By Dayn Perry CBS Sports
Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index — a weekly hootenanny that determines with awful authority which players are dominating the current zeitgeist of the sport. While one’s presence on this list is often celebratory in nature, it can also be for purposes of lamentation or ridicule. The players listed are in no particular order, just like the phone book.
LAD • RF • 50
Consider this to be a hybrid gesture of respect and commendation. First, Mr. Betts is being invited to this, the internet’s first-class airport lounge, because he remains a leading baseball practitioner. Betts in 2020, as is his wont, is producing at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. Indeed, right now Betts leads all position players in WAR. If you don’t believe me, just ask me. Yes, we’re lauding him for being sublime at This, Our Baseball, and we’re also here to praise him for his dominating absence.
What happens when a team deigns to trade away a baseball-ist of Betts’ caliber? Gird yourselves for a media socialescreenshot and the harrowing implications thereof:
Boston Red Sox Twitter
Betts’ former team the Red Sox recently trotted out this somewhat cryptic pairing of image and acronym on Twitter. It’s referring to the fact that the Red Sox recently reset their competitive balance tax (CBT) penalties to zero, which is the number of times they’ve beaten the Yankees this season. For the uninitiated — and being ignorant of the particulars of labor cost suppression mechanisms in professional sports is a sign of good and proper living — the CBT on payrolls functions as a soft salary cap in baseball. Theoretically, it’s merely a check on player spending, but in practice the game’s richest teams over-respond to the incentives built into the CBT, which is why it’s basically a cap.
In the case of John Henry’s Red Sox, they came into the 2020 season having exceeded the CBT for three straight seasons, which means they were subject the highest penalties. Granted, those penalties shouldn’t mean all that much to a team of Boston’s resources, but MLB owners will look for any tidy rationale to tamp down on player salaries. So the Red Sox went out and hired Chaim Bloom as their lead baseball ops decision-maker. Not coincidentally, Bloom cut his teeth with the Rays, who have made a fetish out of roster churn in the name of payroll “efficiency.”
When a team gets under the CBT line even after years of being over, it resets the penalty schedule back to zero, which means the next time they go over they get hit with the mildest suite of sanctions (adjusted for the amount by which they exceed the CBT). In order to achieve the reset celebrated in the vaporized tweet above, the Sox had to slough off payroll. In part, they did that by trading Betts, their best homegrown position player since Carl Yastrzemski, and David Price to the Dodgers (who not so long ago themselves fretted over the CBT despite flooded coffers).
Yes, the stinking and downhearted Red Sox are just 12-26, while Betts’ Dodgers at 29-10 soar above all, even motivated vultures. But — hills be shaken — John Henry and his fellow masthead-dwellers don’t have to pay the CBT penalties anymore. And thank all available gods for that.
So instead of tweeting out something like, say, this:
The Red Sox’s official account is reduced to desperate, obsequious missives promptly thought better of. Championship banner raised? Nay. Operating costs for John Henry, Business Understander, lowered? Yay. Sure, maybe Betts, after getting from the Dodgers the market-rate contract extension that the Red Sox could hardly be bothered with, winds up winning the World Series for the second time, but who’s the real winner here? The team that sucks on purpose and may not even get a high draft pick for their non-efforts, that’s who.
STL • 1B • 46
You’ll note that above the author — with the kind of undaunted hardihood that wins world wars — has added an extra statistical category to Paul Goldschmidt’s player card. That category is on-base percentage, and Goldbird’s mark of .478 happens to pace the majors right now. “Eh, probably not” is the answer to the following question about to be posed, but pose it anyway we shall: Might Goldschmidt perhaps manage a .500 OBP for the season?
Goldschmidt has just 115 plate appearances on the season, which means he can drastically improve his OBP standing with one hot night, like the one he had on Tuesday when he racked up a double and two walks against the Reds and pushed that OBP to .495. Yeah, it fell to its current level the very next night, but it still remains with stabbin’ distance of .500, provided you’re stabbing with the knife made by the Garima Foundation and Pankaj Ojha — you know, the one presented at the Pink Square Mall in Jaipur, India, on December 21, 2010.
Speaking of the elusive .500 OBP season, it hasn’t been done by a qualifier since Barry Bonds authored a .609 OBP (lol, come on) in 2004. Bonds actually topped a .500 OBP for four straight seasons, which is just the dumbest thing to type. Overall, a mere 12 players have reached the .500 OBP mark in one or more seasons. Throw out the 19th century sorts and their weird diseases and we’re down to just six players, including the likes of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, and Babe Ruth.
Obviously, if Goldbird were to pull this off, you could wave it away easily enough by pointing to the piddling 60-game sample size. He would, however, be a qualifier under the current rules, barring the unexpected. Goldschmidt’s reached new heights this season in terms of plate discipline and his ability to make contact. If those things stick, he might make a run at it. Whatever, man.
Listen, it’s possible this writer decided to lean into this particular subplot before Goldschmidt went 0 for 4 on Wednesday and somewhat blunted whatever point the writer was going to make. But here he is, trying to make that point just the same. Just look at him. Adorable.
MIL • 3B • 2
There walk among us those who acknowledge only the verb form of the word “party.” These folks are typically devoted to the good times, but they are also occasionally agents of misrule. One can parry that which is lame by simply doing all right at doing all right; one can also do so by asking chaos for the last dance of the night. Luis Urias, Milwaukee infielder, opted for the latter approach when celebrating a recent walk-off win over the Pirates. Regard:
Above you’ll see that Urias makes a classic water cool blunder known since antiquity as Big Wet Hell, in which the perpetrator winds up smacking his chops upon an eastern Wisconsin on-deck circle. This, of course, is how the tides turned in the Siege of Orléans in 1429.
Anyhow, Mr. Urias was fine, if temporarily chagrined. He would hasten to remind you of an eternal truth — i.e., it’s better to be partying than to have partied.