Jim Henneman On Dexter Fowler, Andrew Benintendi Trades And Sam Nader’s Passing

It went almost unnoticed, as it should have because it was almost an afterthought, but Dexter Fowler was back in the news last week. In case you missed it, he was sent to the Angels from the Cardinals, along with $11.75 million to offset his $12.5 million salary, in one of those reverse cash transactions that have become the rage in Major League Baseball.

You do remember Dexter Fowler, right?

As a quick refresher, Fowler was the last one to get away from Dan Duquette five years ago, when the former general manager was trying to patch together what would be the Orioles’ last chance to remain relevant in the regime he shared with manager Buck Showalter.

Fowler had made $9.5 million in 2015 in what was then a career year with the Cubs, although one might wonder what all the fuss was about for a guy with 17 home runs, 154 strikeouts and a slash line of .250/.346/.411. It was enough for the Cubs to make a $15.8 million qualifying offer, which was routinely rejected.

The free-agent market for Fowler was underwhelming until the Orioles, looking for a leadoff hitter and overly impressed by the .346 on-base percentage, reportedly reached agreement on a three-year, $35 million contract. But the ink never got applied, let only dry, before that deal fell apart.

Fowler eventually re-signed for less than the qualifying offer he had rejected in the first place, went on to have a legitimate career year, help the Cubs win their first World Series in more than a century — and then cash in on a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Orioles were eliminated in the wild-card round and … well, you know the rest.

But, wait … that’s not all, there’s more.

Remember that deal a couple of weeks ago, when the Cardinals seemed to heist Nolan Arenado away from Rockies — and got a big satchel full of cash for their trouble? Well, instead of using all of that dough to pay off part of Arenado’s contract, the Cardinals found an even more unique way to use some of it.

Apparently as a reward for the four relatively mediocre years they got out of that five-year deal with Fowler, the Cardinals sent almost $12 million along with him to the Angels. No doubt a thank you note to the Angels for relieving them of just about all responsibility for the fifth year of the contract.

Only in Major League Baseball.

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Also unnoticed a little more than a week ago was the passing of Sam Nader, a name without national recognition, but long ago a giant among owners of minor-league baseball teams.

Nader was the first two-term mayor in Oneonta, an upstate New York city that sits 30 miles south of Cooperstown. He was also a big time baseball fan and the driving force behind bringing a minor-league team to Oneonta, first as a farm club for the Red Sox, later for his beloved Yankees, and ultimately the Tigers.

He was also a maverick of sorts among team owners in that he refused to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages. He wanted it to be a family attraction.

“George Steinbrenner told me I was crazy for not selling beer,” Nader said during an interview nine years ago. “Maybe he was right, but I always looked at it as a family affair.”

Nader, who passed away at the age of 101, was close to Steinbrenner during his days associated with the Yankees and once offered a succinct scouting report.

“I told him the best prospect on the team was the manager,” he said.

That manager was Showalter, who remembered Nader as a hands-on owner who got involved in everything.

“One night he got up on a ladder because the lights were out,” Showalter said. “He was a good man — and awfully good to me.”

The two remained close. When Showalter attended a welcoming luncheon in Sarasota, Fla., before his first spring training with the Orioles, he was surprised when he saw Nader, who often spent winters in the area. Spotting Nader in the crowd, Showalter made a point to recognize him and tell the audience that “none of this happens without this man.”

Postscript to the story about Oneonta baseball: Since professional baseball left Oneona, the town has hosted a team in a wood-bat league for college players — and they sell beer.

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Something that didn’t go unnoticed, especially in Boston, was the Red Sox trading Andrew Benintendi almost a year to the day (one day later, actually) after they traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. It surely didn’t escape the attention of center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., who posted a picture of himself with Benintendi on one side and Betts on the other.

That, of course, was the outfield for the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox a mere two seasons ago. Benintendi’s strikeout total jumped to 140 after that seemingly breakout year, when he admitted to “an effort on my part to get the ball in the air more.”

Last year Benintendi had only 39 at-bats in an injury-plagued pandemic of a season and now he’s a member of the Kansas City Royals as the Red Sox go into “remake” (as opposed to “rebuild”) mode.

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Rich Hill figures to be Blake Snell’s replacement in the Tampa Bay rotation and the two have more in common other than being left-handed.

Snell, of course, is the pitcher who was infamously removed from Game 6 of last year’s World Series despite the fact he had allowed only two hits and one run (which came after his departure) while striking out nine in 5.1 innings. He left with the Rays leading 1-0 in a game they eventually lost 3-1 as the Dodgers clinched.

Hill’s experience wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was eerily similar and had a bearing on the Dodgers losing Game 2 of the World Series in 2017, won by the Astros in seven games. Hill had given up three hits and struck out seven but was trailing 1-0 in a game the Astros used a late rally to win, 7-6.

In both cases the automatic number was 18 — the number of batters each faced. That, of course, is the exact number required before facing the lineup a dreaded third time. Because he had walked three, it took Hill 73 pitches to reach what has become the unofficial limit for fragile starting pitchers these days and resulted in his departure after four innings.

Snell needed only 60 pitches in his gem and recorded four more outs than Hill, but nevertheless endured the same fate. Finished after 18 hitters.

An unfortunate sign of the times.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com