MLB Weekend News Wrap: DJ LeMahieu, Corey Kluber, J.T. Realmuto and more

New York Yankees, Corey Kluber

The New York Yankees and all MLB teams are four days off since the end of the baseball Winter Meetings, probably the most boring show of baseball changes in recent memory. The only team that made significant moves was the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees did nearly nothing. They did sign Nestor Cortes Jr., a relief pitcher that has pitched for the Yankees in 2018.

The big Yankees news is that they have not signed their prime priority DJ LeMahieu. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the sides are still far apart. The Yankees want a four-year contract with the 32-year-old batting title winner. LeMahieu wants five years at $100 million, putting the sides $25 million apart. If the signing happens, it will more likely be for $88 million over four years.

With the Yankees unable at this point to re-signing DJ, it is most likely the Yankees will do little until they know the outcome of that possible deal. Even if they can sign DJ, they most likely won’t do much more than that. General manager Brian Cashman has stated that he is satisfied with the pitching arm they now have. That, however, does not preclude them from hiring a low-cost arm to bolster the rotation.

Just after the end of the World Series, it seemed likely that the Yankees could make a change at the backstop and shortstop. That now seems doomed. The only real upgrades would be expensive after a season where the Yankees lost the most money in all of baseball. Another indicator is that both Cashman and manager Aaron Boone have continued to show promise in Gary Sanchez as their starting catcher.

Corey Kluber to the Yankees?

This weekend, news traveled that prior ace Corey Kluber will be throwing bullpen sessions for the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins. You can be sure the Yankees will be watching. If the Yankees were to hire Kluber, it could be a risky move. On the other hand, the Yankees do have a history of hiring pitchers with a recent injury history. The most recent was James Paxton; he ended up starting only five games this year when he had yet another injury. The Yankees let him walk at the end of the season.

Kluber was an ace-type pitcher in 2018, and if healthy, he could return to that pitcher again. Kluber, 34, barely pitched at all in his one and likely only season with the Texas Rangers because of shoulder problems. The year before, he broke his forearm and only pitched 35 innings for the Cleveland Indians. But the year before that, he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Because of his injuries, his value will be reduced by at least half, meaning the Yankees, if willing to take the risk, would likely get him for $10-15 million on a one-year contract. If healthy, it could be a huge upgrade from Masahiro Tanaka, who the Yankees are also considering.

J. T. Realmuto’s value is shrinking

After the Philidelphia Phillies flat out said they don’t have the money to re-sign their star catcher, it created quite a bit of excitement with him entering free agency. Rumors were flying all over the place on who would sign the high-priced catcher, who is considered the best catcher in baseball. It seemed the MLB teams seemed the likely landing spots for Realmuto would be a fight between The Yankees, Steve Cohan’s Mets, and the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, since then, the New York Yankees have made it clear that although they would love to have the slugger, they are sticking with the troubled Gary Sanchez and will give him another year to prove that he can hit more than home runs. Meanwhile, according to several reports, the New York Mets seem to be very close to signing the second-best catcher in free agency, James McCann. Unless there are other unknown suiters, that leaves just the Toronto Blue Jays. With so few teams now interested in signing the star for big money, his payday will likely be reduced.

The Cleveland Indians will be no more!

The Cleveland Indians have decided to change their moniker. They will be dropping “Indians” from their name that they have been known for nearly 100 years. The world Indians are considered offensive and insensitive to Indians and caused the Washington Redskins to change their name. CBS Sports HQ’s Jim Bowden has since confirmed Cleveland’s plans. An announcement from the team could come as soon as this week, per the New York Times.

At present, it is unclear what the new name will be. It could be as simple as the Cleveland Baseball Team, while they decide upon a new name. There are a few popular suggestions out there; the most liked is the Cleveland Spiders. The Cleveland team has had other names in the last century, but the only one that lasted more than a year was the Cleveland Naps. That name came for the popular Cleveland player Nap Lajoie. Another possibility is the Cleveland Dobys, named after Hall of Famer Larry Doby, the American League’s first Black player.

Baseball’s Winter Meetings were dull at best

Last week the annual baseball Winter Meetings were held. They weren’t held in a posh hotel in a prime destination. There were no deals made over a drink at the bar or in hotel lobbies. No late-night deals hashed out in hotel rooms. This year’s meetings were held virtually over four days. There was no wining and dining. The meetings were mostly dull and uneventful. The only team to make significant moves were the Chicago White Sox.

At the start of the Meetings, there were big names out there to be had. Trevor Bauer, Cory Kluber, J.T. Realmuto, James McCann, George Springer, and folks after the Meetings are still all unsigned. Whether that was caused by the meetings being held virtually is unknown. What is known is that MLB teams don’t have much money to spend on big names, with all teams having lost so much money last year. Another cause that surely entered into it, it that teams have no clear view of what a 2021 baseball season will look like.

 

MLB News/Rumors: Did Shane Bieber or Trevor Bauer cheat their way to Cy Young Awards? (video)

MLB has gotten through with a truly unusual baseball season beset by the coronavirus. But the teams went through it mostly untouched all the way to the World Series, and it is now the offseason, and the season’s awards are being given out. Last night Trevor Bauer of the National League and Shane Bieber of the American League won the Cy Young Awards for both leagues. But could they have cheated during the season to achieve those awards? I’m not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole. I will leave that up to you to decide.

If either of them did cheat, it was probably using different types of foreign substances to increase the spin rate and ball movement. I should add that if they did, they most likely didn’t do anything that nearly every other pitcher in baseball didn’t do at some point in the season. The use of foreign substances by pitchers is widespread and nearly unenforceable.

Trevor Bauer is well known for speaking his mind and often controversially so. Bauer has been very upfront about experimenting with tar-like substances. The fact is that using tar-like substances or “grip enhancement” is illegal in baseball  and violates Official Baseball Rule 6.02, which states that the pitcher may not “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball” or “have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance” or “attach anything to his hand, any finger, or either wrist.” The paradox is that some coaches believe that 99.9% of pitchers use something.

Your favorite pitcher most likely is using something. One player development executive said, “it’s better than steroids.” Trevor Bauer actually did a very public demonstration of how grip enhancement improved spin rate during an inning when he was with the Cleveland Indians.

In 2018 Bauer took to Twitter to accuse Gerrit Cole who is now with the New York Yankees of using grip enhancement substances.

Bauer took to Twitter insinuating Gerrit Cole and his fellow Astros pitchers are using foreign substances to enhance their grips and, thus, enjoying increased spin rates as a result.

“For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage,” Bauer himself wrote in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. “I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.”

“I’ve tested all sorts of different stuff in the lab up at Driveline,” Bauer told Jordan Bastian in 2018. “I sat down with a chemical engineer to understand it. At 70 mph, when we were doing the tests, spin rates jumped between 300-400 rpm while using various different sticky substances. The effect is slightly less pronounced at higher velocities — more game-like velocities — but still between 200-300 rpm increase. So, that’s a lot of the research we’ve done. We’ve done it with multiple test subjects. … And those are the results we found.”

This may be the first time Gerrit Cole was accused of using a substance, in 2020 after the New York Yankees acquired Cole, in a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, Cole looked like the ace the Yanks were looking for, striking out 10 batters through 4.2 innings of work. Then, as the ace labored through the 5th inning, remote video editor for Driveline Baseball Lance Brozdowski dropped a gem on the Twitterverse (above). As Cole adjusted his cap on the mound, his fingers seem to stick to the bill of his cap, leaving us wondering why? The obvious answer is that Cole was using an illegal sticky substance.

The sticky substance situation is not like the steroid use situation over a decade ago. During that mark on baseball, some or many hitters and pitchers were using steroids to disadvantage those that weren’t. This situation is a case were not only many, but most pitchers are breaking the rules. And because the situation is so unenforceable due to the multiple applications used, including sunscreen, some have suggested that it be made legal, ending the rule-breaking.

There is no question that the “sticky ball” is putting hitters at a disadvantage. Strikeout rates across baseball have increased dramatically since 1974. When facing fastballs where the spin rate is so important, hitters were striking out 13% of the time; this year the strikeout rate has risen to just over 23%.

Although player development people, coaches, and even team managers have acknowledged the use of enhanced grip aids, no one is doing anything about it. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has admitted that some of his pitchers have used substances. The only way to enforce non-use is for the umpire to check the pitcher each game, each inning, and each thrown pitch, that is just not practical. Game managers don’t want to alert the umpire that the opponent’s pitcher may be using something because they know turns about is fair play, so they just stay quiet.

Not a single case in the 2020 season was a pitcher called out for using illegal substances. It is only when it becomes obvious, such as when the New York Yankees’ Michael Pineda practically covered the entire side of his neck in pine tar in a 2014 game or when the Orioles’ Brian Matusz was caught with a foreign substance on his arm in Miami in 2015, that MLB acts.

Possibly the most surprising thing is that many or most hitters are okay with it. They understand that the balls after being ruffed up by umpires are very slippery; slippery balls cause wild pitches and lack of control. Basically hitters would rather see pitchers use something to get a better grip on the ball so they don’t get hit in the head by a pitcher, that has a lack of control, and if most or all pitchers are using it doesn’t put any team at a disadvantage.  Brice Harper of the Phillies has said:

“Absolutely,” Harper says. “I’m all in favor of it. If there’s a guy out there that needs it, I’m all for it. I don’t want to get hit in the head or the face. So whatever they need out there, I’ll let them have it.”

However, all hitters are not in agreement with Harper. The New York Met’s Todd Frazier has this to say:

“I don’t like pitchers to put anything on the ball,” New York Mets third baseman Todd Frazier says. “To be honest with you, I think it helps them out in the long run. That’s why [baseballs] get rubbed up before the game. You don’t know exactly what the pitchers are using. You don’t know where they’re putting it. You’ve seen guys with it on their hat, you’ve seen guys rubbing their arms to get some stickum, you’ve seen guys with it on their cleats.”

Regardless of how many in baseball are talking about this issue, it seems that Trevor Bauer has been most articulate in the subject. During the Astros fiasco last season, during an interview, Bauer in part said this:

“There is a problem in baseball right now that has to do with sticky substances and spin rates. We might not have had the technology before to measure how sticky stuff affects the ball, how it spins, how it moves. But, all that research is clear now. We know how it affects spin rate and we know how spin rate affects outcomes and pitches and movements that have a big difference in a game, a season and each individual player’s career.”

In the same interview, he was asked what Major League Baseball should do about the use of sticky substances. This is how he answered:

“Allow it. I don’t see that there’s a way to enforce it, because you can’t go check a pitcher every single inning, every single pitch, and that’s currently how it is. You can get thrown out of a game and suspended for it if an umpire comes out and checks and finds out. But, it doesn’t happen. So, pick a substance that’s sticky, that gives you all the performance benefits, and just put it on the back of the mound. That way, if you want to use it you can and everybody knows it’s being used. And, if you want to use other substances and skirt the rule, whatever. Have a certain amount of outlawed substances — vaseline or whatever. But, if you want to use sticky stuff, it’s right there on the mound. Put your fingers on it and throw.”

Indians manager Terry Francona echoed nearly the same thing in his own way when interviewed about the subject.

“I actually do. I think we were one of the test teams this spring with the other ball. Anybody, the guys that are here all the time, like in Spring Training we talk about it, if you ever open a ball that the Japanese League uses, they pull it right out of the foil and it’s real tacky. Supple, is probably a good word. I know sometimes when I will take a ball from a pitcher and give it to the next guy, it feels like a cue ball sometime. Not all the time, but sometimes. I was just so impressed when you pull that ball out of a box, you can grab it. I think there’s something to that. I hope, and I don’t know the ins and outs of — I just hope that at some point, maybe we can morph into that, because I think maybe it could be really helpful.”

With all the things Major League Baseball is going to have to navigate this offseason when they don’t know what a 2021 season is going to look like, with the coronavirus spiraling out of control, it is doubtful that any action will be taken regarding grip enhancements or the stopping of rubbed up balls. However, in this writer’s opinion, it should be made legal, so all pitchers and hitter are on the same page.

The bottom line on this subject is these and other types of grip enhancements have been used forever in baseball. MLB outlawed the “spitball” in 1920. Two of the best pitchers in baseball Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry were widely known for using substances. As with everything in our lives, we constantly try to improve things through innovation and technology. Baseball grip enhancement is no different.

Some information and quotes for the article were taken from an in-depth article by Jordan Bastian of MLB.com and Eno Sarris of The Athletic and other researched sources.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

 

The New York Mets should target a Cleveland Indians player, but not Lindor

New York yankees, Francisco Lindor

The New York Mets had a very disappointing season in 2020. At the start of the year, there were some high expectations tied to the franchise, with up-and-coming young talent and an active competitive window. Lots of things went wrong, though, and the Mets finished in the basement of the National League East division.

The season wasn’t a complete waste, though. Young talents such as shortstop Andres Gimenez, starting pitcher David Peterson, and first baseman/outfielder Dominic Smith emerged and performed admirably, becoming long-term pieces for a franchise in dire need of them.

Now, the future looks brighter than ever. A new owner is finalizing a deal to take over the New York Mets: Steve Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire, still needs at least 23 positive votes out of 29, but everything points out to a quick resolution. He is, presumably, willing to invest more in payroll and make the team an annual contender.

To do that, the Mets need to invest in starting pitching, desperately. Jacob deGrom and David Peterson are the only sure things for 2021 and beyond. Steven Matz is also under contract, but he had a lousy season and his role is still unclear.

The Mets do not need Lindor

That’s why those advocating for the Mets to trade for Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Francisco Lindor should know that they need to direct their resources into solving the starting pitching issues. Lindor is an expensive player who will be a free agent after the 2021 season. He is too good (although he was basically average with the bat in 2020, slashing .258/.335/.415 with a 100 wRC+) but is very expensive.

Instead, the Mets should target one of Cleveland’s young starters. Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale come to mind. They are all good and cheap, and with lots of years of team control.

Plesac pitched 55.1 innings of a 2.28 ERA and a 3.39 FIP. Civale had 74.0 frames of a 4.74 ERA and a 4.03 FIP, with a decent 3.92 xFIP, while McKenzie finished 2020 with 33.1 innings, a 3.24 ERA and a 3.91 FIP. Of course, it is unclear if the Indians will be open to negotiating any of them, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

They surely won’t be cheap, but the Mets need to give to receive. They do have a trade piece or two, despite giving most of their prospects in the last two seasons.

But the Mets do not need Lindor. They have two shortstops in Rosario and Gimenez. What they need is to be active in the free agent and trade markets to bring a very good starting pitcher, or three.

New York Yankees’ target Mike Clevinger is drawing interest, but price is reportedly “ridiculous”

New York Yankees, Mike Clevinger

As the trade deadline approaches, the New York Yankees continue to look at candidates to fill a rotation spot. They need some depth given that they recently lost James Paxton for at least a few weeks and because J.A. Happ hasn’t been pitching well.

Gerrit Cole, the unquestioned ace, has had a bit of a home run problem, but is the only “sure thing” in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka started the season on the injured list but seems to be finding his rhythm by now. But the Yankees can’t expect Jordan Montgomery to pitch like an ace and they can’t put all their hopes in rookies such as Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt.

That’s why they are making a deep dive in the trade market to see if they can bring an arm. According to reports, they have been linked to arms such as Mike Minor and Taijuan Walker, before he was traded to the Blue Jays.

Another name that was mentioned around this week and last is that of Mike Clevinger. The Cleveland Indians starter violated a team rule and went out with teammate Zac Plesac, which resulted in both hurlers being demoted to the alternate training site.

They spent some time there, but Clevinger is now back in the Indians’ rotation. When they were gone, rookie Triston McKenzie impressed from the mound, and Cleveland may now be more open to the possibility of maximizing Clevinger’s value and trading him now.

The Yankees are interested, but at what cost?

That’s music to the New York Yankees’ ears. However, not everything is so smooth. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the Indians’ asking prize for the talented right-hander is “ridiculous.”

It’s unclear if the Yankees are willing to surrender their top prospects in a trade, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to look at the possibility of bringing in one of the top pitchers of the American League.

For what is worth, Heyman says that Clevinger “is definitely being talked about in trade scenarios.”

Not only is he very talented (career 3.20 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 523.1 innings) but he is also under team control through 2022. He would require quite a haul. This is hardly the last we are going to hear about him in the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

New York Yankees: Boone, Gardner, and Sabathia Ejected During Saturday’s Game

New York Yankees. Aaron Boone

New York Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone is notorious for his “savages” rant to an umpire earlier this year, and his theatrics continued in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Cleveland Indians.

After Cameron Maybin was rung up on a pitch clearly off the plate in the sixth inning, Boone must have said something in the dugout which ultimately was heard by the umpire who threw him out. Once ejected, Boone ran out to home plate to get his money’s worth where he told the home plate umpire to “tighten it up,” just like he did during his “savages” rant.

An 11-year veteran and notorious for arguing with officials, Brett Gardner watched his manager from the dugout be ejected. Then doing his signature move, Gardy starts to bang his bat against the dugout roof which led to his ejection. Long-time teammate of Gardner, CC Sabathia yelled at the umpire from the top step of the dugout which led him to also being ejected.

This was the fourth time Aaron Boone has been ejected this season and it was his eighth time in his career. Bench Coach Josh Bard was put in charge after Boone’s ejection and Mike Ford took Garnder’s spot in the lineup.

Despite the 6th inning fireworks, the New York Yankees went on to win the game 6-5 against the Cleveland Indians. Gleyber Torres led the team with two home runs, while DJ LeMahieu and Didi Gregorius pitched both with solo shots. The Yankees improved their record to 83-42. The Bombers will take on the Indians again tomorrow at home at 1:05 PM EST.