1. Gobble, Gobble
Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go!
The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh
And, ahem…how much, exactly, do I weigh?
Mmmm, you can smell the pumpkin pie from here to next week. And as a good friend of mine is fond of saying, make sure to eat a lot of pizza next Wednesday night, because it helps stretch out your stomach for Thursday. That way, you can eat more turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving Day.
Which brings me this week to poor ol' Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig. Following disappointing seasons in 2015, both potential franchise players have been asked by their clubs to lose weight this winter.
Understandable, but that's never fun for any of us. Speaking as a guy with six or seven pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream currently in his freezer (hey, it was on sale—buy four or more and they were $2.49 each, an outright steal for Phish Food and Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream!) and a weakness for a good cheeseburger, I'd rather take a Matt Harvey fastball in the ribs than forgo plunging into a good rack of ribs.
Yet here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, another feast on deck, and word comes from the killjoys at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the number of obese Americans age 20 and older continues to increase.
The disease new Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski currently is attempting to prevent is a third consecutive last-place finish next summer in Boston, which is why he's asked Ramirez, playing far beyond his age-20 season (he'll be 32 in December), to drop 15 to 20 pounds this winter. (And Pablo Sandoval is said to be on a similar program.)
Los Angeles' concern with Puig is that his career has stalled due to faulty hamstrings, which is why Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times last week that, at the team's request, Puig's "focus" this winter is to drop some pounds.
An All-Star in 2014, Puig was able to play in only 79 games last summer because of recurring hamstring strains. He batted .255 with 11 homers and 38 RBI, and though the Dodgers easily won the NL West, Puig was a non-factor in the Division Series against the Mets, going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts.
Puig, who turns 25 next month, is listed as 6'2", 255 pounds but appeared to be well beyond 255 last summer.
"He has continued to get bigger and stronger each year," Friedman told the Times. "It may not be the optimal size for him to play 150 games, 150-plus games."
There was a time when bulk was viewed as a detriment in a game requiring quick-burst starts (in the field and at the plate) and athleticism. Old-timers gleefully tell of never having to lift weights.
No question, the game has changed since then, and the consensus now is that there is a place for weightlifting and muscle, particularly for power hitters.
However, in the cases of Puig and Ramirez, the Dodgers and Red Sox are attempting to find that fine line.
Ramirez bulked up significantly last season because when the Red Sox signed him as a free agent (four years, $88 million), they told him they were moving him from shortstop to left field. He came into camp at around 225 pounds but was said to be at 250 or so by season's end.
This year, the Sox are planning to move him to first base, and they view part of a successful strategy there to involve what the scales read.
"Stay healthy," bench coach Torey Lovullo told Boston reporters in September when he was working as interim manager while John Farrell was on leave. "Less stress on the body. All from a health standpoint. All for getting through a season and not having those aches and pains that a big body has.
"We all know when you carry extra weight, it puts more stress on your joints."
Because of various nagging injuries, Ramirez played in only 105 games last year, hitting .249 with 19 homers and 53 RBI. He appears game to follow Boston's request, having sent out a photo of himself at the gym on Instagram last week.
So here comes the holiday that has introduced the word "tryptophan" into the culture (it is the chemical in turkey that makes us sleepy), as if Ramirez, Puig or any of the rest of us need another obstacle as we count calories and carbs the way scouts watch velocity numbers on the radar gun.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who turns 40 on Wednesday, has dropped weight in recent years to extend his career (he checks in at about 230 pounds now). He supports Dombrowski and Co.'s request to Ramirez, via Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald:
Hey, look, they know. They can see further than we do as a player. Sometimes we think they're asking for too much, but at the end of the day they know what they ask for.
When it comes down to losing weight, there's nothing wrong about that. I can tell you from my own experience, once I decided to take care of myself better and do things better, losing weight and other stuff, my career got longer. Hanley is still young. That's some good advice.
2. Red Sox Get Closer, Full Steam Ahead on Price or Greinke?
Figures that the Red Sox would be one of the first clubs to strike a blockbuster deal this winter: It's what Dave Dombrowski does. So add closer Craig Kimbrel to the list of big-game acquisitions he's made in his career, along with, among others, Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, David Price and Yoenis Cespedes.
Boston badly needs to improve its pitching to rebound from consecutive last-place finishes. In Dombrowski's view, the acquisition of Kimbrel, a four-time All-Star, is "enough of a major move" for the bullpen. Kimbrel becomes Boston's new closer, with Koji Uehara now bumped back into the eighth inning and Junichi Tazawa becoming the seventh-inning pitcher.
One key to the Kimbrel deal for Boston is that he's signed for three more seasons.
"He's perfectly healthy, he feels great, he's in the prime of his career, he's 27," Dombrowski said on a Friday night conference call. "Our reports are that he was throwing 97-99 in September with a good breaking ball. He's been consistent throughout his career.
"We look at him to be our guy back there for years to come."
One highly interesting aspect of the deal: Aside from acquiring an All-Star-caliber closer without surrendering any pieces off the 25-man roster, Dombrowski indicated Boston would turn to the free-agent market to beef up its rotation.
"These are only guesses at this time, but going into the wintertime and with conversations we've had with clubs over the last month, my thought process is most likely any acquisition we'd make in starting pitching would first happen as far as the free-agent field is concerned," Dombrowski said. "You never know, but that would be my guess. I thought that our acquisition of the relief-pitching aspect would more likely come through a trade."
Bingo. So while there was some thought that perhaps the deal with San Diego might have been expanded to include a starter like Tyson Ross, that never became serious. Boston zeroed in on Kimbrel, and now the Sox appear to be primed to flex their financial muscle in the David Price and/or Zack Greinke talks.
"We're in a spot that this is probably our major acquisition for the wintertime as far as the trade market is concerned," Dombrowski said. "You never can tell, but that's what my instincts tell me."
So more than ever, it appears Hanley Ramirez will be locked in at first base and the young outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo will be kept together.
3. San Diego's A.J. Preller on the Loose Again
The Kimbrel trade was San Diego's second in two days, the Padres first having sent setup man Joaquin Benoit to Seattle a day earlier.
So the man who stole the winter last offseason by making an astounding array of deals before going quiet at last July's trade deadline appears back again.
Dombrowski noted that Padres GM A.J. Preller phoned him to nail down the Kimbrel deal at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday. Together, the Kimbrel and Benoit trades freed up roughly $18 million that San Diego can use to re-deploy in the free-agent market if Preller decides to move in that direction.
"We have some flexibility financially looking at the free-agent market," Preller said on a conference call Friday night following the Kimbrel deal. "We're looking to be a championship organization, and this gives us a chance to move some money around and invest in different areas, and we're looking forward to doing that."
The Padres are desperate for a shortstop and already have been linked to free agents Ian Desmond, Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera.
And after being heavily criticized for dealing shortstop prospect Trea Turner to the Nationals in last year's three-team deal that brought Wil Myers to San Diego, the Padres bagged a legitimate young shortstop prospect from Boston in the Kimbrel deal in Javier Guerra, 20.
The overall package of four prospects the Padres received—Guerra, center fielder Manuel Margot, left-hander Logan Allen and infielder Carlos Asuaje—has generally gotten very good reviews.
While Guerra and Margot were two key gets at important up-the-middle positions at which the Padres didn't have much down on the farm, lefty Allen, who is only 18, could be a key as well.
"Logan Allen is the one that really hurts [Boston]," one scout texted me after the deal. "A healthy Brett Anderson w/plus command at 18. Still, a good deal for both teams."
Having lost outfielder Justin Upton and starter Ian Kennedy when the two rejected qualifying offers, the Padres still have plenty to do this winter. Somebody needs to protect Matt Kemp in the lineup; otherwise, Kemp's 100-RBI season in '15 will be a mirage. And, for now, Brandon Maurer appears in line to get the first crack at being San Diego's closer in 2016.
But one lesson already is worth digesting here: Preller and the Padres were scorched in many quarters of the national media for standing pat in July, yet this month's return for Kimbrel was better than anything they were offered last July. Sometimes, when a club's wait-and-see approach doesn't mesh with media demands to do something right now, the club wins.
4. What the Rebuilding Phillies Are Up To
In acquiring right-hander Jeremy Hellickson from Arizona on Saturday, new Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak is hoping for a veteran arm to anchor a young rotation that currently projects as Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan, Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher.
Hellickson is 28, won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2011 and went 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA over 146 innings in 27 starts for the Diamondbacks last year.
What the Phillies are especially in the market for are players they think might be on the verge of producing bounce-back seasons in 2016. Already this winter, they claimed right-hander Dan Otero off waivers from Oakland (Klentak's first official move as new Philadelphia GM) and signed right-hander James Russell, formerly of the Cubs, to a minor league deal.
"We offer an opportunity to players to come in and get back to the form they've shown in the past," Klentak told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "And that's probably true for all three of those players. We like what [Hellickson] has done in his career. He's a good fit for us."
5. May the Force Be with Them This Winter
One glimmer of hope emerging from last week's GM meetings: Joe Torre, MLB's Chief Baseball Officer, acknowledged that officials this winter will review the part of the replay rule that has wreaked havoc on pop-up slides.
It is a classic case of unintended consequences: In employing instant replay on close plays at the bases, the trickle-down effect has been that runners who safely slide into bases now in many cases are being called out because, when they come up from the ground, if their foot leaves that bag for a split second while the defender's glove is still on them, replay officials have no choice but to call them out.
Managers throughout the game have been dismayed by this development and would like to see the rule tweaked. However, understanding that it currently is a part of the landscape, these same managers rightfully have told their infielders to keep the glove pressed to the baserunner's body for several extra seconds following a slide because outs are now obtainable this way.
The result is far beyond what the spirit of the rule intended, and it should be addressed as quickly as possible in order to avoid more utterly insane fiascos like Kansas City's Terrance Gore being called out on his steal of third base against Houston in last month's Division Series.
6. Free-Agent Rankings
My weekly take as agents bluster, suitors cluster and bean counters muster the courage to write those checks. This week's rankings are unchanged from last week:
1. Zack Greinke: This guy is an athlete who loves to hit. You have to think a National League club would have the advantage over an AL team.
2. David Price: Boston is primed to make a strong run now that the Sox have obtained their closer via trade in Craig Kimbrel.
3. Jason Heyward: Fled Atlanta last year before it was trendy.
4. Johnny Cueto: I'd toss in an extra $10 million just for those dreads. Seriously.
5. Yoenis Cespedes: Meet the Mets or Flee the Mets?
7. Numbers Game
A few nuggets from the always insightful stats guru Bill Chuck's weekly compilation:
• Only eight pitchers have whiffed 200 or more batters in each of the past two seasons, and two of them are free agents. Hello again, Zack Greinke and David Price.
• Only 16 pitchers have thrown 200 or more innings in each of the past two seasons, and four of them are free agents: Greinke, Price, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
• From 2010 to 2015, no middle infielder whiffed as often as Ian Desmond (876 strikeouts). Dan Uggla was closest (730). Yes, Desmond is a free agent.
• Interestingly, the Astros' Jose Altuve and the Mets' Yoenis Cespedes each walked 33 times in 2015. Altuve struck out 67 times and Cespedes 141.
• Another free agent, Jordan Zimmermann, surrendered 16 homers after the All-Star break this season after having surrendered 15 combined in the second half in 2013 and 2014.
8. Farewell to a Legend
From Bobby Bonds to George Foster to Jack Clark to Matt Williams, this guy could spot talent as sharply as anyone. Rest in peace, George:
9. This Wasn't How Matt Duffy Envisioned Rookie of the Year Announcement Day
The San Francisco third baseman has a few other issues this week:
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day
Yep, sending this one straight out to Matt Duffy, from country troubadour Joe Diffie:
"You can set my truck on fire, and roll it down a hill
"And I still wouldn't trade it for a Coupe de Ville
"I've got an eight-foot bed that never has to be made
"You know if it weren't for trucks we wouldn't have tailgates
"I met all my wives in traffic jams
"There's just something women like about a Pickup Man"
— Joe Diffie, "Pickup Man"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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