December 1, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Max Scherzer signs with the Mets
Perhaps this is the punishment I get for having taunted Mets fans with "We got Murphy!" before a game at Nationals Park in June 2016. In one of the biggest transactional surprises that I can remember, Max Scherzer today finalized a contract with the New York Mets worth $130 million over three years. At the insane rate of $43 million per year, that surpasses the total annual payroll of several MLB teams. In announcing the deal (see MLB.com), the Mets' owner Steve Cohen boasted of the starting pitcher duo of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, anticipating an imminent championship. Anything is possible, but if the past means anything, the Mets run a huge risk of personality clashes and dysfunctional performance.
So, this is another kick in the gut like the Nats' infamous "fire sale" at the end of July. Personally, I don't begrudge Max Scherzer ($cherzer?) for getting the best deal he could, but it says a lot about the Mets that no other team bargaining with him made a comparable offer. The fact that Max signed with a divisional arch-rival is a lot like when Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies in February 2019. When introduced to the press, Bryce famously misspoke, saying he hoped to bring a championship trophy to D.C.!
Why so early in the postseason period of trading? Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association are at an impasse over demands for earlier free agency and other things, and a "lockout" by the owners is all but certain to happen at midnight tonight. [UPDATE: It just did.] It would be harder if not impossible to bargain under such conditions of mutual distrust between team owners and players.
In other MLB transactions of note, former Dodger free agent Corey Seager signed a ten-year contract with the Texas Rangers. Former Cub free agent Javier Baez signed a $140 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. Both those teams are in dire need of a big boost. Also, the Cubs signed the Nats' former catcher Yan Gomes, and the Dodgers signed the Nats' former closing pitcher Daniel Hudson to a one-year contract. It was rather surprising that the Dodgers declined to make a "qualifying offer" to 34-year old ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Are the owners satisfied with just one World Series victory?
As for the Nationals themselves, they signed outfielder Andrew Stevenson to a one-year contract renewal. He has been a useful backup player, occasionally getting clutch hits as a pinch hitter, but his batting average was under .250 this year.
Harper and Ohtani are named MVPs
The leaked news about Mike Schmidt being the announcer (see November 16) removed the element of surprise from Bryce Harper being named National League Most Valuable Player for 2021. Oddly, he was only near the top of the National League in one category: batting average (.309); he had 35 home runs and 84 RBIs, which are good numbers but not that great. He was certainly most improved during the second half of the year. Washington Nationals' star Juan Soto came in second place, with six first-place votes; he had a .313 average, 29 home runs, and 95 RBIs. Former National Trea Turner led the league in batting (.328), but came in fifth place in MVP voting.
There was never any surprise about Shohei Ohtani getting the American League MVP award. He created an enormous sensation early in the season, as the first genuine dual-role pitcher/slugger since Babe Ruth rose to fame with the Red Sox over a century ago. During the second half of 2021, his numbers receded somewhat, but he still finished the year with 46 home runs (just two behind the MLB leaders), 100 RBIs, and a so-so batting average of .257. As a pitcher, he had a 9-2 record, with 156 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.18. Not Cy Young numbers, but very respectable in and of themselves.
Burnes and Ray get Cy Young Awards
The selection of Corbin Burnes (of the Milwaukee Brewers) for the National League Cy Young Award came as a bit of a surprise to me. He had a record of 11-5, with 234 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.43 (just ahead of Max Scherzer). Burnes started his MLB career with the Brewers in 2018, but this was his first year playing a full season. I was hoping Max Scherzer would get his fourth Cy Young, but he came in third place in the voting.
In the American League, Robbie Ray won the Cy Young Award in his first (and as it turns out his only) full year with the Toronto Blue Jays. He had a record of 13-7, with 248 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.84. You can't argue with those numbers. Yesterday it was announced that he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Football returns to Wrigley Field
Two weekends ago, a college football was played at Wrigley Field for the first time in several years. Northwestern University hosted the Purdue Boilermakers, losing by a score of 32-14. Unlike the previous time that Northwestern University hosted a football game there (in November 2010), this time the gridiron was arranged with enough room behind the end zones to allay fears for players' safety. I was aware that when the last major renovation of Wrigley Field was completed (in 2018-2019) they made the dugout and first few rows of seats along the third base side removable. Until I saw photos of this game, however, I didn't know exactly how this was done. Well, now I do, and you know what that means...
Wrigley Field update!
Needless to say, I just had to create a diagram showing the new football configuration at Wrigley Field, and as so often happens, the process of making minor alterations led to a series of revelations which culminated in a rather significant revision of all the Wrigley Field diagrams. I was initially focused on getting the new football configuration right, but as I was comparing new photos to photos that I have taken there (in 2008, 2012, and 2017), I began to notice a few minor discrepancies, and before you knew it I was furiously tweaking details. Somehow I entirely missed the fact that the main grandstand was extended on both the left field and right field ends, so that they now actually hang out over the sidewalks, just like the bleachers do. The lower-deck diagram now shows the supporting posts under the three main scoreboards.
One brand-new feature that I have been contemplating for some time is the inclusion of markers to indicate the home ("H") and visitors ("V") dugouts. (In most cases there is no need to indicate which bullpen is which, since they are generally on the same side of the field as the respective dugouts are.) Eventually all diagrams will have such "H" and "V" markers, as long as I have solid information about which was which. In a few cases, such as Yankee Stadium and RFK Stadium, the home and visitors dugouts were reversed at some point.