The Rundown: MLB Network Drinking Game, Winter Meetings Plans, Dexter Fowler on Trade Block?

Going through Ohtani/Stanton withdrawal so I’ll change course here.

You know, there are virtually hundreds of Winter Meetings predictions articles crawling all over the Internet right now and I just can’t compete, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the MLB Network studio personalities this morning. I know the network can be frustrating at times, but if you have the luxury of ass-planting in front of your TV during the Winter Meetings which kick off today, let me help you develop some patience for what may be a frightening 72-96 hours of overkill between player-movement announcements.

First, if you are of age, stock up on beer. I have a little MLBN drinking game I like to call “Look & Listen.” You see, almost to a man, each studio analyst will quickly start a sentence or rebuttal with the words “look” or “listen.” The origins of this banal attempt at communication began with John Hart. That was his thing, a fatherly verbal interjection to get the younger analysts to slow their rolls so he could make his point. Al Leiter, who unscrupulously attempts to mimic Hart in every way possible, right down to facial gestures and tonal mannerisms, is the studio’s current lead abuser. Bill Ripken is a close second, followed by that guy who used to play first base for the Reds.

So whenever a studio host starts a sentence with the words “look” or “listen,” you take a drink of your beer. If Leiter says it, you take two drinks. And if you find yourself witness to the rare and regrettable “Look, listen” sentence-starting combination, drink the entire can. Good luck making it to Brian Kenny’s mid-afternoon slot. Kenney also needs Look-Listen intervention by the way.

Harold Reynolds is possibly the least effective communicator on staff at the all-baseball network. For the most part, he is pleasant enough and all smiles until he begins ignoring the other personalities, cutting them off mid-sentence or before they even start speaking. He frequently falls off topic by not letting go of a previous point or counterpoint. He is most egregious when it comes to Ken Rosenthal, with whom he is almost always in disagreement. 

With regard to everybody else at the network, I’ll quickly wrap this up. Kenny is never wrong (except when he is mistaken); Eric Byrnes is comic relief; Kevin Millar is a Texas good old boy with impeccable hair and pristine chompers, and comes off as if he actually spent his entire playing career with the Red Sox; Chris Rose is the steady voice of reason; Matt Vasgersian actually knows what he is talking about and provides great insight; Greg Amsinger does a great job as a moderator; Ron Darling and John Smoltz, I liked better as players if I am being honest; Keith Costas is proof that nepotism can go a long way toward driving a career; Christopher Russo is loud and forceful but I love me some Mad Dog; Mark DeRosa has Timberlake-esque swagger; Dan Plesac is utterly bombastic and needs more catchphrases (“Hello, this is Jake from State Farm” is so played out); and Heidi Watney is a knowledgeable and refreshing change of pace from the (almost) all boys network, with the patience of a saint at times.

In summary, and despite my ribbing, the whole thing works very well and I watch religiously all winter long. Kenny will tell you that chemistry is not quantifiable when it come to fielding a baseball team and he is 100 percent right, and it certainly exemplifies why single-sports networks are cutting so heavily into the viewership of the the behemoth that is ESPN. If their personalities, as irritating as they are at times, were any different it might not work as well as it does. And yes, I know who Sean Casey is. He’s actually my favorite MLB Network studio personality. Cheers.

Cubs News & Notes

The Winter Meetings are adult spring break for me. I almost went to Orlando this week (the production crew for my company is based there), but I will instead live vicariously through 30 GMs and their staff because, well, I have a lot of Christmas parties this week. 

What are the Cubs going to do this year? There are so many different directions in which they can go to improve their 92-win team from 2017. The smart money says they will sign Alex Cobb and I completely understand why Theo & Jed would like to get something done today. There are no bargain-bin pulls or seasonal discounts once you get 30 front offices into the same general vicinity for a few days. The cost to purchase Cobb’s services could escalate rapidly, and not just in dollars and cents. If he starts getting offers for five-year deals, the Cubs need to exercise restraint.

Cubbies Crib suggests an attempt to acquire Miami OF Christian Yelich. Not sure who would be involved but with an insinuation of a Yelich-Almora-Heyward OF, my guess is they are saying goodbye to Kyle Schwarber without really saying it. 

If I can skip ahead to the 2018-19 free agency class for a moment, a note about Bryce Harper. The Yankees’ trade for Stanton may have gift-wrapped Harper to the Cubs next season provided the team’s front office wants the polarizing superstar. And who wouldn’t, were cost not a factor? Harper could be looking at $350-400 million over 10 years. Ken Rosenthal labeled Harper as one of the losers in the fallout from the Marlins-Yankees trade (subscription required and recommended), presumably because he lost a potential bidder with deep pockets, to which his agent, Scott Boras replied via e-mail: 

“A Bronx opera…The Three Tenors…Hal’s genius, vision,” Boras said, referencing Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner. “Alone the three were stars…now a galaxy of international popularity.”

This could be an insinuation that Harper is heading to the Yankees regardless and stinks of tampering on some level. I would hope baseball doesn’t go the way of the NBA with a few players colluding to create star-driven teams designed to cake-walk to championships. For what it’s worth, I don’t see any way Steinbrenner can afford both Stanton and Harper (though the shrewd deal for the former means they only have $22 million AAV toward the cap over the next decade).

Saturday Stove

One Cardinals blogger has finally admitted that St. Louis is no longer a destination city for free agents. The hardest step is sometimes just admitting the truth, though attempting to rationalize it is not the full step toward recovery that is necessary in instances like this. He’ll come around eventually.

Regardless, Cards GM John Mozeliak is looking for an impactful way to improve the team this week. It won’t be easy. The edge the Cardinals used to flaunt — come, flock to where championships are won, the city paints itself red, and the ballpark is packed — has dulled or been surpassed by Chicago and other more appealing destinations.

The Yankees now have too many outfielders and not enough starting pitching. Brian Cashman has some work to do so expect some significant player movement this week, which may include trading Jacoby Ellsbury despite the fact they will likely have to eat most or all of the $68.3 million the outfielder is guaranteed.

Now that the upward-trending Yankees are back to buying pennants, they have morphed from feel-good story of 2017 to once again being baseball’s most hated team. And wow, they really stole the thunder from Shohei Ohtani’s presser yesterday. There’s no way they can feasibly hope to remain under the luxury tax threshold. Just like his old man, Hal Steinbrenner will find a way to force the team to back-page headlines all across the country.

Most officials expect commissioner Rob Manfred to investigate Ohtani’s signing. That is not to imply that the Angels did anything under the table. I am sure that this is just a formality, and inquiries would be made no matter where the two-way phenom signed.

Free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer met with the Padres yesterday. Most likely, the meeting was arranged in anticipation of the Padres possibly signing Ohtani. Otherwise, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Padres should continue to focus on their rebuild and the Royals are not optimistic in their chances to re-sign the slugging first sacker.

Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun expects a lot of talk but little movement by the Baltimore Orioles this week. The O’s MO has historically been to wait until after the meetings and then bargain shop among the leftovers.

The Rockies may be interested in a reunion with OF Dexter Fowler.

The Pirates have SP Jaime Garcia in their sights.

The Mets need a second baseman and have shown interest in Jason Kipnis of the Indians.

Beleaguered SP Mat Latos has drawn the interest of this Rangers blogger. Wouldn’t they rather have Andrew Cashner?

The Twins front office infrastructure strongly resembles that of the Cubs. The similarities are remarkable.

The Rays finished dead last in Sports Illustrated’s 2017 stadium food safety ratings (not taste, safety, and the Cubs are 8th best on their list) so the team is now suing their concessions vendor for breach of contract. The federal lawsuit alleges Centerplate “surreptitiously cut corners, underreported gross receipts, concealed performance issues, underpaid the Rays, and underperformed under the Concession Agreement to the detriment of the Rays and their fans.”

Sunday Walk Up Song

Let The Day Begin by The Call. For Theo and Jed. Do work, son.

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