So now, after the baseball season we had and the October we all just watched, we get this kind of Christmas season in baseball. It is mostly because of two gifted young players whose availability makes this as intriguing a moment as we've ever had in a baseball offseason:
Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.
Stanton and the Sho-Hey Kid.
Oh, there will be a lot more player movement over the rest of December and into January, when we'll also learn who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame next summer. And the Yankees introduced a new manager the other day in Aaron Boone, and that is always a big deal in baseball. Boone is a bit of an intriguing figure himself. He not only hit one of the most famous home runs in Yankee history -- 11th inning, Game 7, American League Championship Series, Yankees-Red Sox, 2003 -- Boone hit one of the most important home runs in Red Sox history at the same time, because you can make the case that if Boone doesn't beat them in 2003, maybe October of 2004, the greatest month in all of Red Sox history, doesn't play out the way it does.
But it is two young home run hitters who fascinate all of us who love baseball right now. Stanton. Ohtani. Say it again: One of them chased a Ruthian number -- 60 home runs -- for the Marlins last season, all the way to what will likely be his last at-bat for the Marlins on the last day of the regular season. The other, Ohtani, has been doing young, Babe Ruth things in Japan, a star pitcher who hits home runs the way Ruth was when he was Ohtani's age and was still playing for the Red Sox.
For the time being, no one knows for sure where either one of them will end up. It happens to be a beautiful baseball thing. At its best, the game has always been a 12-month-a-year sport. Never more than it is right now. The baseball renaissance that really began in October of 2016 with that Cubs-Indians World Series continues, and shows no sign of letting up soon.
Baseball even had Jose Altuve, one of its spectacular, bright young stars, on the cover of Sports Illustrated as one of the magazine's Sportspersons of the Year, along with J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, another way of honoring the inspiring story of Houston Strong.
Now comes the drama and excitement of Stanton and Ohtani. We hear about the Cardinals being in play, and big, with Stanton. We hear about the Giants. There is a story just about every day about how no one should count out the Dodgers, who came as close as they did to winning their first World Series since 1988, before everything really changed, the way the 2017 World Series changed, with Game 5, the most amazing game of World Series baseball we may ever see in our lives.
Do the Dodgers look at Stanton as being the kind of difference-maker Justin Verlander was for the Astros? How can they not? How can they not imagine how the team doesn't become an even bigger draw, in a star town, with young stars like Cody Bellinger hitting back-to-back in Dave Roberts' batting order for years?
Ohtani? He and his representatives, after dismissing the early-favorite Yankees, have narrowed their list to these seven teams: Rangers, Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Angels, Padres, Mariners. And it's worth pointing out that even among those finalists there is the concern that some of them or most of them are getting played here; that Ohtani, even with two weeks to go before his Dec. 22 deadline, might already have made up his mind about where he wants to play in the big leagues next season.
Here is what my friend Ken Rosenthal, who works for MLB Network and Fox Sports, wrote in The Athletic the other day:
"….predictably, some people in baseball are suspicious of the recruitment process, fearing Ohtani, 23, already had made up his mind. Some always were going to be suspicious, no matter what ground rules Ohtani and his representatives at CAA established, no matter what the outcome."
Whatever the outcome, it is a good thing for baseball. There is a part of me hoping that Ohtani does end up in San Diego and helps change the baseball culture there, and gets the Padres and the smart people now running them back into play. Or maybe the kid ends up in Seattle the way Ichiro did before him. There were so many people now who doubted that Ichiro Suzuki could come over here and become a true star in this country; doubted that his genius would travel. He showed everybody, showed up hitting and kept hitting into his 40s and belongs in our Hall of Fame someday.
It is unlikely to think that either Stanton or Ohtani end up with the same team, in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. But, really, who knows? It is part of the pure Hot Stove fun of this, fun that just continues to pick up steam.
If there is life on the outer fringes of the solar system, even they know how Stanton is working on a contract that will pay him $295 million and that the contract has an opt-out clause and that it has a no-trade clause in it. (Come on, who wouldn't need sweeteners on a deal like that?) But the Giants want back in the World Series after hitting the skids the past couple of years. The Cardinals, as proud as ever, desperately need a big stick in the middle of their batting order, and everybody knows that, too.
Such interesting games being played off the field, games that seem to be moving into the late innings. With two young stars calling all the shots.
"Players never used to have the hammer," Don Mattingly, who managed Stanton in Miami, told me one time when he was a player. "The world sure has changed, hasn't it?"
It has. And all over the world. Fifty-nine home runs on the market. A kid who acted like the young Babe Ruth in Japan and once hit a home run that blew a hole in the Tokyo Dome. After the World Series, we get this kind of reality series from baseball. Baseball Strong.