Write it down: The Chicago Cubs are the early favorites for 2017.
What, too soon?
1. Aroldis Chapman vs. Kenley Jansen: The Winter's Heavyweight Bout
The last piece of confetti has landed at the seventh-largest gathering in human history—Cubstock 2016—free agency is zooming toward us and the biggest question in a weak class is pure ninth-inning dollars and cents (sense?).
Who gets more money, Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen?
"Wow, that's a great question, man," one major league executive exclaimed Monday.
"Really good question," a veteran scout added.
Bleacher Report posed that question to seven major league executives and scouts Monday, with one follow-up question: Which of the two would you rather have?
Both Chapman and Jansen effectively are the same age, pitching 2016 at their age-28 seasons. Both distinguished themselves in the postseason, with Chapman's Cubs knocking off Jansen's Dodgers en route to history.
Mark Melancon, whom Washington acquired from Pittsburgh last summer, is another marquee closer on the market, and we certainly do not want to ignore him, though all of the executives we spoke with rank him third behind the other two guys.
Chapman vs. Jansen, that's the cage match.
"I'll say Chapman gets more money, but in a perfect world, it's tough and I don't think you're going to get a clear-cut answer," one American League executive says. "Chapman is so damn good, but he does scare me. It's close, but he's the best guy, to me."
Without question, Chapman has more baggage, which is why things could swing Jansen's way this winter: Chapman was suspended by MLB for 30 games last April after a domestic violence incident, and a few years ago he had his license suspended after receiving multiple speeding tickets.
"You look at the numbers, they're comparable," one longtime scout says in considering Chapman and Jansen. "I think both are relatively healthy, although Jansen had that heart thing."
Jansen underwent surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat four years ago that had knocked him onto the disabled list a couple of times.
Another red flag with Jansen, the scout says, is that the Dodgers never got serious with offering him a multiyear extension that would have headed off this winter's free agency.
"That's curious to me," he says. "Is something there? He's going to get four or five years on the open market; did they see something that made them uncomfortable to the point where they wouldn't go four or five years? It doesn't add up unless Jansen's crew was adamant they were going to go into an open market regardless.
"Or, maybe the way the Dodgers operate, they don't value that [closer's] role as much as others in the industry might. You're out there 56 innings, what you're going to ask for versus somebody else who can do a respectable job [for much less], maybe they're thinking they can get somebody else."
Pitching for the New York Yankees and Cubs last summer, Chapman went 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 36 saves in 59 appearances. He struck out 90 in 58 innings. Chapman will turn 29 in February.
For the Dodgers, Jansen went 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 47 saves. He struck out 104 in 68.2 innings. Jansen turned 29 in September.
"I think the reason Chapman gets more money is that I think the Yankees will re-sign him," one American League scout says. "I just think they will overpay him.
"Chapman is left-handed, he fills out a lot of boxes, he's shown he can go multiple innings even though [the Cubs] did it wrong. They didn't need to do it the way they did it. But there's not that big of a separation. The other guy is good, too. It's just that, pitching on the West Coast, people didn't stay up late to see him."
As if on cue, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday that he has reached out to Chapman's agent, per Newsday's Erik Boland:
One executive with an American League team does stay up late, apparently, and would take Jansen.
"I think he's more reliable, his makeup," the executive says. "Chapman, we hear stuff about. How about a quiet assassin in Jansen? Nobody ever looks at his stuff like, ooooh, it's 101 mph, boom, boom, but this guy gets it done under the radar, in that sense. The other guy, it's like a show, but he's not as reliable as Jansen for me.
"Then, you go into other areas—who do you want in your clubhouse? You never hear boo out of Jansen. [With] Chapman, there's always something. Did he have a good day today? The domestic violence incident might not have been that big a deal in the end, but it's a reckless life. With the other guy, there's none of that."
Chapman, by all accounts, behaved well after serving his suspension. There were no incidents with the Yankees or with the Cubs.
Another thing, as one National League executive points out, closer contracts historically have not paid great dividends. The biggest went to Jonathan Papelbon before the 2012 season, and it wasn't long until Philadelphia regretted giving him four years and $50 million.
The most recent big payday for a closer came two winters ago, when the White Sox plucked David Robertson from the Yankees for four years and $46 million. You probably noticed in recent days that it was the other Chicago team that did the winning.
Still, another AL scout does not hesitate in saying he would take Chapman in a heartbeat.
"He's left-handed, so he does two things at once," the scout says. "A closer is a unique thing, but every manager I've ever been around always has in the back of his mind when the other club's best hitter is a left-handed hitter. Here it is in the ninth inning, and if the closer gets into a jam and the superior left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a chance to beat you, he's always thinking, 'What am I going to do if that happens?'"
Chapman is an elite closer plus a left-handed specialist.
"He has marquee value, too," the scout continues. "There's a guy who sells tickets just because he [regularly] hits 100 mph. Plus, Chapman is on top of his game, and Jansen is not always unhittable like he once was. His cutter's taken a step backward for me."
And yet, one more scout says he would take Jansen.
"His command can get kind of sketchy, but that 95, 96 mph cutter is so hard to square up," the scout says. "He's effectively wild in the strike zone, and I think that works to his favor. Chapman just has periods of time where he gets wild. It's 100 to 102 with really inconsistent command."
So stay tuned. The only thing we can guarantee with an impending free-agent market, no matter how strong or weak, is that it will take some zany, unpredictable twists. As this one does, Chapman vs. Jansen will be among the most intriguing storylines.
2. Free Agent Go-To List
The best of a weak class:
• Yoenis Cespedes: Opted out of his New York Mets deal, leaving two years and $47.5 million on the table. He's aiming for a $100 million deal. Not that they will climb that high in the salary stratosphere, but the Los Angeles Angels could use an impact outfield bat. Maybe Philadelphia steps up?
• Edwin Encarnacion: The breakup of the Blue Jays is on deck in the impending winter blizzard of free agents. Some think Boston could use him as a replacement for David Ortiz at designated hitter. Wait, isn't that part of the reason for Pablo Sandoval's presence?
• Aroldis Chapman/Kenley Jansen: See above.
• Ian Desmond: He needs to decide by next week whether to accept the $17.2 million qualifying offer Texas has extended. After being frozen out on the free-agent market last year and signing a way-under-market-value one-year, $8 million deal with the Rangers and moving from shortstop to center field, Desmond re-established himself this year while hitting .285/.335/.446 with 22 homers and 86 RBI while increasing his defensive versatility. After rejecting a seven-year, $107 million offer during the winter of 2013-14, Desmond may be looking for that big payday now.
• Mark Trumbo: His 47 homers led the majors during his triumphant All-Star season in Baltimore. He's no threat to win a Gold Glove, but he is a terrific middle-of-the-order presence and clubhouse guy.
• Wilson Ramos: Maybe some will be scared off by the torn ACL that ended his season in late September, but catchers are in demand and Ramos produced 22 homers and 80 RBI in an All-Star season.
• Dexter Fowler: It is no coincidence that when the Cubs suffered their only skid during the summer, the last few weeks leading into the All-Star break, Fowler was on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. He's still only 30 and is a bona fide leadoff man and center fielder.
• Justin Turner: Emerged as the Dodgers' clubhouse leader last summer. It's tough to see them letting him go.
3. Terry Francona Eats
What do managers do on the eve of Game 7?
Or, for that matter, on the eve of Game 5?
Well, if you're Terry Francona, you snack.
Not only did the Cubs-Indians World Series give us two great teams and one whale of a series, it also provided two of the more entertaining managers in the game in Francona and Chicago's Joe Maddon.
Francona ordered $44 worth of room-service ice cream after Game 4 in Chicago, and that was well before the climactic Game 7. After the Indians lost Game 6 to set up Wednesday's winner-take-all game, here's how Francona's Tuesday night went.
"I was having a nightmare that somebody was breaking my ribs," he said. "I woke up and my ribs hurt. I kind of got scared. And I felt there, and the TV remote was, like, stuck in my rib cage. Evidently, I had slept on it for a couple of hours. I got up to go to the bathroom and, I mean, it hurt.
"It's not easy being manager. My bedroom looked like a national disaster. I'm going to have to change a few habits when we're done here."
What the heck was he watching before dozing off with the remote jammed into his ribs?
"I was actually watching Clinton and [Trump]—you finish the sentence, not me," he quipped.
But that wasn't the end of it. There was the peanut butter…
"Yeah, I had peanut butter on my glasses, too," he said. "I was dipping pretzels into the jar of peanut butter."
Yes, in bed.
"Oh yeah," Francona said. "Everything, man. I go straight home and I hit the bed and everything's laid out next to me. And I fell asleep at some point while eating. I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and I'll just reach over and grab something. Unfortunately, it's true."
One silver lining: He didn't wake up in a pool of ice cream. By Games 6 and 7, after the Chicago room service, he'd had enough of that.
"I can't look at ice cream for awhile," he said. "Some company brought some in here the other day. I told them to take it into the kitchen because I really don't have a yearning for that right now.
"You know what happens? I don't eat during the day. Like, what is it? It's 5 p.m. I haven't eaten yet. I just either forgot or whatever, I just got busy. So normally when the game starts, I'll think, OK, you know what? I'll have a salad tonight. By the seventh inning, I'm like, man, I want everything greasy I can find. Then it just escalates from there."
4. What Is This, The Food Network?
Recently, a cool World Series tradition quietly started. The day after the Cubs won, last year's World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals organization, sent enough pizza to feed 150 in the Cubs' front office…just like the San Francisco Giants' organization did for Kansas City two years ago. And just like the Boston Red Sox did for the Giants in 2014.
The thinking behind this cool idea?
"It's a really nice touch for the team that won it all the year before to send it to those folks who worked so hard," Toby Cook, the Royals' vice president of publicity, told the Kansas City Star's Pete Grathoff.
Now, if only political elections contained good sports like that, right?
5. NL West: Black and Blue Division
On Monday, Arizona introduced Torey Lovullo as its new manager and Colorado unveiled Bud Black as its new manager.
Finally, order is being restored in a division that had the Dodgers and Giants doubled over in laughter last month when:
- The Diamondbacks were without a manager and general manager after firing Chip Hale and Dave Stewart.
- The Rockies were without a manager after Walt Weiss' departure.
- The Padres were without a general manager while A.J. Preller was serving a 30-day suspension for his latest rules infraction, after which the club fired president Mike Dee.
Amateur hour, all around.
The Lovullo hiring was no surprise in that new Arizona GM Mike Hazen, recently hired from Boston, is close to Lovullo, who was Red Sox manager John Farrell's highly respected bench coach. Lovullo, Boston's interim manager for the final 48 games of 2015 while Farrell was being treated for cancer, has long been viewed as prime managerial material. He'll have a running start in Arizona by inheriting ace Zack Greinke, perennial MVP-candidate Paul Goldschmidt and a presumably healthy A.J. Pollock.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Black knows that NL West personnel well following nine seasons as San Diego's manager before spending 2016 as a special assistant to Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler. Maybe hiring a former pitcher to figure out the pitching complications in Coors Field is finally Colorado's path to contention.
6. Weekly Power Rankings
Hot Stove specials….
1. Democracy: It wasn't five minutes after Terry Francona was interviewed after Cleveland lost Game 7 of the World Series before a buddy from home texted me: "A true gentleman with a lot of class. Why don't guys like him run for president?" Go vote Tuesday, and when it's over, can we all please treat each other with the kind of dignity and respect that we see on the field when sports are at their best?
2. Chicago Cubs: Advil, Nyquil, Dayquil, Sudafed: What works best to wipe the lingering effects of "Go Cubs Go!" ringing in your ears like tinnitus?!
3. Free Agency: Not to disparage this year's weak class, but the crickets are lining up right now.
4. Yoenis Cespedes: Whatever happens, part of his deal has to be that he shows up next spring with a new team driving a new ride for the first 10 days in a row, doesn't it?
5. Cleveland Indians: If Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley all would have been healthy, oh, what might have been.
• The next big deal, of course, is a new labor agreement. The Basic Agreement expires Dec. 1. While no work stoppage is expected, sources say both sides (owners and players) are working overtime right up until the deadline. Among the big issues: a potential international draft and improving the travel schedule for each team, which in turn will improve quality of play.
• The Kansas City Royals are making reliever Wade Davis available this winter, according to B/R sources. That makes sense, given free-agent starting pitching is weak and premier free-agent closers Chapman and Jansen are expected to command at least four-year deals worth $44-48 million. The Royals, who picked up their $10 million club option on Davis for 2017, are open to taking a good package of prospects for him.
• After Arizona bypassed him in favor of Lovullo for their managerial job, Triple-A manager Phil Nevin, who finished second to Lovullo, left the organization to become San Francisco's third base coach.
• Tampa Bay, after just 68 wins last summer, might trade as many as two starting pitchers—Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi?—to improve other areas of the club.
• The Cubs-Indians Game 7 was the highest-rated baseball game on television in 25 years, drawing more viewers than any other game since Game 7 of the Minnesota-Atlanta World Series in 1991.
• All the best to media relations genius Rick Vaughn, who parted ways with Tampa Bay. And I'm not using that word, genius, lightly. Vaughn is as good as there is in the game, and until he lands somewhere good, he will be greatly missed.
• The Jacksonville Suns, Miami's Double-A affiliate, are no more. After a groovy name change, they are now the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
8. This Goes for Parishioners Outside of Chicago, Too, You Know
How great was this notice from the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Chicago over the weekend?:
9. Little Steven and the E Street Tweets
Anybody who knows me knows that my favorite band is the E Street Band. So as the Cubs and Indians were hurtling toward the conclusion of an epic Game 7, it was hard not to notice this exchange between a political pundit and a certain Hall of Fame guitarist in the eighth inning after Javier Baez struck out on a failed safety squeeze attempt:
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week
Among the treats from the Cubs-Indians World Series was a great tour of the fabulous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland…
As we vote Tuesday, here's to democracy, poetry, Nobel Peace Prize winners and those two great American art forms, baseball and rock and roll…
"Come gather 'round people wherever you roam
"And admit that the waters around you have grown
"Accept it soon, you'll be drenched to the bone
"If your time to you is worth savin'
"Then you better start swimmin', you could sink like a stone
"For the times, they are a-changin'
"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
"And don't criticize what you can't understand
"Your sons and your daughters, beyond your command
"Your old road is rapidly agin'
"So get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand
"For the times, they are a-changin'"
—Bob Dylan, "The Times, They Are A-Changin'"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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