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Comments by Boston Red Sox adviser Bill James draws ire of MLBPA, players – WSAIGO Sports
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Comments by Boston Red Sox adviser Bill James draws ire of MLBPA, players

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MLBPA executive director Tony Clark and several major league players have taken Boston Red Sox special adviser Bill James to task for saying players are as important to the game as “beer vendors” and that “the game would go on” with whoever replaces them.

In a series of tweets, some of which were later deleted, James challenged on social media “to explain why a player making $3 million a year is underpaid” and why it’s “disingenuous to argue that [players] are taking money out of the mouths of concessions workers.”

“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them,” James continued, “the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”

James’ comments drew the ire of Clark and players past and present, including Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

“The comments Bill James made yesterday are both reckless and insulting considering our game’s history regarding the use of replacement players,” Clark said in a statement issued Thursday. “The Players ARE the game. And our fans have an opportunity to enjoy the most talented baseball Players in the world every season.

“If these sentiments resonate beyond this one individual, then any challenges that lie ahead will be more difficult to overcome than initially anticipated.”

Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. thanked Verlander on Twitter for sharing his opinion. The team has not addressed James’ comments publicly.

In a series of tweets, former player Michael Young, a seven-time All-Star, called James’ comments “nonsensical” on Twitter and challenged him to ask coaches and staff if players are easily replaceable.

“They’ll tell you the game is entirely about the players. The players and fans then connect and bond. That isn’t something that gets tossed aside … it matters.

“… Don’t forget that baseball is special because it’s passed down through generations and young fans are told stories of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Mike Trout.”



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MLB — Does Sonny Gray trade make Cincinnati Reds better, or just more interesting?

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Hey, at least the Cincinnati Reds will be interesting for the first time in five years. I don’t know if they’ll be good, but they’ll be interesting.

The Reds continued their whirlwind offseason, acquiring Sonny Gray from the New York Yankees for second-base prospect Shed Long and a compensation draft pick. As part of the deal, Gray negotiated a three-year, $30.5 million extension with a $12 million club option for 2023, on top of his $7.5 million salary for 2019. The Yankees then flipped Long to the Seattle Mariners for outfield prospect Josh Stowers, Seattle’s second-round pick in 2018.

Gray is coming off a rough season with the Yankees in which he went 11-9 in 23 starts and seven relief appearances, but with a 4.90 ERA. The Reds are obviously banking that Gray’s home/road splits reflected some sort of mental block about pitching in Yankee Stadium:

Home: 59 ⅓ IP, 6.98 ERA, 11 HR, 1.29 SO/BB ratio
Road: 71 IP, 3.17 ERA, 3 HR, 3.55 SO/BB ratio

The differences are so stark, especially in Gray’s strikeout-to-walk ratio, that maybe something unrelated to actual pitching ability did happen. The armchair psychologists are rarely right, but the “Sonny Gray couldn’t handle New York” idea can’t be completely dismissed. While he battled injuries in 2016 when he posted a 5.69 ERA, he was apparently healthy in 2018 and his radar readings were barely off his career norms with an average fastball velocity of 93.8 mph.

The concern about going from New York to Cincinnati, however, is that if Gray was freaked out by the short porch at Yankee Stadium, the Great American Ballpark isn’t exactly going to be more soothing to the soul. Over the past three seasons, according to the “2019 Bill James Handbook,” the Gap has the fourth-highest home run factor in the majors (although Yankee Stadium was highest).

Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect a better season from Gray — it’s just a question if he can be No. 2-quality starter or simply more of a back-end guy. To be fair, the Reds need back-end guys after allowing the most runs in the National League in 2018.

Coming off a 67-95 season — their fifth consecutive losing season — the Reds are determined to field a more competitive ballclub in 2019. Besides Gray, they’ve added five other players:

Tanner Roark: 9-15, 4.34 ERA, 180 ⅓ IP, 3.0 WAR (Nationals)
Alex Wood: 9-7, 3.68 ERA, 151 ⅔ IP, 1.3 WAR (Dodgers)
Yasiel Puig: .267/.327/.494, 23 HR in 405 AB, 2.7 WAR (Dodgers)
Matt Kemp: .290/.338/.481, 21 HR in 462 AB, 1.1 WAR (Dodgers)
Kyle Farmer: .288/.333/.451 at Triple-A Oklahoma City (Dodgers)

In the process, the Reds managed to dump Homer Bailey’s contract, but also traded away two very good prospects in Long and shortstop Jeter Downs. While Long and Downs are intriguing players, neither is a guaranteed star and Downs in particular is a long ways from the majors after playing in the Midwest League in 2018. Long, who hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A Pensacola, is closer to the majors, but also likely blocked at the position in the future if Nick Senzel — a top-10 overall prospect in the game — takes over from Scooter Gennett at the keystone in 2020.

Still, the trades are interesting because it’s basically all-in for a longshot attempt at contending in 2019. While the Reds signed Gray to the extension, Roark, Puig and Kemp are all free agents after 2019 and Wood is under control only through 2020. Considering the Reds finished 28.5 games out of first place, pushing this team to playoff status in a tough division feels unlikely.

Because of that, the moves have been met with a fair amount of criticism, particularly if Gray is viewed as declining goods rather than a potential rebound candidate. On the other hand, the critics can’t have it both ways: You can’t blast teams for not trying win and then blast them for trying to build a better team. As a small-market franchise, the Reds aren’t in position to go out and sign Bryce Harper or Patrick Corbin, so arguably their only bet is to improve around the margins by bringing in some veteran contracts that other teams are willing to discard. Otherwise, it would be more of the same and preaching patience. (We also shouldn’t completely dismiss the idea of the Reds signing a big free agent, given that they once gave Bailey a $105 million extension and Joey Votto a $217 million extension.)

I don’t think the Reds are better than the Brewers, Cubs or Cardinals in the NL Central, but I also don’t think they destroyed the future of the franchise here. They still have Senzel and Taylor Trammell and Jonathan India and Hunter Greene in their system. In fact, Dick Williams, president of baseball operations, said the Reds aren’t done after this deal. That could mean adding a center fielder rather forcing Puig or Scott Schebler to play there — A.J. Pollock is a perfect fit — or maybe even trading one of those top prospects for Corey Kluber or another top-tier starter.

The Reds still need a lot to go right to contend in 2019. They need Gray and Roark to pitch better than they did last season, and Luis Castillo to break out in the rotation, and Joey Votto to re-discover his power stroke, and Jesse Winker to play a full season with a .405 OBP, and Amir Garrett to emerge as a dominant lefty in the pen and Puig not to get bored away from the L.A. limelight.

At least it will be fun to watch all this unfold. Now, go out and get Pollock and Kluber.

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2019 Hall of Fame ballot — who did our voters pick?

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The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the Baseball Writers’ Association of America election results Tuesday. Based on ballots that have been made public, Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Edgar Martinez appear likely to earn induction.

The ballots of nine voters from ESPN are listed below, with a breakdown of whom they voted for and some short thoughts on their decisions. Candidates need 75 percent of the total vote to be elected into the Hall.

Dan Graziano

Voted for (9): Roy Halladay, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker

I didn’t vote for Walker last year and did this year. I had a hard time coming to that decision because the home/road splits bothered me a lot about his time in Colorado. But Walker wouldn’t be the first guy in the Hall who hit better at home than he hit on the road. Who am I to say I know for sure who saw the ball better in his home ballpark and who didn’t? At that time, a lot of people were hitting well at Coors Field.

Paul Gutierrez

Voted for (6): Roy Halladay, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mariano Rivera, Omar Vizquel

I don’t know if voting for the late Roy Halladay in his first year of eligibility was a “hard choice” as much as it was an eye-opening exercise. Because, well, with “only” 203 career wins, the big right-hander did not pass the eye test immediately. But a deeper dive? Yeah, that did it. Especially if you value a guy — sans a hint of performance-enhancing drugs — being dominant at his position in his era. Halladay may have had flashier contemporaries, but the eight-time All-Star won a Cy Young in each league and had seven top-five Cy Young finishes overall, as well as a pair of top-nine MVP finishes. And those came late in his brilliant 16-year career. Tough call? Halladay’s dominance made it easy.

Christina Kahrl

Voted for (10): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker

There were several tough decisions, all created by the problem with cutting down to 10, because there’s more than 10 guys on the ballot who belong. Probably the most controversial thing I considered was dropping Mariano Rivera — he’s a slam-dunk Hall of Famer who didn’t need my vote to get in, and I would rather have guaranteed that guys like Sosa, Sheffield and Andruw Jones were on the ballot in the years to come. Because of the rule of 10, any vote for someone hurts everyone you don’t vote for, risking their elimination. But I also didn’t want to deal with the inevitable “You didn’t vote for Mo!” hysteria, since that’s what people would have gotten hung up on, not the continuing problem of limiting voters’ ballots to 10 names.

Tim Kurkjian

Voted for (10): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker

As always, my biggest challenge was ballot management. I had a hard time leaving off several players, but the hardest was Todd Helton. He was a .300/.400/.500 guy who finished with a career OPS of .953. He won three Gold Gloves. And former Rockies manager Buddy Bell once told me that Helton “understands the competition of the game” as well as anyone.

Keith Law

Voted for (10): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Andruw Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker

Keith Law wrote about voting for the Hall of Fame for the first time for ESPN+. Here’s an excerpt from that column:

My last spot came down primarily to three names: Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and Todd Helton. Ramirez had the highest pure WAR total, but unlike every player on my ballot, actually tested positive twice, once for a masking agent and once for testosterone. Sheffield was a far better hitter than Helton and was one of the worst defensive players in history by any available metric, grading out poorly wherever he played. If a player’s bat is clearly Hall-worthy — Sheffield is tied for 25th all time in adjusted batting runs — should he go into the Hall regardless of his defensive ineptitude? I believe the Hall should include the best players, even those who were elite in one significant way but flawed in a smaller one.

Ian O’Connor

Voted for (9): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker

Not voting for Fred McGriff in his final year on the ballot was my toughest decision. It was tempting, as I selected nine candidates and had an opening at No. 10 and do appreciate that McGriff is a dignified figure who was never associated with PEDs while competing in the steroid era. But I see McGriff the way I see Jeff Kent and Omar Vizquel — as very distinguished players who are just a notch below the Hall of Fame standard. And though I’ve often voted for the maximum 10 candidates, you’re not charged to vote for the best 10 on the ballot. You’re charged to vote for those players you believe are worthy of Cooperstown, and this year I saw nine.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz

Voted for (8): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Sammy Sosa

Listen, I know Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez are the most unpopular check marks on my ballot. (Along with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.) I get it. But until being caught cheating — which Ramirez was twice — makes you ineligible for induction, I am basing my picks solely on the numbers. In Ramirez’s case, you cannot argue with the numbers. His comparables include names like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx. Think what you want about Sosa the person — and I covered him for six seasons, so I have my own thoughts — but for a stretch that lasted nearly a decade, his numbers were silly or, more accurately, worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Enrique Rojas

Voted for (10): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Larry Walker

Enrique Rojas wrote about his first time voting for the Hall of Fame for ESPN Deportes. Here’s an excerpt from that column:

When Omar Vizquel’s Hall of Fame candidacy is discussed, journalists and fans alike use Ozzie Smith as a comparison, which is not really fair. Did you know that there are 24 players in Cooperstown who spent the bulk of their careers as shortstops and not all of them defended like Smith or hit like Honus Wagner and Cal Ripken Jr.? Have you read about Dave Bancroft, Joe Tinker, Rabbit Maranville and Travis Jackson? Well, they are all shortstops who are in Cooperstown.

Claire Smith

Voted for (8): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel

Who is a bona fide HOF starting pitcher? I harken back to Jim Kaat’s answer when he was asked if he belonged in Cooperstown. Jim said he felt he rather belonged in the Hall of the Very Good. Using that measure leads me to differentiate between a Roy Halladay and a Mike Mussina.

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Reds complete trade to get Sonny Gray from Yanks after pitcher signs extension

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The Yankees have traded starting pitcher Sonny Gray to the Cincinnati Reds, the teams announced Monday, finalizing a days-in-the-making deal that ends Gray’s topsy-turvy stint with New York.

Both sides completed a deal that was contingent upon the Reds reaching a contract extension with the 29-year-old Gray, who agreed to a three-year, $30.5 million extension that includes a $12 million club option for 2023, a source familiar with the deal told ESPN. Combined with his $7.5 million salary this season, Gray’s deal can max out at five years and $50 million.

New York dealt Gray as well as minor league left-hander Reiver Sanmartin to Cincinnati for second-base prospect Shed Long and a high draft pick, then flipped Long to the Seattle Mariners for center-field prospect Josh Stowers.

Gray will reconnect with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, move closer to his Nashville home and bring a career 53 percent groundball rate to the bandbox of Great American Ball Park.

The deal is a decided risk for Cincinnati, as it tries to transition from rebuilding to contending and banks on Gray after a difficult year-and-a-half-long stretch in the Bronx. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman publicly stated his intention to deal the former All-Star after the team’s season ended with an AL division series loss, and while it took more than three months, he found a willing partner in the Reds, who have remade their roster via trade this winter.

This is their third significant deal, after acquiring starter Tanner Roark from Washington, then sending Homer Bailey’s dead-money contract and a pair of prospects to the Los Angeles Dodgers for starter Alex Wood, outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and catcher Kyle Farmer.

Gray was a prized acquisition when the Yankees dealt prospects James Kaprielian, Dustin Fowler and Jorge Mateo to the Oakland A’s for him at the 2017 trade deadline. After pitching reasonably well down the stretch despite a 4-7 record, Gray returned in 2018 with an egregious home-road split that grew severe enough he eventually lost his rotation spot and didn’t make the team’s postseason roster. In 15 games away from Yankee Stadium, Gray struck out 78 and walked 22 in 71 innings, with hitters slashing .226/.295/.320. Their numbers against him in the Bronx were staggering: .318/.406/.527, leading to a 6.98 ERA in 15 games.

Cincinnati believes enough in Gray to guarantee him a deal into his 30s — and to give up a well-liked prospect in Long, a 23-year-old second baseman, and a draft pick that will wind up in the late 30s and is seen in the industry as being worth around $10 million. Stowers, 21, was a second-round pick of the Mariners’ out of Louisville in 2018 and showed an impressive glove and plate discipline in the short-season Northwest League.

Gray could headline a rotation in far better shape than the one that finished 2018 with a 5.02 ERA: Gray, Roark, Wood, Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani, with Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano and Cody Reed also capable of starting. While the Reds have yet to sign a major league free agent this winter, the additions through trade have pushed their payroll above $120 million, which would be a franchise high. Following a 67-95 season, the Reds felt close enough to start moving toward contention, even with a loaded National League Central that includes three potential playoff teams in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis as well as a Pittsburgh team that finished above .500 last season.

Gray arrived with Oakland in 2013, a little more than two years after they chose him 18th overall in the draft out of Vanderbilt. He slipped to the middle of the first round because teams feared his 5-foot-10 height would limit his effectiveness. His 93-mph sinker and hammer curve ensured that would not be the case, and in 2015, his second full season, Gray finished third in Cy Young voting and looked primed to become one of the best pitchers in the AL. Then came a disaster of a 2016 season, which preceded the trade to the Yankees. They believed he would be more 2015 than 2016, and the Reds are hoping the same after outflanking the San Francisco Giants and others interested in acquiring Gray.

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