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Quick Hits: Shapiro, Blue Jays, Ryu, Draft, Payrolls

It was on this day in 1916 that one of the biggest trades in early baseball history was finalized, as the Indians acquired superstar center fielder Tris Speaker from the Red Sox for right-hander “Sad” Sam Jones, minor leaguer Fred Thomas, and $55K in cash considerations.  A salary dispute prompted the move, as the Sox wanted Speaker to take a pay cut following something of a down year (.322/.416/411 over 653 PA) by his huge standards in 1915.  While the two teams agreed to the swap a few days prior to April 12, it wasn’t officially completed until Speaker received a reported $10K bonus to agree to play for Cleveland, a bonus Speaker demanded be personally paid by Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin.

While the Sox were criticized for the trade, they weren’t exactly hurt in the short term, as Boston went on to win the World Series in both 1916 and 1918 — Jones posting a 2.25 ERA in the latter season to play a big role in the championship run.  Speaker, meanwhile, had plenty of great baseball left in him, as he hit .354/.444/.520 over 6634 plate appearances with the Tribe from 1916-26, and also served as Cleveland’s manager for the last eight of those seasons.  Speaker’s time with the Indians was highlighted by a World Series victory in 1920, the first title in franchise history.

Some notes from around the modern baseball world…

  • Though the Blue Jays loaded up on arms this offseason, team president/CEO Mark Shapiro still feels “pitching, pitching and more pitching” is his club’s biggest need.  In a Q&A conversation with The Athletic’s Jim Bowden (subscription required), Shapiro noted that Toronto’s splashy $80MM signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu was partially based on that need, since “we have more position players than pitchers that are major-league ready to impact and we needed more balance.”  Another factor, however, was the internal confidence amongst the Jays’ current core roster “that they are closer to winning than people think.”  This is one of many topics addressed during the interview, as Shapiro also discussed issues as rule changes, how baseball could adapt to a shortened season, and how he is coping with trying to run an organization with everyone staying at home.
  • Also of note was Shapiro’s mention that “more of a traditional center fielder” was the Blue Jays’ second-biggest need, though “we have lots of outfielders and we would like to give them an opportunity before adding to that mix.”  Randal Grichuk is slated for the bulk of center field duty, though Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Anthony Alford, and perhaps even Cavan Biggio could all get some time up the middle.  While Grichuk is mostly thought of as a right fielder, he has actually amassed almost as many innings in center (1988 1/3) as he has in right (2196 2/3) over his MLB career, though defensive metrics are somewhat split on which is his better position.  UZR/150 and Statcast’s Outs Above Average favor Grichuk’s work in right field, while the Defensive Runs Saved metric prefers his glovework in center field.
  • With this year’s amateur draft slated for only between 5-10 rounds, many top high school prospects could opt to attend college or junior college, while some college seniors could take their renewed year of NCAA eligibility and instead enter the 2021 draft.  Other youngsters, however, will opt to begin their pro careers, which MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo notes will likely lead to a huge free agent market of available amateur talent.  Teams can’t spend more than $20K to sign any undrafted amateur, so a host of other factors could impact whether or not a player chooses one particular team over others offering the same dollar figure, as executives, agents, and players tell Cotillo.  These factors range from the relationship between a team’s scout and the player, a player choosing a team close to his hometown and family, or perhaps even a club strategically drafting one prospect in order to draft another.  As one scouting director put it, “If we draft a kid in the fourth round, do we have a better shot at signing his buddy?
  • “Team officials and player agents are bracing for what they expect to be a dramatic shift in the financial landscape if the sport is shut down for the season,” ESPN.com’s Buster Olney writes (subscription required), which could mean particular concern for teams with major long-term salary commitments on their books.  Clubs like the Angels, Padres, and Rockies are in this camp, while teams with less money committed beyond the next season or two — such as the Giants, Rangers, Mariners, or Dodgers — are in a bit better position.  Of course, the coming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations are “the industry X factor” in all financial forecasts.

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