Saturday, December 13, 2008

Benedict A-Rod and the Ever-Warming Stove

Alex Rodriguez....that bastard.

It seems that our friend, A-Rod, the consensus best position player of his generation (this "consensus" is 100% false, by the way. Albert Pujols is the best player of this generation and if you only care about hitting, Barry Bonds is...but that is another story for another time), has switched his allegiance. New York born Rodriguez donned the Red, White and Blue for the inagural 2006 World Baseball Classic. But come March, Benedict A-Rod will be representing the Dominican Republic in the 2009 Classic. WBC rules specify that a player may represent a country if one of his parents was a citizen of said country. The Dominican-American Rodriguez clearly fits the bill.

At the end of the day, I may be the only person who cares that A-Rod switched from Team A to Team B but I can't help it. I like the World Baseball Classic. I know the 2006 incarnation wasn't perfect and there is no reason to believe that 2009 will be any better. But I admire the global aspect of a sport like soccer or basketball and I would love for my favorite sport to support an exciting international competition like soccer's World Cup. I know the WBC is nowhere near the World Cup yet but I take the competition very, very seriously. And I will actively campaign to make others feel as strongly about it as I do. So with that in mind: A-Rod sucks. I hope you will all agree. David Wright will be better at 3B anyway.

A-Rod electing to play with the Dominicans would have been the biggest thing to happen this week for me if it weren't for that Big Fella who goes by the name of Sabathia, you might have heard of hm, signing with the Yankees. I will talk about what the deal means for both the Yankees and Sabathia later on but right now I would like to talk about what the deal means for baseball at large...and for me. For the past seven years, I have felt closer to CC Sabathia than I have ever been to any other professional athlete. Back in 2001, I was just a shy pre-teen who had only lived in Northeast Ohio for seven months, after moving there from New Jersey. The only solace I could find that year was the Indians' games at the Jake during the summer. It was then that I witnessed live CC's major league debut, a winning effort. I spent that whole summer watching the 2001 Indian's march into the playoffs, riding the arm of this 20-year-old phenom who just happened to be a bit overweight, like yours truly. CC played the game with a passion and gave the crowd a reason to cheer. He was also truly a class dude, as evidenced by his taking out a full page ad in the Plain Dealer, after being traded to the Brewers, thanking Cleveland for supporting during his tenure there. So the deal affects me quite personally. But how does the deal effect Major League Baseball?

The union has to be happy, and so does every other free agent Pitcher. The sheer girth of Sabathia's contract will have positive repercussions for players looking for a good deal. Those $171 million bucks raises the baseline salary of every pitcher who signs from now until the end of baseball as we know it. That is why no starting pitcher would sign before the big man. Ironically, the only Pitcher who may not be perfectly happy with the deal is Sabathia, himself. Sabathia made it clear he wanted to play on the West Coast and made it clear that he would take a pay cut to play on the West Coast. What I would like to know is how, among the three non-rebuilding West Coast teams with money (the Angels, Dodgers and Giants), no one stepped up to the plate and offered Sabathia a serious contract. Sabathia was undoubtedly the biggest free agent on the market...maybe even the best free agent pitcher available in the past decade. How is it then, that the Yankees and the Brewers were the only two teams who offered him actual money-on-the-table contracts from the word "go"?

The Angels pussy-footed around with Mark Teixeira while pondering whether they should go after Sabathia. The Dodgers declined to offer Sabathia a contract after he told them he WANTED to play for them. The Giants announced that they planned to "pursue" Sabathia (November 18th, a month after the Yankees had made him a $140 million offer) but may have never even "gotten around" to it. So while the Yankees were trying to make CC the richest pitcher ever, having Derek Jeter and LeBron James whisper in his ear and getting Reggie Jackson to show the man around town, the Angels, Dodgers and Giants (teams CC was willing to take a pay cut for) were sheepishly kicking the dirt at their feet wondering whether they should pursue the best free agent available and one of the top 5 starting pitchers in the league. What else can you say? The Yankees gave CC the best offer, when no one else would and he took it. I had hoped CC would be the one player who took less money to play for a city he loved, but at the end of the day: the West Coast teams made it very clear that they didn't want him. If CC beats the Dodgers in the playoffs, it will only be karma biting them in the ass.

Texas trades C Gerald Laird to Detroit for RHP Guillermo Moscoso and RHP Carlos Melo
I like this trade a lot for Texas. Gerald Laird was worthless to them, they have more good young Catchers than anyone in the league. They turned him into a 25-year old who can probably slide right into their embattled rotation and a 17-year old that Nolan Ryan can develop from scratch. The Tigers must think they have a shot in '09 to be making this deal. Fair enough...they had just better hope that they compete this year because if they don't, they will have just traded eight prospects in two years and have nothing to show for it.

Detroit signs SS Adam Everett to 1 year, $1 million deal
Nice, low-risk move. The Tigers defense was absolutely ruined by Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Rentaria at 3B and SS last year. Everett won't impress anyone with his bat but he can help you with his glove. Everett at Short and Brandon Inge at Third will give their Pitchers a fighting chance at the very least.

Los Angeles (NL) signs 3B Casey Blake to 3 year, $17 million deal
Contrary to popular belief, Casey Blake can still start in this league, provided that he is playing Third. I know a big part of his value has been his versatility, but that suggests that he can't start, which isn't very fair. He can be the starting Thirdbaseman for a playoff team (see Cleveland Indians, 2007). But the fact remains that he is 35 years old. Three years is a bit too long for his services, even to a guy who currently has a Casey Blake t-shirt hanging in his closet.

Los Angeles (NL) signs IF Mark Loretta to 1 year, $1.4 million deal
The Dodgers already have: Casey Blake, Angel Berrora, Blake DeWitt and Chin-lung Hu. If they wanted to give a guy $1.4 million just to sit on the bench, they could have called me. I would have done it for half of that!

New York (NL) signs RP Francisco Rodriguez to 3 year, $37 million deal

The Mets got the man they wanted, for the price they wanted, for the years that they wanted. They have got to be happy right now. K-Rod ends up making a TIIIINY bit more per year than Francisco Cordero who signed the bench-mark 4 year, $46 million deal last year. But that one less year is the key to this deal's value. Relief pitching is a fickle trade. Just because you are on top now doesn't mean you will be for the majority of your career. Just ask Eric Gagne.

Baltimore trades C Ramon Hernandez to Cincinatti for OF Ryan Freel, IF Justin Turner and IF Brandon Waring
I am not really seeing the point of this one. Baltimore has been doing a very satisfactory job of rebuilding up to this point and hopefully they saw something they couldn't resist in Turner and Waring because Ryan Freel just does not belong on their team. They are set in the outfield, and set in the infield. They just need their young guns to get their time in....and Ryan Freel certainly isn't one of those young guns. As for Cincinatti, what are you doing guys? Are you sure....absolutely SURE that you needed Ramon Hernandez? Ryan Hanigan seemed to do fine in his limited time and why wouldn't you spend a season seeing what Wilkin Castillo has. Are you sure you really needed Ramon, or did you just get enamored with the idea of having a "Pitcher's Catcher" who can call a good game? Plus, what business did the Reds have trading Ryan Freel. Their outfield has Jay Bruce and no one else. If you want to try rebuilding, you don't trade Ryan Freel for a 32-year-old Catcher. And if you want to compete for an NL Central title, you don't trade Ryan Freel, leaving Chris Dickerson and Norris Hopper as your CF and LF. Just an AWFUL deal for the Reds and only "alright" for the Orioles.

Cleveland signs RP Kerry Wood to 2 year, $20 million deal
When I first heard that the Tribe was close to signing Kerry Wood, I assumed that it would be in the mold of Kevin Millwood's 1 year, incentive laden deal that Millwood signed with Cleveland back in 2003. GM Mark Shapiro took a flier on a high-risk injury guy for less money. I THOUGHT that is what the Wood deal would look like, but 2 years, $20 million doesn't quite qualify as a "flier." The Indians seem to be confident that Wood can stay healthy and they had better be because while I will be happy to see Wood in the 9th inning at Progressive Field, I will also be eyeing that $20 million with trepidation.

New York (AL) signs SP CC Sabathia to 7 year, $161 million deal
I have already discussed the overarching effects of the biggest deal of the 2008 MLB Winter Meetings but what about the deal itself and how it will effect the Yankees? It is hard to discuss a deal which features such a large sum. Is CC Sabathia going to do anything in the next 7 years to justify being paid $161 million? Probably not. But $161 million is just the reality of what the Yankees had to spend to get him. In that sense, the deal is fair. The Yankees needed Sabathia and badly. They made it their #1 priority to get the big man. But CC Sabathia made it clear that he wanted to play on the West Coast. So it was clear to the Yankees that they had to overpay to get him. So they did. The Steinbrenners clearly had no problem paying $161 million for his services so who am I to question whether they spent too much or not. They spent as much as they were willing to spend to get the off-season piece that they absolutely HAD to have. Would I recommend the Rays or Athletics or Rockies spend $161 million to get CC Sabathia? Of course not! But the Yankees had the money and they wanted him the worst so they got him. For what it is worth, I think if you had to invest 7 years in a Pitcher, CC would not be a bad choice. He is currently one of the top 3 best pitchers in baseball (only Brandon Webb and Johan Santana come close to him) and durability has never been a concern. If he is going to get hurt, it will only be for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the season. His weight doesn't seem to affect his athleticism or durability at all and the idea of him pitching competitively at 35 doesn't seem so far-fetched, regardless of his playing weight. Remember, this is a man who led the Bigs in IP in 2007. His poor playoff record is a fair concern to have when he is being paid $161 million, but who is to say he will not begin to perform in the clutch? In this three postseason appearances one was satisfactory (3.00 ERA in '01) and the other two were very poor (7.95 ERA in '07 and 12.27 in '08). To be fair, the '08 ERA is based off of only one game and on extremely short rest. But '07 was just an undeniable disaster. Still, the problem is clearly psychological if he has physical Cy Young talent and a psychological problem can always be fixed. All in all, a good deal that will pay immediate dividends and might not hurt them long-term as many people think

Baltimore signs SS Cesar Izturis to 2 year, $6 million deal
Baltimore definitely needed a shortstop. No one seemed to be able to hold down the position that Miguel Tejada called his own after he was traded. Cesar Izturis will be perfectly able to be a starter and a solid defender for the Orioles; just don't expect him to bat higher than 8th or 9th. Seems like an okay deal until the voice in my head starts asking: why pay a man with no upside $6 million to play a position in two rebuilding years when you could pay the league minimum to a younger gun who has a chance, however slim, to be better? I know Luis Hernandez and Brandon Fahey more than proved last year that they weren't ready but still....

Pittsburgh trades C Ronny Paulino to Philadelphia for C Jason Jaramillo
Young Catcher for young Catcher? Sounds pretty inconsequential to me. The only thing of note that this deal may represent is the end of Chris Coste's story-book career.

Three team trade-
Mariners receive: RP Aaron Heilman (NYM), OF Endy Chavez (NYM), 1B Mike Carp (NYM), OF Franklin Gutierrez (CLE), RHP Meikel Clato (NYM), LHP Jason Vargas (NYM) and OF Ezekial Carrera (NYM)
Mets receive: RP J.J Putz(SEA) , RP Sean Green (SEA) and OF Jeremy Reed (SEA)
Indians receive: RP Joe Smith (NYM), 2B Luis Valbuena (SEA)
Wow, what a trade! I don't care who you are, you have got to love a three-team trade. They are such a rarity in Major League Baseball. And this one was a doozy. I am having a hard time deciding who got the best of this deal. Know why? Because this was the perfect deal: every team got exactly what they needed by giving up what they didn't need. No more, no less. The Mariners had to cut payroll and had to get younger. Well, Aaron Heilman won't get them younger but he will eat innings for them and provide a valuable service to a rebuilding team. Endy Chavez is an excellent piece-part and Franklin Gutierrez has untapped potential. Turning a worthless Jeremy Reed into two outfield parts is so small feat, especially when you are thin in the outfield. As for Mike Carp? Who doesn't want a young lefty-hitting firstbaseman....especially if your current 1B is Bryan LaHair. Now, those three minor leaguers from the Mets? They're just gravy! The Mets needed to completely revamp their bullpen. And they have. Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz were two of the best closers in the game and now they are on the same team. Sean Green is no one to shake a stick at either. Jeremy Reed is worthless...but hey, someone has to be the 4th outfielder. The Indians had a surplus in the outfield (Choo, Sizemore, Francisco with Brantley, LaPorta and Crowe on the way) with no in-house option to take an infield spot. So they traded Gutierrez and not only got a potential infield part in Valbuena but also a sure-thing bullpen arm in Joe Smith. Valbuena is still young with little MLB experience, but hey, so was Asdrubal Cabrera when the Indians stole him out of the Ms' hands for Eduardo Perez...who can now be seen on ESPN.

Philadelphia signs OF Raul Ibanez to 3 year, $30 million deal
What an excellent deal for the Phils! Turns out you don't just roll out of bed and become World Champs; you do it by making deals like this. Raul Ibanez is an intelligent and savvy vet who can still hit the ball out of the park. I've said it before and I will say it again: in the Post-Steroid era, power is at a premium. And Raul Ibanez has plenty of it. He may be 36 but in that ballpark, he can probably hit 30 home-runs for at least the next two years. The third year on the deal is a bit iffy, but how can you fault the Phillies for getting an everyday player for the same price that the Indians paid for a Closer, who will probably only play a few innings a week? If he were a righty, he would be perfect. But alas, nobody is perfect.

New York (AL) Signs SP A.J. Burnett to 5 year, $82.2 million deal
What can you say at this point? The New York Yankees have a lot of money. And they used that money to overpay for a second big name pitcher in under a week. They are paying A.J half of the money that they are paying CC, but I almost feel that CC is a sounder investment. Burnett will be two years older than Sabathia by the end of their respective deals and Burnett has a much larger injury history than Sabathia does. But clearly that does not matter to the Yanks, or they wouldn't have done the deal. And I must admit that a Rotation of Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Hughes, Chamberlain looks a lot better than a rotation of Sabathia, Wang, Hughes, Chamberlain and another disposable arm. The only thing that the Yankees can't afford A.J Burnett to be is another Carl Pavano. One was bad enough.

Arizona trades SP Conor Robertson to New York (NL) for RP Scott Schoeneweis
It looks like the Metropolitans were serious about revamping their bullpen. Not only did that mean adding more players (Francisco Rodriguez, J.J Putz, Sean Green) but apparently, that also meant getting rid of a lot of players too (Aaron Heilman, Joe Smith and now Scott Schoeneweis). None of those players were necessarily part of the problem, but G.M Omar Minaya is fairly wise that there is a certain psychological aspect to beating absolutely rocked and destroying your team's chances two years in a row. None of the new guys have that baggage and Minaya is making sure than Scotty Scho isn't around in '09 to remind them. Having said that, he is a competent left-handed reliever, a commodity that is rare in baseball these days, and the D-Backs should be happy to have him.

Detroit trades OF Matt Joyce to Tampa Bay for SP Edwin Jackson
How did this one fall through the cracks? I was strolling teams' rosters when I came across Matt Joyce on the Tampa Bay roster. Hmm Matt Joyce? Wasn't he a highly regarded young outfielder for the Tigers. So I look up his Wikipedia entry and sure enough, the Tigers had traded him for...Edwin Jackson. Wow. I had been waiting around all off-season to see where Edwin Jackson or Andy Sonanstine would end up. The Rays were ready to give David Price a starting slot (and rightfully so) and either Jackson or Sonanstine would be the odd-man-out and be traded for a piece that the Rays need. So apparently that trade finally happened, under everyone's noses. Seriously, where was ESPN on this one? My first reaction was "Only Matt Joyce?" But I suppose every team knew that Jackson was expendable to the Rays, so it was hard to get anything for him. Oh well. But the Tigers seem to be quietly building themselves a contender this year, the RIGHT way: with pitching and defense. If Mark Shapiro hadn't brilliantly smacked down their only chance to get a closer this year (J.J Putz), the Tigers would be scaring this Indians fan quite a bit right now. Verlander, Galaraga, Bondeman and Jackson pitching to Gerald Laird with Inge, Everett and Polanco behind them looks pretty good to me.

That is all for this week. Congratulations to Joe Gordon on making the Hall of Fame. That he is in the Hall, maybe they can start talking about him as one of the better Secondbaseman ever. It is a worthwhile discussion.

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