The best stories in baseball are easy to find and easier to write about. Jose Altuve is a marvel, and I want to write about him again right now, tomorrow, and the day after that. Steven Wright is keeping the distinguished history of the knuckleball alive, reminding us that baseball is so much stranger than every other sport. And Edwin Diaz’s slider will keep us dry when the oceans rise and swallow us all.
The worst stories in baseball? Kind of a drag. By definition. These are the stories that make you want to close the laptop, slide it under the bed, and turn on the TV. These stories aren’t why you follow baseball. These are the stories that make you sigh, loudly and deeply, when baseball comes up.
These are the worst baseball stories of 2016 (so far):
Tim Lincecum’s utter annihilation
You were cynical about the comeback. I was cynical about the comeback. But let me tell you about the comeback of another former Cy Young winner. After winning, our mystery pitcher threw 56 bad innings and got hurt. Then he threw 99 awful innings the next season and got hurt. He came back with 39 innings of solid ball and got hurt, throwing 62 innings before he was hurt again. He was hurt so badly, he missed the entire next season. He was 37 and shaped like a bag of leaves.
That man is now 43 and an All-Star with a 3.38 ERA. He’s shaped like a larger bag of leaves now. So if you’re going to laugh at Lincecum’s attempt to come back, you’re going to have to forget just how absurd the Bartolo Colon story really is. If not Colon, then Rich Hill. And we got used to Ryan Vogelsong pretty quickly. Baseball is all about pitchers rediscovering their form unexpectedly.
And the Lincecum story had a hook. It was his hip, see. That was the problem. It wasn’t age or entropy or general wear and tear. It was a specific hip injury, and the doctor people went in and fixed the hip. That is an easy story to believe in! Baseball players and their struggles are simple if you think of them like ‘72 Chevelles. Get the broken part out, put the new part in, and vrooooooooom.
Everything is just a little more complicated than that, though. It turns out that the year-long layoff didn’t do wonders for Lincecum’s finicky mechanics, and that the real problem with his velocity wasn’t something that could be fixed by toggling a switch inside his busted hip. The results were 38 innings of some of the worst baseball ever pitched and a quick removal from the roster.
It would have been a bummer if the experiment failed. But the flames from the experiment are big enough to change weather patterns and harm migratory birds. It didn’t have to be this bad to make your point, baseball.
Prince Fielder’s career-ending retirement
The hope was for Lincecum’s physical problems to be fixed, so he could be good as new. Didn’t happen. But if you want proof that it can happen, look at Fielder’s 2015 comeback season. His neck was a problem. His neck was fixed. His neck came along for a Comeback Player of the Year award.
But the neck wasn’t really fixed, and it struck down a memorably delightful slugger who still had years left. It’s a lot easier to accept the ravages of time, the A-Rods and Teixeiras who have it until they don’t. It’s going to happen to us all, and while we don’t like it, at least it’s familiar. With Fielder, we have a reminder that calamity is always just around the corner for all of us, too.
The worst part about it is that this isn’t especially abrupt. There was something of a slow build to the news that Fielder would never be healthy enough to play baseball again. The world doesn’t have to give us even that much notice. One minute a player is here, and the next minute he’s a civilian because of a knee and/or physics. Fielder is just one of the more visible, enjoyable talents to have this happen to him in recent years.
The hole in the ground where the Los Angeles Angels used to be
Technically, we’ve already covered some of this with Tim Lincecum, but that’s a kind of individual sadness that would have applied if he were with the Twins, Yankees, or Giants. The Angels are a special kind of mess, even without him.
Consider the trade deadline this year. Everyone wanted relievers. Get that bullpen locked down or die trying. Andrew Miller went for a haul. Aroldis Chapman went for a haul. Even Will Smith took a top-100 prospect and an experienced young catcher to get. The easiest way to bolster rebuilding and reloading efforts was to deal a reliever.
The Angels had a closer. He was, ostensibly, available in the right trade. The Angels should have had one of the better trade chips around. They should have been able to stoke a bidding war, and one of the worst systems in recent memory should have gotten an infusion of fresh talent. Instead, Huston Street was dreadful, just abysmal, and then he went on the DL.
The Angels made one deal at the deadline, exchanging the decent-to-good Hector Santiago for the indecent-to-yeeesh Ricky Nolasco, apparently downgrading to acquire the services of an oft-injured former first-rounder, Alex Meyer. Who still might be really good! It’s just that’s not the most exciting infusion of talent possible.
Albert Pujols is 36, and he’s owed $26 million, $27 million, $28 million, $29 million, and $30 million over the next five seasons, and then the $10 million personal services part of the contract kicks in. They owe Josh Hamilton $26 million next year. And even if they had $50 million to spend on new free agents, this roster isn’t $50 million away from contending.
A pet peeve of mine is when people say the Angels are wasting Mike Trout. They aren’t wasting him. He’s a generational talent and highly entertaining, and he’s one of the best reasons for anyone with even just a passing interest in baseball to watch right now. You can’t waste that unless you sit him on the bench.
At the same time, it sure would be nice to see him leading a super team getting ready to roll through the postseason. Trout vs. Andrew Miller in the ALCS. Mike Trout vs. Jake Arrieta in the World Series. Angels fans deserve it, sure, whatever, but what about us? We deserve an extra month of Mike Trout.
I don’t see how they’re getting there in the next two or three years, though. There are 20 teams that won’t make the postseason this year, and they’ll be disappointed. There aren’t a lot of smoking craters, though. The Angels are one of the biggest, and it’s hard to watch.
The decline and fall of the Carlos Gomez fun-pire
This would seem to be in the genre of "Formerly Good Player Is Inexplicably Bad Now," similar to Lincecum up there, and one that will have new recruits next year, the following year, the year after that, et cetera. It’s not a fun genre, but it is reliable.
Gomez stands out, though, because he was a whirlwind of the id, a maelstrom of emotion and talent that baseball needs more of. Or, at least, some of. It would probably be tiring if the sport were filled with 700 Carlos Gomez-type players with explosive speed, bats, and personalities, but we need at least one. Maybe Bryce Harper can flip his bats farther and higher if we word the email the right way.
Gomez is the perfect example of the kind of player who won’t jump off the Baseball-Reference.com page in 30 years, yet was one of the most exciting players of his era. It turns out that the Mets’ medical staff was wary for all the right reasons, though. He isn’t the same player he was two years ago, which is a shame, because it took him so long to get there, and when he was there, we would have enjoyed watching him for years and years.
He should have been the prize of the offseason, but he’ll get a make-good deal, instead. There’s still a chance that he’ll bounce back, but will the explosiveness be there? It’s hard to see how after the last two seasons, which means this meteor shower didn’t last for nearly long enough.
It was such a fun meteor shower, everyone.
The Diamondbacks went for it, and then it pulled the football away
I love it when teams go for it. It appeals to me. It appeals to you. Teams are always chasing it, and they never change what it is. Gotta catch that it. So when the Diamondbacks took their TV money and invested it in the shiniest free agent on the market, poking two of their division rivals in the eye in the process, it was an exciting time to be a baseball fan. And while the trade for Shelby Miller was, uh, ill-advised, even without the benefit of hindsight, there was a path for them to contend immediately.
And then it all crumbled, starting with the preseason injury to A.J. Pollock, one of baseball’s best players. That transitioned into Zack Greinke looking like one of the pitchers most hurt by the livelier ball, which almost would have been predictable if we knew that a livelier ball was coming. Then Miller wasn’t just disappointing — he was one of the worst starters in either league, with mechanical problems forcing him back to the minor leagues. Meanwhile, Dansby Swanson is already in the majors, as if the Braves are trying to make them look bad.
The Diamondbacks still have a future, mind you, if only because Greinke and Miller probably won’t be this ineffective forever, and the rest of the core is mostly young. Pollock will be back. Paul Goldschmidt is still a man-monster. Jean Segura was an inspired acquisition, and the breakout of Jake Lamb was exactly the kind of good fortune they were expecting before the season started. Their crater can fit comfortably inside the Angels’ crater a few times over.
Still, this has to get in the heads of the next team that goes for it. Whereas we got used to the Royals getting James Shields and him turning out to be exactly what they needed to win a pennant, this is a big skull-and-crossbones sign pounded into the dirt. I’m sure that teams don’t need to cherry-pick cautionary tales before they decide how to construct their own rosters. That doesn’t mean the deals of this specific it-chasing won’t float around the collective subconscious of baseball for a bit. The Diamondbacks spent $200 million and their best prospect, and all they got was this lousy last-place finish. Bold decisions should be rewarded more than that.
They were going for it. Have some pity, everyone. Have some pity.