The business of baseball is truly starting to interfere with the game itself this offseason, and most it goes beyond baseball economics. Thanks to a severely declining economy, owners not working for New York or Boston are finally hesitant to throw expensive multi-year deals are veteran players who may or may not pan out. Naturally, players don't want a pay cut or short term contracts. The result is dozens of high quality players still on the free agent list with just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report, not to mention the upcoming World Baseball Classic. To name just a few, Ivan Rodriguez, Orlando Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn (HR totals of 46-40-40-40-40 since 2004), Ben Sheets, and oh yeah, Manny Ramirez, are still waiting for the right deal to come along.
At some point, owners needing for fill positions are going to have to give in a little and players are going to have to use their own brains, dismissing advice of their agents to wait it out, and maybe settle for a shorter term deal than originally hoped for. As much as owners want to save money, they also want to win. As much as players want to make money, they also want to play. A compromise exists in each situation, but they better find it soon if these players are going to be wearing a uniform on opening day.
I've been watching the occasional program on the new MLB Network and so far, it's like a combination of ESPN Classic and Baseball Tonight. Like ESPN Classic, I fear that watching the classic games will get stale after a while. It's always good to relive a World Series once in a while, but after you burn through them once or twice, you really don't need to see them again for quite a while. As for the original programming, the show MLB Tonight seems like it will be extremely similar to ESPN's Baseball Tonight. The MLB Network will be airing 26 games this year, and if they increase the amount of live events, the station will prove worthwhile. Until then, it all just seems a bit unnecessary, even for the baseball diehard.
The Braves attempted to offset the loss of John Smoltz by signing Derek Lowe to a four-year deal and signing some Japanese pitcher who is shorter than me. I like the Lowe signing if for no other reason than his consistency (32+ starts for seven straight seasons and a sub-4.00 ERA each year in the National League). As for Kenshin Kawakami, Atlanta fans shouldn't get too excited about a 33-year-old pitcher with no MLB experience, but he should have some early success until the league gains some knowledge of him.
To avoid becoming a Braves blog, let's move on to the Hall of Fame voting, which always excites/confuses/angers me. I will never understand the "he's not a first ballot guy" logic. How could 28 voters have left off Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter ever, from their ballot? It's stubbornness, and those voters should have their voting rights taken away. The other major issue is why only baseball WRITERS can vote. A guy like ESPN's Jon Miller has seen just about every player under the sun in person over the past few decades, but no one is asking his opinion. Instead, some guy like Mike Downey, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, occasionally will write a column about the Cubs or White Sox, and suddenly because he's a fan like the rest of us but can turn a phrase better (I'd argue against that too), he is qualified to determine if Jim Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame. Many of these baseball writers are primarily WRITERS, not reporters. There's a difference, and a guy with the ability to make you laugh when your local team is 20 games out of first is much different than the guy interviewing players after every game, watching the games from March to October, reporting on them, and doing it for years so he can form an opinion on a player based on his ability vs. his peers and vs. the changes to the game. It's not a dire situation like feeding the hungry because, in the end, it's just a plaque on a wall, but something needs to be done to change the voting structure.
Some things just don't feel right. When John Smoltz, newly signed to a one-year deal with Boston, steps on the bump for the Red Sox, it will not feel right. It won't look right. It just won't be right. From what I've read, it seems that Boston and Atlanta offered deals that, AFTER incentives, were similar. It's the guaranteed money that Boston was more willing to fork over.
Sadly, in sports, it IS a business and if you step away from the situation, you can see both sides. Atlanta doesn't have the budget it used to, and in order to compete and try to keep their lifelong big game pitcher in the mix, they threw the 41-year-old a couple million and some incentives largely based on 200 innings and 30 starts, according to Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. As a fan of the Braves and John Smoltz, it would have been nice to see the Braves suck it up for once and overpay to keep a loyal guy like Smoltz around for one more year, but it's always easy to demand that "your" team spend the money when it's not really YOUR team.
From Smoltz's side, he claims he wanted to stay, and you have to believe him. As a competitor, whether it's a few million or a few thousand, when someone else is offering more than the company you've been with for over two decades and that company won't match it because they question the risk involved, it's easy to feel slighted or underappreciated. The natural response is to take the money and try and prove everyone wrong. Here's hoping the Braves, who have a history of handling players professionally, make good use of the money NOT being spent on Smoltz so that they become a contender sooner rather than later. And here's hoping John Smoltz, a competitive professional always willing to speak his mind, but not in the demeaning "Curt Schilling" kind of way, once again overcomes injury and succeeds wildly in the American League. Both team and player deserve it.
As per usual, I can't quite figure out what the Cubs are doing. They traded away Mark DeRosa, an unspectacular but solid performer capable of spelling Fukodome after realizing he's not that good, or Soriano because of a nagging injury, or Aramis Ramirez for the occasional day off, or settling in at second base. DeRosa had one year left on his contract at about $5.5 million. Chicago decided to trade him and used the money to sign Aaron Miles for two years, a punchless second baseman with little speed and a decent batting average.
Desperate for a left-handed hitting bat, the Cubs signed Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million deal. Let's see, DeRosa played 451 innings in the outfield last year, hit 21 HR, 87 RBI, had an OBP of .376 and was a positive force in the clubhouse and great with the local media. Bradley played just 165 innings in the outfield last year, hit 22 HR, 77 RBI, had an OBP of .436 and is best known for his tantrums and the "crotch grab" of '06. Make no mistake: Bradley is the better hitter over the long haul, but why downgrade one position (2B) to overspend on a switch-hitter with character problems simply because he can swing left-handed?
The Cubs are showing that they have money to spend. What they need to do now is figure out a way to spend wisely.