If you listen closely, you can almost hear the ghost of Harry Caray …
The Cubs are coming, tra-la, tra-la!
While the Giants are content to just dip their toes into the free-agent waters this offseason, the Cubs appear to be very, very serious about breaking this nasty 107-year losing streak of theirs. Chicago’s No. 1 team made another big splash with the addition of Jason Heyward to round out its outfield. The eight-year, $184 million deal left the Cubs as the obvious pick to represent the National League in the 2016 World Series.
(Did Balls really write that last sentence?)
Earlier, operations chief Theo Epstein and sidekick Jed Hoyer got a head start on the field when they reeled in pitcher John Lackey for two years and $32 million, far more prudent than the $90 million that the Giants later shelled out for Jeff Samardzija for five years. The Cubs could regret the fourth year they offered to Ben Zobrist, but if the do-it-all proves to be a piece to the puzzle, he’ll be worth $56 million and then some. And to think the Giants offered a little more for Zobrist and were rejected.
The Cubs are coming? No, they look to be already there.
GIANT MOVE IN ORDER: There’s still time for the Giants to get back in the race, if only they would think Big again.
Save for the times when Madison Bumgarner takes the ball, the Giants no longer can rely on their rotation to carry them. The days of Big Time Timmy Jim Lincecum and Matt Cain at their dominant best and over and done, it’s safe to say. Their makeup is such that the ex-Champs have to outslug their opponents more often now. The transition began last season, when they scored their most runs in three years and allowed more than they had in the previous two.
So rather than try to turn back the clock, the front office has to swing for the fences.
A crater-sized void still exists in left field on China Basin, and Yoenis Cespedes is still out there in the open market, just waiting to fill it. The Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels also are said to have interest. The price won’t be cheap — five years, $125 million minimum — but as the fourth-richest franchise in the big leagues, the Giants can afford him if they want to win badly enough.
Cespedes is a difference-maker in the middle of the lineup. That was never more obvious than last season, when he practically turned around a lifeless New York Mets offense by himself. The ex-Athletic also is a plus defender who can move to center field on the days that Angel Pagan is injured, er, rested. Keep him away from a golf course on game days, and at 30, he should several prime seasons ahead of him.
If the ex-Champs have to hit their way back into contention, this is just the Murderers’ Row to do it: Pagan, Joe Panik, Buster Posey, Cespedes, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford.
Consider Leake and the rest all you want. It’s Cespedes for the rest of us.
TV TALKS: Don’t dare sleep on the Diamondbacks, who introduced Zack Greinke, not that a guy with a 19-3 record and 1.66 earned run average required a name tag.
Greinke revealed that he was “minutes away from going to a different team” before agreed to the six-year, $206.5 million megadeal. He didn’t specify whether that team was the Giants or more likely the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the fact remained, the Giants’ reluctance to sweeten the offer with a sixth year cost them any chance to land the plum of the free-agent market.
If not for Fox Sports Arizona, the deal wouldn’t have happened. As part of their new television deal, the Diamondbacks will receive $1.5 billion over the next 20 years. A reported $62.5 million of the Greinke deal will be paid after the six-year term has expired.
DUSTY TRIALS: Some believe 66-year-old Dusty Baker has outlived his usefulness as a manager because he is out of touch with the modern world, but Balls won’t go there. Ignorance extends far beyond age, race and religion.
Still, it’s hard to believe that Baker’s insensitive remarks about domestic violence raised so few eyebrows and voices the other day. Not only did the Washington Nationals’ manager go to bat for troubled pitcher Aroldis Chapman, whom he managed with the Cincinnati Reds, but he suggested women had no small role in the outbreak of incidents in professional sports. He paid no heed to police reports such as the one involving Chapman, who allegedly choked his girlfriend among other claims two months ago.
“I mean, I got a buddy at home that’s being abused by his wife, so I think this policy needs to go further than the player,” Baker said at the winter meetings. “I think the policy should go to whoever’s involved. Sometimes abusers don’t always have pants on. I think we need to get them both in a room and try to come up with something . . .”
Baker looked the other way at the height of the Steroids Era in baseball, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the ex-Giants skipper would do he same here. But Major League Baseball should be concerned to hear this kind of nonsense from one of its public figures.
JUST ASKIN’: On an unrelated matter, Baker also said, “I think the No. 1 thing that’s missing in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself — you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is.”
Isn’t that the kind of thought process that got Al Campanis fired years ago, when he said blacks “may not have some of the necessities” to fill leadership positions in professional sports at the time?
FINE PRINT: Coach Sonny Dykes milked a 40 percent pay hike out of Cal after his fling with Missouri. As part of the deal, he and his staff will be required to devote at least 45 minutes to defense at practice each week.
THE LIST: Balls’ sure picks or your money back in Week 14 of the NFL season:
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (-6 1/2): Go ahead, give Cam Newton the Most Valuable Player award already.
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (-5): The Pack have new life — and the ‘Boys have Matt Cassel.
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (-7 1/2): The Chargers are so bad, Dan Fouts refuses to broadcast their games.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+3 1/2) at Cincinnati Bengals: Don’t be surprised if the Stillers win straight up in Cincinnati, their home away from home.
Seattle Seahawks (-3 1/2) at Baltimore Ravens: Wouldn’t Santa Clara be thrilled to have the Seahawks in Super Bowl 50?