The baseball world knows that the No. 1 free agent during this off-season is the Japanese phenom, Shohei Ohtani, who might be the game’s best hitter and its best pitcher. But according to a recent MLB.com story featuring the best free agents available, the No. 2 guy is also a Japanese star — 25-year-old Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
While Ohtani’s status carries a major asterisk — he recently underwent elbow surgery and will be available only to hit during the 2024 season — there are no such concerns about Yamamoto, who is coming off a spectacular two-year run in Japan’s Pacific League. The right-hander, projected to be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter with whatever team is lucky enough to land him, has won the Pacific League’s MVP award the past two seasons, and also its equivalent of the Cy Young award as best pitcher.
Ohtani slugged an American League-leading 44 home runs in 2023 and posted a 10-5 record as a pitcher with a 3.14 earned-run average and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings. The intriguing aspect to his free agency is the great unknown of his pitching future. If he can be expected to return to form on the mound, and can reliably be counted on for 40-plus home runs, his value is astronomical. If he’s ‘only’ a 40-HR guy, his value is still great, but dramatically diminished. The leading contenders are reportedly Ohtani’s former team, the Angels, along with two other West Coast clubs, the Dodgers and Giants, and the big-money Mets, who have never shied away from paying exorbitant fees to free agents (Brandon Nimmo, $162 million for eight years; Justin Verlander, $86 million for two years; Edwin Diaz, $102 million for five years).
Two other free agents of note: Cy Young-calibre pitchers Aaron Nola and Blake Snell.
In other off-season baseball news, Chicago Cubs signed manager Craig Counsell to the highest managerial contract in history after his contract with the Brewers expired. He is one of the most respected managers in baseball and the Cubs had to dump the popular David Ross to create a managerial void. The last time Chicago lured a big-name manager to the Windy City was in 2015 when Joe Maddon became available. Maddon went on to lead the Cubs to the World Series championship in 2016. Cubs’ fans are hoping Counsell, who was offered $5 million a year by Milwaukee but will earn $40 million for five years with the Cubs, can perform some similar magic.
Meanwhile, Canada’s best player, long-time Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto, has been released by the Reds and is a free agent. Votto, 40, is almost a surefire Hall of Famer, with 366 career home runs, a .294 batting average and a career OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) of .920. That last figure is 52nd all-time. Wouldn’t the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2020, a native of Toronto, look great in a Blue Jays’ uniform for one last sendoff season?
- RJ Currie:of sportsdeke.com: “ESPN’s Jackie McMullan said the NFL needs to address its concussion issues ‘head-on.’ Some jokes just write themselves.”
- Super 70s Sports, on X, recalling the famous on-field fight between two MLB stars: “In 1987, Robin Ventura set an NCAA record by hitting in 57 straight games. Six years later, Nolan Ryan set an MLB record by hitting Robin Ventura 57 straight times in one game.”
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “How is Tyreek Hill sort of like Jim Harbaugh? One is the Cheetah and the other is the Cheater.”
- Charles Robinson of yahoosports.com., on Josh McDaniels’ coaching arc: “McDaniels’ career coaching peaks have been Everest-ian with Tom (Brady), and a low-lying Taco Bell parking lot without him.”
- Bob Molinaro of pilotonline.com (Hampton, Va.): “Aaron Rodgers returning to play this season behind a pathetic Jets’ offensive line would be like Janet Leigh getting back in the shower.”
- New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick, after Mets’ owner Steve Cohen announced he would be building a family recreation centre that includes a casino: “Rejoice, New York, soon you can lose your money to Cohen’s House of Lousy Odds!”
- Mushnick again, taking issue with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s league slogans, such as ‘End Racism’ and ‘It takes all of us,’ saying the commissioner should consider slogans such as ‘Stop Beating Women!’, ‘Drive Sober and Legally,’ ‘Try To Be Home By 4:30 a.m.,’ ‘Avoid Felony Arrests’ and ‘The N-Word Is Racist Unless It’s Rapped During the Super Bowl Halftime Show By Commissioner Goodell’s Invite.’”
- Weather forecast from the Canadian parody website The Beaverton: “Edmonton expected to get hit with 10 cm of Oilers jerseys tonight.”
- Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, who has an issue with NFL officiating: “Apparently NFL refs want pass rushers to pick up and cradle quarterbacks and put them down gently like a sleeping baby.”
- Headline at fark.com: “MLB general managers meeting cancelled after widespread nausea, possibly after seeing the World Series viewership numbers.”
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