Welcome back to Nine Innings, SI’s weekly look at what’s fun, cool, and somewhat stupid around the league. Today’s topics include: the death of the trade deadline; A-Rod’s depressing birthday cake; throwback uniforms, ranked; and much more.
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There are only hours left until the July 31 trade deadline—the last chance for every team around the league to get better ahead of a playoff push or to sell off pieces for the future. It’s normally a busy, frenetic and chaotic time. Yet with one day to go before this season’s trades must stop, there’s been remarkably little activity—a potentially worrying sign in the game’s current economic climate.
So far, the only move of note has been the Mets’ surprise acquisition of Marcus Stroman, a deal made independent of any visible strategy and more equivalent to Charlie cutting the brake lines in “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” (Go ahead and imagine Brodie Van Wagenen yelling “Wild card, b-----s,” as he completes a trade; it’ll make you feel better.) Other than that, July has been a lot of hemming and hawing. Big-name players have popped up in the rumor mill, but the month so far has been characterized by inaction and denial (again, save for Van Wagenen, who’s currently in the process of telling you to hold his beer and watch this).
Sound familiar? It’s reminiscent of the last two offseasons, which were marked by front offices freezing out free agents with below-market contract offers. So far, this deadline has been more of the same, as sellers have put high prices on their best players only to find that buyers aren’t interested in spending much if at all. In this era of the game, where prospects and cost control matter more than ever and where advanced analytics have led to similar player valuations across baseball, it’s no surprise that few front offices want to sacrifice what it takes to acquire high-end established talent.
But even if that’s to be expected, it’s still concerning. The slow offseason was bad enough, but a deadline of no activity is an equally bad sign as to where the game is going. Multiple contenders are staring at holes on their roster but are apparently unwilling to do what it takes to fill them. That may be prudent in some cases, but it’s deeply boring, and a sign of a fear that has more or less paralyzed the game when it comes to roster building. No general manager is willing to break from the new orthodoxy of stockpiling young, cheap players, even if moving them is the only way forward in a trade. It’s a frustrating approach that, while understandable given what the league has made most valuable, leaves fans stuck rooting for teams that sit on their hands.
Today’s organizational blueprint features only one path to winning that anyone wants to attempt, no matter how lost they get along the way. All fans get are 30 copy-cats, fixated on prospects and those six years of artificially constrained salaries. No one wants to add two months to a contending window now at the cost of a potential year or two down the road.
The result is a deadline period free of consequence (and in which players reaching the end of the team control rope are increasingly worth less and less). The teams, though, don’t seem inclined to change that: Per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the expectation is that general managers will push this offseason to move next year’s deadline to Aug. 15. The idea would be to give them more time to assess whether or not they’re contenders or not, but it shouldn’t take that long to decide. The reality is that the quiet is by design: When no one wants to dance, the floor is going to stay empty no matter how late the club stays open—or how badly fans want to see something happen.
This Week In … Vladimir Guerrero Jr.!
Last week, I brought up the possibility that Guerrero, amid a season that can be charitably be described as “fine,” could be in line for a brief demotion to clear his head and perhaps work on stuff. Vlad Jr. more or less spit on that idea by hitting .409/.480/.682 over his last six games and is now on a little hot streak since just after the All-Star break, slashing .412/.474/.676 since July 19. But all that’s done is bring his numbers up to ordinary.
Hopefully, though, this is the point where the sustained climb begins. It can likely only be helped by the arrival to Toronto of Bo Bichette, the third member of the Blue Jays’ Good Genes Club. They may be the only thing worth watching going forward for a dismal Blue Jays squad that dumped Marcus Stroman on Sunday.
This Week In … Sad Birthday Cakes!
Saturday was Alex Rodriguez’s 44th birthday, which meant a big celebration on Friday courtesy his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, who brought the former MVP out onto the stage during a concert in Miami to present him with an enormous cake. She also had her fans serenade him with “Happy Birthday,” which had to be a confusing moment for anyone in the crowd who didn’t know who A-Rod was.
That birthday cake was a special piece of work, as baked goods for celebrities usually are. Unfortunately, the cake brought out for Rodriguez by Lopez on Sunday night during ESPN’s broadcast of Yankees-Red Sox was, uh, decidedly not.
If the four-tier stunner from J-Lo’s concert is the A-Rod of cakes, then the ESPN edition is 2018 Alcides Escobar. Not only is it clearly off the grocery store shelf, but whoever decorated it also didn’t bother filling the entire cake with the Happy Birthday message (or even centering it), leaving a baffling amount of white space. Unsurprisingly, the depressing cake didn’t draw much interest from Rodriguez or anyone else in the ESPN booth.
Also unsurprisingly, the only people who did dig into it were baseball reporters, who would eat old wool socks if you left them out for free on a tray in a press box.
Maybe next year, the ESPN crew can upgrade to something a bit nicer—maybe some Little Debbie cupcakes, or Betty Crocker brownies.
This Week In … Noah Syndergaard Cuckolding Mr. Met!
By the time you read this, Noah Syndergaard may no longer be a Met—and if his updated Twitter bio tells the truth, it’ll break the heart of at least one bulbous-headed lady in his life.
[INT.: CITI FIELD]
SYNDERGAARD: [bursts into room where Mr. Met and his family live] Mrs. Met, I have terrible news! I’ve been traded! Our love has been dealt a mortal blow!
MRS. MET: My God, no! How could this—wait, why are you calling me Mrs. Met?
SYNDERGAARD: You have a first name?
MRS. MET: Of course I do, it’s Karen. Karen Chandler-Met. I’ve told you this.
SYNDERGAARD: Huh, okay. Regardless, it’s over between us! The cruel Mets have conspired to tear us apart, banishing me to [checks phone] San Diego? Okay, not so bad.
MRS. MET: But who would do this to us?
[ENTER MR. MET, BRANDISHING GUN]
MRS. MET: Derek, how could you?
SYNDERGAARD: Wait, he has a first name too?
MR. MET: Come now, Noah, you didn’t think Brodie was truly the one behind all of this, did you?
[MR. MET begins to cackle maniacally as SYNDERGAARD and MRS. MET cower in fear]
This Week In … Saying Goodbye!
The end for Troy Tulowitzki came last Thursday, but his career had been done long before he officially called it quits. Baseball fans haven’t seen a functional version of Tulo since 2016, when he was a serviceable if unspectacular player for the Blue Jays, and a superlative player since well before that.
The sad reality of Tulowitzki is that his various injuries not only took him off a Hall of Fame path but also, as Deadspin’s Tom Ley wrote Monday, robbed him of the kind of career that will be celebrated by anyone other than Rockies fans, and even that will come with a bittersweet feel. Tulowitzki was in his prime one of the best ever to play his position, but his future is in the Hall of Very Good, remembered dimly for some bonkers numbers, aggressive defense, and—in some of the more online corners of the internet—this GIF.
I don’t know if this is my favorite baseball GIF ever, but it’s way up there—a perfect illustration of both the incredible abilities of these genetic freaks and how even they can be amazed by their own fellow superhuman peers. But there’s the bittersweetness again: Both these players are now done and gone, and all we’re left with is the GIF and the memory, getting fuzzier with every passing year.
This Week In … Viable Performance Incentives!
Proving that dogs fix everything, the Mets somehow didn’t ruin a nice thing on Friday when the local North Shore Animal League brought a bunch of puppies up for adoption to Citi Field, in the process capturing the heart of Jeff McNeil.
McNeil badly wanted to bring that sweet little pup home but had to consult with his wife Tatiana. He took matters into his own hands, though, showing that proximity to a dog makes you a better person and player by homering that night.
That’s honestly an iron-clad argument, and one that won out in the end.
I think McNeil has hit onto something here, though: the ultimate performance enhancer. No one can stay mad, sad or upset when confronted with a puppy. Maybe the solution all along for the Mets and other teams is to hand out dogs every day. Hell, an adorable pup would probably make for a better use of a roster spot on the Orioles or Marlins than roughly a third of the existing team.
This Week In … Throwback Uniforms!
A lot of baseball fans got yanked back in time over the weekend, as the Braves, Phillies, Reds and Marlins donned throwback jerseys in honor of one season or another. For Philadelphia, it was a salute to 1979, with Atlanta joining in; Cincinnati traveled all the way to 1967; and Miami adopted its old Florida gear for some 1997 flair. But which team looked the best as it embraced the past? Here’s my quick ranking of the four throwback options.
The pinstripes are clean and classic, but they’re nothing new for the Reds, who’ve been rocking them since 1993. If no one told you these were throwbacks, would you have known? (They also suffer by comparison to Cincinnati’s sleeveless 1956 jersey, expertly modeled by Derek Dietrich and Yasiel Puig.)
This may be sacrilege, but I’ve never been a fan of the Braves’ 1970s duds. They’re just kind of garish in the way most threads from that era are: a mishmash of color, fonts and designs that make no sense together. Atlanta’s throwbacks beat Cincinnati’s only by virtue of being visibly older, but otherwise, I’m down on them.
Is it hypocrisy to call the Braves’ uniforms ugly, then turn around and praise the Phillies’ burgundy disco suits? No, because I make the rules here, such as: If your uniform has a zipper (as Bryce Harper so amusingly found out), it gets a bump. Similarly, if Andrew McCutchen makes it look cool, it gets a bump.
It hurts my heart that, when the Marlins rebranded from Florida to Miami, they left these behind. They’re so good: the fish logo, the pinstripes, the vest, the perfectly South Florida color scheme … everything works. Miami is a winner by a wide margin.
This Week In … The Worst Play of the Week!
Let me be clear upfront: I think this play—Trevor Bauer being so mad at himself that he chucks a baseball all the way over the centerfield wall—rules. For as much as Bauer can be an unpleasant doofus of the highest order in so many ways, him taking out his frustration by whipping a ball 300-plus feet is incredibly amusing. (I’d like to think some part of his brain was telling him, “They can’t pull you if you just throw the ball really far away.” Look for Max Scherzer to implement this strategy sometime in October.)
Still, it’s this week’s worst play of the week because, despite how funny it is, it’s also incredibly stupid and immature. To wit, here’s Terry Francona asking Bauer a question that a lot of people in his life have probably wondered several times over.
This Week In … Old Baseball Cards!
Each week, I’ll pluck a random baseball card out of a pile of 1980s, 90s and 2000s cards I have at my desk, then write a quick little take on the player in question. This week’s entry: Tom Paciorek, outfielder, Seattle Mariners (Topps 1979)
I’m a big fan of Paciorek’s expression on this card, in which he makes the face of a man who needs a bathroom in the next 30 seconds but realized the closest one is at least five minutes away. The level of composition for this card, though—Paciorek staring off into the middle distance, doing absolutely nothing—speaks volumes as to the player he was. The Mariners were the third team of his career, and he entered that 1979 season in Seattle with a batting line of .263/.303/.377 in nine years. Paciorek was wallpaper, and though the Mariners would get the best year of his life in ‘81 (.326/.379/.509 and the only All-Star nod of his 18 years in the bigs), he’d remain that for more or less the rest of his career.
Still, Paciorek did earn some fondness on the South Side of Chicago, where he was a big part of the 1983 AL West-winning White Sox, and then joined Ken “Hawk” Harrelson in the broadcast booth after retiring. “Wimpy”—a sobriquet put upon him by Tommy Lasorda early in his career after Paciorek ordered a hamburger at a restaurant instead of a steak—bounced around a few more teams as a color guy, including the Tigers, Mariners, Braves and Nationals. Just like in his playing career, Paciorek blended into the game’s fabric, rarely standing out but occasionally popping up.