It’s that time of year, when executives are checking the waiver wires and looking to make moves to improve their teams. But in this case, the front office gurus in question are baseball players themselves and their teams consist of football players.
For many baseball players, fantasy football is their offseason vice — that and a round of golf. In both cases, the players come for the trash talk and stay for the competition.
“We’re so competitive, by nature,” free agent pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “We’ll compete on who can eat their cereal the fastest. Fantasy football has provided baseball players with a fun outlet. It brings clubhouses together. Trades, trash talking, checking scores — and it keeps players close in the offseason.”
Through his charitable foundation Big League Impact, Wainwright took things to another level this fall. He commissioned a “Players Only League” that benefits not only his own foundation but 31 other charities. Each participant, 32 MLB players in all, played for the charity of his choice. The league, which conducted drafts every week with teams having $50,000 to spend on players, had two-week running matchups and is down to the final four: Wainwright is taking on Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray in one semifinal, while former big leaguer Matt Holliday faces off against Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed in the other.
And while the competition has been fierce, the passion comes in earning money for charitable causes. Each round resulted in more money for the winning players’ charity of choice. High point totals and a “second chance” bracket provided extra ways to earn.
“That’s one of the coolest parts about it,” Gray said. “And if you’re out early, there are still ways to make money for your charity.”
Gray has raised about $15,000 so far for Project One Four, a charity created by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price to help youth organizations. Due to the pandemic, golf tournaments, celebrity cook-offs, black tie affairs and many other fundraisers have been canceled, so creativity has been needed to raise money for worthy causes. Enter Wainwright and Big League Impact, which matched each player’s $5,000 entry fee in contributing to the pool for the charities.
“We’re starting to catch some notoriety among the players,” Wainwright said. “They know we’re going to have fun and do some cool things to help out their charities. That’s my goal. To empower players around the league, who have huge platforms but don’t know how to use those platforms just yet.”
It’s the perfect mix of passions for Wainwright, who might have a fantasy football “addiction,” according to those who know him. They were only half-kidding, as Wainwright is in five leagues this year.
“Let’s see, there’s my Triple-A team from 2005,” he said. “My home league with my best friends. The clubhouse league with the Cardinals. That’s A-1 priority because you’re looking at those guys in the face every day.”
“He’s always been more concerned with his fantasy football teams than just about anything else,” Holliday, a former teammate, said of Wainwright. “He’s Mr. Tough Guy on game days [when he’s pitching], not talking to anyone, but if you have a good trade, you can talk to him about fantasy football.”
Holliday is playing for his own foundation, Homers for Health, which has raised nearly $3 million for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.
You might think Wainwright, as a free agent, would be more concerned with where he’ll play baseball next season after spending the last 15 years with the Cardinals. But a recent 40-minute phone call produced very little baseball talk. His interest, besides fantasy football, is in helping people. After hanging up, he texted back, not about who he’s starting at quarterback this week, but to emphasize the best part of the whole tournament.
“The coolest thing about everything we do is knowing that there are people around the globe who have clean water that didn’t,” Wainwright wrote. “That have a feeding program that were hungry. That have access to doctors and medicine that had no hope of help before. That have a roof over their head for the first time. And that are free from the bondage of trafficking. All because of a bunch of baseball players working together to make a difference.”
That same sentiment was echoed by the other final four participants. The baseball players have a passion for helping, while at the same time enjoying some competition against each other. The combination wasn’t lost on Holliday, a good friend of Wainwright’s, who is hopeful they meet in the final. Holliday also openly wondered how the commissioner of the league made it to the semifinals.
“I question it,” Holliday said with a laugh. “He’s in charge of this deal, but he always finds his way into the finals. If I didn’t know him so well, and his character, I would question some of the shadiness.”
That’s just a taste of the trash talking that goes hand-in-hand with fantasy football. Wainwright beat Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer in the previous round and made sure to let him know about it.
“Max is a great trash talker,” Wainwright said. “No doubt about it. We’ve had battles on the baseball field, pre and postgame. This was big for me. It’s not as important as baseball, but it’s pretty close as far as bragging rights go.
“He’s really ticked off about it. I won a side bet off of him too.”
While Wainwright, Gray and Holliday are talking some trash, Ahmed, the fourth semifinalist, wants to be known as the “quiet assassin,” though he did question why he was the 30th seed going into the tournament. Ahmed has raised $12,000 so far for Compassion International, which sponsors children in the world’s poorest countries.
“I have to take that up with Waino,” Ahmed said of being the 30th seed. “What’s that all about?”
The Diamondbacks star might feel like he’s playing with house money after beating Clayton Kershaw in the last round.
“He [Kershaw] has beaten me so many times on the field, it’s hard to count them so it feels good to get that little revenge,” Ahmed said. “I didn’t know the format at first. First couple of weeks, I went over budget every time. I had to re-edit and adjust my lineup.”
Texas Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson was eliminated from the main bracket in Round 1, losing to former teammate Jason Castro. Gibson has continued on in the second-chance bracket as he’s making a difference for his charitable organization, Help One Now, which is building a high school in the Haitian village of Ferrier.
“It’s really cool to see the charities impacted,” Gibson said.
Asked who the best trash talker is, Gibson picked another player eliminated in Round 1.
“Lance Lynn likes to talk,” Gibson said. “When he wins, he definitely lets you hear about it. He’s not doing very well in the Rangers league either, so it’ll be a little quieter in the clubhouse.”
So who does he like in to win it all and make $50,000 for his charity? (The charity of the runner-up gets $25,000.)
“[Wainwright] took out Scherzer,” Gibson said. “He was on fire all year. Waino has found his groove. I’ll go with my guy. He set [the league] up and had a big year.”
Several players kidded about the issue of Commissioner Wainwright making it to the semifinals.
“Man, it’s always a little sketchy when the host makes a deep run,” Gray said, enjoying the chance to sting his semifinal opponent. “This is the best thing to be able to trash talk about. Baseball is your career, everyone is doing their own thing and competing. But this is a different level.”
Wainwright had plenty to say on the subject of winning his own tournament, suggesting his dedication to the competition, rather than his being commissioner, has been the key.
“I don’t know how good it looks to win your own event, but I’m going to try to do it,” he said. “I don’t care about the optics because it will help our charities do a lot of great things in this world. … I won our clubhouse league last year and that’s what everyone said. ‘Oh, he sets his own rules. He does whatever he wants to win.'”
Mentioning the Cardinals’ clubhouse league gave Wainwright an opening for a shot across the bow there too.
“I’m all over [teammate] Tommy Edman right now because he has one good player, Patrick Mahomes,” Wainwright said. “Everyone else is the worst player times eight.”
Wainwright’s secret is simple. He’ll bother you until he gets what he wants.
“I’m relentless on trades,” he explained. “If I want a player and the guy says, ‘No, I’m not trading him’, by the fourth week in a row of asking, I might wear him down.”
Players find the trash talk comes much easier in fantasy football than in baseball, where livelihoods are at stake. Wainwright said there have been many times when he has faced a hitter on the same Sunday he was playing him in fantasy football, and the fantasy matchup gets much more attention. Gray loves it because nothing is off limits.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “Everything comes up when you’re running around out there. It’ll be talked about. This is a big matchup.”
It also gives the players a bit of an understanding what baseball fans go through when they play fantasy baseball.
“I don’t take any offense to it,” Gray said. “A lot of times, baseball fantasy owners are very accurate in their statements.”
Trash talking while earning money for charity is about as good as it gets for these players. The back and forth could go on and on, but the semifinals are underway. Two weeks from now, the players only league will be down to just two.
“This is just a great way to raise awareness and money,” Ahmed said.
And what of that 30th seed?
“It’s giving me a little added motivation to win the whole thing,” he said with a laugh. “We miss that competitive outlet in the offseason, so this is good. I’m enjoying it and want to do it for years to come.”
And that’s Wainwright’s goal as well, to grow the league and earn as much money as possible, not just for his own charity but for many around baseball. If he wins his own tournament, so be it.
“It’s happened a lot over the years,” he said. “I have five leagues I play in.”
And beating Wainwright will make it that much more special for his competitors.
“That’s why you play, to beat the host, right?” Gray said. “He has the home-field advantage. And I already know it’s all over his mind so that makes it even more fun. I’ll sit back and watch Project One Four fantasy points roll up. He knows he’s going to have to bring it.”
Settling in with Los Angeles Dodgers, Max Scherzer thrilled to have another ‘great chance to win’
For a few hours on Thursday, it seemed as if Max Scherzer was headed to the San Diego Padres. Reports began to circulate at around 1 p.m. PT that the Padres were on the verge of acquiring the three-time Cy Young Award winner with a little less than 24 hours remaining before the trade deadline. Scherzer, who had accepted the fact that his time with the Washington Nationals was coming to an abrupt end, heard rumblings from teammates. But he hadn’t yet received a call from Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ general manager.
“Rumors are rumors until you actually get the phone call,” Scherzer said. “The fact that Twitter was going off and I hadn’t gotten a phone call, I knew something else was probably in the weeds. That’s what it is. You can’t always fall for Twitter, but Twitter usually is pretty good.”
Roughly four hours later, the Los Angeles Dodgers emerged as frontrunners to acquire Scherzer and his teammate, shortstop Trea Turner. By the end of the night, the deal was agreed to. On Friday, it was finalized. On Saturday, Scherzer joined the Dodgers in Phoenix. And on Wednesday, in the second of a highly anticipated two-game series against the Houston Astros, he’ll make his Dodgers debut.
“It’s fun to join these guys because we have a great chance to win,” Scherzer said, “but it’s gonna take a lot of work to get there. Nothing’s assured yet.”
Scherzer had the ability to veto any trade because of his 10-and-5 rights (10 years of major league service time, five consecutive years with the same organization). The Nationals’ 5-17 start to July gave Rizzo clarity that he needed to, in Scherzer’s words, “give a facelift to the organization to provide resources.”
Scherzer, 37, said he was driving himself “crazy” trying to decide his next course of action. Rather than selecting a team he wanted to be traded to, he provided a list of teams he would accept. Given that he would only be joining that team for two to three months, he wanted to ensure that he remained in the National League and that he pitched in a city with a warm climate. His last start for the Nationals came on Thursday afternoon, when he pitched six innings, largely to alleviate industry concerns over the triceps issue that had forced him to skip a prior turn through the rotation.
On a bus ride back from Philadelphia later that afternoon, he received word he was heading to the Dodgers, the reigning World Series champions who lead the majors in run-differential but trail the first-place San Francisco Giants by 3 1/2 games. Albert Pujols greeted Scherzer with a hug when he arrived in the clubhouse.
“Crazy,” Scherzer, speaking via videoconference from Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, said of what the last week has been like. “Crazy’s the understatement, too. It was a lot easier before kids and dogs and everything, but now with three kids and four dogs, life’s a lot more hectic. We’re picking the circus up from D.C. and trying to get it to L.A. as soon as possible.”
Scherzer — whose acquisition became almost a necessity because of the uncertainty that surrounds Trevor Bauer and his alleged sexual assault — joins a clubhouse that includes Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, David Price and Pujols, a sextet that has combined for six MVPs and seven Cy Young Awards.
From 2013 to 2021, Scherzer has accumulated 131 wins, eight invitations to the All-Star Game and a 2.86 ERA. Scherzer leads the majors in FanGraphs wins above replacement during that nine-year stretch with 48.4. Right behind him is Kershaw, who’s rehabilitation from a strained forearm has hit something of a lull, with 45.4.
“Obviously what he’s done in his career, it’s remarkable,” Scherzer said of Kershaw. “We came from the same draft class [in 2006], and everything he’s accomplished — it’s been great to compete against him. You push yourself to try and match what he can do. The fact that we’re now gonna be on the same team and get to compete for the same prize — I’m sure, as this keeps going along, we’ll be able to share more tips and tricks and just recognize different situations about how we both have evolved over the years of how we see the game now and how we can pitch around things.”
Scherzer comes to the Dodgers at the tail end of a seven-year, $210 million contract he signed with the Nationals in January of 2015. Scherzer’s performance somehow exceeded the expectations that came with that contract. The culmination came in 2019, when the Nationals defeated the Astros for the franchise’s first and only World Series championship. Scherzer’s departure now signals a drastic transition for the Nationals.
“The flags fly forever,” Scherzer said. “Everybody’s time in D.C., everybody’s hard work is to have the banner there. That’s something we’ll always remember. Happy I was a part of it, to be on those teams that were in the postseason but finally be on the team to punch it all the way through. At the end of the day, that’s why we play the game — to win the World Series.”
Los Angeles Angels, Joe Maddon hope to get Mike Trout before season ends, though his ‘timeline keeps getting pushed back’
Trout missed his 67th game since going on the injured list May 18 with a right calf strain. This is only the third time he has been on the injured list in his 11 big league seasons, and this is his longest stretch of missed games.
Trout, who turns 30 on Saturday, went on the injured list a day after he came up limping when he was on the bases in the first inning of a home game against Cleveland. He had been expected to miss six to eight weeks, but Tuesday marked 11 weeks since he was put on the injured list. Trout wasn’t with the team in Texas.
“Obviously, the timeline keeps getting pushed back,” Maddon said. “We all thought that he’d be playing right around now at the worst, and it’s not happening. We’ll keep playing it all the way through.”
With the Angels under .500 and in fourth place in the AL West with 55 games remaining after the second of four against the Rangers, Maddon was asked if there had been any thought of not having Trout try to return this season.
“He’s working really hard. He wants to get back, so we have not had a discussion of just giving up on him,” Maddon said.
When he got hurt, Trout was leading the major leagues with a .466 on-base percentage. He hit .333 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 36 games.
Trout is in the third year of the $426.5 million, 12-year contract he signed during spring training in 2019. The overall value changed slightly when the pandemic shortened last season to 60 games, reducing his salary to $15 million from $36 million.
Tampa Bay Rays’ Tyler Glasnow to have Tommy John surgery Wednesday
Glasnow has been on the injured list since June 15. The 27-year-old right-hander went 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 14 starts.
The news was not unexpected.
Glasnow visited Dr. Keith Meister on Saturday, at which time Rays manager Kevin Cash said surgery was the likely outcome.
The decision was finalized after a follow-up examination Tuesday.
Tampa Bay began the day leading the American League East by one game over the Boston Red Sox despite having 15 pitchers on the IL.
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