The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class of baseball continues to work hard to beat the system. All of it is by choice as teams balance their budgets with contending, cutting costs and more.
Major League Baseball’s recent business deals won’t do much in terms of impacting the daily MLB lines, but the forecast of the league has changed slightly for this year and potentially beyond. A pair of trades over the weekend certainly impacted the postseason races before they even got started.
First it was the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox making a mutually beneficial deal. The White Sox sent veteran closer Craig Kimbrel to Hollywood in return for outfielder A.J. Pollock. Each fills a need and is a relatively short-term fix that can be considered win-now moves.
After acquiring Kimbrel near the trade deadline last season, the closer with 372 career saves was moved to a set-up role and it did not work out. Kimbrel was an All-Star with the Cubs after saving 23 games with a 0.49 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched. In 24 games with the White Sox he had a 5.09 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched. He’ll slot into a closer role with the contending Dodgers, who lost Kenley Jansen in free agency to the defending champion Atlanta Braves.
Pollock will move into the starting right field role on Chicago’s South Side as the White Sox look to make it a third straight playoff appearance and back-to-back AL Central crowns for the first time in organization history. Pollock hit .297 with 21 home runs and 69 RBIs in 384 at-bats while platooning in Los Angeles. Pretty impressive for as he comes into a lineup with some firepower and excitement already.
Minor trade, major signs
Left-handed starter Sean Manaea has had a steady career over six years and for the first time he will have a change of scenery. The Oakland Athletics traded the veteran to the San Diego Padres for a pair of prospects.
Oakland is two years removed from an AL West championship and a string of three straight playoff appearances. However their $33 million payroll matches that of their 1991 team, which was coming off their third straight World Series appearance. A team known for using analytics and small contracts to contend has a clear signal of rebuilding and stockpiling prospects.
Meanwhile the Padres are hoping to improve on a 79-83 season from last year. That was disappointing given the moves made to try and contend in the division. Instead the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants each won over 100 games while injuries bogged down the Padres.
Manaea’s addition is a move to shore up their rotation and add depth. It will also allow San Diego to move younger arms to the bullpen and create depth there.
Manaea had a career-high 194 strikeouts a season ago in 179.1 innings pitched. He made 32 starts, his fourth season with 20-plus starts, and finished 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA, slightly higher than his 3.86 career ERA. He had two shutouts.
The Padres staff now includes Manaea, Yu Darvish, former Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Mike Clevinger, Chris Paddack and MacKenzie Gore. The bullpen will keep Dinelson Lamet, a once highly-touted starter, could add Gore and Ryan Weathers, who will start the season in the minors.
The Dodgers are the favorite to reclaim their NL West divisional crown, something they have won eight times in the last nine years. Many think they will be the favorites to win the National League pennant as well, having added first baseman Freddie Freeman to an already potent lineup with stars such as Mookie Betts and Trea Turner.
But adding Kimbrel comes with some risk. In addition to his struggles with the White Sox, the veteran right-hander had ERAs of 6.53 and 5.28 in his two previous seasons with the Cubs before turning in an All-Star-caliber first half of the season last summer. If he isn’t the answer, the Dodgers could turn to set-up man Blake Treinen or be active on the trade market.
Like their trading partners, the White Sox are the favorites to win their division as well. Barring something catastrophic, or the Detroit Tigers’ and/or Minnesota Twins’ resurgence takes a massive step forward, Chicago should win the division in back-to-back seasons. But a young, energetic and exciting core has mounting pressure to advance further than the Division Series appearance last year.
San Diego hopes to replicate what the Giants did a season ago, adding veteran pitching to a rotation with some blossoming players. Will it result in 107 wins and a divisional crown? Highly unlikely especially with star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. out for several months due to a fractured wrist from a motorcycle accident. Still, they should contend for the division and likely slot into a Wild Card berth in the National League, especially with playoff expansion to 12 teams.
Baseball’s biggest concern is the amount of spending being done by several teams. Oakland now falls into that category with a low payroll, even though they get credit for their “Moneyball” organizational ways of finding low-budget players who produce above their contract value. They are the latest in a number of teams who seem to be actively tanking by shedding payroll.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are another organization who have slashed payroll. Quite frankly, the Pirates have plenty going for them in a favorable market with the most beautiful ballpark in baseball. But it has become unattractive for free agents because of the lack of spending commitment to be competitive.
If any team has done a good job of winning with less, it’s the Tampa Bay Rays who are perennial playoff contenders. Perhaps commissioner Rob Manfred should institute a payroll floor that adapts to whatever Tampa Bay is spending. One thing is true a payroll floor needs to be instituted to not lose those markets.
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