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#pounditFriday, January 21, 2022

Baseball

Report: Juan Soto’s hard-hitting teenage brother plans to sign with top NL team

Juan Soto in a Nats hat

Juan Soto is already one of the best hitters in baseball at age 23. But Soto’s younger brother may soon be coming for the family crown.

MLB insider Hector Gomez reported on Wednesday that Soto’s 15-year-old brother Elian intends to sign with the New York Mets during the next international free agent period.

Gomez went on to share the thoughts of Toronto Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on Elian.

“He hit[s] harder than Juan Soto when he was 15 years old,” said Guerrero Jr, the fellow Dominican slugger.

International free agents are eligible to sign with MLB teams once they turn 16 years old.

Gomez also tweeted video of Elian’s impressive swing for his age. Elian hits lefty just like his older brother Juan.

Juan signed with the Washington Nationals at age 16 and has since become an NL All-Star, a batting champion, a two-time Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. Elian obviously has a pretty long way to go to reach that level. But the Soto family looks to be competing with this fellow family to rule the baseball world over the next several years.

Photo: Jul 30, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto (22) in the dugout before the game against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Alex Rodriguez could host ‘Manningcast’-style ESPN broadcast

Alex Rodriguez with sunglasses on

ESPN has had great success with its “Manningcast” format for “Monday Night Football.” That success is such that the network is apparently considering trying to replicate it with its MLB coverage.

ESPN is considering launching a simulcast of “Sunday Night Baseball” hosted by Alex Rodriguez, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. If the network opted to go in that direction, Rodriguez would be removed from the regular “Sunday Night Baseball” booth.

The network has yet to determine how such a telecast would be structured. Some differences from the “Monday Night Football” simulcast hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning would be likely. As the network has not even committed to the format yet, it remains to be seen what those changes might entail.

A Rodriguez-led broadcast would not be a guaranteed success for ESPN. The Manningcast has worked largely because both Mannings come across as likable and knowledgeable and have an outstanding rapport with each other. They have also secured excellent guests and are willing to laugh at themselves. Whether Rodriguez could emulate the key aspects of that formula remains an open question.

Photo: Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alex Rodriguez on the sidelines before Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Surprising MLB team listed among favorites to win 2022 World Series

Mets owner Steve Cohen

One unlikely MLB team could be crashing the World Series party this year.

Online sportsbook SportsBetting.ag posted odds on Tuesday for the 2022 MLB season, including the favorites to win the World Series. The New York Mets surprisingly have the second-best odds at +850, trailing only the L.A. Dodgers, who are listed at +600. The reigning 2021 World Series champion Atlanta Braves (+950), the reigning AL champion Houston Astros (+1000), and the New York Yankees (+1200) round out the top five.

The league is still in an ongoing lockout, but these odds are for whenever the 2022 season actually begins.

It is a stunning rise for the Mets, who finished 77-85 last season. They also have a new GM in Billy Eppler and a new manager in Buck Showalter. But the Mets made several stellar free-agent signings, including Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar. With their existing core of Jacob deGrom, Francisco Lindor, and Pete Alonso, oddsmakers believe that the Mets could contend for their first World Series title since 1986.

The Mets have mostly been a circus in recent years, especially since owner Steve Cohen took over the team. But this could be the season that the Mets finally get their one shining moment.

Photo: Sep 11, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets majority owner Steve Cohen and his wife Alexandra Cohen at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Braves playoff hero takes shot at Rob Manfred over Ken Rosenthal firing

Rob Manfred

Amid his latest controversy, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is hearing it from one of the reigning World Series champions.

Atlanta Braves reliever Tyler Matzek, who was a big-time hero for the team during their 2021 playoff run, tweeted a critical message for Manfred this week over the firing of reporter Ken Rosenthal from MLB Network.

“@Ken_Rosenthal stands at 5’4 1/2” but still towers over Rob Manfred,” Matzek wrote. “Fire one of the premier reporters in baseball because he critiques you? That’s his job. #soft #rentfree #doinglaps”

Rosenthal, one of baseball’s best-known reporters and news breakers, was dropped by MLB Network after the network took exception to some critical columns that he wrote about Manfred for The Athletic. Rosenthal’s contract with MLB Network expired at the end of 2021, and the belief is that the network made no efforts to keep him, essentially forcing Rosenthal out.

MLB Network is owned by MLB. Rosenthal’s criticisms, which were based on Manfred’s handling of negotiations over the delayed 2020 season, may potentially have been seen as taking sides with the players and against the league, thus crossing beyond journalistic impartiality. Regardless though, Manfred is taking heat from all angles right now over the Rosenthal firing.

Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Top NBA reporter calls out MLB over Ken Rosenthal firing

Ken Rosenthal on the field

One well-known NBA reporter is sounding off on MLB Network’s decision this week to cut ties with Ken Rosenthal.

Veteran hoops journalist David Aldridge of The Athletic posted a tweet on Tuesday defending Rosenthal and comparing the situation to his own personal experience with late former NBA commissioner David Stern.

“I worked for Turner Sports, which operated NBA TV & NBA.com in partnership w/the league, for 14 years,” wrote Aldridge. “You know what David Stern did when I wrote or said something he didn’t like? He called me up and cussed me out. But he didn’t go to my bosses & try to fire me.”

Rosenthal, one of the top baseball reporters in the industry, did not have his contract renewed by MLB Network for 2022. The network reportedly took issue with critical comments that Rosenthal made about MLB commissioner Rob Manfred while writing for The Athletic. MLB Network quietly kept Rosenthal off the air for three months at the time of his comments in 2020 and now decided to let Rosenthal go outright after his contract expired. Rosenthal will still write and report for The Athletic, the outlet that also employs Aldridge.

As for Stern, he was known for being a very tough boss. But Aldridge, who worked for a league-owned network for many years, thinks that even Stern would not have handled business quite like this.

Photo: Oct 13, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal talks during an interview prior to game two of the 2020 NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Rosenthal releases statement in response to losing MLB Network job

Ken Rosenthal headshot

Ken Rosenthal shared a statement on Monday in response to a report about him losing his job with MLB Network.

The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported Monday about Rosenthal’s status. He said that Rosenthal was quietly taken off-air by MLB Network in 2020 for about three months due to criticism of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Marchand further reported that Rosenthal has since been forced out at MLB Network entirely, as the reporter’s contract was not renewed for 2022.

Rosenthal shared his thoughts on the matter in a statement on Twitter.

“Can confirm MLB Network has decided not to bring me back,” Rosenthal wrote. “I’m grateful for the more than 12 years I spent there, and my enduring friendships with on-air personalities, producers and staff. I always strove to maintain my journalistic integrity, and my work reflects that. Nothing else is changing for me professionally. I am proud to remain part of the great teams at The Athletic and Fox Sports.”

As Rosenthal noted in his statement, he is still employed by The Athletic, where he writes, and FOX Sports, where he appears as a broadcaster.

MLB Network is an extension of the league and a league-owned entity. This move is a reminder that leagues are not looking for criticism from their employees, even if that criticism comes on outside platforms.

Photo: FOX Sports

Reporter Ken Rosenthal forced out at MLB Network over Rob Manfred criticism

Ken Rosenthal on the field

MLB Network has parted ways with one of its most well-known reporters for a very surprising reason.

Rosenthal will not return to MLB Network due to criticism he levied at commissioner Rob Manfred in 2020, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. Rosenthal wrote several columns for The Athletic in 2020 that were critical of Manfred’s handling of negotiations with players regarding the start of the delayed season. At the time, MLB Network quietly kept Rosenthal off the air for three months, reportedly because of these columns.

Rosenthal ultimately returned, but his MLB Network contract expired at the end of 2021. The belief is that the network, which is owned by MLB, did not try to keep Rosenthal due to the lingering acrimony over his Manfred criticism.

Though he will no longer appear on MLB Network, Rosenthal will remain in his other role as a FOX Sports reporter. He will also continue to write and report for The Athletic.

This is a significant surprise for several reasons. Rosenthal is arguably MLB’s best-known reporter and consistently gets breaking news before his fellow reporters do. His criticism of Manfred wasn’t personal or particularly notable, nor did it happen on the network itself. If anything, Rosenthal’s column might have simply reflected how other people in baseball might have felt about the commissioner. It also raises significant questions about how much editorial freedom those at MLB Network really have when it comes to offering criticism about Manfred or the league as a whole.

Photo: Oct 13, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal talks during an interview prior to game two of the 2020 NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Terry Francona reveals plans for 2022 amid health issues

Terry Francona

Terry Francona has failed to finish each of the last two seasons due to health issues. That is not stopping the 63-year-old from planning to return in 2022.

Francona made clear that he is recovering from a staph infection in his left toe, and has every intention of managing the Cleveland Guardians next season.

“I told Chris (Antonetti) in August, ‘Hey look, the minute you feel you need to move on, you will never once hear a peep out of me,'” Francona told Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. “‘I get it. Don’t let our relationship get in the way, because it’s not fair to you.’ He said, ‘As long as you are OK, we want you to come back.'”

Francona added that he is still in a walking boot due to foot surgery several months ago. His staph infection was severe enough that there was talk about amputating his foot, though it never came to that.

Francona’s health issues in 2021 were clearly quite severe. The same was true of what he endured in 2020, when gastrointestinal issues also prevented him from seeing out the season. With a record of 736-581 as Cleveland’s manager, it is understandable that the organization would want to stick by him in spite of it all.

MLB All-Star surprisingly becomes ‘Jeopardy!’ clue

Mitch Moreland in shades

Baseball fans will probably be wondering, “But why?” about a clue that aired on “Jeopardy!” this week.

Ex-MLB All-Star Mitch Moreland was surprisingly the subject of a clue on Tuesday’s airing of the popular quiz show. The clue, for $200 in the opening “Jeopardy!” round, read, “Mitch Moreland, sometimes called ‘Mitchy Four Bags,’ is a pro athlete in this sport.” The category was “Sports Nicknames.”

Reigning champion Amy Schneider buzzed in with the correct answer of “baseball” without hesitation.

The “Jeopardy!” clue writers could have chosen any baseball player to write a clue about and yet they somehow landed on … Moreland. While Moreland is a former All-Star, World Series champion, and Gold Glove winner, he is definitely a lesser-known player to the general public. Perhaps the writers were trying to choose a player whose nickname hinted at a baseball theme. But even so, something like “Tony Two Bags” (Anthony Rendon) or “Joey Bats” (Jose Bautista) might have been better.

Also for what it’s worth, Moreland’s nickname is actually listed online as “Mitchy Two Bags” instead of “Mitchy Four Bags.”

Still, we can’t complain too much. Schneider nailed that clue just the way it was written, which is way better than “Jeopardy!” contestants usually do with baseball questions.

Photo: Mar 18, 2021; Peoria, Arizona, USA; Oakland Athletics first baseman Mitch Moreland against the San Diego Padres during a Spring Training game at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tigers first base coach Kimera Bartee dies unexpectedly

Kimera Bartee coaches for the Pirates

The baseball community is mourning an unexpected loss, as Detroit Tigers first base coach Kimera Bartee has died.

The Tigers announced the sad news on Tuesday that Bartee has died at age 49. General manager Al Avila said the entire organization is “shocked and saddened.”

“All of us in the Tigers baseball family were shocked and saddened,” Avila said in a statement, via the Detroit Free Press. “Throughout his time in our organization as both a player and a coach, Kimera was known as a kind soul but intense competitor who did his best every day to elevate those around him to do great things. While Tigers fans got used to seeing him in the first base coach’s box, Kimera’s impact on our ballclub went far deeper and will be sorely missed.”

The cause of death for Bartee is unknown. The Tigers were not aware of him having any illness.

Bartee, a former outfielder, played four seasons for the Tigers from 1996-1999. He spent the final two seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies. Bartee batted .216 with four home runs and 33 RBI in 243 career games.

Bartee spent the 2021 season as Detroit’s first base coach after coaching for three different MLB teams prior to that. He was with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a coach from 2008-2019.

Photo: Aug 12, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first base coach Kimera Bartee (18) during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Pirates defeated the Angels 10-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports