December 31, 2019
Rumors earlier this year about the bullpens being moved at Oracle (formerly AT&T) Park were validated when the Giants unveiled plans in early December. Construction crews had already begun tearing out several rows of bleachers in center field, which will be transformed into a party terrace similar to those in some of the newer MLB ballparks. The center field wall will be moved eight feet closer to home, reducing the CF distance from 399 feet to just 391 feet. The "Triples Alley" corner in deep right center will be only 415 feet rather than 421 feet, but that's still pretty far. For more details, see sfchronicle.com (hat tip to Mike Zurawski) and/or mlblogs.com (hat tip to Patrick McAtee).
The prior location of the bullpens at Oracle / AT&T Park was something of a safety issue. After the bullpens at Wrigley Field were moved from foul territory to underneath the bleachers in the outfield prior to the 2017 season, AT&T Park (as it was then known) became one of only three remaining MLB stadium with bullpens in foul territory. The two remaining such stadiums now are Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Oakland Coliseum, where foul territory is vast.
So of course I updated the Oracle Park diagrams, the first diagram update since last summer. (!!??) While I was at it, I made a few minor corrections, such as the location and size of the entry portals in left and center fields, as well as the alignment of the upper decks and the right field wall. Also, the iconic Coca-Cola bottle behind the left field bleachers is now closer to center field than before.
When Stephen Strasburg exercised his option to exit his contract in early November, some fans feared the worst, but as most observers expected, he decided to stay with the only team he has ever played for. On December 9 the Nationals announced he had agreed to a new seven-year contract worth $245 million, which at the time was a record-breaking amount for a pitcher. $35 million per year!! It was a fitting reward for the 2019 World Series MVP, but another way to look at it is that the Nationals' big triumph gave him more incentive to stay with the team. Strasburg set an MLB record by his 5-0 record in the postseason this year, and he is 7-1 in his last eight postseason games. Over that span, according to the Washington Post, he has a 1.43 ERA and 69 strikeouts.
Another angle to ponder in this transaction: Strasburg's championship-caliber pitching in October 2019 validated the cautious approach that the Nationals front office took with him in September 2012, when they took him out of the active roster in order to preserve his arm and elbow for the long-term. (He had undergone Tommy John surgery in 2011, and it often takes a long time to fully heal from that.) Strasburg is 31 years old, and will be 38 when his new contract ends.
After Bryce Harper joined the Phillies last February, Anthony Rendon emerged as the unquestioned star position player with the Nats. Throughout the 2019 season he more than fulfilled expectations, and his clutch homers and RBIs in the postseason cemented his solid gold reputation. Given the desire of the Lerners (the Nationals's owners) to avoid paying a "tax" for over-sized payrolls, getting both Strasburg and Rendon to stay with the Nats was less than likely. Indeed, in December, the Los Angeles Angels announced that they had signed Rendon to a seven-year contract worth $245 million -- the same terms as Stephen Strasburg! Rendon was almost a perfect player, with superstar performance, a genial, upbeat personality, and a relaxed approach at the plate even in the most tense situations. And so, "Tony Two-Bags" departs the District of Champions, which will miss him dearly. (At least he didn't sign with a division rival!)
Farewell, Anthony; We loved having you on our team!
Among other roster moves of note, the hero of both NLDS Game 5 and World Series Game 7, Howie Kendrick, signed a one-year contract extension with the Nationals, who will pay him $6.25 million. If he can stay healthy for at least half the season, which is by no means a sure thing, given his age (36) and recent history of injuries, that would be a bargain.
Still no official word on Ryan Zimmerman, but he is expected to sign a renewed contract for about $6 million, which would be far less than the $18 million he earned this past year. Both he and the front office seem to have realistic and respectful positions on this awkward situation. He's not the superstar slugger he used to be, but he is still quite valuable offensively and defensively.
And finally, relief pitcher Hunter Strickland signed a one-year $1.6 million contract with the Nats, evidently based on the expectation that he will improve next year. Another reliever who has had nagging problems with his arm, Koda Glover, announced he is retiring from baseball at the age of just 26. That's very sad. Another second-string Nat, infielder Wilmer Difo, received a $1 million contract for the 2020 season.
One more thing: Nats shortstop Trea Turner had surgery to repair his right index finger which he broke while attempting to bunt in early April. He missed six weeks, and even after he came back his batting was below his usual norm, suggesting that the finger didn't fully heal. Hopefully he will be 100% back in 2020.
Two days after Stephen Strasburg's contract renewal, on December 11 Gerrit Cole signed a record-breaking contract with the New York Yankees. Who else?? He will receive $324 million over nine years, which is $36 million per year!! (See above.) Cole had joined the Houston Astros in mid-season via a trade with ,
The annual player awards were announced during the second week of November, and Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros and Pete Alonso of the New York Mets were named AL and NL Rookies of the Year. The voting was unanimous for Alvarez and nearly so (one vote short) for Alonso, who set a new rookie record with 53 home runs. (Aaron Judge was the previous record-setter.)
On November 13, it was announced that Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom won the National League Cy Young award for the second year in a row, with 29 of 30 votes. (See my November 20, 2018 blog post.) The Nationals' Max Scherzer, who missed several weeks in July and August, came in third place, and Stephen Strasburg was fifth. On the American League side, Houston Astros' Justin Verlander won the coveted honor, after coming in a close second place last year. Verlander previously won the Cy Young award in 2011, while he was with the Detroit Tigers.
And finally, the city of Los Angeles took both the American and National League MVP awards. Mike Trout of the L.A. Angels won the AL MVP, and Cody Bellinger of the L.A. Dodgers won the NL MVP. I was hoping that Anthony Rendon's superior RBI and batting average numbers would sway the vote, but it wasn't to be. He tapered off a bit during the latter part of September, but the voting wasn't that close, so it probably didn't matter. Since Rendon will play for the Angels next year, that team may well have two MVP candidates!