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December 31, 2023 [LINK / comment]

Shohei Ohtani joins the L.A. Dodgers

Without a doubt, the biggest news this month has been the 10-year, $700 million deal between the Los Angeles Dodgers and legendary pitcher-slugger Shohei Ohtani, who is so worn out from double-duty record-setting this year that his arm is seriously debilitated. He probably won't pitch until at least mid-season. Ohtani became a free agent after playing for three full seasons (2021, 2022, and 2023) with the Los Angeles Angels, and for two partial seasons before that. As a pitcher this year, he had a 10-5 record with a 3.01 ERA, while at the plate, he had a .304 batting average, with 44 home runs and 95 RBIs. Words simply do not suffice to describe his amazing talent and ability.

I sure hope Ohtani read the fine print in his contract, because it turns out that he will only be getting paid $2 million per year, adding up to $20 million over its ten-year course. (See the Washington Post. The remaining $68 million annual salary will be deferred until some time far off in the future. Evidently, this arrangement helps reduce his California tax liability, but higher-than-expected inflation could ultimately reduce the real value of those future dollars, however. This is the same sort of arrangement that Max Scherzer had with the Washington Nationals, reflecting the franchise's financial constraint stemming from the dispute with the Baltimore Orioles over MASN television royalties. (In spite of repeated court rulings mostly in the Nationals' favor, somehow the Orioles keep wriggling out of their payment obligations, leading to renewed rounds of litigation.

Ohtani's willingness to accept deferred compensation so as to help the Dodgers afford other championship-caliber talent soon bore fruit: the Dodgers also signed the 25-year old pitching ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a 12-year contract worth $325 million. (Talk about a bloated payroll!) Yamamoto (who bears the same last name as a famous admiral from World War II) won the Pacific League MVP Award three times while playing with the ORIX Buffaloes. ORIX is a corporate financial conglomerate based in Japan.

Other hot stove news

The San Diego Padres faced up to the bleak reality that last year's big talent binge was a total flop, and agreed to trade superstar slugger Juan Soto to -- who else? -- the New York Yankees. The 25-year old Soto will become a free agent one year hence, and while he expressed obvious happiness at joining the Bronx Bombers, there is uncertainty over what kind of long-term contract he might get. It probably depends on how well he plays this year. The Yankees also signed Cy Young winner Gerritt Cole to a 10-year contract worth $324 million. Some people will recall that Soto used to play with the Washington Nationals, playing a key role in the team's 2019 postseason success.

On Saturday, the Braves announced a trade with the Boston Red Sox, who will send their pitcher Chris Sale (and $17 million cash) to Atlanta, in exchange for a much younger pitcher, Vaughn Grissom. That gives the Braves' already-strong pitching rotation a big boost, a sign that the franchise owners are determined to pursue another World Series trophy this year. Sale is 34 years old and has had some health issues, but there is a big upside to the risk the Braves are taking.

Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals have made very few acquisitions. They signed free agent Nick Senzel, who played various infield and outfield positions for the Cincinnati Reds over the past five years, to a one-year contract worth $2 million. They also signed outfielder Juan Yepez, who played 76 games with the Cardinals as a rookie this year, to a minor league contract. This relatively passive stance is a disappointment for fans who were hoping that the team's improvement this past year might prove the basis for the acquisition of serious top-notch talent. Evidently, the quest for a postseason berth will have to wait for at least another year.

Perhaps more importantly, in mid-November the Nationals came to terms with four arbitration-eligible players: slugging outfielder Lane Thomas, infielder Luis Garcia, and relief pitchers Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey. All four are key components of the slowly-rebuilding team, although Garcia has not been as consistent at hitting or fielding as would be hoped. The other three really deserve multi-year contracts, and it's a sign of the tenuous commitment of the Lerner family tothe team's long-term success that such contracts have not been offered yet.

Annual baseball awards

For the record, here are the major annual awards for baseball players and managers, which were announced in the middle of November:

Award American League (Team) National League (Team)
Most Valuable Player Shohei Ohtani (P/DH) LAA Ronald Acuña (OF) ATL
Cy Young Award Gerritt Cole NYY Blake Snell SD
Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson (IF) BAL Corbin Carroll (OF) ARZ
Manager of the Year Brandon Hyde BAL Skip Schumaker MIA

The Nats in 2023

This graph shows how the Washington Nationals recovered nicely after a horrible beginning to the 2023 season, surging upward in May, July, and August, while lagging in June and September.

Nats win loss 2023

The Washington Nationals page has been updated with that graph and various data updates and corrections.

Diagram updates? What diagram updates??

Indeed, there have been hardly any diagram updates this past year, but that does not mean I haven't been working like a (part-time) slave in getting all the MLB stadium diagrams up to standards of accuracy and detail. This past week I somehow got wrapped up in correcting some flaws in Aloha Stadium, located western side of Honolulu, Hawaii. Then I noticed some potential problems in my Turner Field diagrams, and after extensive comparison of various photos, I spent several hours yesterday and today fixing them as well.

On a related note, I am accumulating more and more foreign stadiums on my "to-do" list: London Stadium (neutral site of MLB games in 2019 and 2024), Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu (likewise this past year and 2024), and a stadium in Seoul, South Korea whose name escapes me at the moment. There will be an MLB game there for the very first time next year (2024). Also, there will be a game or two in historic Rickwood Field, in Birmingham, Alabama, which I visited in early 2021. (See the Anomalous stadiums page.)

At some point in the near future, I will try to get caught up with all the recent changes in names of NFL stadiums. It's all so confusing!

Oracle Park photos!

Several new photos have been (or soon will be) added to the Oracle Park page, including two exterior views and five interior shots such as this one:

Oracle Park

Oracle Park, during a tour I took there on June 19. On the other side of San Francisco Bay is the city of Oakland, where the Athletics are getting ready to depart, perhaps after the 2024 season.

Since the legendary crooner Tony Bennett passed away a few months ago, the phrase "I left my heart in San Francisco" seems especially relevant.

San Francisco

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The Bay Bridge (to Oakland), as seen from Oracle Park, heavily damaged in the 1989 earthquake; a building at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, where hippies once proliferated; the iconic pyramid-shaped Transamerica Tower; and the city skyline, now dominated by the SalesForce* Tower.

* I had never even heard of "SalesForce" before, but it is evidently a high-tech marketing company of some sort. A potential rival to Amazon, perhaps?

Happy New Year!

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