Giants sign Casilla to three-year contract

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Giants sign Casilla to three-year contract

SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants locked up an underpublicized but important piece in their bullpen, agreeing to a three-year contract with right-hander Santiago Casilla on Monday.

The deal includes a club option for 2016 with vesting language, meaning that the Giants bought out at least two of Casilla’s free-agent years and control a third. Casilla's contract, which is pending a physical, includes $15 million in guaranteed money. The average annual value is just under $5 million a year since the contract's option has a $1 million buyout if it doesn't vest and the club declines to pick it up.

Casilla, 32, has been an effective part of the Giants bullpen ever since the club signed him as a non-roster free agent prior to the 2010 season. A former A’s prospect once known as Jairo Garcia before his birth records were verified, Casilla turned his career around when he came up with a devastating spike curve that he added as a dependable complement to his mid-90s fastball. He has a 2.22 ERA in 174 games as a Giant and has been part of two World Series championship teams.

Casilla was used as the primary closer in the first half of last season, when the Giants were forced to scramble after Brian Wilson underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in April. Casilla kept the situation from imploding while he converted 19 of his first 20 save opportunities before hitting a wall around the All-Star break.

He rallied in September and while he didn’t regain the closer role, he was unscored upon in 10 of 11 postseason appearances. He was the pitcher of record in the Giants’ title-clinching Game 4 victory at Detroit.

Clearly, the Giants view their bullpen as an important asset. Earlier in the offseason, the Giants re-signed left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year contract. Sergio Romo, who served ably as the Giants’ closer down the stretch, is in just his second year of arbitration.

As for Wilson, he became a free agent Dec. 1 when the Giants declined to tender him a contract. The Giants remain interested in bringing back Wilson on a lower guaranteed salary than the minimum $6.8 million he would’ve received in arbitration. But he continues to play the field.

Spring training to be slightly shortened starting in 2018

Spring training to be slightly shortened starting in 2018

NEW YORK -- For everyone who thinks spring training is too long, help is on the way - a little, anyway.

Spring training will be shortened by two days starting in 2018, when new restrictions in Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement take effect on game times for regular-season getaway days.

The voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players will be 43 days before the major league opener instead of 45, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press. For other players, the date will be 38 days ahead instead of 40.

The change was tied to spreading each team's 162 regular-season games over 187 days, up from 183.

Players' association Assistant General Counsel Matt Nussbaum said the union's goal was to create more days off during the season "in a way that doesn't just chew up offseason days."

"We have heard for years and I'm sure we will continue to hear that spring training is too long, that guys are really ready to go well before opening day, but I think what the commissioner's office would tell you is that there are big challenges for the clubs in substantially shortening spring training because they have various commitments to put on a certain number of games," he said Monday.

Late arrival times ahead of regular-season series openers also were addressed.

Starting in 2018, the latest possible start time on getaway days when either team is traveling to a game in another city the next day or a home off day will be calculated by subtracting the time of the flight over 2½ hours from 7 p.m.

There are cutouts for Sunday night games broadcast by ESPN and games after June 1 at Texas' current home ballpark - where the Rangers avoid afternoons for much of the season because of the heat.

Another new rule for 2018 says no game in the original schedule may be set for before 5 p.m. when a team played the previous night in another city starting 7 p.m. or later. There are exceptions involving flights of 90 minutes or less for home openers and holiday weekends. Current cutouts are carried over for up to six exceptions each season at Chicago's Wrigley Field and rescheduled games involving flights of 90 minutes or less.

"We fully recognize that our players play a very demanding schedule, and we're always looking for ways to ease the burden on players while at the same time scheduling games at a convenient time for our fans to watch them," MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem said.

Sunday night games on holiday weekends followed by afternoon games still seem likely to occur.

"We have contracts with various national broadcast partners that limit our ability to schedule day games in certain instances," Halem said.

Nussbaum said if the players had their way, there would be "a flat rule that says all getaway games are day games" but understand why that would cause difficulty for teams.

"There's still going to be some challenges in the schedule," he said, "but we think what we've done with these two prongs is pare back the most egregious of the travel."

As part of the agreement, one game in the major leagues may be scheduled each year on the Thursday after the All-Star Game starting in 2018.

Study: West Coast MLB teams at disadvantage due to jet lag

Study: West Coast MLB teams at disadvantage due to jet lag

NEW YORK -- Researchers say they've documented an unseen drag on major league baseball players that can wipe out home field advantage, make pitchers give up more home runs, and take some punch out of a team's bats.

The culprit: jet lag.

Travelers are well aware of the fatigue, poor sleep and other effects that can descend like a fog when their body clocks are out of sync with their surroundings. The new work adds to previous suggestions that professional athletes are no different.

Dr. Ravi Allada of Northwestern University said he and his colleagues wanted to study the effects of body clock disruptions on human performance. So they chose baseball, a game with plenty of performance measures gathered from hundreds of games a year, played by people who get little chance to settle in to new time zones when they travel.

They looked for jet lag's effects by analyzing 20 years' worth of Major League Baseball data. They found 4,919 instances of a team taking the field after crossing two or three time zones but without enough time to adjust. People generally need a day of adjustment for each time zone crossed.

Their analysis was released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Results of the new study generally showed that traveling eastward was more disruptive than going west, a known feature of jet lag. A surprise, though, was that home teams seemed to suffer its effects more than visiting teams did.

Among the findings:

- Over all the games in the 20 years, teams won about 54 percent of games played at home, showing a home field advantage of 4 percent. But that edge was obliterated when home teams that were jet-lagged from traveling eastward played teams with no apparent jet lag - an apparent result of seemingly small declines in performance.

- After traveling eastward, jet-lagged home teams hit fewer doubles and triples, stole fewer bases and grounded into more double plays than when they weren't affected. The impact on doubles was about one fewer per every seven games, while the other effects were smaller.

- Eastward travel was linked to pitchers allowing more home runs, both at home and away. The difference came to roughly one home run every 10 games.

The researchers suggested starting pitchers might get time to overcome jet lag if they are sent a few days ahead of the team to distant away games. Many teams send them ahead now on long flights, but it's usually only a few hours early, to avoid overnight travel.

The researchers said they had no explanation for why teams were more hampered by jet lag at home than when they played elsewhere. Maybe that reflects some protection from a more structured daily schedule on the road than at home, they suggested.

That's a reasonable idea, said Dr. W. Chris Winter, a Virginia sleep specialist who consults with several major league teams.

Winter, who has published research on how jet lag affects baseball teams but had no role in the new study, said the findings moved beyond simply documenting an effect on overall team performance toward learning more about it.

Ballplayers know jet lag a problem, and have recently taken steps to ease the burden of their schedules. The Major League Baseball Players Association, concerned about fatigue, negotiated several changes in scheduling rules starting in 2018. For example, each team's 162-game regular season schedule will be played over 187 days, up from 183. And there will be new rules on scheduling games, taking into account the timing of consecutive games.

What difference can jet lag make? Allada pointed to the National League Championship Series last October.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitching star Clayton Kershaw shut out the Chicago Cubs when he pitched against them in the Windy City, Allada noted. But when Kershaw returned from Los Angeles to face them again, the Cubs hit him hard, including two home runs.

"I can't attribute it all to jet lag," Allada said, but the study suggests the eastward trip might have played a role.

It's speculative and just one example, he said. But it's relevant "to those of us who are Chicago Cubs fans."