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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

When your landlord bats leadoff: The insular, clannish world of baseball real estate

Kiké Hernández in 2018 (Wikipedia)

By Andy McCullough / The Athletic

Shortly after Kiké Hernández haggled his way out of free-agent purgatory and into a new contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he asked his wife, Mariana, to investigate another market. She contacted Caitlin Hill, wife of former Dodger Rich Hill, with a request: Could the Hernándezes live in the Hills’ house again?

The Hills had bought a property in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2017, soon after Rich signed a $48 million contract. The family decided not to sell it after Hill’s final season with the team in 2019. The house has since become a popular destination among Dodgers personnel.

Catcher Austin Barnes lived there one season. Manager Dave Roberts has inquired about its availability. When Hernández rejoined the team at last year’s trade deadline, he moved into the house, which is a convenient 20-minute drive from Dodger Stadium, with access to three different highways.

“It’s very appealing because of the location,” Hill said.

But that’s not its only selling point. Almost as important is that the homeowner understands his tenants’ nomadic baseball lifestyle.

When searching for a place to live, players often rely on one another’s recommendations, connections and familiarity with baseball’s unique schedule and travel. That has led to a different kind of hot stove market each winter, when baseball players buy, sell and trade homes among themselves — swapping houses, directing young players to the right spots and passing certain key properties down as the cycle repeats itself.

It is not uncommon for players to report to spring training without a residence for the regular season. Sometimes, free agents sign later than expected; sometimes, trades happen without warning.

In the final days of February, Toronto Blue Jays infielder Justin Turner was still looking for a lease in the suburbs of Toronto to sync up with his one-year, $13 million contract. Caleb Ferguson, a New York Yankees reliever acquired in early February, was scrambling to find an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a park nearby for his newborn son. Surprised by a Feb. 11 trade from the Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins reliever Steven Okert said he had “no idea” where he would live in the Twin Cities. “I’ve never even been there before,” Okert said.

The primary problem is the length of the lease. The regular season lasts about six months, but renting a house usually requires a longer commitment. “It’s always a pain,” Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu said. He described the process of finding housing as “throughout my time in professional baseball, one of the hardest things to do,” which is why his wife, Jordan, takes care of it. Spouses often shoulder the load: Yency Almonte, a reliever who was traded from the Dodgers to the Chicago Cubs in January, will live this summer in the Chicagoland home of Joe Kelly, a reliever who was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Dodgers last summer; their wives brokered the deal.

In the offseason, LeMahieu lives in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan, where he owns two homes. For nearly a decade, he has rented out the secondary residence to various Tigers. So many players have stayed there that LeMahieu has lost track. The first tenant was second baseman Ian Kinsler. The longest-term resident was pitcher Daniel Norris. “I think they all left the places better than they found them,” LeMahieu said. “I came back and there was new stuff. Super clean. I was like, ‘Wow, this worked out really well.’”

In 2022, his final year in Milwaukee, reliever Brent Suter lived in a home once occupied by former Brewers teammate Corey Knebel. Suter rented a townhouse through Vrbo for his 2023 season with the Colorado Rockies. When he signed for 2024 with the Cincinnati Reds, his hometown team, Suter did not need to search for a house. But he did have the ballplayer network to thank.

A few years earlier, while pitching for Cincinnati, Wade Miley had purchased a four-bedroom home in nearby Anderson Township, Ohio. An older couple started building on a lot across the street. Miley eventually learned that his new neighbors were Suter’s in-laws. He called his former teammate. “When I’m done with the Reds, I’m selling you this house,” Miley told Suter, who laughed at the offer. When Cincinnati placed Miley on waivers after the 2021 season, Suter received another text: “Go check out the house. We’ll open the garage for you.” Miley, Suter said, “hooked us up with our dream house for life.”

During his time in Cleveland, first baseman Carlos Santana lived in Bratenahl, Ohio, an affluent suburb on the shores of Lake Erie. After Santana signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies heading into 2018, he rented his home to former teammate Edwin Encarnación. Santana did not last long in Philadelphia; the Phillies shipped him to the Seattle Mariners in December 2018. Less than two weeks later, the Mariners traded Santana to Cleveland — in exchange for Encarnación. Santana moved back into his old house.

The athletes aren’t all on their own in the housing market. Teams provide them resources, recommendations and real estate agents. Their own agents often do the same. The collective bargaining agreement contains provisions that compensate them for their living expenses if they are cut or traded.

But their privilege still contains complications, and not every serendipitous swap ends happily. In the summer of 2005, the Boston Red Sox acquired infielder Alex Cora from Cleveland in exchange for infielder Ramón Vázquez. The two Puerto Ricans were friends. They agreed to trade houses. “The price was the same,” Cora said. He had been living in a four-bedroom, two-story place with a yard. He was aghast when he moved into Vázquez’s apartment near Faneuil Hall. “It was a one-bedroom,” Cora said.

The dollar does stretch further away from the coasts. Ferguson, the Yankees reliever, grew up about 20 minutes outside of Columbus, Ohio, the home of Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate. He harbors dreams of renting his home there to one of the Clippers. He joked about his willingness to pay the utilities for potential tenants as long as they paid his mortgage. “I don’t want to make money off of you — I just want to stop losing it,” Ferguson said.

Rich Hill stumbled into his role as the landlord of the Dodgers. During the 2021 season, Hill heard that Barnes was commuting about two hours round-trip to the ballpark. Barnes and his wife, Nicole, had a newborn son, and the drive was draining. Hill mentioned that his place in Toluca Lake was empty. “It’s a really nice house,” Barnes said. “He just let us live there.”

Barnes had better luck than Roberts, who found the house occupied when he asked Hill about renting it. Hernández met the same fate after signing his new deal with the Dodgers. Hill was already renting to a family for 2024. Turns out, nonballplayers need houses, too.

“As much as I want to rent it to the guys,” Hill said, “I can’t kick the people out who are there right now.”

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