November 7, 2013
The Lineup Card
12 Items That Tell the Story of the 2013 Season
1. The Beard
Beards were well-represented in the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw sported a fuller beard in 2013 than in previous seasons, guiding him to the best season of his illustrious career. Teammate Brian Wilson continued to take his Blackbeard costume deeper into the abyss of absurdity, to the extent that he tied his facial hair in Gimli knots, fueling his comeback from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals' Edward Mujica rode the magic of the beard to a ridiculous K:BB ratio of 43-to-3 for the first five months of the season, but he was unable to handle the beard's strength for the duration and grew tired down the stretch. Oakland's Josh Reddick was overzealous in his pursuit of the beard, sporting Sasquatch locks at the beginning of the season, and his offensive collapse was surely connected to his lack of restraint. The beard must be respected before it can be feared.
Young Bryce Harper grew the beard of a veteran, but it didn't provide enough shock absorption to spare his collision with the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium. Sergio Romo trimmed his trademark beard into a goatee, and the Giants suffered the consequences in the standings. As a bearded individual myself, I can appreciate the power that is concentrated within, but enthusiasm must be tempered in order to realize the full potential of the beard. For evidence, look no further than the most interesting man in the world. —Doug Thorburn
2. This Image
The moment was intense, and then there was the picture itself. The similarity between Hunter’s legs, straight up in the air as he falls over the wall after failing to make the catch, and the arms of a Boston police officer raised in victory is striking. It’s hard to conceive of an image that better encapsulates the 2013 baseball season. —Matthew Kory
3. A Jolly Roger
4. Jose Lobaton's Home Run Off of Koji Uehara
5. The Chase Field Pool
6. Dodger Dollars
The change in ownership brought a financial sea change for the franchise, and the numbers are dizzying: $127 million for deals for Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig in June of 2012, $37.5 million to acquire Hanley Ramirez and Brandon League a month later, and $264 million in the mega-trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto in August. Add an extension for League ($22.5 million), free-agent deals for Zack Greinke ($147 million) and Hyun-jin Ryu ($36 million), and about $6 million for in-season acquisitions Ricky Nolasco, Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol, and Michael Young, and the Dodgers have committed roughly $640 million in guaranteed contracts in the last 18 months.
Armed with a local TV deal worth $6-7 billion, there’s no indication the Dodgers will stop now. After signing Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero for $28 million last month, LA already has committed $166 million to 11 players for 2014. Ramirez and Clayton Kershaw are both a year away from free agency, putting them in line for a nine-figure extensions, and Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka is on the radar. Though the season ended in disappointment on the field, 2013 was the year the Dodgers established themselves as a dominant financial power in the game. —Jeff Euston
7. Ryan Dempster's Fine
“But,” you might say if you wanted to humor me, “Dempster’s fine and accompanying five-game suspension are standard fare for pitchers throwing at hitters.”
And then I would laugh at you, because Yankee skipper Joe Girardi—who was ejected from that game, while Dempster was allowed to stay in—was fined twice as much as Dempster was. Girardi’s offense was arguing, forcefully, to home plate umpire Brian O’Nora that Dempster should have been tossed immediately. Plus, Dempster didn’t even have to miss a start during his suspension; the Red Sox had off days the following week that didn’t require them to reshuffle their rotation. (And it’s not like there’s no precedent for taking off days into account in suspensions. Carlos Carrasco—even after shaving a game off through an appeal—got seven for hitting Kevin Youkilis back in April.)
MLB’s half-hearted response to the this episode illustrated just how much A-Rod had become persona non grata in league offices, and how much headache he caused them with Biogenesis. Selig was content to take 1/5,300th of Dempster’s 2013 salary and call it a day. —Dan Rozenson
8. The Messy Scorecard
But some time ago we stopped trying to colonize Mars and instead focused on a computer network that lets the Internet hive quickly inform each other of #weirdbaseball, #shrimpalert, and position players pitching — some who weren't even Casper Wells. While the gross tonnage of extra frames is a record, the ratio didn't come close to the all-time mark. But these fanciful baseball marathons became more prominent to us social media nightcrawlers with MLB.tv who dread sleep for fear of dying in the middle of the night — or worse, work in the morning. —Matt Sussman
9. Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig
10. Shane Victorino's Walkup Music
The first of these things is easy. The 2012 Red Sox managed to alienate even the most stalwart of Boston baseball fans. The sell-out streak was in jeopardy (and finally ended). The Globe declared the 2013 Red Sox to be talentless and unexciting. For a team that had built the expectations of being a title contender under Francona, the collapse into a protracted rebuild seemed inevitable. There was real fear that the short, sweet glory days of the Red Sox were gone: that the front office and ownership had lost its way, that the division had become too competitive, and that it would be a long time before we saw October baseball in Boston.
Public perception of Victorino’s signing is also somewhat simple to explain. Victorino, it was said, was a platoon hitter, had no obvious position with the Sox, and was a clear overpay. The signing was widely ridiculed as another move by a misguided front office with a sudden cash surplus.
And now we get to the challenging parts. I can’t possibly hope to convey the sadness or strangeness of the Marathon bombings in a single paragraph. Even if I could somehow put to words my emotions from that time, I’m not sure that it would be anything other than a recollection of my own personal experience rather than a complete or fair account of those events and the city’s reaction to them. But let me try: in a culture consumed with fandom and capitalism and tailgating and betting and regionalism and competitiveness, the Marathon is an entirely paradoxical event. People from all walks of life line the streets—for free—and cheer randomly for a group of people they have never seen before and will never see again and for whom there is really no extrinsic reason to cheer. The truth is that in some sense this doesn’t really even matter—if a marketplace or a café or a bar or a night club had been bombed, we’d all think it was just as terrible. But the fact that it was the Marathon, this kind of innocent, culturally antithetical, community event made the tragedy more personally resonant. And I think there was real concern as to whether some part of the event had been fundamentally changed by the attack: the Marathon takes place on miles of streets with totally open access. There’s no hope of a bag check or a security detail or a gate. Many Bostonians openly wondered if, for fear of security concerns, it would be impossible to gather hundreds of thousands or millions of people in the streets in the future.
Last, Fenway. Fenway is unique. I don’t intend to convey any sense of superiority here; every ballpark has a unique atmosphere and environment and buzz. One thing that sets Fenway apart from most other parks is the organic nature of the crowd’s involvement in the game. There are no reminders from the scoreboard that men are on base and so you should cheer. There are no sounds like “DAY OH” and “Everybody Clap Your Hands”. There is an organ, and in recent years, they have started to play upbeat dance music when the Red Sox score, but the noise during the game is almost entirely driven by the fans. One exception to this rule has been player walkup/entrance music. Sox batters get a short clip played before each time they come to the plate. Most of the choices here have been songs where you’re not going to see much fan involvement: rap, instrumental riffs, or dance music.
Victorino’s walkup music became adopted as a sort of Fenway anthem this year. It starts with two full measures—10 seconds—of instrumentals, as if to get everyone on the same page. And then the whole crowd sings along to the music: “Don’t worry… about a thing.” Suddenly, the music stops. But the crowd takes over: “CAUSE EVERY LITTLE THING, IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT.”
For a world series winner that fans feared was lost following a dismal 2012. For a player that key cog in a championship team despite the common perception that his best days were behind him. And for a city that lined miles of streets with millions of people after a tragic event that could have ended such simple freedoms. It’s hard to describe a more simple, potent, and poignant message.
Don’t worry… about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, is gonna be alright. —Dan Brooks
11. The Rangers' International Spending Spree
Any overage up to 10 percent of a team’s allocation pool results in a tax on said overage; an overage beyond 10 percent of a team’s allocation pool results in a tax penalty and the loss of right to sign any international amateur during the next signing period to a bonus exceeding $500,000; and an overage beyond 15 percent of a team’s allocation pool results in a tax penalty and the loss of right to sign any international amateur during the next signing period to a bonus exceeding $250,000.
The thought behind this soft cap approach is that while big spending teams may be willing to swallow a tax on their spending, they would be unlikely to forfeit the opportunity to acquire top shelf talent in following years by having hard caps place on their future bonuses. For the 2012-2013 international signing period, that proved to be the case, with teams absorbing tax penalties, but staying below the higher-level penalties that might limit actions in following years.
The Rangers shook up the paradigm this July, blowing through their approximate $1.9 million allocation, as well as the 15% overage threshold, on the first day of the signing period. As of today, just one-third of the way through the signing period, the Rangers have exceeded their allocation pool by over 150 percent, loading up on some of the best available talent with no regard for the financial consequences, or subsequent limitations that will levied upon their actions during the 2014 signing period.
It is a bold approach, and one that has allowed the Rangers a remarkable first move advantage in the competition for top international talent. Front offices are now on notice that there is at least one organization willing to take on the high-level penalties associated with binge spending on the international front, and the Rangers can drill down on “bargains” in 2014 while the rest of baseball figures out if unabashed international spending is going to be a fixture in the market. To the extent one or more teams follow suit next year, the Rangers will have fewer competitors for the top talents in 2015, when the spending cuffs come off.
What’s more, any team hoping to follow suit will do so on more expensive terms than Texas’ 2013-2014 signing period spending spree. With the start of next year’s international signing period, the tiered penalty system increases in severity. Any overage between 5-10 percent of a team’s allocation pool results in a tax penalty and the loss of right to sign any international talent during the next period to a bonus exceeding $500,000; an overage between 10 and 15 percent of a team’s allocation pool results in a tax penalty and the loss of right to sign any international talent during the next period to a bonus exceeding $300,000; and an overage beyond 15% of a team’s allocation pool results in a tax penalty and the loss of right to sign any international amateur during the next two signing periods to a bonus exceeding $300,000.
That’s right. While the Rangers are forfeiting the right to spend big next year, any team hoping to follow suit in gobbling up a bunch of top talent in a single signing period will have to forfeit big spending for a two year period. By acting first in this manner, the Rangers have effectively claimed an advantage on the international amateur scene that no team can match. Strategically, it’s a home run; scouting and development will ultimately determine whether that impressive first move results in an on-field advantage for the big club.
In many ways, Rangers fans might consider 2013 a disappointment. To me, it was another example of a an impressive organization operating at the forefront of the talent acquisition game. It’s moves like this that should keep Rangers fans confident their org is going to do what it takes to keep the talent pipeline stocked for the foreseeable future. —Nick J. Faleris
12. Matt Harvey's Surgically Removed UCL
Anything. Almost literally anything would be better than that, because UCLs, and elbows, and just generally anything that originated inside of a body, can be super, super gross. But that's okay! Because sometimes history hurts, and often it isn't easy to look at. And it's precisely at those times that we should force ourselves to stare. The only way to overcome our fear of phenoms getting hurt is to confront the fact that mere sound mechanics and responsible pitch counts are powerless to prevent catastrophe. Look upon Matt Harvey's broken body part, ye Mighty, and despair. —Ben Lindbergh