April 15, 2024

Debunking an A’s-related conspiracy; Joey Bart’s Giants era is over

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Joey Bart’s time in San Francisco is over, Ken tells us about a hidden gem in Milwaukee, Britt Ghiroli wrote a masterpiece on Juan Soto, and we get to the bottom of a conspiracy theory in Oakland. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Giants trade Bart, formerly the catching heir apparent

Joe Montana gave way to Steve Young. David Robinson passed the baton to Tim Duncan. Joe DiMaggio faded just as Mickey Mantle soared. For a time, I was convinced that the San Francisco Giants would have the good fortune of watching Buster Posey gracefully step aside to reveal Joey Bart: Another Great Catcher.

So much for that. Bart was traded to the Pirates yesterday for minor-league pitcher Austin Strickland, days after being designated for assignment.

Bart was drafted with the second pick in 2018 and instantly became the heir apparent to Posey. But as Andrew Baggarly explains here, a few factors, many of them out of Bart’s control, waylaid his development on his path to ascension — namely, injuries and a rush to regular playing time when Posey opted out of the 2020 season. Eventually, his role as successor was usurped by Patrick Bailey.

Some of it was at least a little bit in Bart’s control. In parts of four seasons, he did play in 162 games. Blame the nonlinear player development plan, bad luck, or just a guy who didn’t quite reach his potential, but his line of .219/.288/.335 (.623 OPS) simply wasn’t enough to stave off Bailey.

Baggarly points out that even though the writing was on the wall for Bart in San Francisco, there’s reason to believe that his work this past offseason has prepared him to succeed after a change of scenery. If that’s the case, it’s a real bummer for the Giants but could be a nice boost for a Pirates team that is already 5-0.

Ken’s Notebook: Meet Brewers 3B Oliver Dunn

Oliver Dunn has gotten off to a good start with the Brewers. (Adam Hunger / Getty Images)

One of my favorite things about baseball is how every season, interesting players come seemingly out of nowhere. Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Oliver Dunn is one such player. I’ll admit: I knew virtually nothing about him when the Brewers named him their Opening Day third baseman. Yet there he was Tuesday, making a full-extension dive to rob Byron Buxton of extra bases in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

Dunn, 26, also is contributing offensively, going 3-for-10 with a walk and hit-by-pitch in his first three major-league games. So, who is this guy? The New York Yankees selected Dunn out of the University of Utah in the 11th round of the 2019 draft. Three years later, they left him unprotected on their Triple-A roster and lost him to the Philadelphia Phillies in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

That means the Yankees did not consider Dunn one of the top 78 players in their organization, declining to protect him not only on their 40-man roster but also on their 38-man Triple-A list. The Phillies evidently didn’t think much of Dunn, either. Despite his eye-opening performance in the Arizona Fall League, they traded him to the Brewers last November for two other minor leaguers.

Milwaukee scouts had identified Dunn as a possible target over the past few years, according to general manager Matt Arnold. And after Dunn batted .343 with a .455 on-base percentage and .616 slugging percentage in the AFL, earning the league’s Breakout Player of the Year award, the Brewers pounced.

Even then, Dunn’s chances of making the Opening Day roster seemed limited. The Brewers had Andruw Monasterio and Owen Miller as possibilities at third. They acquired Joey Ortiz as another candidate in the Corbin Burnes trade with the Baltimore Orioles. And they spent the spring trying outfielder Sal Frelick at the position as well.

A spot for Dunn opened, however, when outfielder Garrett Mitchell fractured a bone in his left hand less than a week before the season started. Mitchell’s injury forced Frelick back to the outfield, and the Brewers had already demoted Miller. So for now, the left-handed-hitting Dunn is in a platoon with Ortiz.

The Athletic’s Keith Law anticipated Dunn’s ascent, excluding him from his top 20 Brewers prospects, but listing him among “others of note.” Law wrote, “Dunn can run, he can hit a little, has some sneaky pop. … He seems like a great last-guy-on-the-bench player given his speed and versatility.”

Who knows? Perhaps Dunn will turn out to be even more.

Juan Soto’s bet on himself

This section is about Juan Soto, but it’s also about Britt Ghiroli. The quotes and insights in today’s story — about the 22 months since Juan Soto rejected the Nationals’ $440 million extension offer — are exquisitely detailed and informative. It’s honestly a masterpiece.

A few examples:

• “That was a real family,” Soto says of the 2019 (Nationals) team. Then his smile faded. “And it will never be that way again.”

• When (Padres) closed-doors hitters’ meetings began before each series, Soto would often have his AirPods in his ears, three team sources told The Athletic. Teammates were perturbed, even though he had a legitimate reason: The early minutes were often spent on opposing pitchers’ “tells,” or signs they might be tipping pitches. Soto, who has always been a cerebral hitter, told the coaches he didn’t want those details floating around his brain in the batter’s box.

• In D.C., Soto had been the only star remaining. In San Diego, he was initially unsure of his place, sources say. And he saw the writing on the wall, given the team’s other financial commitments: The Padres were just going to be a pit stop.

“There’s no money for me here,” Soto said, according to numerous sources within the team, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. He was referring to the trio of $300 million contracts the Padres already had on the books in Manny MachadoFernando Tatis and Xander Bogaerts.

Go read the rest. Soto appears to be on his way to making good on that bet he made on himself by passing on the Nats’ offer. And Ghiroli absolutely nailed it in explaining how it came to this.

Esteury Ruiz, Brent Rooker and an early-season conspiracy theory

It was 39 years ago when Sports Illustrated duped the baseball world with the legend of Sidd Finch, the would-be monk with a French horn and a 168 mph fastball. It remains the greatest baseball-themed April Fool’s joke of all time, but we may have a new second-place finisher.

Last Dive Bar is an apparel company in Oakland that has lately leaned hard into “SELL THE TEAM” merchandise, protesting owner John Fisher’s plan to move the team to Las Vegas.

On Monday, they tweeted a mysterious bit of conspiracy bait: Were Brent Rooker, who has sat out two games this season, and Esteury Ruiz, who was sent down to Triple A, being punished by the organization for wearing LDB wristbands?

They tweeted it on April 1, folks. And in subsequent tweets, gleefully reveling in the success of the prank, they posted tongue-in-cheek follow-ups: photoshopped “evidence” of the wristbands on such figures as John F. Kennedy, Bigfoot, Jimmy Hoffa and Jesus Christ.

But by yesterday, it really took off. Mediaite,  NESN, Barstool, SFGate and (even the home of Sidd Finch!) Sports Illustrated all posted stories that seemed to imply that it might be real.

A few notes:

  • Ruiz, yes, was hitting .429 after three games. A very small sample size, but certainly not the sort of stat you usually see when a guy is sent down. But A’s GM David Forst spoke openly about the demotion, and if you look deeper, his comments make baseball sense. Take a look at Ruiz’s Baseball Savant page:

Rooker has started four of the team’s six games (including the last two since Monday afternoon, when the theory was first floated), so he hasn’t been “benched.”

Other “punished” players mentioned in the theory: Tony Kemp (-1.0 bWAR in 2023, now with the Orioles), Cristian Pache (-0.5 bWAR, all the way back in 2022 before he was traded to Philadelphia), James Kaprielian (-0.3 bWAR in 2023, now a free agent).

So why did so many people fall for it?

My theory: Going through old tweets, it appears that Last Dive Bar’s previously close relationship with the organization has soured in the last year-plus. Fans (and organizations) are mad! Understandably! The sentiment in Oakland has pivoted from an enthusiastic “Go A’s!” to an indignant “Sell the team!” and it seems like every day brings a new face-palm-worthy controversy.

Meanwhile, Fisher has completely obliterated any benefit of the doubt. While this particular scandal appears to be nothing more than a clever prank, people do tend to believe the worst about people they don’t like. And is there anyone in Oakland who is more disliked than Fisher?

Handshakes and High Fives

The Christopher Morel third base experiment in Chicago is going pretty great so far, says Patrick Mooney.

Jesse Chavez is rapidly approaching legend status. The 40-year-old is back for sixth stint with the Braves.

Bryce Harper blasted three home runs — including a grand slam — in a 9-4 win over the Reds.

Kansas City voters have rejected a public funding measure to help fund new stadiums for the Chiefs and Royals. Does this put the Royals on a track toward relocation?

Larry Lucchino, who helped bring about Camden Yards and Petco Park and helped save Fenway Park, has passed away at 78 years of age. Steve Buckley makes the case for his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

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(Top photo of Brent Rooker and Esteury Ruiz: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)