes the chasm between the Yankees and Red Sox, with the Orioles and Blue Jays still fluttering in between. Chirp, chirp.

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Chris Sale Blockbuster Trade Throws Red Sox into World Series Mix

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Moments like this cold, raw, rainy afternoon here, with the baseball world gathered under one convention center roof, are exactly why the Boston Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski two summers ago.

Chris Sale was up for auction, the Chicago White Sox having decided on a major remodel rather than a simple rearranging of their furniture. The Washington Nationals were hot in pursuit—so hot that several reports late Monday night had them nearing a deal. The Houston Astros were in on the chase. So, too, were others.

Chris Sale? A game-changer, the biggest on the market.

Dave Dombrowski? He commands moments like these the way a shark controls a beach.

So score a big one for the Red Sox, who snapped up Sale on Tuesday for a four-player package, highlighted by Cuban slugger Yoan Moncada and flamethrowing young pitcher Michael Kopech. The deal also included two players from the Class-A level, right-hander Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe.

The move immediately established the Red Sox as strong World Series contenders.

It also re-established Dombrowski’s already soaring reputation as a dealmaker.

“Hey, that’s Dave,” one National League executive said as word of the deal ricocheted through the lobby of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. “He’s a gunslinger.”

“You knew that was going to happen,” Jim Leyland, the former Tigers manager who has teamed with Dombrowski in both Florida and Detroit, said. “I know Dave.”

Leyland declined further comment, for obvious reasons. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, frustrated that his club could not win that elusive World Series, canned Dombrowski after 14 seasons, five playoff appearances, four American League Championship Series appearances and two AL pennants.

It took Boston all of, oh, about five minutes two Augusts ago after Dombrowski was sent packing to offer him an attractive place for his suitcase to land.

Ilitch’s frustrations notwithstanding, hang a “For Sale” sign on one of the game’s forces of nature, and Dombrowski will deliver.

He did it in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera (acquired from the Marlins), David Price (acquired from the Rays), Max Scherzer (acquired from the Diamondbacks), Doug Fister (acquired from the Mariners) and Prince Fielder (free agent).

He did it with Boston last November, acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel (from the Padres), and again in December (Price again, signed as a free agent).

And, now, Sale.

“I had a feeling it would be Dave,” one AL executive said. “He’s aggressive, and he has always paid the price to get the guy he wants.”

No, the Red Sox didn’t add Dombrowski as president of baseball operations to nurture the farm system and to simply stay competitive. No, when you hire Dombrowski, you are in win-now mode today, tomorrow, next year and the year beyond that.

“Any time you have a chance to win, short of a total giveaway of your system or making deals that you don’t think are smart, I think you go for it,” Dombrowski said at the late afternoon press conference held to announce the deal. “For us, almost all of these guys are under contract for at least three years. In baseball, four years down the road is like an eternity in many ways. So you need to try to take advantage of that opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed in life.”

You never know what tomorrow will bring. Injuries. Underperformance. Regression. Age-induced erosion.

“If you don’t make these moves, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to win finally,” Dombrowski continued. “But I think if you take a chance and you go for it as much as you possibly can, hopefully it works for you some day.”

Sale has been selected to five consecutive All-Star Games and will team with Price and AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Add knuckleballer Steven Wright, who was having a terrific 2016 season before a shoulder injury sidelined him. They still have Clay Buchholz. And Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez, who, along with Sale and Price, are left-handed.

“That rotation is going to be unbelievable,” one player agent said. “This makes them the team, to me, in the American League. And they’ve still got pieces for big-time upgrades.”

Before trading for Sale on Tuesday, Dombrowski made a less noticeable deal, to acquire right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers for third baseman Travis Shaw, two minor leaguers and a player to be named later or cash.

The Red Sox had engaged the White Sox in talks for Sale as far back as a year ago, according to Chicago general manager Rick Hahn, and again at this summer’s July trade deadline. Though, at that point, the White Sox were locked in on a couple of other players:

In the past frantic 48 hours, however, it came together. Just as it usually does for Dombrowski, who once dogged Fister so aggressively, in July 2011, that he phoned then-Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik 25 times or more in the final week leading up to the deal.

The man will not take no for an answer.

Other teams and executives eventually will, and that’s why the Nationals are with the Miss Congeniality trophy and the rest of the NL East is pouring Christmas eggnog in celebration.

“We dodged a bullet,” New York Mets manager Terry Collins said.

They did, without a doubt. As long as the Red Sox don’t try to pull any funny business with alternate uniforms—which in the past has sent the temperamental Sale into an Edward Scissorhands-like cutting spree—all they need to do is tell him which day to pitch and point him to the mound. After Boston signed Price for seven years and $217 million last year, this was the deal that brought the closest guarantee to an ace there is to town:

“He pitches with an edge,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “There’s a persona that he projects, certainly across the field. That’s what you feel. That’s what the team will reflect or take with them when he’s on the mound. And that edge or competitive nature that he has, I think any time you can add those types of personalities to go along with the abilities, you’re getting the premium type of player that you want on your roster.”

And, compared to guys like Price and Clayton Kershaw ($215 million over seven years), the Red Sox got Sale for essentially pennies on the dollar. He’s set to make $12 million in 2017, with a $12.5 million club option for 2018 and a $13.5 million club option for 2019. Each of the option years includes a $1 million buyout.

So while Sale is signed, sealed and now delivered to Boston almost certainly through the end of the 2019 season, the Red Sox sent away Moncada, to whom they had committed $63 million last February, and Kopech. Maybe Moncada will turn into that superstar that so many scouts dreamed, but clearly Boston decided it didn’t have time to wait. He’s built like an NFL linebacker, but in eight games with the Red Sox in September, he swung like it, too, striking out in 12 of 19 at-bats. At Double-A Portland this summer, Moncada whiffed 64 times in 177 at-bats.

As for Kopech, his fastball has hit 105 mph, but he also broke his hand slugging a teammate/roommate and has a 50-game suspension in his past for using a banned stimulant. He’s also dating the daughter of a Real Housewives of Atlanta reality TV star and an NFL player. A future star or simply a fascinating flake? The White Sox are about to find out.

As for Boston, Dombrowski will keep wheeling and dealing, surely, for the rest of his five-year deal (he’s got four left), future trade deadlines be warned.

“He’s not afraid to gamble,” Jack McKeon, special assistant to Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, said.

Once a couple of decades ago, it was McKeon who stalked these winter meetings as a GM, earning the nickname of “Trader Jack,” as flashy an executive as there was. Among many other deals, he engineered the blockbuster in 1989 that sent slugger Joe Carter from the Indians to the Padres for catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., infielder Carlos Baerga and outfielder Chris James.

“You’ve got to gamble,” McKeon said. “Plus, you’ve got to know what you want. I came into those winter meetings knowing I wanted to get Joe Carter. I knew I might have to overpay. I wanted Carter, and people were like, ‘You’re not going to get him.’ And I was like, ‘The hell I’m not.'”

Dombrowski would have fit in with the old-timers as surely as he fits in now.

“I’ve always liked him,” McKeon said. “He wheels and deals.”

Dombrowski saw plenty of Sale in Tigers-White Sox AL Central duels over the past several years and brought that up when the two men spoke on the phone Tuesday afternoon.

“I think that Chris Sale is a premium pitcher who’s pitched in big games. He’s won big games,” Dombrowski said. “When I talked to him on the phone, I told him that it will be nice to have him win games for our club rather than sticking it to us on a consistent basis.”

The Red Sox’s gain is the now-rebuilding White Sox’s loss. And once and for all, let’s clear this up: Chicago did not dump Sale because of his temper. Hahn noted that his son has a picture of himself with Sale on his bedroom wall, “right next to a picture of him and Mark Buehrle.”

Hahn spoke of the club’s decision not to take half-measures, to instead take the “longer-term, broader view.” It is painful, he said, but necessary.

Then, on Dombrowski’s way out of the room, he stopped to say a quiet hello to the White Sox owner.

Jerry Reinsdorf leaned in as they shook hands and promised, “You’ll win with this kid.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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‘God Bless America’: Bryce Harper’s $400M Price Tag Could Be an MLB Game-Changer

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Here the winter meetings are, smack in the Washington Nationals’ backyard, and this might be where you can look out and see the end of the line for Bryce Harper in the nation’s capital.

We all know the total cost for Harper when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season will exceed that of the White House, the Pentagon and the gross national product of the New York Yankees combined.

But when a “high-ranking Nationals executive” told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that the club is preparing for life after Harper following 2018, because his contract demands will exceed 10 years and $400 million and are far too exorbitant for the club, those numbers rocketed around the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center on Monday like Fourth of July fireworks.

“God bless America,” quipped retired starting pitcher Jack Morris. “Apparently, Trump’s got this country great again.”

“Bryce Harper’s a great player,” Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw told B/R of the prospect of Harper and the Nats parting ways. “I think he’s going to be OK no matter what.”

“Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that the game of baseball keeps growing exponentially, to be honest with you,” Minnesota All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier said. “It’s very, very good for the game. You see it in a lot of teams, the revenues they bring in with TV and stadiums, everything. It keeps growing and growing, which is good for all of us.”

The ink on baseball’s brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement isn’t even dry yet, and already heavy speculation regarding one of the game’s best players needs a hose and some coolant.

Several current and former players were in town for a press conference and subsequent party thrown by Under Armour, which announced that, starting in 2020, the company will be the exclusive provider of all on-field uniforms, including jerseys featuring UA branding, for all 30 clubs. Though the company’s most flashy representative wasn’t in attendance, Harper certainly was there in spirit.

“That’s a lot of money but, obviously, Bryce is a young talent that doesn’t come around very often,” said Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman. “The money that’s around, the money you see Giancarlo Stanton get [$325 million over 13 years], those are game-changing players.

“Obviously, $400 million is a lot of money, but he’s put up an MVP, he’s young and he can do it all in every aspect. But to see someone get $400 million…it’s going to be interesting to see if he gets it. But it’s a tough situation because if you give someone $400 million, it’s tough to put together a team, you’ve got 24 other guys to field. I guess we’ll find out together.”

Some numbers always have sent imaginations soaring in baseball. Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs. Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961. Ted Williams hitting .400 and Alex Rodriguez‘s groundbreaking $252 million deal with Texas in 2000. Times change, landscapes change and priorities change.

Now, with Stanton pulling down more than $300 million, a weak free-agent class this winter is stoking eager minds to look toward the class that will practically be encased in gold in two years. Following the ’18 season, Harper leads a group that also will include Manny Machado, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, Zach Britton and Matt Harvey.

Short-term, the Nationals spent much of Monday working to acquire ace Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox and were still hard at work on that late into the night, according to B/R sources. This is a team that has won 95 or more games in three of the past five seasons and has yet to win one playoff series.

Two winters ago, the Nationals laid out $210 million for ace pitcher Max Scherzer. Six years ago, they shocked the baseball world by spending $126 million to make outfielder Jayson Werth the veteran centerpiece of a growing young team. Four years ago, they signed slugger Ryan Zimmerman to a $100 million extension. And last May, they avoided losing starter Stephen Strasburg to free agency this winter by signing him to a seven-year, $175 million deal.

This is not a club that adheres to a Draconian budget.

But the Nationals so far are giving no indication that they are willing to break records with Harper. Scott Boras, Harper’s longtime agent, texted Nightengale that his only negotiations with the Nats have been surrounding arbitration and a deal for the 2017 season.

“He’s going to get a lot because he’s a talent that’s once in a generation,” Freeman said. “You don’t get a talent like that to come through baseball very often. You hear about the Mike Trouts, the Stantons, the Bryce Harpers, you hear about those guys because they are so good and so big for this game.

“They’re going to set the bar for a lot of players, and if someone can afford them, they’re going to get them. He’s definitely a game-changer.”

During his 21-year career, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. earned roughly $71 million total, according to He also famously played his entire career for one team, the Baltimore Orioles. Told that maybe he could have made $500 million playing today, Ripken chuckled, saying, “to me, it’s all relative.”

Regarding Harper, Ripken said, “I love his grit and determination. I think sometimes his fieriness makes opponents a little bothered with some of that stuff, but he’s a guy you want on your team. He’s very self-motivated.”

A lot can happen in two years, of course.

But on a Monday to fire up the Hot Stove at the winter meetings, the numbers seemed staggering…and, amazingly reachable.

“If he gets $400 million and all these guys are getting $300 million, $200 million, it’s incredible. Even what I got, I never fathomed I’d get something like that,” said Freeman, who signed an eight-year, $135 million deal in February 2014. “This game is growing so much, to be able to afford $400 million just shows how good and how far baseball has come to give someone that kind of money.”

“You gotta enjoy it while you can, man,” said Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips. “This is a dream, and one day you’ll wake up.”

Morris has just one question for Harper, and it pertains to the man who served as executive director of the MLB Players Association from 1966-1982: “Does he know who Marvin Miller is?

“If he knows who Marvin Miller is, God bless him. If he doesn’t, I’m ashamed of him.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Verlander, Sale Talks Could Heat Up Winter Meetings

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, and the free-agent market is less than delightful…


1. Let It Snow Trade Rumors

Yes, free agent Yoenis Cespedes re-signed with the Mets this week, which means Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista may not be far behind, and doesn’t that get your blood pressure pumping.


As the industry descends upon Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings beginning Monday (well, really, they begin in the hotel bar and lobby Sunday night), this year’s featherweight free-agent class is putting a drag on things. But maybe not everything.

The Detroit Tigers have hinted at rebuilding, and rivals see a potential trade opening with Justin Verlander. The Chicago White Sox talked seriously last summer with the Boston Red Sox about lefty ace Chris Sale and are expected to continue investigating what kind of package he could bring. Tampa Bay is stocked with pitching but has little offense, and even Chris Archer does not appear to be an untouchable as the Rays look to balance their team.

So here’s where the winter meetings could get interesting. Which starting pitchers could get traded? Which ones will get traded?

Even as runs and hits have dwindled in recent years and everybody is looking for a middle-of-the-order bat, pitching remains the heartbeat of the game. Unlike last year, there is no David Price or Zack Greinke on the free-agent market. Two years ago, Jon Lester was out there. The Chicago Cubs narrowly beat the Red Sox and San Francisco Giants to the finish line, and look where that helped lead Wrigleyville.

Look at the top, say, 10 free agents this winter, and only three pitchers are in the bunch. And all of them are closers: Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. The best of the starters’ lot in the free-agent market? Left-hander Rich Hill, 36; right-hander Ivan Nova, 29; and right-hander Jason Hammel, 34.

All of this is why, if you’re the Tigers or White Sox and you’re looking to acquire young talent, you have to consider trading Verlander and Sale. In a market devoid of game-changers, they qualify. And we’re getting deep enough into the winter now that clubs are getting serious about dealing.

As one American League executive who has spoken with the Tigers told colleague Danny Knobler this week, he believes Detroit would like to make a significant move, dealing either Verlander or slugger Miguel Cabrera. As general manager Al Avila completes his first year in charge of the club, there is a different feel around Detroit post-Dave Dombrowski, as if owner Mike Ilitch is shifting out of win-at-all-costs mode and looking for more fiscal responsibility.

Verlander has three years remaining on his seven-year, $180 million deal (at $28 million per year), with a $22 million vesting option for 2020 (the option is guaranteed with a top-five finish in the 2019 Cy Young voting). He also has full no-trade protection.

Sale has one more guaranteed season left at $12 million, with a $12.5 million club option for 2018 and a $13.5 million club option for 2019. There is a $1 million buyout in each of those option years.

Sale’s contract is easier to digest for an acquiring club, but some rival executives think the Tigers appear more motivated than the White Sox to deal. Of course, clubs can get awfully motivated once the talks (and adrenaline) start flowing at the winter meetings, but that presents another issue with the White Sox: mercurial owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who sometimes changes his mind midstream regarding whether he wants to move one of his own guys or make a strong play for another club’s guy.

A Verlander or Sale blockbuster would almost certainly be the biggest move of the winter. Heck, for that matter, even a good rumor with real legs about one of these guys next week would send the meetings into a frenzy.

What there is of a pitching market this winter already has started to move. Texas signed chronic underachiever Andrew Cashner, and Arizona is taking a chance with the trade for chronic underachiever Taijuan Walker (from Seattle). Atlanta signed Bartolo Colon and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Jeremy Hellickson surprised folks by accepting Philadelphia’s one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer.

That, and the overall lack of stars on the free-agent market, very well could cause clubs to consider things this winter that maybe they wouldn’t in other offseasons when there is a more attractive supply of available players.

Is there somebody out there, however, with a reservoir of young talent (like the Cubs, Nationals or Red Sox, for example) who will blow away the White Sox for Sale or the Tigers for Verlander?

When you get right down to it, that is a far more intriguing question than where, say, Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler or Mark Trumbo will land.

While it’s impossible to predict with certainty that either of these two AL Central aces will be dealt, let’s just say the question of whether Sale and Verlander will be on the mound on Opening Day next spring for the White Sox and Tigers, respectively, is more fuzzy right now than ever before.


2. Going Once, Going Twice…Former MVP

Ryan Braun is nowhere close to the player he once was. That’s not a juicy rumor; that’s just fact. And the Milwaukee Brewers are nowhere close to the National League Central Division-winning team they once were when Braun was in his (performance-enhancing drug) prime.

So as Milwaukee navigates through its rebuild, it’s no secret that Braun is not a part of its future. Even Braun said as much last week at the club’s annual Thanksgiving food drive. “Not knowing 100 percent where we’ll be playing is hard,” he said, per Andrew Wagner of the Associated Press (via the Wisconsin State Journal). “It definitely complicates things.”

Braun has limited no-trade powers and a Samsonite factory’s worth of baggage. The Brewers have been professional in the aftermath of Braun’s 2013 PED suspension even as he became a pariah in the clubhouse, according to B/R sources. After Braun betrayed teammates who had stuck up for him when he initially proclaimed his innocence, many of those teammates felt burned when he reversed course, and things were never the same internally again.

What makes the most sense to everybody remains a Brewers-Los Angeles Dodgers deal in which Braun goes to L.A., where he lives in the offseason, and Yasiel Puig goes back to Milwaukee. Colleague Zachary Rymer laid out the scenario here this week, noting that USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported last summer that a Braun-to-L.A. deal was “about 20 minutes” from being completed when the waivers deadline passed on Aug. 31.

Though tarnished, as the 2011 MVP, Braun still has the remnants of marquee value that Hollywood would appreciate. And Puig, whose star has been descending for two years, is at the proverbial crossroads in his career where a fresh start may do him some good.

This sure seems like a when, not if, type of proposition.


3. Easing Off the Greenbacks in L.A.

The Dodgers have won four consecutive NL West titles and still haven’t played in a World Series since 1988, and now two of their best players are free agents at what suddenly appears to be a financially precarious time.

Not that the Dodgers are in danger of becoming paupers, but the days of their spending dough as if printing it somewhere in the bowels of Dodger Stadium may be finished. As Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday, the club is under an MLB mandate to shave spending in order to comply with the industry’s debt rules.

As Shaikin noted, the Dodgers are expected to reduce payroll this winter for a second consecutive season as part of a plan designed to move from a $300 million payroll in 2015 to “closer to $200 million in 2018.”

That won’t draw pity from the Marlins, Twins, Brewers or Reds. But at a time when Clayton Kershaw is in his prime and the Dodgers continue to swing and miss in their efforts to return to the World Series, you’d better believe that, for starters, the Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and the rest of the NL West are watching with glee.

Third baseman Justin Turner and closer Jansen are free agents, and while the Dodgers would like to bring both back, if they leave, that creates two enormous holes.

The long-term plan to transition to young talent is coming to fruition with players like shortstop Corey Seager, center fielder Joc Pederson and pitching phenom Julio Urias. But the Dodgers still are in no position to go totally with youth.

As for Braun, in the event of a deal for Puig, he’s guaranteed $72 million over the next four seasons ($19 million each in 2017 and 2018, $18 million in 2019 and $16 million in 2020, plus a $15 million mutual player/club option in 2021 that includes a $4 million buyout).


4. Shopping for Outfielders

Another potential star of the winter meetings next week is Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

In these final days leading up to the meetings, indications are growing that the Pirates will be proactive in looking to deal him. The Washington Nationals are among those interested, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Three more possibilities, noted John Perrotto of FanRag Sports, are San Francisco, Philadelphia and Toronto. Meanwhile, if they do not re-sign free agent Ian Desmond, the Texas Rangers have a clear need for a center fielder as well.

McCutchen won the NL MVP award in 2013 but is coming off the worst offensive season of his career and was subpar defensively in 2016 as well. He is a potential free agent after next season, with $14 million guaranteed in 2017 but a $14.5 million club option for 2018.

The Pirates, who lost significant ground to the Cubs in the NL Central this year, want prized young talent in return as they work to retool a still-talented club.

Meanwhile, after re-signing Cespedes, the Mets are investigating a potential trade of Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson. And as the Cubs look for a young starting pitcher, they could dangle outfielder Jorge Soler. As things stand now for the Cubs, their outfield looks like Kyle Schwarber in left field next summer, rookie Albert Almora Jr. in center field and Jason Heyward in right, with Ben Zobrist plugging in as a super utilityman and Soler also in the mix.


5. The Winter Meetings, the Hall of Fame and Bud Selig

Get used to this idea: Bud Selig, Hall of Famer.

One of the first orders of business at the winter meetings will happen Sunday night, before the meetings officially open, when the “Today’s Game Committee” voting results are announced.

That committee is one of four different electorates under the “Historical Overview” umbrella and considers candidates twice every five years. This year, the committee is considering Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Mark McGwire, Lou Piniella, John Schuerholz, Bud Selig and George Steinbrenner.

Prediction: Selig gets in, Schuerholz should get in and Steinbrenner might.

Stay tuned.


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Labor negotiations: Yes, we know Thanksgiving was last week, but we can still give thanks that the villainous Don Fehr and Gene Orza are long gone from the bargaining table.

2. Yoenis Cespedes: Re-ups with the Mets, causing manager Terry Collins to spread Christmas cheer and one former club GM to say, per MLB Network Radio, that this might be the most important signing in club history.

3. Hall of Fame ballots: Mailed a week ago and due by the end of this month for January announcement of 2017 class. Many eyes on first-year candidate Vladimir Guerrero.

4. Aroldis Chapman: Just a matter of time before the free-agent closer reunites with the Yankees. Right?

5. Kate Upton tweets: Still smoking hot from her Cy Young reaction.


7. On the Move with Houston

The Astros didn’t bother waiting for the winter meetings to kick-start their campaign for 2017. Already, they have signed free-agent outfielder Josh Reddick (four years, $52 million), traded two prospects to the Yankees for catcher Brian McCann, tried to sign Cespedes (before the Mets got him) and, according to B/R sources, are romancing free-agent slugger Encarnacion.

After falling behind Seattle in the AL West in 2016, the Astros are aggressively working to recapture their 2015 magic (at least, until September of that year). Off to a good start this winter, there are strong indications of more to come.


8. Chatter

 While Houston moves, Seattle isn’t standing still. The Mariners already have addressed the need for a veteran catcher to work behind Mike Zunino (Carlos Ruiz) and for a right-handed-hitting first baseman (Danny Valencia). Though Valencia will help Seattle against left-handed pitching, he’s developed a reputation as a selfish player in the clubhouse in stints with Minnesota and Oakland.

 Jon Jay gives the Cubs the perfect veteran presence who will help Almora develop in center field. Another quality Chicago move.

 Of course, the presence of Jay guarantees that Fowler signs elsewhere (Toronto?) this winter.

 The Giants jumped early to sign one free agent, adding Bob Tewksbury as their major league mental skills coach. Tewksbury, who pitched in the majors for 13 years, has been working in that capacity for the Red Sox for the past several seasons.

 Though the Twins are undergoing a major organizational shift with Derek Falvey, the new president of baseball operations, and Thad Levine, the new general manager, they are retaining a significant part of their soul with the additions of three special assistants—former Twins Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins. You will not find three finer gentlemen.

 The AL pennant winner has come from the AL Central for three consecutive seasons (Cleveland and Kansas City) and in four of the past five (Detroit).

 From the files of baseball writer/researcherBill Chuck: Only five active players remain who played in the 20th century—Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Joe Nathan, A.J. Pierzynski and Colon.

 The snow may be flying, but Michigan tropical rock maestro Don Middlebrook has written a new baseball song that is included on hislatest release, Guitar Island. Entitled “Pitchers and Catchers (Not What You’re Thinking),” it follows another of his classic baseball tunes, “Frozen in Arizona,” about Ted Williams’ frozen head.

 With Cespedes back, the Mets will line up next summer with him in left field, Granderson and Juan Lagares in center field and Lagares/Michael Conforto/Bruce in right field. Pending trades, which are expected. Some random notes on Cespedes:


9. Stealth Move of the Week

Quietly, the Phillies hired former Twins GM Terry Ryan to be a special assignment scout. Reunited with Philadelphia president Andy MacPhail from their Minnesota days in the 1980s and early 1990s, this move makes the Phillies better today and in the future:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

From baseball gloves to bats to the rest, kids, take care of your stuff!

“There out to be a law with no bail

“Smash a guitar and you go to jail

“With no chance for early parole

“You don’t get out till you get some soul

“Oh it breaks my heart to see those stars

“Smashing a perfectly good guitar

“I don’t know who they think they are

“Smashing a perfectly good guitar”

— John Hiatt, “Perfectly Good Guitar”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Contract information courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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Cubs Megastar Kris Bryant’s 1st MVP Could Be Start of Long NL Reign

Ripped from the headlines!


Ripped from the headlines?

November 2016: Versatile Cubs slugger Kris Bryant named NL MVP.

November 2017: Cubs superstar Kris Bryant wins back-to-back NL MVPs.

November 2018: Cub-stock continues as NL MVP Kris Bryant three-peats!

What we know now is that Bryant, who led the National League in runs scored (121) while smashing 39 homers, hitting .292 and producing 102 RBI, is the much-deserved winner of the 2016 NL MVP award.

His bat, versatility afield (third base, left field, right field, first base), razor-sharp baserunning and overall contribution to winning made him a shoo-in. He excels in both old-school stats and new-age metrics: His 8.4 WAR was the best in the NL and second in the majors to Mike Trout (9.4), per the FanGraphs model.

What we think is that his age (24), astronomical ability and the relative strength of his team will carry him to a few more MVP awards by the time he’s ready to join the billy goats in the pasture. At the very least, like Trout, assuming good health, Bryant should be in MVP contention for the next several years.

Trout, 25, is still considered the best overall player in the game, and for that reason some view his failure to win more than one MVP to this point as a criminal offense (UPDATE: he won his second on Thursday night). To Bryant’s benefit now, though, is that where Trout has been betrayed by a failing organization, the Chicago Cubs are ready for prime time for the next several years.

With MVP voters leaning toward players who helped their teams win division titles more heavily in the wild-card era (1995 and after) than ever before, Trout’s sinking Los Angeles Angels could have been a drag on his vote. In the three seasons he finished second in the voting—2012, 2013 and 2015—the Angels finished third in the AL West in each.

When he won in 2014, his Angels won the AL West with the best record in the majors.

It doesn’t take the president of the Society for American Baseball Research to make the connection that the MVP award favors team win-loss records heavily.

Conversely, Bryant’s Cubs appear loaded for the next several seasons. They are young, talented and cutting-edge. So is Bryant.

He becomes the third player since Cal Ripken Jr. (1982 and 1983) to win a Rookie of the Year award one year and an MVP the next. The other two? The Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard (2005 and 2006) and the Boston Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia (2007 and 2008).

In fact, the beginning of Bryant’s career further mirrors that of Ripken in that Ripken’s Baltimore Orioles won the World Series in his MVP season of ’83, as the Cubs did during what should be Bryant’s MVP season.

“I didn’t actually make that connection,” Ripken told Bleacher Report on Wednesday, referring to the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. “I guess I don’t think in terms of individual awards. 

“With Bryant, I was thinking in terms of what a good start to his career he’s had in that the Cubs have been right in the thick of things where you’re good and you’re winning and it’s fun and you’re going to the playoffs. The fastest years I ever had were when I played on good, winning teams.”

Ripken did wind up winning multiple MVP awards: After ’83, he won again in 1991. And he finished third in 1989.

“The awards are sort of the icing on the cake,” Ripken said. 

“When you’re playing the game and you’re on a winner, it’s easier because you’re in line with how you want to play the game. What can I do to help us win today? Sometimes it’s a big hit, sometimes it’s a home run, sometimes it’s making a play in the field, sometimes it’s moving a runner from second to third. Stats build. I thought Eddie Murray was the MVP of our team in ’83. He made life easier for me. I thought I got credit for playing shortstop [a premium position].

“We don’t know how good Kris Bryant can be. It’s happened really fast and we marvel at his accomplishments. And in the back of our minds we think, can he be even better? That’s the fun part moving forward. It’s exciting to think ahead to what he can do.”

Winning multiple, or even back-to-back, MVP awards isn’t so rare. The Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera did it recently, winning the AL MVP award in 2012 and 2013, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols did it in 2008 and 2009. The San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds won four in a row from 2001-04.

Going back a bit, the Chicago White Sox’s Frank Thomas won in 1993 and ’94, and in the NL the trend has been for it to happen at least once a decade going back 40 years. Before Bonds in the early 2000s, he also did it in 1992 and 1993 (and in 1990 before that to give him three in four years). The Atlanta Braves’ Dale Murphy did it in 1982 and ’83, Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt in ’80 and ’81 and the Cincinnati Reds’ Joe Morgan in ’75 and ’76.

Among many other things, what sets Bryant apart from the crowd today is his capability and willingness to move around the diamond without allowing it to affect other parts of his game. You could argue, and Bryant does, that the versatility strengthens the other parts of his game.

“I just think that’s where the game is at right now,” Bryant told me this summer. “Versatility is what teams like. For me, I think it definitely adds value.”

Bryant becomes only the second player ever to be named MVP after starting at least 30 games in the infield and 30 in the outfield. The other was Stan Musial in 1946. Musial that year started 114 games at first base and 42 in the outfield. Bryant this year started 100 at third base, 48 in the outfield and six at first base.

Bryant is part of a generation of players who cut their teeth playing different positions, and instead of worrying that there is too much pressure in the majors to continue doing it, he simply goes with the flow and takes the opposite tack.

“Honestly, I feel like at times at this level it’s easier because you have the better lights, the better visual backdrops, that sort of thing,” Bryant told B/R. “Obviously, I’ve played third base, but moving around might add a little more of that fresher element.”

Said Ripken: “That’s an interesting attitude. Maybe it does keep him fresher and mentally not worrying about things. Having a balance and thinking about your defense and your offense [separately] can be healthy, so you don’t have a tendency to dwell on a slump or two.”

Ripken couldn’t get to that place in 1996, when B.J. Surhoff was injured and Ripken moved from shortstop to third base for six games.

“I remember from my personality, it was more of a worry,” Ripken said. “I worried and concentrated on my defense, and it felt like my balance was out of whack. I felt like my offense didn’t seem to matter, but my defense did. You constantly had to think about what your responsibilities were at third base versus what they were at shortstop.”

And by then, Ripken was 35 and well into a Hall of Fame career.

“It’s also a tribute to Bryant and his athleticism,” Ripken said. “He runs really well for a big guy. He has the skills to bump around. But it’s also a tribute to him that he’s open-minded and has the attitude to do that. And that becomes valuable to [Cubs manager] Joe Maddon, which ultimately becomes really valuable to the Cubs.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that hopping around defensively does add distractions that might sabotage a player at the plate. But Bryant this year proved otherwise.

The greatest area of Bryant’s offensive improvement in 2016 was in his plate discipline, as Neil Greenberg pointed out in his “Fancy Stats” column in the Washington Post. Bryant sliced his strikeout rate to 22 percent from 30.6 percent last year and improved his power numbers on pitches in the top third of the strike zone and above to .560 from .527.

That suggests Bryant is still improving, and will continue to do so. And, furthermore, he can beat you in myriad ways. According to FanGraphs, Bryant’s acumen as a baserunner in 2016 was worth 7.3 runs above average to the Cubs. Only the San Diego Padres’ Wil Myers (7.8) ranked ahead of him in the NL, and as Greenberg notes in the Post, only Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte went from first to third on a single more often than Bryant last summer.

“I feel like you separate your offense and your defense,” said Bryant, who, as a rookie in ’15, started 136 games at third base and only 10 in the outfield. “You don’t take your offense into the field and you don’t take your fielding into your at-bats, and that’s just kind of what you learn from Little League on.

“There are two sides to the ball. That’s how I approach it.” 

His approach is a boon to both the Cubs and to Maddon, as Ripken pointed out. As Ben Zobrist told me over the summer, it’s one thing for a player to bounce around defensively like Zobrist did back in Tampa Bay when he was breaking in, scratching and clawing for playing time. But Bryant is a bona fide superstar, and they generally are not as willing to bounce around the diamond the way Bryant is.

“Most guys in his position would not do that,” Zobrist said. “That just says the kind of person, the kind of team guy, he is.”

Musial, by the way, wound up with three MVP awards during his career and a plaque in Cooperstown. He also played in four World Series for the Cardinals, helping to win three titles.

Yes, the combination of talent and attitude can prove unbeatable.

“K.B. has a ton of humility,” Padres manager Andy Green told me this summer. “It’s a characteristic you don’t necessarily expect to see from a player as special as he is. I saw it at the Double-A All-Star Game when he was there and I was managing there [in 2014]. He’s a special guy. He’s very unique.

“I don’t think he balks at anything Joe does because he considers Joe the manager and I’ll do whatever you tell me. You want me to play center field, I’ll play center field. You want me to hit third, I’ll hit third. Those are great attributes to have in a young star.”

Those are attributes that will play. Any team, any time, any place.

And in the end, in the right situation, they can lead to moments like Rookie of the Year, World Series ticker-tape parades and, of course, MVPs.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Chapman, Jansen Stand out in Weak Free-Agent Class

Write it down: The Chicago Cubs are the early favorites for 2017.

What, too soon?


1. Aroldis Chapman vs. Kenley Jansen: The Winter’s Heavyweight Bout

The last piece of confetti has landed at the seventh-largest gathering in human history—Cubstock 2016—free agency is zooming toward us and the biggest question in a weak class is pure ninth-inning dollars and cents (sense?).

Who gets more money, Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen?

“Wow, that’s a great question, man,” one major league executive exclaimed Monday.

“Really good question,” a veteran scout added.

Bleacher Report posed that question to seven major league executives and scouts Monday, with one follow-up question: Which of the two would you rather have?

Both Chapman and Jansen effectively are the same age, pitching 2016 at their age-28 seasons. Both distinguished themselves in the postseason, with Chapman’s Cubs knocking off Jansen’s Dodgers en route to history.

Mark Melancon, whom Washington acquired from Pittsburgh last summer, is another marquee closer on the market, and we certainly do not want to ignore him, though all of the executives we spoke with rank him third behind the other two guys.

Chapman vs. Jansen, that’s the cage match.

“I’ll say Chapman gets more money, but in a perfect world, it’s tough and I don’t think you’re going to get a clear-cut answer,” one American League executive says. “Chapman is so damn good, but he does scare me. It’s close, but he’s the best guy, to me.”

Without question, Chapman has more baggage, which is why things could swing Jansen’s way this winter: Chapman was suspended by MLB for 30 games last April after a domestic violence incident, and a few years ago he had his license suspended after receiving multiple speeding tickets.

“You look at the numbers, they’re comparable,” one longtime scout says in considering Chapman and Jansen. “I think both are relatively healthy, although Jansen had that heart thing.”

Jansen underwent surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat four years ago that had knocked him onto the disabled list a couple of times.

Another red flag with Jansen, the scout says, is that the Dodgers never got serious with offering him a multiyear extension that would have headed off this winter’s free agency.

“That’s curious to me,” he says. “Is something there? He’s going to get four or five years on the open market; did they see something that made them uncomfortable to the point where they wouldn’t go four or five years? It doesn’t add up unless Jansen’s crew was adamant they were going to go into an open market regardless.

“Or, maybe the way the Dodgers operate, they don’t value that [closer’s] role as much as others in the industry might. You’re out there 56 innings, what you’re going to ask for versus somebody else who can do a respectable job [for much less], maybe they’re thinking they can get somebody else.”

Pitching for the New York Yankees and Cubs last summer, Chapman went 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 36 saves in 59 appearances. He struck out 90 in 58 innings. Chapman will turn 29 in February.

For the Dodgers, Jansen went 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 47 saves. He struck out 104 in 68.2 innings. Jansen turned 29 in September.

“I think the reason Chapman gets more money is that I think the Yankees will re-sign him,” one American League scout says. “I just think they will overpay him.

“Chapman is left-handed, he fills out a lot of boxes, he’s shown he can go multiple innings even though [the Cubs] did it wrong. They didn’t need to do it the way they did it. But there’s not that big of a separation. The other guy is good, too. It’s just that, pitching on the West Coast, people didn’t stay up late to see him.”

As if on cue, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday that he has reached out to Chapman’s agent, per Newsday‘s Erik Boland:

One executive with an American League team does stay up late, apparently, and would take Jansen.

“I think he’s more reliable, his makeup,” the executive says. “Chapman, we hear stuff about. How about a quiet assassin in Jansen? Nobody ever looks at his stuff like, ooooh, it’s 101 mph, boom, boom, but this guy gets it done under the radar, in that sense. The other guy, it’s like a show, but he’s not as reliable as Jansen for me.

“Then, you go into other areas—who do you want in your clubhouse? You never hear boo out of Jansen. [With] Chapman, there’s always something. Did he have a good day today? The domestic violence incident might not have been that big a deal in the end, but it’s a reckless life. With the other guy, there’s none of that.”

Chapman, by all accounts, behaved well after serving his suspension. There were no incidents with the Yankees or with the Cubs.

Another thing, as one National League executive points out, closer contracts historically have not paid great dividends. The biggest went to Jonathan Papelbon before the 2012 season, and it wasn’t long until Philadelphia regretted giving him four years and $50 million.

The most recent big payday for a closer came two winters ago, when the White Sox plucked David Robertson from the Yankees for four years and $46 million. You probably noticed in recent days that it was the other Chicago team that did the winning.

Still, another AL scout does not hesitate in saying he would take Chapman in a heartbeat.

“He’s left-handed, so he does two things at once,” the scout says. “A closer is a unique thing, but every manager I’ve ever been around always has in the back of his mind when the other club’s best hitter is a left-handed hitter. Here it is in the ninth inning, and if the closer gets into a jam and the superior left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a chance to beat you, he’s always thinking, ‘What am I going to do if that happens?'”

Chapman is an elite closer plus a left-handed specialist.

“He has marquee value, too,” the scout continues. “There’s a guy who sells tickets just because he [regularly] hits 100 mph. Plus, Chapman is on top of his game, and Jansen is not always unhittable like he once was. His cutter’s taken a step backward for me.”

And yet, one more scout says he would take Jansen.

“His command can get kind of sketchy, but that 95, 96 mph cutter is so hard to square up,” the scout says. “He’s effectively wild in the strike zone, and I think that works to his favor. Chapman just has periods of time where he gets wild. It’s 100 to 102 with really inconsistent command.”

So stay tuned. The only thing we can guarantee with an impending free-agent market, no matter how strong or weak, is that it will take some zany, unpredictable twists. As this one does, Chapman vs. Jansen will be among the most intriguing storylines.


2. Free Agent Go-To List

The best of a weak class:

• Yoenis Cespedes: Opted out of his New York Mets deal, leaving two years and $47.5 million on the table. He’s aiming for a $100 million deal. Not that they will climb that high in the salary stratosphere, but the Los Angeles Angels could use an impact outfield bat. Maybe Philadelphia steps up?

 Edwin Encarnacion: The breakup of the Blue Jays is on deck in the impending winter blizzard of free agents. Some think Boston could use him as a replacement for David Ortiz at designated hitter. Wait, isn’t that part of the reason for Pablo Sandoval’s presence?

 Aroldis Chapman/Kenley Jansen: See above.

 Ian Desmond: He needs to decide by next week whether to accept the $17.2 million qualifying offer Texas has extended. After being frozen out on the free-agent market last year and signing a way-under-market-value one-year, $8 million deal with the Rangers and moving from shortstop to center field, Desmond re-established himself this year while hitting .285/.335/.446 with 22 homers and 86 RBI while increasing his defensive versatility. After rejecting a seven-year, $107 million offer during the winter of 2013-14, Desmond may be looking for that big payday now.

 Mark Trumbo: His 47 homers led the majors during his triumphant All-Star season in Baltimore. He’s no threat to win a Gold Glove, but he is a terrific middle-of-the-order presence and clubhouse guy.

 Wilson Ramos: Maybe some will be scared off by the torn ACL that ended his season in late September, but catchers are in demand and Ramos produced 22 homers and 80 RBI in an All-Star season.

 Dexter Fowler: It is no coincidence that when the Cubs suffered their only skid during the summer, the last few weeks leading into the All-Star break, Fowler was on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. He’s still only 30 and is a bona fide leadoff man and center fielder.

 Justin Turner: Emerged as the Dodgers’ clubhouse leader last summer. It’s tough to see them letting him go.


3. Terry Francona Eats

What do managers do on the eve of Game 7?

Or, for that matter, on the eve of Game 5?

Well, if you’re Terry Francona, you snack.

Not only did the Cubs-Indians World Series give us two great teams and one whale of a series, it also provided two of the more entertaining managers in the game in Francona and Chicago’s Joe Maddon.

Francona ordered $44 worth of room-service ice cream after Game 4 in Chicago, and that was well before the climactic Game 7. After the Indians lost Game 6 to set up Wednesday’s winner-take-all game, here’s how Francona’s Tuesday night went.

“I was having a nightmare that somebody was breaking my ribs,” he said. “I woke up and my ribs hurt. I kind of got scared. And I felt there, and the TV remote was, like, stuck in my rib cage. Evidently, I had slept on it for a couple of hours. I got up to go to the bathroom and, I mean, it hurt.

“It’s not easy being manager. My bedroom looked like a national disaster. I’m going to have to change a few habits when we’re done here.”

What the heck was he watching before dozing off with the remote jammed into his ribs?

“I was actually watching Clinton and [Trump]—you finish the sentence, not me,” he quipped.

But that wasn’t the end of it. There was the peanut butter…

“Yeah, I had peanut butter on my glasses, too,” he said. “I was dipping pretzels into the jar of peanut butter.”

Yes, in bed.

“Oh yeah,” Francona said. “Everything, man. I go straight home and I hit the bed and everything’s laid out next to me. And I fell asleep at some point while eating. I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and I’ll just reach over and grab something. Unfortunately, it’s true.”

One silver lining: He didn’t wake up in a pool of ice cream. By Games 6 and 7, after the Chicago room service, he’d had enough of that.

“I can’t look at ice cream for awhile,” he said. “Some company brought some in here the other day. I told them to take it into the kitchen because I really don’t have a yearning for that right now.

“You know what happens? I don’t eat during the day. Like, what is it? It’s 5 p.m. I haven’t eaten yet. I just either forgot or whatever, I just got busy. So normally when the game starts, I’ll think, OK, you know what? I’ll have a salad tonight. By the seventh inning, I’m like, man, I want everything greasy I can find. Then it just escalates from there.”


4. What Is This, The Food Network?

Recently, a cool World Series tradition quietly started. The day after the Cubs won, last year’s World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals organization, sent enough pizza to feed 150 in the Cubs’ front office…just like the San Francisco Giants’ organization did for Kansas City two years ago. And just like the Boston Red Sox did for the Giants in 2014.

The thinking behind this cool idea?

“It’s a really nice touch for the team that won it all the year before to send it to those folks who worked so hard,” Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president of publicity, told the Kansas City Star‘s Pete Grathoff.

Now, if only political elections contained good sports like that, right?


5. NL West: Black and Blue Division

On Monday, Arizona introduced Torey Lovullo as its new manager and Colorado unveiled Bud Black as its new manager.

Finally, order is being restored in a division that had the Dodgers and Giants doubled over in laughter last month when:


  • The Diamondbacks were without a manager and general manager after firing Chip Hale and Dave Stewart.
  • The Rockies were without a manager after Walt Weiss’ departure.
  • The Padres were without a general manager while A.J. Preller was serving a 30-day suspension for his latest rules infraction, after which the club fired president Mike Dee.


Amateur hour, all around.


The Lovullo hiring was no surprise in that new Arizona GM Mike Hazen, recently hired from Boston, is close to Lovullo, who was Red Sox manager John Farrell’s highly respected bench coach. Lovullo, Boston’s interim manager for the final 48 games of 2015 while Farrell was being treated for cancer, has long been viewed as prime managerial material. He’ll have a running start in Arizona by inheriting ace Zack Greinke, perennial MVP-candidate Paul Goldschmidt and a presumably healthy A.J. Pollock.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Black knows that NL West personnel well following nine seasons as San Diego’s manager before spending 2016 as a special assistant to Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler. Maybe hiring a former pitcher to figure out the pitching complications in Coors Field is finally Colorado’s path to contention.


6. Weekly Power Rankings

Hot Stove specials….

1. Democracy: It wasn’t five minutes after Terry Francona was interviewed after Cleveland lost Game 7 of the World Series before a buddy from home texted me: “A true gentleman with a lot of class. Why don’t guys like him run for president?” Go vote Tuesday, and when it’s over, can we all please treat each other with the kind of dignity and respect that we see on the field when sports are at their best?

2. Chicago Cubs: Advil, Nyquil, Dayquil, Sudafed: What works best to wipe the lingering effects of “Go Cubs Go!” ringing in your ears like tinnitus?!

3. Free Agency: Not to disparage this year’s weak class, but the crickets are lining up right now.

4. Yoenis Cespedes: Whatever happens, part of his deal has to be that he shows up next spring with a new team driving a new ride for the first 10 days in a row, doesn’t it?

5. Cleveland Indians: If Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley all would have been healthy, oh, what might have been.


7. Chatter

 The next big deal, of course, is a new labor agreement. The Basic Agreement expires Dec. 1. While no work stoppage is expected, sources say both sides (owners and players) are working overtime right up until the deadline. Among the big issues: a potential international draft and improving the travel schedule for each team, which in turn will improve quality of play.

 The Kansas City Royals are making reliever Wade Davis available this winter, according to B/R sources. That makes sense, given free-agent starting pitching is weak and premier free-agent closers Chapman and Jansen are expected to command at least four-year deals worth $44-48 million. The Royals, who picked up their $10 million club option on Davis for 2017, are open to taking a good package of prospects for him.

 After Arizona bypassed him in favor of Lovullo for their managerial job, Triple-A manager Phil Nevin, who finished second to Lovullo, left the organization to become San Francisco’s third base coach.

 Tampa Bay, after just 68 wins last summer, might trade as many as two starting pitchers—Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi?—to improve other areas of the club.

 The Cubs-Indians Game 7 was the highest-rated baseball game on television in 25 years, drawing more viewers than any other game since Game 7 of the Minnesota-Atlanta World Series in 1991.

 All the best to media relations genius Rick Vaughn, who parted ways with Tampa Bay. And I’m not using that word, genius, lightly. Vaughn is as good as there is in the game, and until he lands somewhere good, he will be greatly missed.

The Jacksonville Suns, Miami’s Double-A affiliate, are no more. After a groovy name change, they are now the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.


8. This Goes for Parishioners Outside of Chicago, Too, You Know

How great was this notice from the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Chicago over the weekend?:


9. Little Steven and the E Street Tweets

Anybody who knows me knows that my favorite band is the E Street Band. So as the Cubs and Indians were hurtling toward the conclusion of an epic Game 7, it was hard not to notice this exchange between a political pundit and a certain Hall of Fame guitarist in the eighth inning after Javier Baez struck out on a failed safety squeeze attempt:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Among the treats from the Cubs-Indians World Series was a great tour of the fabulous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland…

As we vote Tuesday, here’s to democracy, poetry, Nobel Peace Prize winners and those two great American art forms, baseball and rock and roll…

“Come gather ’round people wherever you roam

“And admit that the waters around you have grown

“Accept it soon, you’ll be drenched to the bone

“If your time to you is worth savin’

“Then you better start swimmin’, you could sink like a stone

“For the times, they are a-changin’

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

“And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

“Your sons and your daughters, beyond your command

“Your old road is rapidly agin’

“So get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

“For the times, they are a-changin'”

—Bob Dylan, “The Times, They Are A-Changin'”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Why Stop at One: Cubs Built for a Long Run of Title Contention

CLEVELAND — It was the wise Satchel Paige who warned, “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.”

Don’t the Cleveland Indians, who let a three-games-to-one World Series lead slip away to the Chicago Cubs, know it. Didn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers, who fumbled a two-games-to-one National League Championship Series lead, learn it. Weren’t the San Francisco Giants, who allowed a 5-2 lead in Game 4 of the NL Division Series to dissipate, guilty of it.

It took 108 years for the Chicago Cubs to catch up to the rest of baseball in the month of October.

But now that they’re champions, look out, because it may take everyone else several years to catch back up to them. Here’s something worth stashing in your closet next to the sunblock for next spring training: The last time the Cubs won a World Series, they did it in back-to-back years, 1907 and 1908.

These Cubs waged a campaign on multiple fronts this autumn to exorcise a century’s worth of demons: Rival teams, curses, ghosts and, to a degree, their own youth.

Youth is resilient and youth is beautiful, but it also is not on the clock. Players develop at their own pace, which is why the 2015 Cubs came steaming down the tracks ahead of schedule, and why still-learning uber-talents like Javier Baez (23), Addison Russell (22), Willson Contreras (24) and, at times, even Kris Bryant (24) maybe weren’t the perfect, mistake-free players Cubs fans expected at times as 2016 climaxed.

Experience is the great teacher. That this band of incredibly skilled, and young, Cubs was able to win it all while gaining it was impressive. That there is every reason to believe we haven’t seen the best yet of a team that won 103 games this summer is the stuff of imagination and wonder.

“Hey, listen,” Ryan Dempster, the retired pitcher who serves as a special assistant to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, said as champagne sprayed in the Cubs’ clubhouse early Thursday morning. “The tough part is to realize that that’s the next goal, right?

“They can do it again and again down the road. Right now they deserve to embrace this moment. All year, they had a target on their back from other teams, the media, fans, and yet they still were the best team in baseball. They did it.

“To see what they did tonight bodes well for the future.”

Bryant, Russell, Baez, Kyle Schwarber (23), Anthony Rizzo (27) and Kyle Hendricks (26) are among the core players who are under contract through at least 2020. Jorge Soler (24) is another whom the Cubs think will develop into an impact player, though he had a disappointing season and stayed in the background this fall. Outfielder Albert Almora (22), who also played some but mostly remained on the bench during the postseason, was a first-round pick in 2012.

In Game 2 last week, the Cubs set a World Series record by starting six players under the age of 25: Schwarber, Bryant, Baez, Russell, Contreras and Soler. The previous record was five players, set by Cincinnati in Game 4 of the 1970 World Series.

Russell and Baez are growing up together in the middle of the infield and already are setting the bar high.

“I think the combination we have up the middle is as good as you’ll ever see,” starter Jake Arrieta said.

Bryant likely will be named the NL’s Most Valuable Player later this month when the awards are announced. Schwarber had just five plate appearances before a devastating knee injury ended his season. Then, in a stunning comeback on the game’s grandest stage, he batted .412 (7-for-17) with two RBI and two runs scored in 20 World Series plate appearances.

“He jacks everybody up,” manager Joe Maddon said of Schwarber during the World Series. “He makes the lineup better, thicker. Zo is seeing better pitches.”

Zo, Ben Zobrist, used one of those pitches to push an RBI double into left field in the 10th inning of Wednesday night’s Game 7, snapping a 6-6 tie.

There were times this postseason, especially at the plate, in which the Cubs were maddeningly inconsistent compared to what we generally expect of a 103-win team. There also were reasons.

“I think a lot of it has to do with youth,” Maddon said. “That’s what I keep bringing up. As we continue to move forward together, the one area of our club that I anticipate is going to get better is offense.

“If you put your scout’s cap on right now, normally you look at our group, or any group, you’re going to see running speed that should hopefully remain the same, possibly regress a little bit. Defense should remain the same, possibly get a little bit better. Arm strength the same thing, you want to at least maintain what you have. But if you had to write numbers down on a piece of paper, the one you’re going to project a lot on would be offense, whether it’s hitting or hitting with power.”

Over 17 postseason games, the Cubs batted .233 with a .293 on-base percentage and a .399 slugging percentage.

In the World Series, they batted .249 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage.

During the regular season, they hit .256/.343/.429.

Part of the struggle during the postseason, of course, is attributable to a steady diet of Corey Klubers, Madison Bumgarners and Clayton Kershaws. You’re not facing the Milwaukee Brewers‘ fourth and fifth starters in October.

But part of the inconsistency is growing pains, too. Baez was the MVP of the NLCS, then hit .167 with 13 strikeouts in 30 at-bats in the World Series. As one veteran scout said, Baez suddenly regressed to the young kid whom the Cubs first called up in 2014.

Everybody handles moments differently, and those who have an excitable personality, like Baez, sometimes have difficulty slowing things down when the noise becomes deafening. Also, opposing scouting reports are thick and detailed in the postseason, and these intelligence briefings expose the holes of even the greatest hitters. Not everybody is capable of making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, or even from game to game, especially on the big stage. Baez, who is eminently capable of winning a Gold Glove at multiple positions (second base, third base, shortstop), made great strides offensively this summer, cutting his strikeout percentage down to 24 percent from 30 percent in 2015 and 41.5 percent in 2014, per Fangraphs.

“It’s going to be easy to understand that the area we’re going to get better at is offense,” Maddon said. “Understanding themselves better. Understanding what the pitcher’s going to try to do against them. Understanding how to make adjustments in the game. Understanding how to utilize the entire field more consistently as they gain experience.

“The part that’s really exciting to me is that we’re in this position right now, two years in a row. Last year we didn’t quite get here, but two years in a row now we’ve been one of the last four teams playing with a really young group of baseball players that are going to continually get better.”

Even despite Baez’s World Series struggles at the plate, there were moments like this one:

While Baez, Russell and Bryant consume most of the spotlight, signs of talented young Cubs were everywhere this autumn. At one point during a pivotal moment in Game 5 against Cleveland, rookie Carl Edwards Jr. (25) was on the mound throwing to catcher Contreras.

Both players started this 103-win season at Triple-A Iowa.

Contreras, too, was guilty of a rookie mistake under the bright lights. Though he was behind the plate in Game 2, catching Arrieta’s 5 1/3 no-hit innings, he rightfully caught heat for preening after a double in Game 1. After blasting a Cody Allen pitch to right field, Contreras flipped his bat and walked about five steps, admiring the fly, before realizing it wasn’t over the fence and turning on the afterburners to reach second.

Contreras apologized to Cubs fans via Twitter:

Said Maddon, “As [the young players] gain more experience, you’re going to see a lot of that stuff go away.”

Not surprisingly, the Cubs have left a trail of admirers in their wake.

“They’ve got a lot of versatility,” retired manager Jim Leyland, who now works for the commissioner’s office, said. “I love their young shortstop [Russell]. … He kind of gets lost a little bit with [Cleveland’s Francisco] Lindor and [Houston‘s Carlos] Correa and some of the other guys, [Corey] Seager out in Los Angeles, but this kid’s really good.

“Anthony Rizzo’s a two-way player; he’s an excellent fielder as well as a power guy. … And I think a guy like Ben Zobrist has been a big key for them. He kind of solidifies things. They’ve got a nice combination, and Joe does a great job with them.”

Perhaps as impressive as anything else was this young core’s ability to block out the anguish of more than a century of Cubs baseball, the billy goats and curses and black cats, and lift this franchise to heights few of us have ever before seen. And though it was far more difficult than it sometimes appeared, they made it look as if they were lifting a simple Louisville Slugger more often than not.

“I think the way they did it,” catcher David Ross said. “There are a lot of young, successful and talented players here, and they expect to succeed. They’re not worried about past things. They’re looking at now, and the future is very bright. …

“I’m happy for the city of Chicago, for Cubs fans who have been so dedicated. These guys worked their tails off. They’ve all been through a lot, and they deserve everything they get for the rest of their life.”

Not only will the surging Cubs be favored again in 2017, but there also doesn’t even appear to be a spot for Zobrist, the World Series MVP. Baez is the projected second baseman and Schwarber the left fielder with Almora expected to supplant Dexter Fowler in center field. Where might that leave Zobrist? Possibly on the trade block. Or in even more of a super-utility role than he’s accustomed to.

“There’s no question this should be a very good team for a very long time,” Leyland said. “Whether they’re going to get back to the World Series every year, that’s a different story. It’s pretty hard to do.”

Undoubtedly. But in winning it all this year, the Cubs have taken that long, difficult first step. Maybe this powerful young core develops into the next dynasty, or maybe not. But one thing is certain: Given the talent, youth and build of this team, the Cubs should be powerful for the next five or six years, minimum.

And as this group writes its own history, it will do so from a blank canvas that includes no previous baggage.

“It’s really great for our entire Cub-dom to get beyond that moment and continue to move forward,” Maddon said, “because now, based on the young players we have in this organization, we have an opportunity to be good for a long time, and without any constraints, without any of the negative dialogue.

“The burden has been lifted.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Rain Delay Speech Helps End Drought as Chicago Cubs Win Historic World Series

CLEVELAND — Into the droughts fell the rain. Seventh game of the World Series, nine innings completed, the score 6-6 and, of course. This Fall Classic would not nearly be large enough to contain the 108 years the Chicago Cubs had gone since their last title and the 68 years for the Cleveland Indians. It couldn‘t be. We should have seen this coming.

Yes, into every drought, eventually, falls the rain. And as it did Wednesday night, with the Progressive Field grounds crew dragging the tarp onto the field and the Cubs reeling from blowing a large lead and a few chances and, quite possibly, all of the good cheer they’d built up all summer, outfielder Jason Heyward called them into the strength and conditioning room just off the tunnel right behind the dugout and delivered a speech that echoed all the way back to 1908.

When they emerged and the skies cleared, it took them one inning to reach out and grab the rainbow, eking out an 8-7, 10-inning win in one of the best World Series Game 7s ever played.

“I just want to say this real quick,” owner Tom Ricketts said upon accepting the Commissioner’s Trophy. “Hey, the Cubs are World Series champions!”

How many people living today have ever heard that one before, there is no telling. But that number is incredibly small. They’re at least 108 years old.

This was a night for rewriting history, as starter-turned-reliever Jon Lester said. It was a night to be glued to the edge of your couch in front of the television, and one that crossed several generations.

It was for the late Ernie Banks and Ron Santo and for the living Billy Williams, as Ricketts said, and it was for fathers and sons and grandmothers and granddaughters and everyone else who’s ever fallen in love with this game, and this team, and fallen short and persistently picked themselves up and kept moving forward.

The Cubs raced to a 5-1 lead, and you could hear the party noise all the way from Clark and Addison Streets in Chicago.

They were four outs from winning when the Indians’ Rajai Davis slammed a stunning two-run, game-tying home run in the eighth inning against Aroldis Chapman, and Cleveland lit up like a birthday cake.

There were shocking errors from incredibly gifted infielder Javier Baez, Chapman’s blown save, Kris Bryant skillfully running the bases, MVP Ben Zobrist artfully working through plate appearances, Lester’s cringeworthy wild pitch, David Ross’ home run straight out of the pages of The Natural, Cleveland battling back, the Cubs nearly folding, the rain and…

“Best game I’ve ever been a part of,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Best game I’ve ever seen, really.”

“I’m exhausted,” Ross said. “I feel like we played nine years.”

“Man, this one about made me pass out,” Zobrist said.

“This is why I came here,” said Lester, who signed a six-year, $155 million deal two winters ago. “To break the goat or the black cat or God knows what.”

How appropriate is it that the team burdened by the longest championship drought in the history of American professional sports—pick a sport, any sport—received new life during a rainstorm?

Inside that strength and conditioning room, a team that had grown unusually close since spring training gathered for an unusual speech from a quiet outfielder who suffered a bitterly disappointing season with the bat.

The Cubs were shellshocked following Davis’ astounding, game-tying home run in the eighth, and it would have been so easy to fall into tentative, here-it-goes-again mode.

This is the franchise that has been saddled with the “Curse of the Billy Goat” since 1945, when Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis put a hex on it when he was asked during that year’s World Series to please remove his pet goat from the ballpark because other patrons were complaining about its odor.

This is the club that blew a sure thing down the stretch to the New York Mets in 1969, a collapse immortalized in one instant when a stray, black cat suddenly appeared from nowhere and walked by Santo when he was in the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium.

This is the team that was five outs from a World Series in 2003 when poor Steve Bartman reached out to catch a foul ball and knocked it away from a waiting Moises Alou. The Florida Marlins stormed back, then won Game 7, and the Cubs were foiled again.

“The curse is an excuse,” Lester said as the champagne flowed. “The curse is an excuse to me, just looking for a way out. We cared about playing good baseball.”

Oh, there were plenty of chances for the goat to bleat again. Baez carelessly rushed a throw to first base in the first inning for an error, then missed barehanding a flip from shortstop Addison Russell in the third to allow Cleveland’s first run, evening the game at 1-1.

Later, after a clearly fatigued Chapman surrendered the devastating Davis homer, Heyward was on third base with one out in the ninth inning when Baez fouled off a two-strike safety squeeze attempt. After the strikeout, Dexter Fowler grounded to short. Then, Cleveland went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the rain fell and the game was delayed for 17 minutes.

It was the most important rain delay in the last century for the Cubs. Seriously.

Seeing a few downcast faces, Heyward gathered them, players only, and began talking.

“You guys should all look in the mirror and understand we can get it done,” he told them with a dash of anger, a pinch of passion and much love. “I don’t care who it is. There are a lot of [things that happen] over the season. You’re not going to be happy about some things, and some are easier to swallow. Just be happy in this moment, in this situation, because you can come through.”

He mentioned Baez’s muffed safety squeeze attempt.

“That’s a tough thing,” Heyward said. “We’ve all got to be ready to do what our manager asks us to do, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy for him to make the calls and pull the strings, but it’s not an easy thing for us to do, either. And [Bryan Shaw] is a tough pitcher to bunt off of, too.

“I understood Javy was frustrated, but I also understood that we, as a group, live and die with each other’s at-bats, and I wanted to remind him that, hey, you guys will be fine. We’ve overcame it before, we can do it again. Just, everybody be ready. Yeah, I know what the situation is now. Yeah, I know it’s game tied, it’s Game 7, whatever. But just know you can get it done, and I wanted everybody here to feel like they accomplished something to get us to this point because it’s true.”

Talk about using your time wisely.

“I walk off and I see them all gathering in that little room down below there, and they had a meeting,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And I’m upstairs just checking out the weather map.

“Like I told you, I hate meetings. I’m not a meetings guy. I love when players have meetings. I hate when I do. So they had their meeting and the big part of it was, we don’t quit.”

Across the field, the Indians’ time wasn‘t nearly as productive.

“I went to the bathroom,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “I mean, [the delay] was only about 10 minutes. I don’t think it had much impact.”

Oh, but if they only knew…

No sooner had the tarp been pulled from the field than Kyle Schwarber punched a single to lead off the 10th. After Shaw issued a one-out walk to Rizzo, Zobrist squirted an opposite-field RBI double, roaring with glee as he pulled into second base, face contorted, fists pumping, helmet flying off his head.

Two batters later, Miguel Montero rifled an RBI single to boost the Cubs’ lead to 8-6.

“The rain delay, I think it was really important for our team,” Zobrist said, noting Heyward pushing the reboot button.

He continued: “It was just an epic battle. We’ve been listening to the Rocky soundtrack the last three games. We’ve got our own Italian Stallion, Anthony Rizzo, who’s been putting that on.

“It was like a heavyweight fight, man. Just blow for blow, everybody playing their hearts out.”

The drought came to a gushing end just as many people who have watched the best team in baseball this summer thought it would. But it ended in a way nobody thought it could.

Rookie Carl Edwards Jr. and midseason acquisition Mike Montgomery pitched the 10th, with Montgomery getting the save. Montero was behind the plate, rushing toward Montgomery following the final out, appropriately enough, Michael Martinez’s ground ball to third. Bryant was close behind the ball after he threw to first, meeting his best friend, Rizzo, in the grass behind the mound for a bear hug, and the rest of the Cubs threw their caps and gloves into the air.

And Chicago’s North Side blues are no more. Thousands in the crowd of 38,104 sang several joyful choruses of “Go, Cubs, Go” as Edwards Jr. held a “W” flag aloft and the party started.

It wasn‘t always easy, and they certainly didn‘t always follow the expected path, but these Cubs embraced the target and digested the pressure. It’s what Maddon preached from the first day of spring training, understanding that the only way for a Cubs team not to get crushed under the weight of history would be to welcome all comers.

“Everybody’s waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Maddon said. “And you’ve got to expect something good to happen as opposed to that. And I know that even tonight, I’m certain people would be doubtful the way it all played out, but that’s the game of baseball. There’s professionals on both sides. Both teams are good, and there’s going to be an ebb and flow to the game.

“It has nothing to do with curses or superstition. It has nothing to do with what’s happening today, nothing. If you want to believe in that kind of stuff, it’s going to hold you back for a long time.

“I love tradition. I think tradition is worth time, mentally, and tradition is worth being upheld. But curses and superstitions are not.”

Imagine, the Cubs, lovable winners. There are babies born this year who do not know a world in which the Cubs are not World Series champions.

“The whole thing was storybook,” Ross said. “I feel like I’ve been in a movie that’s been happening since spring training. You can’t write it.

“I caught a no-hitter [Jake Arrieta‘s, in Cincinnati in April]. The best team in baseball. This is the first team I’ve been on that’s won 100 games [103, to be precise]. Those guys continued to fight.

“Before the game, if you told me we’d give up seven runs, I’d say we were going to lose.”

But this time, the Cubs won. They became only the seventh team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a World Series, and the first team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to do it on the road. And stamped-for-Cooperstown president of baseball operations Theo Epstein built a bookend for his 2004 Red Sox team that won a title in Boston for the first time in 86 years.

“This,” Epstein said, “was one of the best games of all time.”

Said Ross: “I’m not a history major, but that was pretty dang good.”

Goat-busters and reign-makers. Crown them, the Chicago Cubs, World Series champions. Somewhere over the rainbow, it’s really happened.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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