February 24, 2024

Explaining a stop-gap TV deal; MLB makes an example out of Billy Eppler

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Pitchers and catchers report this week; can you feel it? Today, we have notes on a temporary TV rights solution, Billy Eppler’s suspension and a trade between the Twins and Marlins. I’m Levi Weaver here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to the Windup!

Stop-gap TV deal

The Guardians, Twins and Rangers will, in fact, have a TV deal for 2024 — they will remain with Bally Sports for the upcoming season. It’s good to have (a little bit of) a resolution, finally. But, as Evan Drellich reports, it’s just a one-year deal for each team. Let’s dig into the implications.

First, this doesn’t solve the “blackout” issue. Digital rights and broadcast rights are two different things, and this deal doesn’t do the thing that fans have been asking for: the ability to watch the home team without signing up for a whole cable package. But all is not lost — commissioner Rob Manfred has targeted 2025 for the launch of a new streaming service that could include roughly half of the league, ostensibly without blackout restrictions.

For the three teams that finally have a deal, it doesn’t really solve everything. For example, the Rangers’ original contract originally ran through 2030, giving them long-term financial stability. But due to the bankruptcy proceedings, the options were down to “be dropped completely and find a new partner by Opening Day” or “take a reduced, one-year deal.” Given the amount of money involved, it made more sense to take this deal and look to the future. But that doesn’t help much with payroll — they need another starting pitcher and the most logical fit (Jordan Montgomery) isn’t likely to take a one-year deal. Short-term stability beats no stability at all, but it’s certainly still a problem.

This situation is also affecting expansion plans. Drellich was at the owners’ meetings in Florida last week and spoke to the commissioner, who said that in addition to getting the A’s and Rays’ stadium deals more firmed up, the league needs this broadcast situation to be resolved before it can go through the upheaval of adding two more teams.

It’s a solution, for now. But it feels an awful lot like the old days, before binge-streaming, when seeing “To Be Continued…” at the end of a stressful episode of television meant we had no choice but to wait.

Now, here’s Ken with some perspective on the punishment handed down to Billy Eppler.

Ken’s Notebook

Billy Eppler will be on the ineligible list through the end of the 2024 World Series, unless he applies for early reinstatement. (Gordon Donovan / NurPhoto via AP)

From my latest notes column:

Why did commissioner Rob Manfred punish former Mets general manager Billy Eppler for improper injured-list placements when it’s believed that virtually every team has committed similar infractions?

Simple answer: The commissioner wanted to set an example, and Eppler made for an easy target.

Manfred did not anger any owner by placing Eppler on the ineligible list through the end of the 2024 World Series. Eppler, who had already been subjugated to a lesser role under new GM David Stearns, resigned on Oct. 5 after the league began its investigation, and is currently not employed by any club. The league, which acted on a detailed anonymous tip according to a source briefed on its investigation, said it interviewed more than three dozen individuals and reviewed relevant documents and electronic records. Typically, accusations of improper IL placements lack such evidence.

The league seemingly had precedent to make Eppler a different kind of example. On Sept. 15, 2017, the same day Manfred fined the Yankees and the Red Sox for their roles in the Apple Watch incident, he issued a memorandum to clubs reiterating the rules regarding the use of electronic equipment to steal signs. The memorandum put teams on notice, with Manfred promising harsher penalties for electronic sign stealing in the future.

The commissioner could have taken a similar route with Eppler, issuing less severe discipline while warning clubs he would take sterner action the next time an infraction occurred. But the Apple Watch memorandum proved an insufficient deterrent — multiple teams continued to cheat — and the league believed precedent for punishing Eppler already existed. In 2016, it suspended Padres GM A.J. Preller for 30 days without pay for submitting false medical records to the Red Sox during trade discussions. Not an exact analogy, but close enough, in the league’s view.

The league’s press release noted that Manfred could reduce Eppler’s time on the ineligible list if the former executive applies for early reinstatement. In a statement, Eppler said, “I cooperated fully and transparently with MLB’s investigation, and I accept their decision.” His attorney, Jay Reisinger, declined comment.

Twins send another infielder to Miami

Trading Nick Gordon is part of continued attempts by the Twins to resolve their infield logjam. (David Berding/Getty Images)

Last year, the Twins and Marlins matched up for a trade that sent Luis Arraez to Miami in exchange for Pablo López. It doesn’t seem likely that this one will have quite the same impact (Arraez led the league with a .354 batting average, while López helped anchor an AL Central-winning rotation), but it is another infielder-for-pitcher trade: 28-year-old Nick Gordon, who was the fifth pick of the 2014 draft, is headed to the Marlins in exchange for 32-year-old left-handed reliever Steven Okert.

For the Twins, Gordon — who had a breakout season in 2022 but broke his leg and played just 34 games last year — is the second infielder they’ve offloaded in the last two weeks: they sent Jorge Polanco to the Mariners for RHP Anthony Desclafani at the end of January. Minnesota is dealing from a position of strength in these deals, as they also have Willi Castro and Edouard Julien to go along with Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis in their infield.

Meanwhile, Okert also had a down year last year, posting a 4.45 ERA after back-to-back sub-3.00 seasons, though he still struck out 73 against 24 walks in 58 2/3 innings.

You could call it a “change of scenery” scenario, and that’s probably valid. But there are roster implications, too: both players are out of minor-league options, so rather than risk losing their guy to a waiver claim, the two teams opted to make a swap.

Corey Kluber calls it a career

Pardon the Rangers-centric perspective, but Corey Kluber’s name will always land differently for those of us who were around for the one whole inning of his Rangers career than for someone who watched him at his peak in Cleveland, when he was absolutely electric. From 2014 to 2018, he won two AL Cy Young Awards, finished third two other times and had a ninth-place finish.

As Zack Meisel writes, when Kluber pitched, every outing was a spectacle.

But in 2019, a fractured arm limited him to 35 2/3 innings. Who could have known then that it was the beginning of the end? After all, it wasn’t an elbow or shoulder issue — he was hit by a comebacker. Nevertheless, he was traded to Texas the following offseason for Delino DeShields and (another former Padres farmhand) closer Emmanuel Clase. After one inning with Texas, Kluber tore his teres major muscle and was lost for the year.

There were still glimpses of greatness in the three following years, which saw him suit up for the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. He pitched his first career no-hitter in 2021 (against the Rangers, no less), and threw 164 innings for the Rays in 2022. But his final year in Boston was forgettable; he was moved to the bullpen, then didn’t pitch after June 20 due to a shoulder injury. The 37-year-old announced his retirement on Friday.

He’ll make for an interesting Hall of Fame case in five years. His career totals — 116-77 and just 1,641 2/3 innings over 13 years — wouldn’t appear to be quite enough. But for five consecutive years, few in the game could claim to be better.

Handshakes and High Fives

While the primary focus will be on Shohei Ohtani, there’s another Japanese superstar in L.A. Fabian Ardaya tries to project some reasonable expectations on Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s first season stateside.

Jen Pawol, the first female umpire to reach Triple A in 35 years, will work major-league spring training games in Florida this season.

Keith Law rankings season continues: He ranks all 30 farm systems here, and his team rankings start today with the AL East.

It’s been a tough offseason for the Padres. They could really use a good 2024 from Joe Musgrove. They’ll also be leaning on new manager Mike Shildt’s strong reputation for player development.

Seems like every time we mention the Cubs’ inaction in this newsletter, they make a move. Let’s test the theory.

Our staff members put their heads together and came up with the most pressing questions for each of the 30 teams as they prepare to report to spring training.

Jim Bowden predicts Elly De La Cruz, Royce Lewis and eight other players will have a big year, so take them in your fantasy drafts.

After the comments from the Mayor of Las Vegas, Ken talked to Sheng Thao, the Mayor of Oakland, about the A’s and whether the move to Nevada is viable.

And a couple of notable two-year deals to avoid arbitration hearings: Jonathan India with the Reds ($8.8 million plus incentives) and Adolis García with the Rangers ($14 million plus incentives).

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(Top photo of Kyle Farmer being interviewed on Bally Sports North in April 2023: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)