We have arrived at the traditional July 4th moment of the baseball season and next to the Yankees with their best start in history and the potential for 4-5 epically bad teams, another thing has become abundantly clear:
Houston, you are creating a problem.
As the Yankees went through one of the softest programs in baseball, including runs against two teams, the A’s and Royals on target to lose 100 games, and two others, the Tigers and Cubs, not far behind them, it sparked big dreams of the first World Series at Yankee Stadium since 2009. Likewise, with the third fastest start in their history, the Mets are also making their fans think of the World Series for the first time in a while. Hell, maybe even a Subway Series with the Yankees! How cool would that be?
And then, starting on June 21 and stretching through the end of the month, they both collided hard against Dusty Baker’s unheralded but quite formidable Houston Astros, taking a combined 2-7. While the Yankees remain on track for their best-ever regular season, better than 1998 or 1927, it appears that the Astros — who went 3-2 against them in those first five encounters, including one win in which they failed to hit them and are right behind them in leading the majors in ERA – will have a big say in who goes to the World Series this year. After watching those captivating five games, most fans probably agreed that the Yankees and Astros might as well skip the rest of the season and report directly to the ALCS. One thing that’s also painfully obvious is that the Yankees and Astros are in a league of their own and the gap between them and so many other teams is embarrassingly huge.
That brings up another problem: the age-old baseball dilemma — competitive balance — which, thanks mainly to fueling (Nationals, A’s, Reds, and Cubs) is worse than ever this year. Currently you have four teams – the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Mets on pace for 100 wins and four others, the Blue Jays, Brewers, Padres and braves, with win rates of 0.570 or better. After that you have a bunch of teams – Twins, Guardians, Cardinals, Giants and Red Sox – with decent records that will mostly all win spots in the extended 12-team postseason, but don’t seem to come close to the potential World Series teams .
And then you have the Tigers, A’s, Royals, Nationals, Cubs and Reds, all of which are monumentally awful and a disgrace to baseball. In the first three months, the Yankees collectively went 14-1 against the Tigers, Royals, A’s and Cubs and thanks to the friendly scheduler, there were three home games against the equally terrible Reds in two weeks.
How bad are these teams really? The Tigers have seven players hitting under .230, three of them under .200, while their 12 home runs in June were matched only by Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies. The A’s also have seven starters hitting under .230 and three under .200. (To be sure, batting has fallen everywhere in baseball, the league average of .237 its lowest since pitcher’s year 1968.) The Royals, beset by serious injuries to two of their best players, Salvador Perez and Adalberto Mondesi , and ready to trade their leading batter, Andrew Benintendi, are 27th in the majors in runs, 29th in home runs and 28th in ERA with no starter under 4.00. In the National League, the Reds and Nationals are 29th and 30th in team ERA, while the Cubs, 26th in the majors in ERA, will soon continue their tanking, trading All-Star catcher Willson Contreras and switch-hitting leftfielder Ian Happ.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will no doubt be thrilled that both New York teams are in the postseason for the first time since 2015, but he couldn’t be happy about the massive disparity that exists between the top three pay teams – Mets, Yankees and Dodgers, along with the Astros – and the six bottom rungs, A’s, Tigers, Nationals, Reds, Royals and Cubs, none of which will get better anytime soon.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
If you were wondering if there had ever been a completely uninterrupted season before this season, when the Yankees were off both Memorial Day and July 4, you have to go all the way back to 1915 and 1909, according to the Elias Bureau — and even those two years were kind of a fluke, as both times the two holidays fell on a Sunday when most teams didn’t play Sunday baseball. So there’s that…
When Freddie Freeman returned to Atlanta last weekend for the first time since his ceremonial departure as a free agent in March, he let it all hang out. Tears and emotions flowed after Braves fans saluted him with a sustained standing ovation as Braves manager Brian Snitker handed him his World Series ring. But Freeman’s new Dodger teammates were somewhat surprised when he praised his former Braves teammates and Atlanta management, making it very clear that he wished he were still there. And a few days later, Freeman fired his agent Casey Close† What happened here was a clear case of not communicating. During their negotiations last winter, the Braves held onto a five-year offer for their 32-year franchise first baseman, while Close continued to push for 6-7 years. When it was clear to them that Close and Freeman wouldn’t settle for a five-year deal (eventually raised from $135 million to $140 million), the Braves turned around and traded for the A’s. Matt Olson and Freeman then signed a six-year/$162 million deal with the Dodgers. The miscommunication was that Close was acting as an agent trying to get the most money for his client and Freeman let him do it while failing to tell him, “I don’t care how much money you get me as long as, at the end of the day, I’m still a Brave.”…
There were shock waves in baseball last week when… Wes Johnson, the acclaimed Twins pitching coach, announced he would be leaving the team to take the position of pitching coach at LSU — shockwaves as no one could believe why he would leave a first-place team mid-season for a college job . Had to be money, right? And if so, how embarrassing was it for baseball to have college teams pay more for coaches than they are? In its first story, The Athletic reported that LSU would pay Johnson $750,000 a year, as opposed to his $400,000 with the Twins. Looking like one of the most greedy grabs of all time, Johnson shot his team mid-season to nearly double his salary. But as it turned out this wasn’t quite the case and so determined Johnson in his insistence that this was a move based on family considerations, he released the terms of his LSU deal which require a base salary of $380,000 along with a vehicle allowance of $800 per month and a moving bonus of $25,000. When Johnson was hired by the Twins of the U. of Arkansas in 2019, he was the first college pitching coach in nearly four decades to jump straight to the major leagues. For the record, it’s worth noting that college baseball has basically become big business, with many of its coaches earning as much or more than major league coaches. Johnson’s Boss at LSU, Head Coach Jay Johnsonfor example, gets $1.2 million a year, and at least four other SEC head coaches earn more than $600,000…
It’s beginning to look like MLB’s decision last winter to sign 40 minor league teams could bite them in the rear as Congress stands poised to strip them of their antitrust exemption they’ve enjoyed since 1922. A two-pronged effort led by senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) examines how baseball’s antitrust exemption affects minor league players’ salaries and jobs. As Durbin tweeted in March, “It’s time to rethink baseball’s antitrust exemption,” while introducing a bill called the Competition in Professional Baseball Act, Lee said, “There’s no reason Major League Baseball should be any different. are treated more than the NFL, the NBA or any other professional athletic organization.What caught the attention of the senators was the outcry in so many of their communities after MLB stripped them of their minor league teams.For example, Grassley saw two Iowa teams, Clinton and Burlington eliminated in the Class A Midwest League purge, Durbin lost a team in Kane County, while the Norwich team in Blumenthal’s Connecticut is part of a four-team (including Staten Island) lawsuit filed against MLB seeking restitution before being eliminated.