Peter Gammons: MVP’s, Cy’s, Otani, Swihart, the Orioles, and more November notes

In March, 2007, Al Pedrique was a scout in the Houston organization, managing in Venezuela, and he called GM Tim Purpora and told him this 5-foot-5 kid came in for a tryout and that he loved him, so much that while he’d sign for $5,000, he wanted to give him $15,000 not only because he believed he was special, but because at that size he thought it would be good if he realized the Astros appreciated him. Ten years later, here we are, and after an interim stint as Diamondbacks manager, Pedrique is the Yankees’ AAA manager in Scranton-Wilkes-Barre.

Altuve is still driven by the motivation of being overlooked because of his size as a kid, as Pedrique understood. The Astros kidded that where once there was The Mendoza Line, now there is an “Altuve Line”–.300, because when he falls below it, he manically works to get back over.

And back over he’s gotten, to the level of MVP, World Champion and one of the faces of sport in America, as well as his strife-torn Venezuela.

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Chris Sale may have finished a distant second behind Corey Kluber in the American League Cy Young balloting, but he now has a remarkable run of consistency, finishing in the top six in the voting each of the last six seasons. In terms of Cy Young voting points, only Adam Wainwright and Curt Schilling have more without winning the award.

What happened with Sale when he went 4-4, 4.09 the last two months, allowed four homers in his final regular season start against the Blue Jays, then struggled in his start against the Astros in the ALDS. It may have been the wear of a 300 strikeout season, but it never changed who he is.

His work ethic was a model for other Red Sox pitchers, then after the playoffs he took his responsibility to another level. He called scouting director Mike Rikard and asked about Jason Groome, the 19-year old lefthanded pitcher who was Boston’s first pick in the 2016 draft, but went through an up-and-down season in 2017 because of injuries and a trial that sent his father to jail.

Sale was told Groome lives at a condo in Ft. Myers and works out at the Red Sox complex. Sale lives in the next town to Ft. Myers, got Groome’s number from Rikard and now is working out with the teenage pitcher, overseeing his offseason conditioning program.

This is the first time in those six years that Sale was the actual runner-up, not that a failure to win the award disadvantages ones Hall of Fame credentials. The only pitcher to be a Cy Young runner-up three times and never win the award is Curt Schilling, who finished second behind Arizona teammate Randy Johnson in 2001 and 2002 and Johan Santana in 2004. In those three runner-up seasons, Schilling was 66-19, 3.15 in the heart of the steroid era with 832 strikeouts and 107 walks. It will be interesting to see how Schilling fares in this winter’s Hall of Fame balloting. Analytics show him to be in the top 30 starting pitchers in history, very close behind another HOF deserving candidate Mike Mussina.

Schilling’s post-season business and socio-political life hasn’t been cast in a positive light, to say the least. But his Cooperstown resume, especially but not wholly his post-season record, is deserving of The Hall. We’re not voting on him matched up against Paul Allen, who was a very successful businessman for the Council on Economic Affairs—or Ty Cobb. Steve Carlton had some obtuse political views that many found offensive beyond quirky. But if those three years when he was runner-up, with those 832 strikeout/19 walk numbers, he hadn’t been matched up with Johnson and Santana and had three Cy Youngs and three World Series rings in a seven year period would have landed him in Cooperstown years ago.

As for the acceptance speech…

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There is an ongoing debate in the Orioles organization whether or not Manny Machado should move over to shortstop in 2018, before he becomes a free agent next November. Because of their failure to develop players since scouting director Jim Jordan fled to Philadelphia, the O’s have to go month to month and year-to-year and many feel that Machado prefers shortstop, and with a huge free agent deal on the horizon, Machado might put up a monster year at a middle-of-the-field position. Tim Beckham had a big August and batted .301 in 50 games for Baltimore, but he batted under .200 in July and September, was second in the league in errors, struck out 167 times and as he approaches his age 28 season has doubts concerning his longterm position.

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We watched the Astros offensive approach get them a world championship—figuring what each hitter wanted, hunt for that pitch and go after it, be it the first, second or fourth pitch of the at-bat. Their feeling was that trying to extend every at-bat to four to seven pitches too often put hitters in deep, negative counts, created a degree of passivity and worrying about running up pitch counts instead of hitting their pitches, which was so huge 15 years ago with the Athletics, Red Sox and Yankees, had been countered by the evolution in bullpen usage.

Now the Red Sox are expected to emphasize the Astros approach, searching and attacking strikes no matter what the count.

If the game then evolves from the thrill of watching how many pitches batters can take, rather than hit, will it lead to a faster pace of game? Is the George Springer/Alex Bregman/Jose Altuve/Carlos Correa approach (with exceptional skill sets) more fun to watch than Joey Votto walks?

Votto is a great player, and those who felt he should have been the MVP, not Giancarlo Stanton, have respected views. This was an unusual MVP year in the National League. One can argue than Goldschmidt (with two seconds and one third place finishes), Nolan Arenado or Charlie Blackmon deserved the award. Anyone one of those five players could have won the award in another season based on his 2017 performance.

I make no bones about believing Stanton/Arenado/Goldschmidt were 1-2-3, but appreciate that Votto is a great player. But, please, when I read that voters had denied Ted Williams the 2017 MVP, I just laughed at hyperbole. Go look at the 1947 numbers. Ted Williams was robbed, Joe DiMaggio won. In the words of the great Long John Baldry, “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock’n Roll.”

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Blake Swihart is back in New Mexico from a three week stint in the Dominican Winter League, preparing to get married; the bachelor party thrown by his sidekick Alex Bregman comes first, of course. In a short stint, per agreement, Swihart played first, caught and DHed, put up a .407/.515/481/.987 line, but, most important, “felt the best I’ve felt in two years.”

In 2016, Swihart severely injured his ankle running into the wall down the left field line at Fenway—where Hanley Ramirez similarly hurt his shoulder—and after missing the remainder of that season played the first five months of the 2017 season still feeling the ankle problems. He finally got healthy in late August, and those who know him from the time he was a first round pick in 2011 know the promise of a switch-hitter who can hit and is such a good athlete that Mike Hazen once said he thought “he could play first, third, left field…anywhere he wants.” Dave Dombrowski and Frank Wren haven’t seen that. Alex Cora has heard about it from Bregman.

“I’ll play anywhere they need or want me,” says Swihart. “I’m planning to work at my catching, at first, second, third and the outfield until I get to spring training.” He was originally going to play shortstop on the 2010 Team USA club, but a kid from Puerto Rico named Francisco Lindor showed up.

Some club officials want to see if he can at least play some second base, similar to Ben Zobrist, with Dustin Pedroia expected to miss the first two months.

“It’s been a long time,” says Swihart. “But going to the Dominincan gave me the chance to re-establish myself and my confidence. I’m ready to go now.”

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Shohei Otani won’t have to wait long to be free to sign with whomever he chooses. “There’s no way of knowing where he’ll want to go, he just wants to prove he can succeed in MLB and knows the big money will come,” says one club official who knows him over three years. “Understand, money doesn’t drive him. He comes from a small town in the North of the island, an area very similar to New England.” One agent who interviewed him likens his hometown “to a village of 4000 in northeastern Vermont, who living in Tokyo preferred living in a dorm to protect his privacy.”

The Japanse Yasimodo company wants to promote him as a commercial star in Japan, with C.A.A. as its American conduit.

“The interviews and his understanding of his role as pitcher and positional player will be very important,” says the club official. “He may have people in Japan and the U.S. telling him how he’s going to make the most money over the long run, but I’m not sure he’s motivated the way his agents are motivated. He’s a different breed of cat. Fascinating person.”

There are National League teams that are calculating that he can get nearly as many at-bats as a pitcher/pinch hitter/role player in that league, as he can as a pitcher/DH in the American League.

The Dodgers have the history with Asian players. So do the Yankees and Mariners, to a lesser degree the Red Sox. How great would it be for MLB if he went to Minneapolis, fell in love with the city, decides he likes the idea of the opening of Walleye Season and decides Miguel Sano is his ultimate bodyguard?

–Heading for Thanksgiving, the industry consensus is that the Alex Cobb showdown will come down to Cubs v. Yankees.

–When the sanctions against the Braves are revealed and they lose some international signings, one member of the organization who had nothing to do with the violations says that an example is that one Asian infielder that was signed got a $300,000 bonus that kept them within the allotment borders, but he was promised another $300,000 in 2018 that would have been paid under the table. They also expect to lose infielder Kevin Maitan, who received $5M, but the new order Braves are not concerned, feeling Maitan was no worth the money or the hype.

Comments

  1. Ghost of Fenway says:

    Too bad for the Orioles, with the Sox and Yankees gearing up for multi-year runs, it’s going to be tough for the O’s to realistically compete for a playoff spot in the near future. Duquette really did a great job of turning that organization around, but I don’t know that he is ever going to truly get the credit he deserves as baseball mind and operator.

    • No

      • Where is the ring.. wasn’t enough done for much credit.. u think

        • Ghost of Fenway says:

          The ring is from 2004, I don’t care how good he is, Theo was never winning a WS if he didn’t walk into a situation where he had, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, VTek, DLowe, Wakefield, Trot. Nomar to trade… He also signed Hanley Ramirez who was traded for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. But no, its Damned Duquette, if he doesn’t have a ring for that one, he should. They simply do not win in 04 if there was no Dan Duquette

  2. Machado at short, Swihart at 2nd? It is becoming more and more clear that, teams simply do not care where you have been playing, as long as they can hit, these guys are so athletically sound that you can almost place them where ever there is an empty spot. The Red sox have been the perfect example of this: Hanley to to 3rd to Right to First, Mookie from 2nd to center to right and still possibly back to 2nd, Holt everywhere, Swihart everywhere…

  3. BillyMueller11 says:

    True, Duquette certainly does not receive the credit he truly deserves in Boston. He acquired numerous key players who won in 2004, but more importantly he changed the culture of the Sox.

    Trades and free-agent signings of Pedro & Ramon Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, Manny Ramirez, and Johnny Damon. He drafted Nomar Garciaparra, and didn’t trade Trot Nixon when many had given up on him. He also signed Hanley Ramirez who was traded for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. And he drafted Casey Fossum and signed Jorge de la Rosa from the Mexican League, and they were the two main chips used to acquire Curt Schilling.

    The disdain for this man in Boston is incomprehensible to me. I thank him very much for laying the foundation for the 2004 World Series Champions.

    • well said

    • The disdain for Duquette came from the Boston sports media. That is about as pathetic a group as you will find anywhere. They now target Price and Pedroia, after successfully poisoning the images of John Farrell and Terry Francona. Most of them are locked in a war of who can out-hate each other. It permeates the local newspapers and the local radio stations. Because they have been unable to go after the incredibly successful Patriots, and basketball and hockey are minor league sports, they save most of the hate for the Sox.

    • Agreed!

  4. Bradly Fritz says:

    Man I hope Otani winds up being legit, seems like he would be the face of league if so.

  5. Greg Cavalinni says:

    Braves… so much shade. There are probably so many skeletons in their closet, between this, the new stadium, president stepping down out of the blue, you just get the feeling that at some point they said “If we are going to suck playing by the rules, we will just have to stop playing by the rules.” be it actual or unwritten rules.

  6. I’d love to know why so many see so much in a guy who’s shown so little, Blake Swihart. He can’t stay healthy and he can’t hit. He can? Check Baseball Reference.

  7. It’s “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock’n Roll.”

  8. Re Long John Baldry — You’re missing woogie after boogie.

  9. Slappy McGee says:

    Um, where do you get your stats, Pete? Do you really think Schilling only walked 19 batters over those three seasons? A quick look at what we call “reality” shows he had 39, 33 and 35 those three years, totaling well over 100.
    So, if you didn’t look up the numbers yourself (as one would hope) but were given them by some researcher/intern, how did you stop for one second and think, “Wow, he only gave up six or seven walks per year those years.? That sounds pretty crazy…”

  10. Devers looks to me like someone who will ultimately be better at first than third. He has enough agility and athleticism to be a capable first baseman but is likely to cost runs at third and will frustrate pitchers. With that in mind, I hope Swihart gets a shot at third while Chavis is developing. I’m also intrigued by the thought of bringing Mookie back to second. Yes, he is a fine defensive asset in Fenway’s difficult right field, but it would be easier to find a bat for the outfield than for second. In that sense, Betts at second would improve the offense more than keeping him in right.

  11. Lighten up Slappy … in the middle of Peter’s article he wrote :
    In those three runner-up seasons, Schilling was 66-19, 3.15 in the heart of the steroid era with 832 strikeouts and 107 walks.
    He had it correctly … then must have made a typo later
    All Hail Hall of Famer Peter Gammons!

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