There’s a polar vortex freezing the Midwest and our hot stove is barely warm. Dire times, my friends. And dire times call for desperate acts. Like me opening up my Twitter feed to anyone who wants to ask me questions about anything.
So that’s what I did late this morning. Here are a great many of them. Many are about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Many are about the weather. One is about horse crap. Like, literal horse crap. I probably spent more time on that answer than any other.
Q: Are you intending to use the metaphorical heat of this stove to survive the brutal cold?
A: I’ll use something more effective. Like a candle. Or a thin mesh blanket. Or a can of Sterno underneath some rubbery chicken in a chafing dish.
Q: How inclined are you to speak your “hot take” just to get a little warmer?
A: Hmm. Not sure. Let’s try: Pearl Jam is the most overrated band of the past 25 years and it’s not particularly close.
Now we wait.
Q: What team/teams do you think have the longest wait for their next HOF inductee?
A: Hmm. Not the Orioles, as Machado stands a chance if he keeps things up (and because you could count Mussina for this year). Not the Tigers, because of Miguel Cabrera and probably Verlander. I’d also rule out teams with super top prospects who, at least based on talent, could put together excellent career, so that leaves out the Blue Jays, Padres and Rays. Mariners will have Ichiro. White Sox have at least a claim on Sale if he makes it. I’ll go with the Marlins or the Royals.
Q: Why are your local schools closed when it’s barely below zero?
A: Wind chill factor.
Oh. Never mind?
Q: Mine is a two-parter: First, will the Reds climb out of the cellar this season and give their fans any semblance of hope for contention again before Votto retires? And, second, am I wrong to derive joy from the lack of bidders for Harper/Machado?
A: Yes. I think they’ll pass Pittsburgh, at least. It’s a tough division otherwise, though, and I can’t see them getting past St. Louis, Chicago or Milwaukee. But you should be happy that they have improved and, at the least, a few random injuries and/or breakout/slump seasons from a handful of players in the division could make them Wild Card contenders for much longer than a lot of people think.
And nah, you’re not wrong to derive some joy for a cold Machado/Harper market. You can root for whatever you want. Our editorial stance on that is very, very clear by now -- and if you were here I’d buy you a cup of coffee and try to convince you that the lack of bidders for those guys is bad for he game overall -- but people are allowed to like what they like and hate what they hate.
Q: Will I ever feel warm again/where will Machado and Harper end up?
A: The person who asked this question lives in Canada. Based on current climate trends, Ontario will eventually be like Florida, so yes, you will be warm again someday. At least if you aren’t killed in a freak weather event before then. Anyway, if I had to bet, I’d say Machado ends up in Philly and Harper goes back to the Nationals.
Q: Channeling the Joe Sheehan newsletter from yesterday, do you think the public (as opposed to the GMs) are overvaluing Machado / Harper?
A: Joe, who is a friend, and who writes an excellent baseball newsletter to which you should subscribe, did a deep dive on Machado and Harper yesterday. While acknowledging that the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the way it depresses salaries is the biggest reason those two haven’t signed yet, he warned his readers not to go too overboard and not to equate them with generational greats we’ve seen in the past:
However, there do seem to be baseball reasons as well. Harper and Machado, whatever their skills, are not Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. They don’t have the track records of sustained MVP-level performance. They didn’t have walk years that create great demand. They each come with questions about their defensive performance. Both play in an era where we don’t necessarily expect their next few seasons to be their peaks, followed by a slow decline.
I think he’s right that it’s possible to overstate how good those two are -- I’d rather have Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor than those two, wouldn’t you? -- but I do think that he’s a bit bearish on their age profiles and their potential for MVP performance going forward. No, they are not Bonds or A-Rod, or even Trout or Lindor, but they are two of the best free agents to hit the market in many, many years, especially given their age, and I think it’s silly that they have not been signed yet.
Q: Re: your post earlier, would it be worse to deal with fresh, hot, horses**t or frozen, immovable horses**t? I’ll hang up and listen
A: For those who don’t follow on Twitter, you should know that (a) my wife owns a horse; and (b) the freezing temperatures have disrupted a certain aspect of horse ownership today:
In Ohio, I just learned, it's "they won't be cleaning stalls at the barn today because of the cold but don't come clean your stalls yourself because the poop will freeze solid in the muck buckets and may damage the manure spreader when they pick it up" degrees outside.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) January 30, 2019
While part of the board you pay for a horse goes toward the folks who work at the barn cleaning up after it I do have some experience in cleaning horse crap up. They don’t clean on Christmas, for example, and one of the oddly fun Christmas traditions we have is going out to the barn on that day -- sometimes brining along a flask or a bottle of something -- and mucking the pony’s stall. And, if one of his neighbor horse owners are out of town or something, mucking their stall too. It’s an oddly relaxing task. If you’re the sort of person who likes gardening or yardwork because of the time it allows you to get out of your head for a while and be (sorta) outdoors, it’s something you wouldn’t mind doing, I suspect.
The key to all of this -- and this question -- is that horse crap is not like human crap or dog crap. It’s not anywhere close to as disgusting, especially once it’s been out of the horse for a minute or two. Their diet and systems are such that, really, it’s more like dealing with dirt clods than crap clods. Yeah, it has a smell, but not a crap smell. You get used to it. You use a rake. It’s not a big deal, really. Cold would be worse, I think. First, because when it’s cold, the crap is heavier. Also, because you’re out in, you know, the cold. Of course you may not like the heat either. Really, it’s kind of a . . . crapshoot.
Q: It sure looks like MLB teams are colluding to suppress free agent salaries. If this is the case, does the MLBPA have any options?
A: As I’ve said many times here, I will not accuse them of colluding this offseason because I have no evidence for it, but sure, it’s possible that collusion is happening. I can say that without having current evidence because there has been a lot of collusion in the past, and not just in those famous collusion cases in the 1980s. As part of the 2006 collective bargaining agreement, owners paid out $12 million to the players on claims that management conspired against free agents following the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The settlement was made with no admission of guilt, but it’s not as if owners are super keen just to throw away millions for no reason. It’s probably worth noting that the only reason the owners had to pay out hundreds of millions for 1980s collusion was because one of the GMs at the time -- Tom Grieve of the Rangers -- actually TOOK NOTES of the MLB commissioner urging GMs, during an offseason meeting, to collude. I think it’s safe to say that, if collusion is going on now, teams are doing a much better job of hiding it. They’re following the Stringer Bell rule.
But yeah, the MLBPA can file a grievance. If they have evidence, they can present it in an arbitration.
Q: At this point do you prefer to watch baseball on TV or in the stands?
A: I like going to ballgames but, honestly, I follow more closely while watching TV. I get distracted at the ballpark unless I’m in the pressbox, and pressboxes are not really fun. If I lived in a city with a big league team I’d go to lots of games, but if the goal is to really get into the game and to think hard about it, I’d probably rather watch it on TV.
Q: What are marginal tax rates?
A: Things that Republicans pretend apply to a person’s entire income rather than just the first and subsequent dollars above a set threshold, because they know that there is a great deal of public support for taxing people with very high incomes at higher marginal tax rates than we currently do and they have no response to that. If your question was serious, here’s an explainer.
Q: Nine teams (TEX/SEA/KC/DET/TOR/BAL/ARI/SF/FLA) aren’t competing this year. 6 more (CHI/NYM/PHI/CIN/PIT/SD) aren’t actually good. Does 15 teams for 10 playoff spots make for an interesting reg season?
A: I’d take issue with including Philly in the “not good” category, as I think they have a good chance of contention, but I get what you’re asking. The answer probably needs to acknowledge that in a lot of seasons there are only 15 or maybe a few more teams truly in contention for a playoff spot. In the past, though, that’s just how it worked out practically because things can go wrong for teams who are actually trying. The difference now is that the non-contenders are increasingly not contending by choice, rather than happenstance. They’re signaling to others that they have no interest in competing which, in turn, gives permission to even the contenders to try less hard (see, Indians, Cleveland). That reduces the overall level of play and the overall level of fan engagement (ask Indians fans how they feel about the 2019 season at the moment) and that is, without question, bad for baseball.
Q: Ordering a two topping pizza, whatcha want?
A: Pepperoni and black olives. That’s my go-to. Since I live in a house with three other people and because I’m a pushover for kids and pretty women, I rarely get my go-to, though.
Q: HOF: 1. Will Larry Walker be elected by the writers? 2. Will Omar Vizquel? 3. What % does Bobby Abreu get in ’20?
A: I doubt it, I don’t think so -- but the Veterans Committee will give him the Harold Baines treatment -- and, sadly, about 20%, maybe. If he’s lucky. Even though he was a way better player than a lot of people think.
Q: Assuming no other moves are made by the Dodgers this offseason, are they a better team now, than they were going into the playoffs in October?
A: Not better than when they went into the playoffs, but probably better than they were for a chunk of last season simply because they’re getting Corey Seager back from injury and will, presumably, have a healthy Justin Turner, which they didn’t have for much of the first half last year. The issue with the Dodgers is not that they’re not still heavy favorites to win the NL West -- they should be, especially given Arizona’s rebuild -- but that they’re in no better position to weather injuries than they were last year, when they only beat the Rockies by a single game, and they are still not good enough, I don’t think, to match up to the AL big dogs in Houston, Boston and New York. The beef with the Dodgers is that they have a clear path to get substantially better -- sign Bryce Harper -- but have decided to play down to their competition, as I noted above.
Q: What will happen first Marlins win another World Series or are forced to move due to climate change?
A: I’ll give them the World Series, but it’ll be close.
Q: What’s the best thing you’ve eaten at a ballpark? And, if the the answer to the above is something that can be found at most/all ballparks, what’s the best speciality item you’ve eaten at a ballpark?
A: Best thing ever was the Burgundy Pepper Tri Tip beef sandwich at Petco Park in San Diego. It’s from the Seaside Market in Cardiff by the Sea, California, which has a location inside the ballpark too. Locals call it “Cardiff Crack.” I wrote about it and the other amazingly good offerings at Petco a couple of years ago. I think it’s both the best food and the best beer ballpark in all of baseball.
Q: Which teams have basically no chance of making the postseason this year? Do I even have to watch?
A: Given that I and everyone else whiffed on the Athletics last year never say that someone has a 0% chance, but if you’re an Orioles, Royals, Blue Jays, Tigers, White Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Marlins, Pirates, Giants, Diamondbacks or Padres fan, you can feel free to make plans for early October with no stress.
Q: With Manny and Harper unsigned - this has to be the best February free agents team of all time, no?
A: Last year the top two free agents -- J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish -- did not sign until February 26 and February 13, respectively, but no, they aren’t as good as Harper and Machado. Overall I think there is more talent still unsigned today, on January 30, than we’ve ever had in the free agency era.
Q: Which MLB players would you choose to help seize the means of production?
A: You used to be able to tell a good commie by his sketchy lookin’ beard, but there are so many bad beards in baseball now, who knows? While a lot of players are becoming a bit more radicalized than usual of late, I think it’s still safe to say that the vanguard of the baseball proletariat could fit in a microbus. It’s an overall conservative group. For now I’d say Sean Doolittle and whoever it is to whom he passes along secret party communiques.
Q: Should I worry about my Cleveland Indians this year? Or should I calm down and trust the front office to make moves when necessary during season (which they’ve done well the last several years)?
A: At the moment their outfield depth chart consists of (a) a guy who played 64 games with a 72 OPS+ in two seasons; (b) a guy who has a 68 OPS+ in 80 big league games over the past two seasons and (c) a guy who literally almost died last year. No, I am not making that up. Personally, I’d worry.
Q: As a Cub fan missing the days of my team being the feel good story. How do I transition to something closer to a yankee fan where I embrace everyone hating the Cubs.
A: This refers, I presume, to the bad press the Cubs have gotten for, you know, acquiring a domestic abuser for their World Series run, making excuses for their current shortstop, also a domestic abuser, their embrace and defense of Daniel Murphy last year and whatever bad press has been coming out about the Ricketts family and that sort of stuff. Which, yeah, makes it hard to cast the Cubs in their old lovable underdogs role. We’ve talked about all of that stuff here in the past so I won’t go back into it, but for both you and fans of every other team, all of whom have skeletons in their closet and will encounter well-deserved bad press in the future, I would recommend rooting for winning baseball only and not embracing the team for whom you root any more than you’d embrace any other business or celebrity or whatever. Enjoy the product but never put yourself in the position where you feel that you can’t, on a dime, criticize them severely and/or walk away from them entirely. They depend on your loyalty but give you nothing equivalent back in return. Don’t become too emotionally invested in a sports team.
Q: Can you please make the Cubs sign one or both of Machado or Harper? Please?
A: I’m sorry, Dave, but I can’t do that.
Q: Please explain the false narrative the Cubs are trying to push that they don’t have money. Are they purposely trying to drive down the Harper market acting like they aren’t in?
A: No, I think they’re really not interested and, like a lot of baseball teams, have realized that they can compete this year well enough without spending more money and that they’d rather make bigger profits than to go from “contender” to “much better contender.” They make a lot of money and they are betting that they’ll still make a ton of money even if they don’t play as well as they might with a better player or two here and there.
Q: What’s gonna be the 2021 Strike’s version of McGwire/Sosa that will “save” MLB a few years later?
A: At the outset, let me observe that if there is a work stoppage in 2021, it’ll be an owner lockout, not a strike. This may not matter to a lot of folks -- no baseball is no baseball -- but it will, technically, be a lockout because the deadline is in the offseason and the owners will not allow a season to start without a CBA, even if the players want to keep negotiating. There is a strategic reason for this: if they start the season without a CBA, the players can walk out at any time. They would control whether baseball is played or not and that would give them leverage. If owners are gonna lose games to a stoppage, they’d rather not go through the gear-up of the season and the uncertainty of if/when scheduled games don’t go down. They’ll go into siege mode in January, not April. Also: they know that no matter what actually goes down, fans will blame the greedy players, not the owners. So, a lockout it is, not a strike. Just for the record.
As for who will be the post-lockout hero? I predict it’ll be Mike Trout who -- after having signed a free agent contract with the Yankees following the 2020 season -- is chasing his 500th or whatever homer and being talked about as the Great Clean Hope to, eventually, pass Barry Bonds or something. We haven’t had that narrative for a long time. I’m guessing MLB will revive it.
Q: My standard question: Who would you cast in a reboot of Night Court?
A: Have I not answered this before? If not, sorry. OK, let’s see: Dani Pudi as the judge, Aubrey Plaza as the Dan Fielding character -- instead of being a womanizer, the prosecutor is a misandrist with a withering sense of humor -- the defense attorney is Damon Wayans Jr., Mac is played by Ken Jeong and the bailiffs are, I dunno. Anyone?
Q: Are the Twins blowing it, “it” being “a theoretical window to compete”? Or are they wisely recognizing that their young stars aren’t developing like they expected and holding off on mortgaging the future future for a 2nd place AL Central finish?
A: I think they’re blowing it. As noted above, the Indians can be had. The Twins don’t really want to get ‘em, though. As to why, you’d have to ask the Twins.
Q: What might the players have to “give up” to better incentive the owners to actually try to, ya know, put on a competitive product on the field, in the next CBA
A: That’s above my pay grade. I really don’t know. I do think that the stuff that has to happen involves massive structural changes, though, that (a) allow the younger players who are now so important in baseball getting paid more; which (b) will mean either radically changing the arbitration system or allowing them to get to free agency earlier. The owners are NOT gonna want that. At least not without things that, in the past, the players have never been willing to give like a salary cap. At one time it seemed anathema for the players to agree to a cap, but they have already caved on that with respect to international players, draftees and, via the Competitive Balance Tax, they’ve allowed a soft salary cap in. They’ve done that without getting any sort of salary floor, so maybe that’s somewhere to go.
Q: You’re commissioner for a day, have unilateral authority and your decisions are permanent and final - what three changes do you make to improve game? Bonus: you can assign Harper and Machado to any team - where do they go?
A: Pitch clock (I do actually think this would be a good thing), raising the strike zone to take away the low, low strikes that batters can’t do a thing with anyway, and finding some way to limit the number of pitching changes in a game that doesn’t actually set a formal limit. Like, I don’t want to prevent managers from doing what they think is best, but I’d like to figure out some sort of incentive that encourages them to cut down on using eight pitchers a game because that’s so tedious. Maybe altering roster rules to allow teams to re-set their 25-man every night in various ways? I dunno.
Q: Meg Ryan or Jack Nicholson?
A: Depends. Are we casting a young grandmother or an old man? Am I in greater need of old stories about Dennis Quaid or Angelica Houston? Do I need an “in” for John Mellencamp tickets or tickets to a Lakers game? A lot of variables here. If I’m just choosing my favorite actor, I’ll say that I liked “Five Easy Pieces” and “Chinatown” more than I liked “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” Still, a broad question.
Q: Regarding expansion—two part Q- What do you think will happen and could 32 teams spur real radical realignment with 8 divisions of 4 teams each with full time DH & no NL/AL? My dream is a team in Nashville + Portland. Then a Mid Atlantic division of WSH, BAL, PHL, PIT. Go Nats!
A: I think that’s quite possible at some time in the not-so-distant future. I think Major League Baseball would love to see Portland and Montreal but would settle for any two cities with ownership groups who would (a) pay the extremely large expansion fee, which goes to the existing owners and is the primary driver for expansion; and (b) can convince someone to pay for a stadium to be built. I do think union sign-off would lead to a universal DH -- players prefer it, even if the pitchers claim they love to hit -- and radical realignment, primarily to make travel less arduous than it is. They prefer shorter flights and fewer time zone changes. As do owners, BTW, because it’s cheaper.
Q: What is a comp trade to Kluber moving? Sale a couple years ago?
A: I can’t call that a comp because the White Sox were a 78-win team trading their ace in order to help stock a rebuild. That happens a lot. I can’t think of a defending division champ, which still plans on contending, trading away a Cy Young caliber pitcher simply as a matter of cost containment. Like, a still contending Tigers team traded away Denny McClain back in the day but that was because he was a nuisance. It makes no sense for the Indians to trade away Kluber. Thankfully, it seems that they’re backing off of that.
Q: If you were a billionaire, would you spend your money on a run for president or a baseball team?
A: A baseball team. There’s more money in it for one thing. At least if you’re not crooked. For another, there is no other place where a billionaire gets treated with softer kid gloves than in sports. The press even buys it when you tell them that paying a tiny fraction of your revenues for highly skilled workers might bankrupt you. Fans root for the billionaire in baseball in ways they’d never consider rooting from them anywhere else. It’s kinda nuts when you think about it.
Q: Why hasn’t Jeff Bezos bought a sports team yet? (Mets, Knicks, please)
A: Wait, I’m sorry. It’s easy to be a billionaire in tech too. Not only do they treat you like royalty, but they think you’re a genius too.
Q: Should a Braves fan really care about the team if the Braves just want to piss away their window of contention playing Markakis and McCann using their extra revenue to pay down stadium debt instead of paying Bryce?
A: I, obviously, am critical of baseball teams and their priorities these days, but really, you can care about a team in any way you want. I have friends who are willing to assume their team’s claims about their budgets and their profitability and accept that there is no way they could possibly afford a top free agent. Maybe they get that that’s not true, but they have just chosen to set it aside and not think too hard about it. It’s not how I can approach it at least with respect to labor issues, but it’s defensible. As I said above, you don’t have to get emotionally involved in sports to enjoy sports.
But dudes, the Braves are bugging me. They are following up a division-winning season in which they finished with the 19th highest payroll with, at the moment . . . the 22nd-highest payroll. This is two years in to a new stadium that massively-increased their revenues, a 2018 season which also increased revenues thanks to the success and, one presumes, increased season ticket sales from the post-success bump we usually see. It’s also against the backdrop of competition against a Nats team that is likely to rebound, a Phillies team that is on the rise and even a Mets team that has gotten better. I think the Braves will still be good -- and I loved the Josh Donaldson signing -- but it’s not great that they have chosen to, mostly, stand pat and go backwards in payroll when they should totally be in win-now mode and surrounding their nice young core with good free agent signings.
I think back to the early 90s Braves. They were good, but in 1991-92, not quite good enough. Then they went out and got Greg Maddux and traded for Fred McGriff and really put the pedal to the metal. Why aren’t they doing that now?
Q: Do you think in a world of cord cutting and the future owners of the FOX RSNs up in the air, will the baseball TV rights revenue bubble burst? Sure there are Extra Innings, At Bat and other MLB revenue streams, but its a pittance compared to TV.
A: I’m not sure. People have been predicting that for some time, and the reasons they are predicting it seem sound, but it also hasn’t happened yet (that linked story is from six years ago). That said, given how herd mentality works, it only takes one team trying to renew a cable deal and getting totally shut out of the money for other cable outlets to follow suit and not pony up. Or maybe a cable outlet goes bankrupt and a team ends up only getting pennies on the dollar on what it thought was a multi-decade, multi-billion dollar deal. They’re still swimming in TV money at the moment, but I am highly skeptical that TV sports are immune to all of the radical changes every other segment of media and entertainment is, and I can imagine the landscape changing quickly and in unpredictable ways. Maybe that’s disastrous. Maybe it’s unexpectedly beneficial. Maybe it’s neutral. I just hope baseball isn’t putting all of its eggs in the cabe TV basket.