Boras on Bryce: It’s all hush-hush
Ridiculousness has no offseason in baseball during the age of Twitter, as is evident from the news generated in last week’s general managers meetings, the unofficial opener to the hot stove league.
The White Sox are setting up a stage at the United Center to announce the signing of Bryce Harper, while the Cubs are trying to trade his fellow Las Vegas bro, Kris Bryant?
Carlos Zambrano is mounting a comeback at 37, while uber-agent Scott Boras has run out of metaphors?
Baseball’s retro-geek, Bill James, thinks ballplayers are easier to replace than beer vendors?
As usual, there was more to the stories than could fit in a tweet or two, but that’s OK.
Bryce-o-rama: During his well-attended press briefing at the general managers meetings, Boras spoke about the teams that aren’t committed publicly to the Harper sweepstakes. Boras gave one of his favorite lines, saying it’s “not a regatta, it’s a submarine race.” In other words, teams that will be in on Harper aren’t necessarily going to announce it to the media and let others know their interest.
When informed of Boras’ comment, White Sox GM Rick Hahn laughed.
“That’s our style, you know that,” Hahn said. “We tend to be under the radar. That fits with the submarine, right?”
Right. Hahn later said he had not spoken to Boras at the meetings and declined to address any Sox interest in Harper, who reportedly is hoping to surpass Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325 million deal.
“I don’t want to go down the path of talking about any free agents or individual players,” Hahn said. “We’ve been in contact with a wide variety of agents and certainly other clubs since we’ve been down here, gathered together as much information as we can, head back to Chicago and circle back over the weekend and next week and hopefully make some progress toward some acquisitions.”
The next day, a photo of Harper’s name and number next to the Sox logo from an LED ribbon inside the United Center went viral. Did that mean the Sox were bringing Harper to town to announce his signing? Was a worker at the UC just trolling Sox fans? No one could say exactly, but the Harper sweepstakes will take a while. The idea of Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf shelling out that kind of money for a player longtime nemesis Boras represents seems far-fetched, as does the notion of Harper signing with a 100-loss team.
But who knows? If the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs aren’t all-in on Harper, as seems to be the case, perhaps the Sox can be the submarine team.
Adios Bryant? Boras took a beating from executives for his long-winded pressers that included clever terminology like “the Blue Flu” for Toronto’s attendance woes and “Harper’s Bazaar” for the Harper sweepstakes.
“He really needs to come up with some better metaphors,” one GM said. “I could write better ones than those.”
Another GM said Boras has “lost his fastball,” adding “and you guys just keeping eating it up.”
While Boras was busy spewing metaphor, one of his other clients, Bryant, found his way into the trade rumor mill for the first time in his four-year career when an ESPN.com report said the Cubs were willing to trade him, possibly this winter.
But Cubs President Theo Epstein, who said Wednesday there are no “untouchables,” suggested otherwise in response.
“I answered a general question about whether we have untouchables,” he said. “Like most every organization, we will listen to anything, but that’s just an operating philosophy. We are lucky to have some impact players and we are looking to add
to them, not subtract.”
Big Z return? Don’t look now, but Zambrano is pitching again at age 37. The former Cubs starter, best remembered for his volatile temper that led to a dugout fight with catcher Michael Barrett, a shouting match with Derrek Lee and several crowd-pleasing ejections at Wrigley Field, is pitching for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan winter league. In
121⁄ innings of work, he’s 0-2
3 with a 10.95 ERA.
Agent Barry Praver said Zambrano is serious about a return to the majors, though it’s a long shot. Zambrano lost 30 pounds and looks fitter than he ever was during his time with the Cubs, when he often flexed and bragged about “six-pack” abs. “Big Z” last pitched in the majors in 2012, going 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA with the Marlins. He spent his first 11 years with the Cubs, compiling a 125-81 record with a 3.60 ERA and 1,542 strikeouts.
Zambrano said at the Cubs Convention he “always will be a Cub,” though it’s doubtful he will get a chance to attempt a comeback in Chicago. Does he regret his past behavior?
“God erased that,” he said in January. “I already have asked God for forgiveness. It was part of the game and part of my determination to win and to get the Cubs a championship. So when I watched the Cubs win (in 2016), I was so proud.”
Revenge of the nerds: Bill James made his name as a pioneer of baseball analytics, and his handbooks were mustread affairs a couple decades ago. He’s now a Red Sox consultant, keeping his street cred long after his 15 minutes were over.
But now James looks like a bitter, old man, following an ill-advised tweet last week: “If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”
Anyone who watched the replacement White Sox team during the spring of 1995, when owners tried to break the union during the strike, knows how pathetic a product baseball would be without the pros. The tweet eventually was deleted, but players union chief Tony Clark somehow felt the need to issue a statement, saying “the comments Bill James made yesterday are both reckless and insulting considering our game’s history regarding the use of replacement players. The Players ARE the game.” And blah, blah, blah.
The Red Sox then issued a statement confirming James was not a team employee and “doesn’t speak” for the team or management: “Our Championships would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players — they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry. To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”
Actually, James may not have been as insightful as his reputation suggested. In the 2003 edition of James’ “Historical Baseball Abstract,” he predicted by 2015 baseball would solve the problem of competitive balance, “gain control” of ever-lengthening games and that the “hundredyear trend of using more and more pitchers will end,” leading to more complete games. He also wrote “the trend to more strikeouts and more homers from the top to the bottom will also soon end.”
Obviously, he’s no Nostradamus.
The White Sox were part of the Bryce Harper rumors last week, but nobody knows anything yet.