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The Windup: Breaking down the 2024 baseball HOF class; which closer could Royals target in trade?

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We have a Hall of Fame class! We also take a look at the Royals’ search for a closer, an all-time baseball story and Rhys Hoskins’ new home. I’m Levi Weaver here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to the Windup!


Beltré, Mauer, Helton elected to HOF

In the end, it went as expected: one no-doubter and a handful of guys hanging around the margins of the 75 percent threshold for induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. When all the ballots were officially revealed on Tuesday, three (Adrián Beltré, Todd Helton and Joe Mauer) were in, and three others — Billy Wagner (73.8 percent), Gary Sheffield (63.9) and Andruw Jones (61.6) fell just short.

I had the privilege of covering Beltré for his final three seasons with the Rangers. I did my best to describe what it was like watching one of the all-time greats — and one of the most unique personalities in the game — ply his craft day after day. Spoiler: it was inspirational

Mauer was this year’s big surprise. There was some early sentiment that he would get in eventually, but few guessed he would be a first-ballot inductee. He cleared the margin by four votes, at 76.1 percent, joining Johnny Bench and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez as the only catchers to be elected in their first year on the ballot.

Helton had trailed Mauer for most of the early tracking but leapfrogged him in the end, garnering 79.7 percent of the vote. Helton is the first inductee to play for the Rockies his entire career, and as Tyler Kepner points out, “… only Stan Musial and Ted Williams can match him in all of these critical categories: batting average (.316), on-base percentage (.414) and slugging percentage (.539).

For Wagner and Jones, their chances to get in next year seem … somewhat hopeful? Jayson Stark has more context here (and a whole lot more analysis), but 2025 will be Wagner’s 10th and final year on the ballot. As was the case with Sheffield this year, if he doesn’t get the writers’ votes, it will require a veterans committee vote to get him in. More Hall of Fame: Tyler Kepner looks at the World Series winners who don’t have any members in the Hall, Grant Brisbee uses Mauer’s election to make the case for Buster Posey, and why don’t we take a look ahead to the 2025 ballot?


Ken’s Notebook: Royals looking to trade for closer

Devin Williams was a financial fit for the Royals — until Aroldis Chapman signed with the Pirates. (Benny Sieu / USA Today)

The Royals have spent $105 million on six free agents this offseason, most notably right-handers Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha. But they remain open to adding one more piece — a closer.

With the free-agent market all but picked out, the Royals’ preference is to make a trade, according to a source briefed on their thinking. The problem? That market also is thin on possibilities.

The Brewers seem unlikely to trade Devin Williams, the National League reliever of the year in 2020 and ’23. On the slim chance the Guardians move Emmanuel Clase, the major-league leader in saves the past two seasons, they probably would not send him to an AL Central rival. And the Red Sox’s Kenley Jansen, set to earn $16 million in 2024, is almost certainly too expensive for the Royals’ tastes.

Williams, who recently agreed to a one-year, $7 million contract with a $10.5 million club option for 2025, was a better financial fit. If the Brewers had signed Aroldis Chapman, a free agent in whom they had “serious interest” according to FanSided’s Robert Murray, perhaps they would have felt comfortable leveraging Williams’ two years of club control for other needs.

But when Chapman signed a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the Pirates, a trade of Williams seemingly became less viable. The Brewers lack an obvious internal candidate to replace him at closer. And their subsequent signing of free-agent first baseman Rhys Hoskins to a two-year, $34 million contract was the strongest indication yet that they plan to contend.

Clase, guaranteed $13 million over the next three seasons with a pair of $10 million club options for 2027 and ’28, is even more affordable than Williams. But while the Guardians’ modus operandi is to listen on all players, they almost certainly are setting a steep price on an inexpensive, accomplished closer they control for five more seasons.

So, for the moment, the Royals’ leading candidate to close remains Will Smith, whom the team signed to a one-year, $5 million free-agent contract early in the offseason.

Smith, who turns 35 in July, has won three straight World Series titles with three different teams. He went 22-for-27 in save opportunities last season, with an expected ERA of 3.35 well below his actual 4.40 figure. But the Rangers closed more with Chapman and José Leclerc toward the end of the season and then Leclerc and Josh Sborz in the march to their first World Series title.

By acquiring a closer, the Royals could shift Smith to more of a setup role, strengthening the back of their bullpen. It will not be easy for them to pull off such a move. But they don’t view their offseason as over just yet.


The chicken (Craig Counsell) runs at midnight

It’s possible you’ve heard this story before — the magical moment happened in 1997 — but I had forgotten that new Cubs manager Craig Counsell was “The Chicken.”

OK, maybe you haven’t heard it yet, so let’s recap. It starts with Rich Donnelly, who was the third base coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates, having a conversation with his 18-year-old daughter Amy during the 1992 NLCS. She asked him what he was saying when he cupped his hands around his mouth to talk to the base runners, and joked he must have been speaking in code — “the chicken runs at midnight,” she improvised.

I’m not surprised the Donnelly family remembered the phrase. Amy was battling a brain tumor at the time and passed away the following January. In circumstances like that, those little moments of joy become precious. The Donnellys even had Amy’s code message engraved on her tombstone.

In 1997, Donnelly was with the Marlins, who, in the 11th inning of Game 7, were one run from winning the franchise’s first World Series. The runner on third was Craig Counsell, whom some had called “The Chicken” due to his batting stance.

When Edgar Renteria walked it off, “The Chicken” ran at midnight (technically 12:05, if the box score is to be believed, but we are not going to let that ruin this story).

Jon Greenberg has the details and with a new angle: radio host Danny Parkins, who works at 670 The Score (the radio home of the Cubs) is the younger brother of the late Brad Parkins, Counsell’s best friend from childhood.


Hoskins signs with Brewers, leaves legacy in Philly

Rhys Hoskins often spotted Stella Klotkowski, who was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, and her brother Jack at Phillies games in Pittsburgh. They made an annual trip to PNC Park to see Hoskins. (Courtesy of Klotkowski family)

Last spring, Rhys Hoskins was set to be the Phillies’ first baseman, entering the final year of his contract before hitting free agency. Those plans fell apart a week before Opening Day when he tore his ACL, costing him the entirety of his last season with the team that had drafted him in 2014.

He’s headed to Milwaukee now, on a two-year deal worth $34 million. The signing gives the Brewers a right-handed bat with serious pop; he has 148 home runs in 667 big-league games. Yes, the swing-and-miss is real (689 strikeouts), but it’s mitigated by his good eye — he has 388 walks (119 of which came in 2019 when he led the league in the category). His .353 career on-base percentage is perfectly passable for a guy with a .492 slugging percentage.

That adds up to a career OPS of .846 (don’t @ me because the two numbers don’t add up — it has to do with the fourth digit rounding up), which should go a long way toward helping out a team whose home run leader last year was Willy Adames with 24. Hoskins has only hit fewer than 27 twice since his 2017 debut: during his rookie year when he hit 18 in just 50 games, and in 2020 when he hit 10 in a 60-game season that still feels more like a post-apocalyptic fever dream than reality.

While the Phillies might miss his offensive output, others in the Delaware Valley will miss Hoskins for an entirely different reason. Matt Gelb put together a nice story about Hoskins’ work with children with muscular dystrophy.


Handshakes and High Fives

If you’re confused about the direction of the Boston Red Sox, you’re not alone. Britt Ghiroli lays it all out here, making the case that leadership in Boston needs to pick a message and stick with it.

When Josh Hader signed with the Astros, it was his second time joining the org. Houston acquired him from Baltimore in the Bud Norris trade in 2013, then sent him to Milwaukee as part of the package for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gómez in 2015.

Katie Woo has a detailed look at Oli Marmol’s future as manager of the Cardinals and the challenges that await him in 2024.

On April 8, the moon is going to block out the sun. It’s the first total solar eclipse in Cleveland since 1809, and it’s also the day of the Guardians’ home opener’ home opener. What’s the plan?

A few more notable free agent signings: James Paxton to the Dodgers, Matt Moore (back) to the Angels and Joey Gallo to the Nationals.

Ryne Sandberg revealed that he has been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.


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(Top photo of Adrián Beltré: Jennifer Buchanan / USA Today)



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