January 13, 2019 [LINK / comment]
In yet another roster-building coup for Washington's General Manager Mike Rizzo, infielder Brian Dozier agreed to a one-year contract worth $9 million with the Nationals. There is no optional extension. Dozier will become the Nats' regular second baseman, with Howie Kendrick as the presumable backup, depending on his health. By next year, minor league hot prospect Spencer Kieboom is expected to be ready to fill that position. Dozier came up from the minors with the Minnesota Twins in 2012, and from 2014 through 2018 (five straight years), he hit over 20 home runs, peaking at 41 in 2016. His batting average has not been spectacular, and dropped to just .215 last year, but he does have the slugging power that the Nats will need if Bryce Harper does not sign with the team. See the Washington Post sports section for this story and for the one below.
As a veteran who has avoided serious injury throughout his seven-year career, Dozier seems like a safe bet with a big potential for improvement. He turns age 32 in May, perhaps in the prime of his career. He reminds me a lot of Daniel Murphy, the second baseman who wasn't considered worth a big raise by the Mets front office at the end of the 2015 season. They bitterly regretted letting him go after the Nationals snatched him up. Like Murphy, Dozier combines steady reliability with flashes of excellence in clutch situations. In the 2015 All-Star Game, Dozier hit a solo homer, helping the American League to win, and in a preseason exhibition game at Nationals Park in 2016 he also homered. The acquisition of Dozier essentially plugs the final remaining gap in the Nats' lineup for 2019, leaving Bryce Harper and the back end of the pitching rotation as the only big question marks for the roster as spring training approaches. So, I have made a tentative update to the Washington Nationals page.
The fact that the New York Yankees signed free agent D.J. LeMahieu essentially rules them out as prospective suitors for Bryce Harper. He just had talks with the Phillies, and Mets have been rumored to be in the running, but this drama may drag out for a few more weeks...
It was a big relief that Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner both came to terms with the Nationals front office. Rendon will get $18.8 million this year, while Turner will get $3.725 million. Rendon became a regular with the Nats in 2013, playing second base and then moving to third base after Ryan Zimmerman was reassigned to first base. Other than spending the first half of the 2015 season on the disabled list, he has been steady and extremely productive both in the batter's box and on the field in a defensive capacity. With a .308 batting average last year, he really should have made the All-Star Game. He will turn 29 in June. Turner has likewise proven to be a star-quality player, with the added advantage of high speed on the base paths. I was fortunate to see him debut in the majors on August 21, 2015. At age 25, he has a great career ahead of him.
[UPDATE: I neglected to mention that one other arbitration-eligible player, pitcher Joe Ross, also came to terms a day earlier and will thus avoid arbitration; he will get $1 million this year. Two arbitration-eligible Nationals could not come to terms, and their future with the franchise is uncertain: outfielder Michael A. Taylor and relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough.
I learned from Mike Zurawski that the Tampa Bay Rays are closing down the seldom-needed upper deck at Tropicana Field to create a more "intimate" experience. This will reduce capacity from about 31,000 to a little over 25,000. (The original capacity was 45,200.) See tampabay.com. So, I added a new diagram variant to the Tropicana Field page, with the upper deck colored gray to indicate that it's currently out of use. I may tweak some of those diagrams in the next couple weeks... The Rays are thus following the lead of the Oakland Athletics, who closed the entire upper deck of Oakland Coliseum in 2006, but reversed course in April 2017 when they resumed selling cheap upper-deck tickets once again. It's not an encouraging sign, but as Mike Zurawski points out, the Rays get a bigger-than-average portion of their revenues from television rights, and that will not be affected.
Yet another MLB stadium is in the midst of changing its name for the 2019 season: The Giants' AT&T Park will [henceforth] be called "Oracle Park" from now on, under the terms of a hefty 20-year, $200 million contract. As such deals go, this one seems pretty legit. See ESPN.com. Coming so soon after Safeco Field was renamed "T-Mobile Park," however, I became a bit annoyed at having to update the Stadium names [link corrected] page once again. It's rather unwieldy to maintain, and isn't very useful anyway, so I got ambitious all of a sudden and created a new, much improved page: Stadium names chronology. The old page (listed in alphabetical order) will remain at least for the time being.
In case you were worried about the Los Angeles Angels becoming "homeless" next year (see Dec. 1), rest assured, they agreed to terms to renew their existing lease agreement for one year. After that, who knows? See ESPN.com. [These last two news items are likewise courtesy of Mike Zurawski.]
And speaking of "homeless" pro sports teams, the Oakland Raiders may not have any place to play next year, as the City of Oakland leaders are (understandably) angry that the Raiders are leaving town in 2020 to take up residence in Las Vegas. One rumored temporary "home" for the Raiders is San Diego, where QualComm Stadium (or whatever they call it now) is in a virtual state of "limbo," hosting just a few college games each fall.
I see from the clock that it's time for football. Catch you later, sports fans!