Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

Major League Baseball owners have allegedly approved a plan that could see the 2020 season start around Independence Day.  With a second spring training starting in mid-June at each team’s home ballpark, an 82 game schedule would start in July and would be limited to regional opponents.  Teams would only face opponents from their own division and the same division in the opposite league.  Teams unable to open in their cities due to legal restrictions would temporarily relocate, either to their spring training facilities or major-league parks in other parts of the country.

There are some major roadblocks on the way to implementing this plan, chief among them government participation in states like California and Illinois and the pesky issue of player compensation.  The owners would like to see a revenue sharing plan implemented, since there will be no gate revenues, at least at the beginning of the season, while the MLBPA has rejected that outright, likening it to a salary cap.

Does this plan put us closer to baseball coming back?  Yes.  But, it isn’t a sure thing and it is just as likely that the 4th of July comes and goes and America’s pastime remains on the sidelines.

Trying To Come Back

Two weeks into what should have been the 2020 baseball season, MLB is looking at options to resume playing sooner rather than later.  The first proposal, to quarantine all 30 teams in the Phoenix area and play to empty ballparks, both Chase Field and the spring training complexes, leaked last week and was quickly pooh-poohed by Rob Manfred after some initial push back.

The newest proposal, which leaked out this morning, is even more radical: realignment for the 2020 season, with all teams based out of their spring training homes.  The American League and National League would be replaced by the Cactus League and Grapefruit League, with teams sorted geographically by the location of their facilities.  Like the earlier Arizona plan, games would be played in the team’s spring training stadiums, as well as the three major league facilities in the states.

Teams could play 12 games against each divisional opponent and six games against the other 10 teams in their league, creating a 108-game regular-season schedule, with the winner of each league facing off in the World Series in November.

This new plan removes some of the hurdles of the Arizona-only plan, with each team housed in familiar surroundings, but increases the risk of exposure to the corona virus by expanding the circle of quarantine necessary to keep players, staff, and other game day personnel safe.  While all of the Arizona-based teams are located in the greater-Phoenix area, the Florida teams are spread throughout the entire state.

As a fan, do I want baseball back?  Of course.  But bringing it back just to bring it back, before it is really safe to do so, not only puts players at risk, it puts the doctors and nurses in those communities at risk.  I don’t think that is worth it.

London Calling No More

The latest casualty of the corona virus pandemic is the June series in London between the Cubs and the Cardinals.  Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement yesterday in a message sent to MLB employees.  The league had previously announced the cancelation of series in Mexico City and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Assuming the season starts at some point, those games will be played in St. Louis.

MLB played in Europe for the first time last June, when the Yankees swept a pair of games from the Red Sox in London.  No official word on 2021, but there is at least one report that MLB will try again next year with the Cubs and Cardinals.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

Earlier this afternoon, Major League Baseball suspended the remainder of spring training and delayed the start of the season by at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.  Instead of the March 26th openers, the earliest the season would kick off would be April 9.  Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said he had talked with owners of Chicago’s major sports teams and asked them to cancel games until May 1 or play without spectators.

This follows the suspension of the NBA season last night following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus prior to the team’s game in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.  On the college scene, the Big Ten Tournament was cancelled earlier this morning, followed by the entire NCAA Tournament.

Personally, this means I won’t be going to opening day for the White Sox in two weeks or the Cubs home opener the following Monday.  It also puts my trip to Boston the following weekend in doubt, as the White Sox v Red Sox tilt at Fenway Park will not be taking place and Angelina may not be back at school.

Ballpark Tour: Red Sox

With the offseason underway, we continue our tour of all of the different baseball stadiums I’ve been to over the years. This week, we look at the Boston Red Sox, owners of the oldest stadium in MLB. So, without further ado, let’s take a deeper look at my one game history with Fenway Park.

Stadium Name: Fenway Park

Years in Service: 1912 – Present

Visits: 1

In 1911, Red Sox owner John I. Taylor purchased the land bordered by Brookline Avenue, Jersey Street, Van Ness Street and Lansdowne Street and developed it into a larger baseball stadium, which he named after the Fenway neighborhood where it was located.  The first game was played April 20, 1912, as the Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders, who would become the Yankees the following year, 7-6 in 11 innings.

I attended my first (and, so far, only) game at Fenway Park in August of 2017, cashing in my birthday gift from the year before.  The hope was that Angelina would be moving in to Boston University around that time, but her gap year put a kibosh on that.  The ballpark was… a little underwhelming.  From the outside, you could barely tell that it was a stadium.  Michael even asked where it was as we were standing outside it.

The game went about as you would expect.  With James Shields on the mound, the White Sox did not put up much of a fight.  We were sitting down the left field line, with a good view of the Green Monster.  The seats, which may or may not date back to the stadium’s opening in 1912, were not really designed for people well over 6 feet tall, so there was a lot of uncomfortable shifting as Danny and my knees were smooshed in to the seats in front of us.

With Angelina now ensconced at BU, I hope to increase my number of visits in the years to come, especially with the White Sox making an early April appearance next season.

Looking Ahead To 2020

Major League Baseball released their tentative 2020 schedule earlier this week.  While the local squads have differing goals in mind as 2019 winds down, with the Cubs struggling for their 8th straight trip to post-season and the White Sox playing out the string in year three of their rebuild, it’s time to turn our attention to next summer for both teams.

For the third year in a row, the White Sox open their season against the Royals, but will be at home for the first time.  They follow that with a trip to Cleveland and Boston.

The interleague schedule pits the White Sox against the NL West, with trips to Colorado, San Francisco, and San Diego and home series against the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and the Dodgers.  The rivalry with their north side foes continues with a 2 game series at home and a 2 game series at Wrigley Field, both in July in the weeks surrounding the All Star Break.

In August, they will travel to Iowa to battle the Yankees in the first Field of Dreams game, hosted where the film of the same name was filmed in 1989 and played in an 8000 seat stadium that will be inspired by the original Comiskey Park.

The season ends with 10 games against their Central Division rivals, which hopefully will be important.

On the north side, the Cubs open their season up north in Milwaukee, before returning home the following Monday to kick off the home portion of their schedule against the Pirates.

The interleague schedule pits the Cubs against the AL East, with trips to Baltimore, New York, and Toronto and home series against the Orioles, Red Sox, and the Rays.

In June, they will head to London for a two-game tilt against the Cardinals

The Cubs end the year with a 16 of their final 22 games against the NL Central, with 13 of those coming against the Pirates and the Cardinals, who are likely to challenge them for the NL Central crown.

Changes Are A’comin’

Yesterday, MLB announced a slew of rule changes to be implemented for the upcoming 2019 season and the 2020 season.  For 2019, the changes include shortening the breaks between innings, reducing mound visits, modifying the trade deadline, and updates around the All Star Game.  2020 changes include changes to the active roster, the minimum number of batters a pitcher must face, and increasing the time pitchers must spend either on the injured list or in the minor leagues when optioned.

The breaks between innings will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 for local games, and from 2:25 to 2:00 for national games.  This should remove between one and a half minutes to 7 and a half minutes of dead time from every game, shortening game times across the league.  Of course, the fine print says that these changes are “subject to discussions with broadcast partners”, which means, nationally, FOX, ESPN, and TBS need to be aligned with losing over 7 minutes of their commercial inventory.  Which, frankly, seems unlikely.

The number of mound visits is being reduced from 6, which was first introduced last season, to 5.  Since the limit of 6 affected exactly zero teams in 2018, this doesn’t seem to be much of a change and shouldn’t have much, if any, impact.

The trade deadline is staying put on July 31st, but trade waivers, the archaic system by which trades enacted after the trade deadline, will be eliminated.  Players may continue to be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31st, but players may not be traded after that date.  This means buyers and sellers will need to make a final call on their season a month earlier than they do now.  There is also some thought that this will help with the service time manipulation of young phenoms, as injured and ineffective players will no longer be able to be replaced from the outside over the final two months of the season.

Voting for the All Star Game is being changed, with fan voting conducted in two rounds.  Each team will nominate one player per position (three outfielders), who will be voted on by fans during the first, “Primary Round”.  In late June or early July, the top three vote-getters at each position during the Primary Round will be voted on by fans to determine the All Star Game starters, in what is currently being called “Election Day”.  Final details on the new fan voting format will be announced sometime in April.  Bonus payments will be given to the top three vote-getters at each position per league during the Primary Round (top six for outfielders).  Additionally, the prize money awarded to players on the winning All Star team will be increased.  None of this really should have any effect on the game itself, unless the new bonuses and increased prize money is substantial enough to make the players take winning the exhibition more seriously.

The big change is that, in the case of extra innings at the All Star Game, both teams will start the 10th inning, and each subsequent inning, with a runner on second base, with re-entry substitutions allowed for the runners.  This follows changes made in hockey and college football, where, when a game “ends” in a tie, you change the rules of the game to determine a winner.  I’m not a fan of this type of change, as it fundamentally changes how the game is played.  If it stays in the realm of exhibition games, where the goal is more to finish the game without anyone getting hurt, I can live with that.  I would hate to ever see this implemented during regular season, or post-season, play.

The final change for 2019 is an increase in prize money for the Home Run Derby, up to $2.5 million with the winner receiving $1 million.  Maybe this reduces the number of players turning down the derby?  As someone who doesn’t care about the derby, this does nothing to move my needle.

The changes due to take effect for the 2020 season include the following: Continue reading →

What To Do With Addison Russell?

When the Cubs first acquired Addison Russell on July 4, 2014, they thought they were getting a cornerstone of their rebuild that would roam the middle of the Wrigley Field infield for years to come.  In 2015, he supplanted Starlin Castro at shortstop and, the following year, he hit a grand slam in game 6 of the World Series, helping the Cubs win their first title in 108 years.  And its been downhill since then.

On the field, Russell has failed to take that next step.  His OPS+ dropped in both 2017 and 2018.  He set career lows in home runs in 2017 and again in 2018.  His errors per chance increased both years.  That alone would leave reasonable questions about his future with the franchise.  His performance on the field, however, is nothing compared to the nightmare he has turned into off the field.

In June of 2017, an Instagram post by a friend of his wife’s accused Russell of domestic violence.  Russell denied the accusation and, while MLB opened an investigation, he wasn’t suspended.  At the 2017 All Star Game, Scott Boras, Russell’s agent, seemed confident that his client would be absolved of any wrong-doing.  “I think we know the facts of that and the foundation of social media,” Boras said that day.  “I don’t think there is any support to (the allegation).”

Everything was quiet until late September 2018, when Russell’s now ex-wife posted on Instagram, detailing some of the physical and emotional abuse that she claims Russell put her through.  Russell again denied the allegations, but was placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs.  On October 4, Russell was suspended for 40 games, retroactive to September 21 and spilling into the beginning of the 2019 season, becoming eligible to play on May 3, barring any early season weather issues.

Per a statement, Russell decided to accept the suspension without appeal and will also participate in a confidential and comprehensive evaluation and treatment program, which will be supervised by MLB’s Joint Policy Board.  “After gaining a full understanding of the situation, I have concluded it’s in the best interest of my family to accept MLB’s proposed resolution of this matter,” Russell said in the statement released by his attorneys.  “I wish my ex-wife well and hope we can live in peace for the benefit of our child.”

The Cubs had an easy out at that point, but instead decided to tender Russell a contract for 2019 last month.  President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called the decision a “procedural step” and said it did “not represent the finish line nor rubber stamp his future” with the club.  “It does, however, reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues,” Epstein added.  In a statement released by the Cubs, Russell said, “Since accepting my suspension, I’ve had time to reflect on my past behavior and think about the next steps I need to take to grow as a person.”

Earlier this week, more details about the abuse were released by Russell’s ex-wife while additional allegations were made by a former girlfriend and mother of Russell’s daughter.  Unfortunately for the Cubs, they can’t rid themselves of Russell now even if they wanted to.  Until Russell signs a contract for 2019, he is in a bit of a limbo.  That is, assuming, that the Cubs want to rid themselves of Russell and the headache that he brings to the table.

With the emergence of Javy Baez and the availability of Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist, there isn’t a pressing need for Russell’s services.  Given the bad press the team has weathered over the past few years regarding their acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Daniel Murphy, one would think it would make sense for the Cubs to move on at this point.  It would also likely be beneficial for Russell to re-start his career somewhere else, without the scrutiny of the Cub spotlight.

Looking Ahead To 2019

Major League Baseball released their tentative 2019 schedule last week.  While the local squads have differing goals in mind as 2018 winds down, with the Cubs looking for their 4th straight trip to post-season and the White Sox playing out the string in year two of their rebuild, it’s time to turn our attention to next summer for both teams.

For the second year in a row, the White Sox open their season on the road in Kansas City against the Royals.  The home opener comes a week later, on April 4, against the Mariners.

The interleague schedule pits the White Sox against the NL East, with trips to Washington, Philadelphia, and Atlanta and home series against the Nationals, Marlins, and the Mets.  The rivalry with their north side foes continues with a 2 game series at Wrigley Field in June and then moving back to the south side in July.

The season ends with a 6 game homestand against the Indians and the Tigers.  Hopefully by this time, the White Sox losing ways will be well behind them.

On the north side, the Cubs open their season in interleague play, facing the Rangers in Texas on March 28.  They kick off the home portion of their schedule on April 8, against the Pirates.

The interleague schedule pits the Cubs against the AL West, with trips to Texas, Seattle, and Houston and home series against the Angels, A’s, and the Mariners.

The Cubs end the year with a 16 game stretch against the NL Central, with 13 of those coming against the Pirates and the Cardinals, who are likely to  challenge them for the NL Central crown.

Looking Ahead To Next Year

baseballs3Major League Baseball released their tentative 2018 schedule last week.  While the local squads have differing goals in mind as 2017 winds down, with the Cubs looking to repeat as World Series champions and the White Sox playing out the string in year one of their rebuild, it’s time to turn our attention to next summer for both teams.

The White Sox open their season on the road in Kansas City on March 29 against the Royals, and then open the home portion of the campaign a week later against the Tigers.

The interleague schedule pits the White Sox against the NL Central, with trips to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati and home series against the Pirates, Cardinals, and the Brewers.  The rivalry with their north side foes continues with a 3 game series at Wrigley Field in May and then moving back to the south side in late September.

The season ends with a 6 game homestand against the Cubs and Indians before heading to Minnesota for the final weekend.  Year two of the rebuild can see the White Sox playing spoiler down the stretch.

Meanwhile, on the north side, the Cubs open the season down in Miami on March 29.  They kick off the home portion of their schedule on April 9 against the Pirates.

The interleague schedule pits the Cubs against the AL Central, with trips to Cleveland, Kansas City, and Detroit and home series against the Indians, Twins, and the Tigers.

The Cubs end the year with a 7 game homestand against the Pirates and the Cardinals, likely challengers for the NL Central crown.