Well, it has been a busy two weeks! And I am just talking about the baseball off-season, and not my vomiting six times in under ten minutes (I was sick, not drunk).
First of all, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the the most hallowed Hall in American sports just gained two new members. Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, welcome to immortality! I have to say, I am perfectly happy with both selections. Each player represents the the two different types of players that populate the Hall. First, their is Rickey, whose personality is so unique, whose position in baseball history is so singular and whose talent is so explosive that he could have made the Hall even if you cut his career in half. Then there is Jim Rice, the type of player who is the underrated model of consistency. During his career, you might not have even realized that you were watching a future Hall-of-Famer but after it was all said and done and you looked at his career stats, it seemed right. Jim Rice is a Hall-of-Famer by attrition and there is no shame in making the Hall that way.
Then where was the bizarre news out of Philadelphia. J.C Romero tested positive for a banned substance and was banned for 50 games, problem is; J.C Romero insists that he had no idea that the supplement he took contained a banned substance. Romero fought against the suspension hard, even to the point of accusing the MLB of trying to label him as a "dumb Puerto Rican" (which I found very ballsy and kind of funny). It looks like the suspension is going to stick now, but I have to say: kudos to you, J.C. We were all too happy to demonize the players who had used banned substances in the period shortly after the "Steroid Era" concluded. Now the strict anti-steroid policies seemed to have claimed their first innocent victim and J.C Romero's vehement reaction has led me to conclude that the rules are a touch bit inflexible. J.C Romero won't be allowed to play for 50 games and the Phillies will miss his lefty arm in the bullpen, but he has convinced at least one baseball fan to reconsider the Witch Hunt style of banned substance testing.
Boston re-signed the 4th best 1B in baseball to a 4 year, $40 million deal. First the Red Sox get the AL MVP Dustin Pedroia for 6 years and $40 million and now they make this deal. I don't know about you, but I would much rather have Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia for 4-6 years, $80 million than Mark Teixeira for 8 years, $180 million.
Speaking of my Best Players in Baseball rankings...they appear to be in jeopardy again. The Texas Rangers have convinced a hesitant Michael Young to change positions again for the second time in his career. Young will move from SS to 3B to make room for SS prospect Elvis Andrus. So Michael Young falls off the Shortstop list and everyone moves up one spot with Indians' Shortstop Jhonny Peralta claiming the tenth spot. On the Third-baseman list, M.Y lands at #6 just ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, bumping Alex Gordon off the list completely.
Florida signs RP Scott Proctor to 1 year, $.750 deal
Florida really could use all the bullpen help they can get at this point. I know they are high on Logan Kensing and Matt Lidstrom but I am not. But I am high on Lidstrom, Kensing, Leo Nunez and Scott Proctor for a combined $1.95 million (based on 2008 salaries). It is very well known in baseball that the Marlins do not have a lot of money to spend. If the Yankees had overspent for those four core bullpen pieces, I would have come down hard on them. But it is tough to berate the Marlins for paying their four key bullpen guys just under $2 million, even if it isn't necessarily a guarantee that all four of these men will competently fill their expected roles.
Tampa Bay signs OF Pat Burrell to 2 year, $16 million deal
A.K.A the "Andrew Friedman makes Pat Gillick look like a jackass deal." If I am the Phillies and had the option between Pat Burrell for 2 years and $16 million or Raul Ibanez for 3 years and $30 million, I am not hesitating for another mili-second and am taking the Burrell deal before he can even think about changing his mind. I think Raul Ibanez is slightly better than Pat Burrell because of his ability to hit for average (both would have more than enough home runs in that ballpark) but the Phillies do not need another left-handed hitter. Their line-up as it is currently constituted features only 3 right-handed hitters, two of which are certain to bat in the 7th and 8th spots. With Burrell, the Phils could have had a 4 or 5 hole power righty who, might I add, is already quite familiar with the clubhouse, having played his whole career there. The mere fact that the Rays were able to get Pat the Bat for only $16 million makes me think the Phillies shouldn't have written him off so quickly. As far as the Rays go, this is the absolute perfect deal for them. The commitment isn't too bad and Burrell can start every day for them in the 5th or 6th spot as a DH. A huge upgrade offensively for a premium price. Good job, Tampa!
Chicago (NL) signs OF Milton Bradley to 3 year, $30 million deal
This is a bad deal. This is a bad deal because 3 years is a long time for a 30 year old. This is a bad deal because $30 million is a lot of money. This is a bad deal because 3 years and $30 million is a lot of time and money for a guy with an extensive injury history, suspension history, and a history of having poor clubhouse character. Milton Bradley has played for 6 teams in 8 years. Milton Bradley has average just under 90 games in the past 8 years. And Milton Bradley's only good season came when he was the DH in the best hitter's park in the AL. Don't get me wrong, I like Milton Bradley as a Texas Ranger, when he gets to be full-time DH, play under player's-manager Ron Washington and has the jet-like thermals of the Ballpark at Arlington to carry his line-drives out of the ballpark. But I do not like Milton Bradley as a Cub and I do not like the fact that they had to trade Mark DeRosa to make room for him....actually as an Indians fan, I LOVE that they had to give up Mark DeRosa to make room for him.
Oakland signs DH Jason Giambi to 1 year, $5.25 million deal
I like this deal a lot. Jason Giambi is nearly worthless as a 1B, but as a DH...that is a whole different story. With Milton Bradley in the NL and Travis Hafner slowly deteriorating before our very eyes, Jason Giambi may be the best DH in the AL not named David Ortiz. I know he is 38 and I know left-handed sluggers don't age very well, but you have to be impressed by his mini-career renaissance last year which came at the age of 37 and at 1B. I think he will look a lot better in that line-up as well, either helping Matt Holliday to get better ABs in the clean-up spot or benefitting from Holliday's presence in the 3 spot. And I've said it before and I'll say it again: power is at a premium in the Post-steroid Era of baseball. I would gladly pay for $5 million for an everyday player who is a proven HR-threat. Plus, you can't tell me that seeing Jason Giambi back in his Oakland #16 jersey isn't a huge boost for that poor beleaguered fan base.
Cleveland signs SP Carl Pavano to 1 year, $1.3 million deal
I was almost tempted to put "Copyright Mark Shapiro" next to this. This deal may be worth $1.3 million now but escalators begin to kick in after Pavano makes his 18th start. Pavano hasn't been an effective starter since 2004 but if he continues his mediocrity, who cares? The Tribe is only out $1.3 million on their investment and can just call up Dave Huff or Jeremy Sowers from the Minors to be the #5 starter. On the off-chance that Pavano can repeat his '04 numbers, the Indians will have to pony up more cash, but the Indians would be happy to pay for that kind of production. This is a win-win for everyone involved. And it's basically a clone of Kevin Millwood's 2004 1 year deal with the Tribe only it is less-risk and less-reward.
Baltimore signs SP Koji Uehara to 2 year, $1o million deal
The Orioles needed pitching in the worst way. But this was not the right deal at the right time. Signing pitchers from Japan is always a crap-shoot. Even the best Japan had to offer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, has essentially been a #3 starter for the duration of his career. 2 years, and $10 million is a big investment for a team who may not be competitive for another 3 or 4 years, and it is a especially big investment for a 33-year-old(!!!) starter who hasn't pitched an inning (!!!) in the Majors. Why not just invest in a new Pitching coach and re-sign Daniel Cabrera for the 1 year and $2.5 million that the Nationals got him for?
Boston signs OF Rocco Baldelli to 1 year, $.500 million deal
I would have loved to have seen Rocco re-sign with the Rays and try to revitalize his career with the team that first gave him a chance, but it looks like the Red Sox were more than willing to take the risk than the low-payrolled Rays. I hate to be the guy who pats Theo Epstein on the back even more than everyone already does, but you have to give it to him on this one. $500,000 and 1 year for a fourth outfielder is not bad, especially when that outfielder is still in his 20s and is still the guy who looked like the second coming of Joe DiMaggio a few years ago. Rocco's mitochondrial disorder sounds pretty terrifying but the Red Sox have one of the best training staff's in sports and they seem to think he will be alright.
Milwaukee signs RP Trevor Hoffman to 1 year, $6 million deal
I would love to have Trevor Hoffman for 1 year and $6 million....three years ago. Trevor Hoffman's career is over, he just doesn't know it yet. The Brewers do not seem to have a plan at ALL for this off-season. First, they offer CC Sabathia 4 years, at $100 million. Then they miss out on every bargain bullpen piece because they are too busy bitching about the Yankees and their evil money. You are trying to tell me that you had $100 million and four years to give to CC but deem Ben Sheets, your ace, too expensive. If this entire off-season goes without the Brew-Crew offering Sheets an incentive laden deal, then Brewers fans should shred their season tickets. The other big problem about the Hoffman deal is that Trevor has only ever been a closer in his career and won't want to be anything else. So when he starts tanking games, it will be in the 9th inning because Ken Macha won't be able to convince him to be a Middle-reliever. I won't be surprised if the Brewers are paying a combined $7 million for Jorge Julio and Trevor Hoffman, the set-up man and closer....for their AAA team.
Boston signs SP John Smoltz to 1 year, $5.5 million deal
This was the final dagger in what had to be the worst off-season in the history of the Braves franchise. First, they can't complete a deal for Jake Peavy. Then Rafael Furcal famously and utterly screws them. Then, they miss out on A.J Burnett to the Yankees (although, I would argue that this is a blessing in disguise). Finally, John Smoltz: future hall-of-famer, all-time good guy, pitched every inning of his career in a Braves jersey, signs with the Red Sox. I guess, financially, the non-deal makes sense for the Braves. $5.5 million is a lot of scratch for a 41-year old coming off of an injury. But come on, it is JOHN-FREAKING-SMOLTZ. This guy IS the Braves. If $5.5 million is what it took to bring him back, then $5.5 million is what you should have paid. It would probably have been a smarter move than signing A.J Burnett for 5 years, $60 million anyway. As far as the Red Sox are concerned: shame on you. You will pay karmically for taking away another franchise's icon by throwing money at him.
Boston signs RP Takashi Saito to 1 year, $1.5 million deal
I guess this deal makes as much sense as the John Smoltz deal. I don't know what is wrong in Red Sox-nation, money-wise but the Sawx have been spending money like bottom-feeders. By which I mean that Boston seems to have been on the lookout for inexpensive options coming off on injury. Penny, Baldelli, Smoltz and now Saito. You have to wonder if something is going on behind the scenes over there that is forcing John Henry and Larry Luchino to be more conservative with their money. In any case, this deal seems alright. Saito is a pretty underrated talent but his age is a bit of a worry. The Red Sox training staff better know something I don't about his arm because if he doesn't pitch that $1.5 million is going to look like quite a bit for an ineffective reliever. It isn't 1/4 as bad as Trevor Hoffman for $6 million but it is a little risky.
Atlanta signs SP Kenshin Kawakami to 3 year, $23 million deal
Good lord, what a mistake! For the longest time after this deal was made, the financial terms were not available in print. 3 years seemed like a big commitment for an unproven 33-year-old pitcher hopping the pond from Japan. I started thinking of what amount of money could help make this deal make remote sense at all. I thought $10 million would be acceptable and $12-15 million would be pushing it. But $23 million? Frank Wren, you realize that there is absolutely NO guarantee that this man will pitch anything close to remotely well in one Major League season, let alone three, right? And you realize that you are working with a limited payroll, right? I know this guys stats looked pretty good in Japan, but so did Kei Igawa's and he was 6 YEARS YOUNGER at the time of his deal. And the Yankees, THE NEW YORK-FREAKING-YANKEES paid the 6 years younger Igawa $3 million less a year! You know you are setting yourself up for failure when you spend more money on a Japanese pitcher than the New York Yankees spent on Kei Igawa. I don't mean to slight the Nippon Professional League in any way, by the way. I think it is a competitive, quality league. I just don't think you should spend $2o million on a 33-year-old player who has never had proven success in the Major Leagues.
Atlanta signs SP Derek Lowe to 4 year, $60 million deal
I have no choice but to defer to Buster Olney on this one. He says what I want to say but more eloquently and with more insight.
Chicago (AL) signs SP Bartolo Colon 1 year, $1 million deal
This deal violates my only rule in Major League Baseball: never sign Bartolo Colon under any circumstances, ever. I have nothing more to say. Enjoy your 6.78 ERA and endless "Fatolo" jokes, Chicago!