Notes: NL wild card, pitch clock violations, Juan Soto’s free agency

“Parity” is a polite way of saying “mediocrity,” the first-ever pitch clock violation conclusion to an MLB game occurred, and Juan Soto spoke up about his free agency.

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My latest for Baseball Prospectus went up this morning, and it’s on the current mess that is the National League wild card race. “Race” is actually giving it a little too much credit there; the sense of urgency that word implies is missing for most of these teams.

The short of it is that the division leaders are all pretty good, and the Braves, who lead the wild card race, qualify as such, too, but everyone else is mediocre to worse than that. The Rockies and Marlins are the lone NL teams that aren’t fighting for a postseason spot, which, as I get into (in a subscriber-only piece), is bad news for competitive baseball, for next month’s trade deadline, and, eventually, for the future of the regular season when the owners inevitably get their way and expand the postseason even further, because money.

Patrick Dubuque wrote a feature reacting to the first-ever MLB game to end via pitch clock violation:

It is the first walk-off pitch clock violation in the history of Major League Baseball. Finnegan’s pitch, a half-second later, flies high and inside for what would have been ball four, if the game hadn’t already ceased to exist. It doesn’t matter. The Nationals television crew, to their credit, are on top of it; they even note that Wendelstedt gave Finnegan an extra tick or two after the clock hit double-zero. It was about as non-controversial as a game-ending play like this was going to be; after all, Colorado’s win expectancy when McMahon stepped in was already 94%, and higher than that with a three-ball count.

It’s an unsatisfying conclusion; you’d always rather watch someone win than someone lose. As Alan Trejo lugs around the Gatorade cooler, trying to figure out who deserves its crystal blue refreshment, and the rest of the Rockies share their surreptitious laughter, the crowd just stands there, bemused. It doesn’t seem real.

Dubuque approached this from the point of view of someone who is pro-pitch clock, but understands why those who oppose it do so. I’m also pro-pitch clock, and have been for years since seeing it in the minors well before it was implemented in the bigs, and my take on this is pretty similar to Patrick’s: there are fewer violations this year than last year, and there were few to begin with. This one just happened to be at the end of a game, from someone (Nationals’ closer Kyle Finnegan) who seems like they’re responsible for a goofy percentage of said violations given how rarely they work compared to starting pitchers. This isn’t the start of anything, just an unsatisfying blip in what has otherwise been a rousing success in improving pace and bringing things back to where they used to be before the game bloat of the aughts settled in.

Juan Soto commented on his impending free agency by saying that this is all something that’ll be worked out in the offseason, meaning, despite the optimism of Yankees’ owner Hal Steinbrenner, there won’t be an in-season extension. Not unless the Yankees send Scott Boras an offer so desperate to avoid that fate that it can’t be ignored by him, of course, but chances are good that’s not going to happen, either. Not when you consider Steinbrenner has already spent part of the Yankees’ successful 2024 complaining about how much the team costs, and how they can’t always operate this way. Which is some bullshit, sure, but whether it’s true or not isn’t what’s important here. It’s whether Steinbrenner acts like it’s true that does.

The Soto free agency is going to be one to watch, for a couple of reasons. One, free agency just last offseason was a mess that made it seem like, outside of the top stars like Shohei Ohtani, that there wasn’t any desire to spend money on players. Soto is, of course, a top star, but it was Boras clients who were hit the hardest by these attitudes. It’s not a chance to see if Boras has still got it, or anything, but given how invisible his clients seemed to be to all 30 teams last year until spring training was approaching or was even ongoing, well. It’ll be interesting to see if Soto is forced to wait a Manny Machado or Bryce Harper length of time for a contract, or if he’ll be signed by the winter meetings in December, is all.

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