Who’s hot and who’s not in baseball? Let’s take a look:
J.D. (Just Dingers): In 1987, when outfielder Andre Dawson could not lure bidders in free agency, he handed the Cubs a blank contract. Fill in the salary, he said, and I’ll sign. Dawson led the league with 49 home runs and earned NL MVP honors. In 2018, when outfielder J.D. Martinez could not lure a serious bidder besides the Red Sox, he waited. Finally, after spring training started, he signed with the Red Sox. He leads the league with 21 home runs, on pace for more than 50. Over the last calendar year, he has hit 56 homers. Mitigating factor: Dawson, in an era of collusion, signed for $500,000. Martinez signed for $110 million. In an analytic era that prioritizes all-around skills, he is not even the MVP of his team. Mookie Betts is (.359, 17 home runs, 13 stolen bases, 1.187 OPS).
Brothers in arms: The Dodgers’ 2013 NLCS loss to the Cardinals included these story lines: Joe Kelly breaking the Dodgers by fracturing Hanley Ramirez’s rib with a pitch, and St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha throwing 14 shutout innings, the latter prompting some Dodgers fans to wonder why their team had spent the draft pick immediately ahead of Wacha on a minor league shortstop. No worries: In 2016, when Corey Seager was NL rookie of the year, Wacha put up a 5.09 ERA. He followed with 4.13 last year, but he’s rebounded to 2.47 this year, ranking among the NL leaders (minimum 50 innings). Leading the league is his old Texas A&M roommate, the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling (1.52). The headlines might belong to Wacha, but the better career ERA belongs to Stripling: 3.32 to 3.70.
Cake is served: President Trump this week rescinded his White House invitation to the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles because, as he said in a statement, “they disagree with their President.” LeBron James and Stephen Curry quickly shot back by saying neither the Cleveland Cavaliers nor Golden State Warriors would accept such an invitation upon winning the NBA Finals. Baseball players speak up far less about social issues than their NFL and NBA counterparts, but Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle is a prominent exception. On Monday, the day before the Nationals held a “Night Out” for gays and lesbians, the Supreme Court sided with a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Doolittle responded by providing cake for all the fans in the “Night Out” group.
Freak out: The Rangers released Tim Lincecum rather than call him up, saying they did not believe he would help their bullpen. He had a 5.68 ERA at triple-A Round Rock and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016, when he had a 9.16 ERA in nine starts for the Angels. Lincecum, who turns 34 Friday, is one of three great pitchers from the first round of the 2006 draft. Clayton Kershaw, 30, drafted seventh by the Dodgers, has three Cy Young awards, and four trips to the disabled list in the past three years. Lincecum, drafted 10th by the Giants, has two Cy Youngs. Max Scherzer, 33, drafted 11th by the Diamondbacks, has three — and a 10-1 record and career-low 1.95 ERA for the Nationals this season. The five pitchers drafted ahead of that Cy Young trio: three starters who washed out and late-blossoming relievers Andrew Miller and Brandon Morrow.
Power out: Chris Davis led the AL with 47 home runs in 2015, and the Orioles retained him for seven years and $161 million. Chris Carter led the NL with 41 homers in 2016, and the Brewers let him go. In this era of more home runs and more strikeouts, the Brewers spotted the emerging oversupply of one-dimensional sluggers. And now this frightening twist in the Orioles’ story: Davis can’t slug any more. His slugging percentage is .232, the worst in the major leagues. He is on pace for 10 homers. Say what you will about the Albert Pujols contract, but Pujols is slugging .396, on pace for 20. Beyond this season, the Angels owe Pujols $87 million through 2021; the Orioles owe Davis $96 million through 2022.
East Coast bias: The Yankees complained about another appearance on ESPN. No, really: They bawled about playing a Sunday night game in Toronto, then a doubleheader the next day in Baltimore. Too taxing, they cried: three games in 27 hours, and in between, a flight that takes an hour and a half. The Mariners did not whine last month when they played three games in three cities on three consecutive days, including a flight of an hour and a half (Detroit to Minneapolis) and one of three hours (Minneapolis to Seattle). ESPN and the league bowed to the Yankees — “If they do it for one team, they have to do it for everybody,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said dryly — and that July 8 Sunday night showcase now features the Angels vs. the Dodgers.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin