A quiet winter gives way to a very loud spring
By Tyler Kepner
The New York Yankees sent a tweet Monday that only a dreamy romantic could have conjured last week amid the gloom of the Major League Baseball lockout. In a slow-motion video from the batting cage at spring training, a right-handed hitter lifted his front knee, pivoted on his back foot and whipped a bat across the plate, driving a batting practice fastball high above left field, where it disappeared in the clouds.
Ahhhhhhh — baseball.
Even better than the crack of the bat was the presence of a new slugger swinging it: third baseman Josh Donaldson, a past winner of the Most Valuable Player Award, who arrived through a trade Sunday night. And even better than that, the Yankees finally moved on from Gary Sánchez as part of the five-player move, shipping the powerful-but-flawed catcher to the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees also dealt infielder Gio Urshela and got Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a versatile defender with speed, and Ben Rortvedt, a muscular young catcher. Kiner-Falefa — whose 172 hits for Texas last season would have led the Yankees — will take over at shortstop, bumping Gleyber Torres back to second.
“By doing this trade, we’ve upgraded defensively and offensively at third, defensively at shortstop,” general manager Brian Cashman told reporters in Tampa, Florida. “We’ve placed Gleyber in a position that he’s best at, at second base. So I think on the infield side we’ve upgraded three different ways, and improved the defense on the catching side as well.”
Donaldson, 36, was the American League MVP in 2015 with Toronto but missed significant time with calf injuries in 2018 and 2020. He played 135 games for the Twins last season, with a .352 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage, and brings a fiery presence to the Yankees.
Cashman called starter Gerrit Cole before making the deal, knowing his history with Donaldson, who needled Cole last June with comments about spin rates and Spider Tack. Cole and Donaldson spoke Monday, hearing each other out.
“Look,” Cole said, “if you’re committed to winning a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t matter.”
The championship pursuit is on again for most teams, with a new collective bargaining agreement in place after 99 days of contentious negotiations between players and owners. But while the players’ union hoped to disincentivize teams from tearing down rosters — tanking, that is — some clubs still can’t resist. That was one of several themes from a newsy Monday in which the Oakland Athletics and the Cincinnati Reds continued to offload veterans.
The Reds, who dealt right-handed starter Sonny Gray to Minnesota on Sunday, sent third baseman Eugenio Suárez and outfielder Jesse Winker to Seattle for outfielder Jake Fraley, starter Justin Dunn, a prospect and a player to be named later. But the A’s, who sent right-handed starter Chris Bassitt to the Mets for prospects Saturday, made a move with broader implications.
The A’s traded their All-Star first baseman, Matt Olson, to Atlanta, which gave up its hopes of reaching terms with Freddie Freeman, its longtime incumbent. Olson, a Georgia native who turns 28 this month, is a left-handed power hitter like Freeman and has won two Gold Gloves. But losing Freeman will be a psychological blow to the reigning World Series champions; general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who held back tears while announcing the trade, called it “the hardest transaction I’ve had to make.”
Freeman, 32, has drawn strong interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency. But Olson can be a free agent in just two years, and Atlanta is hardly struggling financially; its owner, the publicly traded Liberty Media, reported that the team made a $104 million profit in 2021.
As rich owners go, however, there is only one Steven Cohen, whose generosity with his New York Mets payroll earned him his own tax threshold in the new CBA. Cohen splurged for a new ace, Max Scherzer, with a three-year, $110 million contract just before the lockout. His other ace, Jacob deGrom, told reporters in Port St. Lucie, Florida, that he plans to opt out of his contract after the season.
“I’m excited about this team, I love being a Met, think it would be really cool to be one for my entire career,” said deGrom, whom manager Buck Showalter named the starter for opening day on April 7. “But the plan is to exercise that option and be in constant contact in the offseason with the Mets, Steve Cohen and the front office.”
Credit deGrom — who would be under team control through 2024 otherwise — for confirming his plan and sparing us seven months of a will-he-or-won’t-he storyline. The announcement also signifies that deGrom is confident in his health after missing the second half of last season with elbow trouble.
DeGrom’s teammate, first baseman Pete Alonso, was healthy, too, after an accident Sunday that flipped his truck three times. Alonso, who said another driver ran a red light and T-boned his truck, had to kick open his windshield to escape.
“I’m really just thankful to be alive,” he said. “Thank you, Ford, for having great engineering.”
Alas, another superstar did not escape a recent accident intact. Fernando Tatis Jr., the wondrous shortstop for the San Diego Padres, showed up with a broken left wrist, apparently from an offseason motorcycle scrape, and may miss three months. Tatis said it “could have been a different story” if he had been allowed to consult team trainers during the lockout, but the blame falls mainly on him.
Tatis, apparently, is not as skilled on two wheels as he is on spikes. Asked by reporters in Peoria, Arizona, when his accident occurred, Tatis replied, “Which one?”