Halfway There

Here we are at the All-Star Break again. The official mid-point of the season, also known as “The Week Without Baseball”.

OK, yeah, I know it’s only four days, but I figure that if MLB is allowed to promote the game as something larger and more important than it really is, then I can do the same for the break itself.

Anyway, last night was the Home Run Derby, which isn’t baseball, but is entertaining. MLB addressed my biggest complaint about last year’s event. The threshold to earn bonus time was raised from two 425-foot home runs to a pair of 440-foot shots. That was high enough to avoid making it a “gimme” and I’m fairly sure it influenced the results.

It’s a shame Madison Bumgarner wasn’t allowed to play. Note to MLB and the Players’ Association: nobody wants to see a separate pitchers-only home run derby. We just want to see MadBum launch a few. Let’s be honest–we don’t expect him to win. But watching him try? That’s entertainment. And he certainly couldn’t have done much worse than Robinson Canó’s pitiful seven home run performance.

When Giancarlo Stanton racked up twenty-four in the first round, everyone knew he was moving on, but darn it all, Robbie, couldn’t you at least have managed double digits?

Oh, well. Stanton’s performance was awe-inspiring; well worth the time spent watching a meaningless, made-for-TV entertainment extravaganza.

And, per my usual fascination with side issues: the kids in the outfield made some nice catches this year. Kudos!

Moving on.

The actual All-Star game is tonight. Real baseball, even if it doesn’t matter as much as MLB wants us to think it does.

And then we get two days without baseball.

Well, not really. Don’t forget the minors. The AAA All-Star Game is tomorrow, and if you’ve got the MLB Network on your cable or satellite lineup, that’ll be televised. And minor league play resumes on Thursday. It’s a great opportunity to hunt up your local minor league team and catch a game without feeling like you’re neglecting your major league team-of-choice.

Speaking of catching a game, I’ve been to a pair of minor league games this year.

July 5 was the San Jose Giants. I’ll spare you the pictures, since (a) I didn’t take any and (b) if I had, they would have looked a lot like last year’s.

Then, on the ninth, I went up to Sacramento, home of the River Cats. Until last year, the River Cats were the As’ AAA* affiliate. Now they’re affiliated with the Giants. But I didn’t go to root for the ‘Cats. Oh, no. Y’see, the Tacoma Rainiers, AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners were in town.

* For the uninitiated: AAA is the highest level of the minors. In theory, the teams are made up of youngsters who are almost ready for the majors. In practice, there are also major-leaguers reconditioning after injuries, and older players on the way back down.

Both the San Jose and Sacramento games were, by the way, followed by fireworks shows. That’s not a minor inducement. Ballpark fireworks are generally excellent.

Anyway, the River Cats game was
As promotions go, STARWARS Night is fairly harmless. A few gratuitous stormtroopers, Darth Maul throwing out the first pitch, and similar oddities don’t greatly detract from the Baseball Experience.

We had excellent seats.
Third row back from the Rainiers’ dugout. No protective netting, which made that sign at the lower right take on new layers of significance.
Odd. I’d never realized that women were at higher risk of injury from flying bats, but flying balls target men. I’d like to see the study that supports the theory. Anyway…

The highlight of the game, at least for Tacoma fans, was once-and-future Mariners’ catcher Mike Zunino. He went three-for-five with two home runs, drove in all five of the Raniers’ runs in a 5-3 victory, and–on a personal note–tossed this into the stands:

My first-ever game ball. It may not have come to me via a home run or a foul, but I really don’t care. Two people missed their catches, it came to me, and I’m thrilled.

Less thrilled: the kid sitting two rows in front of me, whose father was one of the people who missed the ball. He gave me one heck of a dirty look. I considered giving it to him–especially since he and his father were also rooting for Tacoma–but decided to keep it. Not only was it my first, but I thought the odds were good that he’d have another chance that day.

And I was right. A couple of innings later, his father missed another catch. That ball went to the father/son duo sitting just to their left.

Never fear, though, he didn’t go home disappointed. Not only did the kid’s father finally snag a ball for him in the eighth inning, but at the end of the game somebody in the Tacoma dugout slipped him a used bat.

Very well-used. Dented, scuffed, and with a large crack in the handle, it was obviously not a usable bat. But he was thrilled. And rightly so. He’ll be a fan for life, no doubt.

I confess to a modicum of jealousy, but I’m bearing up. Holding that ball is remarkably soothing. Thanks, Mike!

Moving on.

This is getting long, so I’ll let you go. You’ve got minor league tickets to order.

And Thursday I’ll check on my predictions for this year’s playoff teams. That should be exciting.


The biggest news in baseball right now is that the Marlins have signed their biggest star to a new contract. Giancarlo Stanton will receive $325 million over the next thirteen years to play for a team whose yearbook picture is labeled “Least Likely to Succeed”. That’s the largest contract in MLB history.

Congratulations to Mr. Stanton. Hopefully team owner Jeffrey Loria will honor his agreement to aggressively pursue players who can make the Marlins competitive. Not for Mr. Stanton’s sake–he signed his deal with his eyes open–but for the team’s fans. It’s lonely in the stands at Marlins Park. The fans, used to Mr. Loria’s failure to follow up, stay away in droves. A few seasons of “Stanton and the No-Names” is likely to drive them so far away that even a World Series appearance couldn’t fill the stadium.

That’s depressing to think about.

Then there’s the matter of Mr. Stanton’s escape clause. He can opt out of the final seven years of the contract and look for a better deal via free agency. The new contract is heavily backloaded. If he takes his option, he’ll be sacrificing $218 million. Realistically, that means the situation in Miami will have to become so toxic that he’s willing to sacrifice a metric buttload of money just to get away.

Maybe he could make that sacrifice. Even if he goes in for riotous living and massive philanthropy, the $107 million he’ll get over the first six years will last him a long time. But if he does cut and run, he’s not going to get anything close to $200 million–or, I suspect, $100 million–over the next seven years. He’ll be thirty years old; Rauuuuuuuul notwithstanding, few players stay at the top of their profession in their late thirties. Teams will be making their offers on the assumption that they’ll get four, maybe five years of production out of him. And that’s assuming he can stay focused and productive through the next six years.

He’s going to have a very interesting 2020 season.

Then there’s 2015. Options for teams looking for hitters (hint: that’s all of them) are narrowing. The top two names have signed: Victor Martinez is staying in Detroit and Billy Butler is going to Oakland. Expect major activity at the Winter Meetings next month, as GMs turn their attention from free agents to trades*.

* That’s not to say that they’re not already thinking trade: see the Heyward/Miller deal the Braves and Cardinals swung. But I expect several of the free agents who received qualifying offers to sit idle until mid-season–the Kendrys Morales career path–as GMs opt to pursue deals that won’t cost them draft picks.

Which brings us back to Giancarlo Stanton. Newspaper stories have made a big deal of the fact that his contract includes a full no-trade clause, the first time Loria has allowed such a provision. The phrase “big, fat, hairy deal” springs to mind here. As long as Stanton is putting butts in seats, Loria will squelch any deal. If Loria did decide Stanton was redundant, he’d have to throw in a huge chunk of cash to cover the remaining years on Stanton’s contract*. Given his historical unwillingness to put money into making the team better, why would he throw money into a trade?

* Did the Yankees get their money’s worth for Alex Rodriguez? Not from what I can see. And that’s the benchmark teams are going to use in deciding whether to pick up a megadeal like Stanton’s.

Marlins fans, I hope I’m wrong. I hope the Marlins can field a competitive team and put some pressure on Washington. Somebody has to. But I have to be realistic, and at this point, the best advice I can you is to find a new team to root for. One with a better chance of improving than Miami. Houston, for example.