Oct 28, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker (30) hits a single during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in game one of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Baker counsels Tucker to make sure he isn’t bitter over losing arbitration case
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – One of the first things manager Dusty Baker did when he arrived at Astros spring training this week was to meet with Kyle Tucker to make sure his right fielder didn’t take personally losing his arbitration case.
After making $764,200 in 2022 when he hit 30 home runs, drove in 107, stole 25 bases, slashed .257/.330/.478, made the All-Star team, earned a Gold Glove Award, and helped the Astros win a World Series, Tucker sought a $7.5 million salary this season but will play for $5 million.
Tucker, 26, is under team control for three more seasons, and Baker wanted to make sure he didn’t harbor any ill feelings toward management. Baker is hoping to avoid a situation experienced by Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes, who was critical of the team after losing his arbitration case.
“That was one of the first conversations I was going to have when I came to spring training,” Baker said. “Most of these guys, whatever they go through, there’s a good chance I went through it at some point.”
Baker disclosed that during his playing career with Atlanta, he had a problem with the Braves when they asked him to take a pay cut, and he chose to hold out and didn’t report in the right frame of mind.
“I had a bad attitude about things, and I had to work out on the half-field,” he said. “I expressed that to (Tucker). It’s a business. You try not to let your attitude change the way you play the game and the way that you are.”
Tucker sat in on the arbitration hearing and listened to Astros’ management use statistics to bolster its case for $1.5 million less than he asked for.
“It wasn’t like trashing me or anything,” he said Saturday before practice. “I’ve heard worse in the outfield, so I was fine in there, but as a player, you view yourself and value yourself pretty high. You try to do everything well – whether it’s defense, running, stealing, hitting home runs – and the team values certain things over others. It’s just a difference of opinion. We would have liked the outcome to be a little different.
“It’s a little tough because you’ve been here for a while now, and you come here every day and put in the work and try to have a lot of success for the team and you’re trying to have success in regular season and the playoffs and trying to win championships. It was a little tough from that aspect that you put in all that work – you value yourself a certain way, and your team values you a little differently. It’s just part of the arbitration process – the business side of it — and you have to respect the outcome now and get ready for the season.”
Standing in front of his locker before practice, Tucker answered questions from the media and appeared to be as laid-back as he usually is with reporters. He didn’t sound bitter but gave an honest response to losing his arbitration case.
“I thought we put in a really good process with the PA (Players Association),” he said. “The outcome wasn’t what we were hoping for, and I don’t think it was the right one. I wanted to fight for what we thought my value was. It was stuff I’ve never talked to them about. It was their viewpoint of me as a player in respect to other players around the league. I’ve got to respect it, move on and get ready for the season.
“I enjoy playing here and being around the guys. There’s a little difference in the view as a player and the value of it, but it’s just a difference of opinion. I still enjoy coming here every day and playing and putting on a little show for the fans and the rest of the team.”
New general manager Dana Brown has said twice Tucker is one of the players he’s hoping to get extended and continues to talk to his agent.
“I’ve always told them I’m open to talk,” Tucker said. “I enjoy playing for the fans and playing (in) Houston and playing for guys in this locker room. We’ll see where it goes from here. I’m here regardless this year and the next two unless something changes.”
It seems strange that a team trying to get a star player signed to a contract extension would allow itself to be in a situation to speak negatively about him, but that’s the arbitration process. A lot of clubs sign players to deals to avoid arbitration.
Nobody knows Tucker’s value better than Baker, who’s watched him grow as a person and mature as a player. Baker knows that as well as Tucker has played the last two seasons, he’s capable of even more at the plate and in the field.
“We’re proud of the way he played,” Baker said. “Without Kyle, we wouldn’t have won as many games as we won. He was hitting, running the bases, stealing, throwing, catching. He’s a five-tool player, and there aren’t many around. Usually, the only tool people see is hitting home runs, but he’s a ballplayer, and that’s the ultimate compliment I can give someone.”
A natural left-hand hitter with a sweet swing, Tucker has worked hard to excel as an outfielder and was rewarded with a Gold Glove last season.
“Hitting is fun (and) everybody likes to hit,” Baker said, “but defense is work, and he works on it.”
New rules eliminating shifts, limiting pickoff attempts, and making bases larger should benefit Tucker, who could get more hits to the right side and steal more bases.
“With the shift, we’ll have to see how it goes,” Tucker said. “Hopefully, it’ll help me, and I can start raking. I don’t know how many more inches on the bag will make a difference.”
Baker knows the new rules should help Tucker.
“The limited pickoffs are going to help everybody,” Baker said about pitchers being limited to two. “They can’t throw over a third time. How easy is that? I might even steal a couple of bases.
“Plus, he lost a lot (of hits) during the shifts last year. It’s going to be a different game. It’s going to change a lot of strategy in the game. We’ll try to play as many scenarios as we can in spring training to find out what to do. We’ll see if the changes are good for the game or not.”
Tucker, who caught the last out of the World Series victory over the Phillies running full speed toward the right field stands at Minute Maid Park, was asked what was tougher – making the catch or asking longtime girlfriend, Samantha Scott, to marry him during the offseason?
“Probably to propose (because) I had that fly ball the whole way,” he said. “I was (ready) to dive like 30 rows in the stands to catch that ball.”
Now Tucker and Baker are preparing to dive into their fourth season together, joined by a World Series-tested roster bolstered with talent at every level and picked to win another American League pennant.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).