Quick scheduling note: We will take the next Friday off due to the holiday weekend, barring important news. We’ll be back in your inboxes in two weeks, with a lot to discuss after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
Before getting into today’s newsletter, I’d like to thank Emma Baccellieri for writing last week’s issue while on vacation. I returned to work on Monday morning, and immediately Eduardo Rodríguez signed with the Tigres. I take full credit for this. You’re welcome.
E-Rod’s signing kicked off a surprisingly hectic week of deals in mid-November, one that was all the more unexpected given the seemingly inevitable lockdown that would come when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in less than two weeks. On Tuesday, José Berríos agreed to a seven-year, $ 131 million extension with the Blue Jays. Not long after, Noah Syndergaard signed a one-year deal with the Angels for $ 21 million, despite pitching just two innings in the past two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2020. Justin Verlander, Also coming back from Tommy John, he did even better the next day, when he re-signed with the Astros for two years, $ 50 million, with an exclusion option after the first season.
These agreements were far from the only action that took place this week. They were signings by day, awards by night. Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, who made his major league debut on August 14, 2019, with the Cardinals, won the American League Rookie of the Year, and Reds second baseman Jonathan India, a childhood friend from my roommate in college (yelling at Rubes, who is definitely not reading this newsletter!), won NL honors. Giants manager Gabe Kapler was named the National League Manager of the Year Tuesday night after he led San Francisco to a franchise record of 107 wins, and Rays captain Kevin Cash won his second. Consecutive American League Manager of the Year award.
The two closest races were revealed the next two nights: NL Cy Young on Wednesday and NL MVP on Thursday. (Robbie Ray received 29 of the 30 first-place votes to win the AL Cy Young, while Shohei Ohtani was a unanimous MVP pick.) Bryce Harper beat his former teammate, Juan Soto, to earn his second MVP. This was exciting, with five different players receiving first-place votes. With that said, I’d like to focus on the National League Cy Young run because the result offered a compelling window into starting pitching status in today’s game.
Each of the top four Cy Young finalists, right-handers Corbin Burnes (Brewers), Zack Wheeler (Phillies), Max Scherzer (Nationals / Dodgers) and Walker Buehler (Dodgers), had worthy seasons. Would voting writers choose the domain with the least volume or the volume with the least (but still high level of) domain? Burnes and Wheeler were the two extremes of this debate (unless you count Jacob deGrom, whose 15 starts and 92 innings weren’t enough for your consideration even this year).
The way Cy Young voting works, according to the BBWAA website, is as follows: “The ballots, sent before the postseason, were cast by two writers representing each city in the league. They are tabulated in a system that awards seven points for first place, four points for second place, three points for third place, two votes for fourth place and one point for fifth place ”.
Of course, the results offered no definitive answer. Burnes and Wheeler each received 12 first-place votes, naturally, but Burnes had five more second-place votes than Wheeler and finished with 10 more points overall (151-141). Personally, I would have voted for Scherzer, who was almost as dominant as Burnes but pitched 12 ⅓ more innings and made two more starts, but in reality, there was no wrong choice among the group.
What’s clear from the NL Cy Young career and the barrage of deals this week is that we rely on starting pitchers less often than ever, so the few who can carry the workload (even if 150 tickets are the new 200) and doing it at an elite level will be coveted.
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1. THE OPENER
Justin Verlander’s signing is “a sharp reminder that Houston is going nowhere in 2022, even with the bleak, end-of-the-era atmosphere of its World Series loss.”
That’s from Emma in her column on the prospects for the Astros next season after bringing Verlander back. With Carlos Correa’s expected exit in free agency, it seemed almost certain that this team would be in transition, even if it would still be competitive. Except, as Emma points out, the band isn’t really breaking up, even if Correa leaves.
(Side note: In a conversation with Emma yesterday, I compared the Astros to Fleetwood Mac and Correa to Lindsey Buckingham. The band is on tour without him, and they’re not exactly the same, but they’re still rockers!)
Read Emma’s full column here.
Didn’t get a chance to read the best SI MLB stories of this week? We are going to update you:
Tigers Declare Intent With Smart Signature From Emma Baccellieri
It may not seem like it on the surface, but Eduardo Rodríguez had the best season of his career in 2021.
Philadelphia, The Big Hit Failure: Inside Gabe Kapler’s Transformation by Stephanie Apstein
Once portrayed as a muscular and out of place hippie in baseball, the San Francisco captain won 107 games and emerged as the presumptive NL Manager of the Year.
Syndergaard’s Signature signals an Active Market for Beginners by Emma Baccellieri
The Angels topped the qualifying bid for a starter who has pitched just two innings in the past two seasons.
Thor gets a halo … now what? by Nick Selbe
Noah Syndergaard alone won’t keep the Angels’ pitching staff from sinking once again.
Verlander’s singular ceiling keeps Houston among contenders for Will Laws
He is the latest in a dying breed of workhorse giving the Astros exactly what they were missing out on in the World Series.
Did you miss our September profiles on this year’s two MVPs? Here you have!
Ohtani’s Rules by Tom Verducci
The most amazing thing about the best baseball season ever? The Angels’ two-way feel doesn’t act like being a pitcher and a hitter is something special.
Bryce Harper needs your doubt by Tom Verducci
Once criticized as overrated, the former prodigy has become one of the most underrated players in the game. That is exactly what he likes.
3. WORTH NOTING by Matt Martell
No team had more players receiving MVP votes than the Blue Jays, a team that did not make the playoffs. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien finished second and third, respectively, while Bo Bichette, Robbie Ray and Teoscar Hernández also appeared on the ballots. More interestingly, none of the six players who finished in the top three in their league were on postseason teams.
4. WHAT TO EXPECT from Matt Martell
Will any of the top free agent players sign before the collective bargaining agreement expires and the guaranteed lockout begins? It’s hard to imagine Freddie Freeman in another uniform, so of all the best players, he’s the one I would feel most comfortable predicting his fate with. However, considering the likelihood that he will return to the Braves, Freeman could decide to wait until the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified, should the sport’s financial structure change.
Other players, then, might be more willing to sign before December, perhaps choosing security over the uncertainty of what is to come. Could teams go the route the Angels took by signing Noah Syndergaard and address a particular roster hole that is so glaring? The Tigers seem like the perfect team for Carlos Correa because their window for containment is just beginning to open, they are managed by AJ Hinch and they have the flexibility to offer a long-term contract. We also know that Correa is not going to accept a deal less than the 10-year, $ 341 million contract that Francisco Lindor signed with the Mets. Imagine the chaos if Correa and the Tigres agreed to something like 10 years, $ 350 million before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. Detroit would lock out its franchise shortstop before the expected shutdown, leaving the rest of the clubs scrambling for the other available All-Star shortstops amid the calamity of a weeks or months-long labor dispute. I’m not saying this is going to happen (it almost certainly won’t!), But OMG I hope it does.
5. THE CLOSER by Emma Baccellieri
A little cheer of awards season is the weird but well-used 10th-place vote. The final place on the ballot doesn’t really matter, it couldn’t, or at least should not, it will be affecting the general classification. There are 10 places mainly because 10 is a nice round number that nine isn’t, and the last one isn’t really set up to make a difference. So there’s something delicious about a 10th-place vote given to a player whose main appeal is that his season was fun, interesting, or memorable in some way beyond just being good. This is different from a joke or a vote from a troll: it cannot be a player who bad. It’s got to be like the two baseball watched Thursday: a 10th-place vote in the National League for “Late Night” LaMonte Wade, Jr., of after-dark fame, and a 10th-place League vote. American for Mike Zunino, the painfully underrated veteran catcher.
MVP? Of course, no. But MVP vote winners? Now no one can take that away from them.
That’s all of us today. We will return to your inbox in two weeks. As always, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up for SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, please email us at [email protected].
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.