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Gerrit Cole Jersey

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Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has been caught up in a lawsuit involving the Angels and a fired clubhouse manager for the team after attorneys for Brian “Bubba” Harkins submitted a text message, allegedly from Cole, in Orange County (Calif.) Superior Court on Thursday, according to reports, including one in the Los Angeles Times.

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“Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation,” the pitcher, then with the Astros, wrote on Jan. 17, 2019, adding a wink emoji, according to the reports. “We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold.”

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Harkins, who was fired in March after the Angels were informed that a Major League Baseball investigation had found he was providing banned substances to pitchers to enhance their grip on the baseball, filed a defamation suit against the Angels and MLB in August. The team and the league filed a motion in November to dismiss the suit. In response to that motion, which claimed the 55-year-old Harkins was being used as a “scapegoat,” his attorneys submitted evidence, including the text.

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The origin of that information has not been verified and could be in question. More than a dozen other pitchers were also mentioned — both Angels and visitors — in the suit as having used the substance provided by Harkins. Pitchers have used similar substances through the years, but MLB has sought to crack down on the practice.

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The other kind of substance are the slippery kinds, like petroleum jelly, personal lubricant, Crisco. This is used not for grip but to change the effect shape of the ball in flight. A perfect sphere will move predictably along a trajectory, but a more oblong shape will move in more unpredictable ways. Gaylord Perry was famously, finally, ejected in 1982 after being perhaps the most widely-recognized spitballer in baseball, and a couple of seasons later, Rick Honeycutt had a thumbtack in his glove, grooving the sides of the baseball to induce this kind of unpredictable movement.

Of course most stories about spitballs are anecdotal and some apocryphal, only confirmed when a pitcher is actually caught — see Michael Pineda’s famous case — but this week, a court filing shed a little light on the continued usage of spitballs around the league.

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Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation. We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold.

Aside from my general disappointment with Gerrit Cole texting like a 13-year old, this appears to be a case where a player is conspiring to doctor baseballs, and that last sentence indicates that this is not Cole’s first time. The recipient of the text, Brian “Bubba” Hawkins, was the visiting clubhouse manager for the Angels, fired almost a year ago and now the plaintiff in a case contending baseball writ large made him a public scapegoat for distributing spitball-friendly substances to players around the league. Hawkins’ suit accuses not just Cole, but Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and most of the notable Angels pitchers of the last 15 years.

The inclusion of Cole and Verlander in particular caught a lot of attention, as the two are among the vanguards of pitching analytics, especially with respect to their use of high-spin fastballs up in the zone. Of course, both are veterans of the Astros analytics system, and their habit of increasing spin rate. Verlander’s spin on the fastball went from averaging 2559 RPM his last full season in Detroit to 2618 RPM in first full season in Houston, while Cole saw an even greater increase:

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You can increase spin rate naturally — velocity alone is linearly related to spin, so throwing a ball harder will impart more spin — but even that link, from the venerable Driveline, makes mention of how the changing physical condition of a pitcher’s hand can increase spin, making a fastball much more effective:

Given that we know pitchers have only a handful of milliseconds to impart shear force on the baseball, any additional adhesive properties or friction between the fingers and the ball is likely going to be valuable in helping generate spin (Kinoshita et al., 2017).

This is more or less public knowledge. Players aren’t conspiring in the back rooms of smoking clubs, and even the wink and nod that MLB and its umpires give to the use of spitballs in a modern context are open secrets around the game. In Japan, NPB has gone one step further, proactively adding tack to every single league baseball, so the incentive to further doctor a ball is lessened, and the necessity of better grip in less-than-ideal weather disappears.

And that’s where I think MLB needs to go with this. In all things, you can take a prohibition attitude towards rule breaking, or a harm reduction attitude. The former would mean that players like Cole, Verlander, and others found to be enhancing their grip face substantial punishment from the league. However, as our own commenter Harlan Spence put it yesterday:

Yankees sign pitcher Jhoulys Chacin to minor league contract
Last year, Trevor Bauer wrote in The Players’ Tribune that he was suspicious of how pitchers on the Astros teams Cole pitched for had improved their spin rate so dramatically.

“When I see a guy go from being a good pitcher for one team and spinning the ball at 2,200 rpm, to spinning the ball at 2,600 or 2,700 in Houston, I know exactly what happened,” Bauer wrote.

Bauer never mentioned Cole’s name in the story. The Post’s Joel Sherman asked Cole about the issue in February, after he signed a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees. Cole did not respond to Bauer’s story, but regarding the notion the Astros were better at creating a sticky product or teaching how to use that product, Cole repeated three times, “No.”

In response to the LA Times story, Bauer wrote on Twitter, “It’s almost like it did exist. Wow. The more you know… how crazy.”

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On paper, it was a no-brainer.

How could the New York Yankees NOT exercise their 2022 club option on reliever Zack Britton to prevent him from becoming a free agent this winter?

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After all, Britton was lights-out during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 regular season, compiling a 1.89 ERA and eight saves in 20 appearances.

But Britton didn’t take his return for granted, according to an interview he conducted with YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits.

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“There definitely was (a doubt), due to, obviously, financial situations that teams are in, for what they’re saying and, yeah, I didn’t know,” Britton said (h/t SNY). “Me and my agent, Scott Boras, we really didn’t discuss in great length what was going to happen if they didn’t and what we were going to do in regards to free agency and things like that. So it was nice, obviously, to get that call from (Brian Cashman) talking about it. Obviously, I’m excited to stay in New York for the next two years and hopefully win a championship is the reason why I came here in the first place. So to have two more years to kind of realize that goal would be nice.”

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By exercising their option, the Yankees now have Britton on the books for $13 million in 2021, the final season of his three-year, $39-million pact, and also for 2022 at $14 million. His salary is the highest in baseball for non-closer relievers.

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The two-time All-Star led the AL with 47 saves in 2016 is eighth among active players with 153.

The Yankees avoid arbitration with ace Chien-Ming Wang by signing him to a one-year, $5 million contract for the 2009 season. Unfortunately, the right-hander would not be the same after the foot injury that ended his 2008 campaign after only 15 starts, and he would not be offered a contract for 2010. It took him until 2011 to recover from injuries and return to major league ball with the Nationals, and he was a shadow of his former self.

11 Years Ago

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Desperate for pitching beyond the three-man rotation that led them to the 2009 World Series, Brian Cashman trades for Javier Vázquez for the second time in his career. The Yankees sent Melky Cabrera and minor leaguers Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaíno to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Vázquez and reliever Boone Logan. Despite coming in fourth in the NL Cy Young voting the year prior, Vázquez was a bust in pinstripes once again, and was even demoted from the rotation in August. Unsurprisingly, he did not make the playoff roster, and was not pursued as a free agent. The lefty Logan at least had the decency to put in reputable work out of the bullpen over the next four seasons.

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★ ★ ★

Birthdays
Happy 33rd birthday to Yankees reliever Zack Britton! Originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 2006 MLB Draft, Britton — then known by Zach — made his Major League debut on April 3, 2011, throwing six innings of one-run ball against the Tampa Bay Rays to earn the win. A mediocre starter for the first three years of his career, Britton would dominate once moved to the ‘pen before the 2014 season, quickly becoming the Orioles’ closer. In 2016, he put together one of the best performances as a reliever in baseball history (0.54 ERA, 0.836 WHIP, and a perfect 47-for-47 in saves), but was famously left in the Rogers Centre bullpen by manager Buck Showalter during the AL Wild Card Game, a fact that he has commented on not infrequently.

On July 24, 2018, he was acquired by the Yankees in exchange for Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, and Josh Rogers, and was re-signed to a two-to-four-year swell-opt, which was exercised by the Yankees this winter. In pinstripes, Britton has been one of the most reliable relief pitchers in baseball, posting a 2.14 ERA, 1.120 WHIP, and 206 ERA+, in large part due to his 70+ ground ball percentage. Long live the bowling-ball sinker.

Albert Abreu Jersey

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Losers of six of their last eight games, including a brutal walk-off loss on Tuesday in which they at one point led by six runs, Tigres del Licey have slipped out of the title race. They face a difficult climb to re-enter the picture – but a strong team effort on Wednesday at home over Gigantes del Cibao may be a sign of better things to come. Yankees’ top prospect Albert Abreu threw three scoreless, hitless innings to open the proceedings and the bullpen took it the rest of the way for a 4-0 win.

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Abreu’s Strong Showing

Abreu was nobody’s definition of dominant in his third start of the season for Licey. He struck out five in his three innings of work, but also walked four and struggled with deep counts and tenacious Gigantes hitters throughout. It took Abreu 66 pitches to navigate through the three frames, and almost none of his nine outs came easily.

Abreu’s most consistently solid offering was his slider, with which he recorded two of his five punchouts and four of his eleven whiffs. At his best, the tight-spinning breaking ball complemented his powerful heater and kept hitters off balance. At his worst, he spiked the slider a couple of times (including one wild pitch) and couldn’t control the fastball, missing catcher Sandy Leon’s targets. Nonetheless, it was an impressive showing, as Abreu proved that he could battle without his best stuff. I’m waiting for a consistently overpowering Abreu to show up for a whole night. It’ll be a sight to behold.

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The Yankees should see if Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson is available.
Here we are. The MLB Winter Meetings. The possibilities are endless as long as you have good scheduled Zoom chats. This will not be the annual event we are all accustomed to where players, agents and executives are in the same hotel and city looking to put pen to paper and make transactions.

But we should expect some movement because it is a scheduled event and we’re sure diligent parties out there have planned some discussions in regards to free agents and trades. You can bet the New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman are ready to go.

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Assuming bullpen acquisitions are still at the forefront of the Yankees’ offseason plan and that the Nationals are perhaps keen on shedding some payroll in order to institute a mini re-tool, Cashman should call up Washington GM Mike Rizzo and check in on the availability of Daniel Hudson.

We know, big surprise, since we’ve been advocating for Max Scherzer for the last year.

Hudson signed a two-year contract with the Nats shortly after their World Series win and he’s set to earn $6 million in 2021. He earned that deal after a career year in 2019, which he spent with the Blue Jays and Nationals, but 2020 saw him regress back to his usual self, despite the fact it was a shortened campaign.

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Even with that astonishing ’19, the right-hander still owns a rather unsightly 4.20 ERA and 1.31 WHIP for his career as a reliever (in 339 games). But he does possess potential as a deemphasized piece in a stacked Yankees bullpen despite being 33 years old.

Hudson’s got a solid 3.82 FIP for his career and now sports four pitches: a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball, which he re-introduced in 2020 after not having thrown it since his days as a starter. With the Yankees losing two right-handers in Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder, adding Hudson to pitch behind Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman could see the veteran maximize his potential.

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And what do you know! The Yankees expressed interest in Hudson prior to the 2019 season, so there was something that intrigued Cashman. Why not see if the Nationals are willing to sell a bit low here after his poor 2020 (6.10 ERA in 21 games)? Washington was largely a mess after losing so many key guys to free agency and injuries, so we can’t pin that inefficiency on Hudson alone.

Perhaps trading 25-year-old Albert Abreu could get a deal done? The Nationals work wonders with their pitchers for the most part and the Yankees haven’t really found any usage for Abreu and his fastball. He’d have years of club control, and at worst would be a middle relief option for the Nats.

The Nats could also use some help in right field. Perhaps Estevan Florial could be an option? The asking price for Hudson can’t be too high, given his 2020 performance and his 2021 salary. Plus, he’ll only be a rental.

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But if the Yankees want to go for it all next season, they need more length in the bullpen, and Hudson has the experience and pedigree to be a worthwhile addition.

Quiet Nights for Florial, Sánchez

Elsewhere in DR, Gary Sánchez and Estevan Florial continued their campaigns. Sánchez was bound to cool off from his torrid weekend. His last couple of games have been nondescript; in Toros del Este’s 4-2 loss to Aguilas Cibaeñas on Wednesday, the Yankee catcher struck out twice, walked once, and lifted a fly ball to left. Meanwhile, in San Pedro de Macorís, Florial managed a hit in three plate appearances before being removed for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning of Leones del Escogido’s matchup with Estrellas Orientales.

News and Notes

Longtime Yankee pitching prospect Adonis Rosa, released in September after seven years in the organization, made his 2020 LIDOM debut for Gigantes, surrendering a run in one and third innings of work. Rosa made 16 appearances for Gigantes last year, including two starts, and pitched to a 2.81 ERA. The run charged to Rosa was inherited by his successor, Randy Rosario, who quickly served up a two-run homer to former Red Sox catcher Sandy León…Tigres is quickly bearing down on the halfway mark of this abbreviated season. They’ll play their 15th out of 30 games in a rivalry matchup with Aguilas on Friday. Thursday is a league-wide day off.