The Windup: More MLB rule experiments, Ohtani vs. Judge in New York and more

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We’ve been waiting for Ohtani vs. Judge for weeks, and now it’s here. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts might be moving, Hunter Greene isn’t, for a while at least, and I hope you like the new rules, because there might be more on the way. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Open the gates, let the battle begin

This one has been circled on the calendars for a while now: last year’s AL MVP Aaron Judge playing host to 2021 AL MVP (and perennial favorite to win the award) Shohei Ohtani. The series got started with a bang, as Ohtani hit a two-run home run in his first at-bat, but neither player got a hit after that, and the Angels won 5-2.

They’ll get two more cracks at the magic, tonight and Thursday. Ohtani isn’t scheduled to pitch, unfortunately. The Angels theoretically could bring him back on short rest, since he only pitched two innings before Monday’s rainout in Boston, but according to our Angels writer Sam Blum, that’s not the plan — he’ll start Friday against the Royals (which seems like overkill, honestly).

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t intrigue beyond the at-bats. As Brendan Kuty wrote here, any time there’s a looming superstar free agency, the Yankees are going to be in the mix. I don’t think there’s been quite a looming superstar free agency like Ohtani’s in quite some time — maybe not ever before.

Ken’s Corner: Risk, reward and Hunter Greene

As the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, Hunter Greene received a $7.23 million bonus. He could have been a free agent entering his age-28 season. So, why did he sign a six-year, $53 million extension with the Reds and agree to a club option that, if exercised, would delay his entrance into the open market by two years?

One reason is to minimize risk. Greene, the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball, underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2019 and missed two seasons, including the canceled 2020 minor-league campaign. He also was sidelined from Aug. 5 to Sept. 17 of last season with a strained right shoulder.

The finances, from the perspective of Greene’s agents at CAA, also made sense. The deal will cover two of Greene’s pre-arbitration years, all three arbitration years and, if the Reds pick up the option, two years of free agency. It is the second largest contract ever for a pitcher with one-plus years of service time, behind the six-year, $75 million deal the Braves awarded Spencer Strider last October.

Hunter Greene (Katie Stratman / USA Today)

Greene’s pre-arb years would have been worth approximately $1.5 million. CAA projected that if he was near the top of the market in arbitration, his salaries would have been approximately $4.5 million, $7.5 million and $12 million. That combined $24 million would have been slightly more than another CAA client, Max Fried, will earn in his arb years, and Fried is a two-time top-five Cy Young finisher and World Series champion.

Based on those projections, the one free-agent year in Greene’s deal is worth approximately $27.5 million. If the option is exercised, the two free-agent years will average $22.25 million, and that’s without the potential escalators that are part of the deal. Greene then would hit the open market entering his age-30 season.

Could Greene have gone year to year, become the next Gerrit Cole and attained even greater riches as a 28-year-old free agent? Perhaps. But again, it’s a question of risk tolerance. The risk of injury is greater for pitchers than it is for position players. Greene wanted the security this deal provided, even if it meant sacrificing dollars long term.

Experiment on me

Baseball’s new rules have been revolutionary — the Guardians and Tigers played an entire doubleheader in just 4:14 on Tuesday, for example — so of course, MLB is going to keep tinkering. The Atlantic League will be testing another round of new experimental rules this season, just to see how they go.

The most interesting one to me is the “designated pinch runner.” I assumed that meant that one player — probably the catcher, if we’re being honest — would have a pinch runner assigned to him, much like the pitcher has a designated hitter.


According to the rule, the runner can be inserted into the game at any point, and then the player for whom he was subbed in can go back into the game.

Immediately, my brain tried to think of the weirdest way to exploit it. What about this: a leadoff hitter singles, and in comes the pinch runner, who steals second, then scores on a single by the second hitter in the lineup. But instead of running into the dugout, the pinch runner just keeps on circling, back to first base — because now he’s pinch running for the second guy in the lineup. And so on and so forth until one guy has scored all four of his team’s runs in the first inning.

Alas, when I asked Jayson Stark, he informed me that I was missing one vital element: the second time the runner is inserted into the game, he has to stay in the game.

But could he technically at least pinch run for back-to-back hitters, even if that meant he had to stay in the game after that?

Stark texted Atlantic League president Rick White, who said this:

He could; conceivably, he could score and immediately step up to hit. Also think about the PR being a pitcher. Injury concerns, but….   I think this is a fun one; and I think managers and players will like the possibilities.

It’s important to note: not every rule the Atlantic League tries will make its way to the big leagues. In 2021, they tested out moving the mound back an extra foot. They also tested out the double hook, in which a team whose starting pitcher doesn’t make it five innings would cause his team to lose the designated hitter for the rest of the game. They’re trying that one again this year.

I’ll try, cross my heart

Last week, it was Bryce Harper and first base. Now another superstar might be moving positions, at least part-time. According to Fabian Ardaya, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on Tuesday that when Mookie Betts returns from paternity leave, he could play shortstop.

Betts has won six Gold Glove awards as an outfielder, but has played 35 games at second base in his big-league career, and per Fabian’s story, he continues to take infield drills before games. But there’s a big difference between second base and shortstop, a position Betts last played in Low A in 2012.

Roberts seems confident that Betts can do it, and with Gavin Lux out for the year after tearing his ACL this spring, the Dodgers might just need a shortstop. Miguel Rojas was hitting just .125 (.356 OPS) and missed five games due to injury earlier this month. Chris Taylor was hitting .125 (.625 OPS) and left Monday’s game with left side discomfort.

The Dodgers fell below .500 on Monday (though they did break even last night, beating the Mets 5-0 behind Clayton Kershaw, who won his 200th career game).

If it’s not Betts, it could be Luke Williams, who was called up on Tuesday after hitting .375 (1.151 OPS) in Triple A. But as Fabian points out, shortstop isn’t his natural position either — he was primarily a third baseman at the lower levels.

Texts with Grant Brisbee

You know the drill by now: every Tuesday, I text Grant, and it goes in the next day’s newsletter. That’s the entire premise of the bit.

You can catch Grant, along with Andy McCullough and the very riled-up-about-Oakland Marc Carig on The Roundtable Podcast every Wednesday.

Handshakes and High Fives

Good thing we got that CBA agreed to so MLB and the MLBPA can get along amicably for a few yea— [puts hand to ear] I’m sorry, I’m being told they’ve found a new thing to fight over: limiting contract lengths. Union executive director Tony Clark went so far as to call the idea “assault by management.”

The Bally Sports broadcasting fiefdom continues to crumble, brick by brick. This time it’s the Texas Rangers that noticed a missing deposit in their bank account. But Bally is still broadcasting the games. If that sounds like a legal issue, well — it is.

Speaking of crumbling, the Mets have another starting pitcher on the IL. This time, it’s Carlos Carrasco. What now?

You can submit questions for Jim Bowden’s mailbag right here.

Joey Gallo’s batting average jumped 56 points yesterday after he went … 0-for-0? He was on the injured list? Dan Hayes and Aaron Gleeman explain.

(Top photo of Shohei Ohtani: Elsa / Getty Images)