Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes provide intrigue when the hot stove at the baseball winter meetings sputters

Baseball winter meetings
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With little tangible action so far at this year’s annual winter meetings, attention of the baseball world continues to be on the free agency’s biggest fish and exactly who he is talking to.

This has been billed as two-way star Shohei Ohtani’s winter of financial content, and it seems that’s the way things are playing out. Ohtani’s agent, Nex Balelo of CCA, keeps his negotiations close to the vest, and he has reportedly made that clear to all interested teams. Therefore, few specifics have leaked out regarding the American League’s reigning MVP. And that makes this whole process even more intriguing.

Undoubtedly, the race is on. And the Los Angeles Dodgers, long the favorites for Ohtani given their location and deep pockets, remain such, especially after manager Dave Roberts revealed to reporters in Nashville that Ohtani met with team officials at Dodgers Stadium recently and that the club still sees the 29-year-old slugger/ace-when-healthy as its top priority.

The new speculation is whether Roberts hurt his club’s chances of landing Ohtani by publicly admitting they met. That seems ludicrous to me.

Ohtani is going to sign where he is the most comfortable, has the best chance to win and, like most players, where the money grows on the most trees. Sunny California is certainly a place like that.

So, apparently, is Toronto. Or at least Dunedin, Fla., where, according to The Athletic, Ohtani arrived at the Blue Jays’ spring training digs Monday and met with team officials. It’s believed that Ohtani previously met with the San Francisco Giants and that his previous team, the Los Angeles Angels, remain in the mix. The Chicago Cubs reportedly don’t think they are out of it either.

A baseball nation waits. And that’s not a terrible thing. The saga provides needed fascination when no other big news is being made.

Guardians are MLB draft lottery winners

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MLB held its second annual draft lottery Tuesday and the top two winners were a bit surprising. The Cleveland Guardians, who were 76-86 this year and placed third in the AL Central, won the top draft spot in the lottery, despite previously having a two percent chance of selecting first in 2024.

The Cincinnati Reds, who were 82-80 and were fighting for a National League playoff spot in the last week of 2023, placed second in the lottery. That’s a tremendous break for an up-and-coming club like the Reds, who had a one percent shot of getting the first pick when the lottery began.

Meanwhile, the sad-sack Oakland Athletics, who lost 112 games and were baseball’s worst by six full games, ended up with the fourth pick in 2024. They had an 18.3 percent probability of landing in the first spot, but apparently, the only kind of luck the A’s have is bad.

The Colorado Rockies, who lost 103 games in 2023, will pick third next year and the Chicago White Sox, who lost 101, will select fifth. The Kansas City Royals, who had the second-worst record with 106 losses, fell to sixth in the draft order.

The lottery was put in place to establish a checks-and-balances system for teams purposely tanking for high draft picks. I get the concept. But a club like Oakland isn’t purposely tanking. It’s a small market team with an uninspired owner and a perpetually minuscule budget. Not getting the first pick isn’t going to suddenly make ownership, which is locating the team to Las Vegas, want to win.

Certainly, the A’s need a No. 1 pick more than the Guardians or Reds. Weirdly, falling from first to fourth allows the A’s to spend less on a quality amateur, which is counterproductive to the goal of making all teams appear competitive.  

Not the signing you expected, but …

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The White Sox signed a starting pitcher to a two-year, $15 million deal Tuesday, according to ESPN.com. But it wasn’t exactly a name atop the pitching radar.

Pending a physical, the White Sox agreed to a deal with 30-year-old right-hander Erick Fedde, who last pitched in the majors with the Washington Nationals in 2022. A former first-round pick out of UNLV in 2014, Fedde never lived up to expectations with the Nats, compiling a 5.41 ERA in 102 games (88 starts) in parts of six seasons.

He signed with Korea’s NC Dinos last year, added a sweeper to his repertoire and won the KBO’s MVP Award, posting a 20-6 record and 2.00 ERA in 30 starts. Fedde struck out 209 batters and walked 35 in 180 1/3 innings.

Fedde, primarily a sinkerballer in the big leagues, always struck me as a pitcher who didn’t have full confidence in his pitches, and he was way too hittable (9.9 per nine innings) for someone with his stuff. Maybe the season he had in 2023 in Korea will provide the confidence he needs to attack hitters at the MLB level.   

Cats chase dogs; Red Sox trade with Yankees

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In a vacuum, the move makes sense. The Boston Red Sox were rumored to be shopping outfielder Alex Verdugo, who never really grew into the superstar they had expected when they acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020 as part of the Mookie Betts deal. And the New York Yankees are searching for outfield help.

According to an ESPN report, the Red Sox on Tuesday night sent Verdugo to the archrival Yankees for three pitchers, reliever Greg Weissert and prospects Richard Fitts and Nicholas Judice. It fills a hole for the Yankees. And it gives the Red Sox three more pitching options, including two who are 23 or younger, for a player approaching free agency at the end of 2024.

All kosher, except these are the Yankees and Red Sox playing nice and helping each other. Weird. Of course, it’s also weird that those two teams finished fourth and fifth in the AL East last season. Desperate times, strange bedfellows.

Fraley wins Career Excellence Award

The Baseball Writers Association of America announced Tuesday that former Dallas Morning News baseball writer Gerry Fraley posthumously has won this year’s BBWAA Career Excellence Award.

Frales, as he was known within the business, was a tireless reporter, an undeniable baseball enthusiast and a great writer. But more, he was a friend and mentor to many, including myself. About 15 years ago, I was part of a national baseball notes network that included Fraley. We became friends through that interaction and would try to grab dinner at the ballpark at least once a year while I was in Arlington, Texas or he was in Baltimore.

My favorite story about Fraley’s love for baseball happened in the offseason one year, when I received a text late at night. Apparently, just for fun, Fraley was looking through winter ball stats from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and noticed that an Orioles prospect had had a torrid start to the winter and wanted to let me know in case I needed some copy during a slow time.

I thanked him and then chided him for wasting his well-earned time off scanning international stats. But that was classic Gerry. He loved baseball so much – almost as much as loved professional wrestling – and he also loved taking care of his friends.

Fraley, after a courageous battle with cancer, passed away in 2019, at age 64. He now will be immortalized as one of BBWAA’s greats at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer. It’s a tremendous honor and one that’s well-deserved.

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