Happy New Year to all the loyal readers of The Commish Online! We'll be back again in 2009. Expect some more Foul Territory articles, an inaugural admission into the Hall of Good, a Bunker & Dewey (or two), and as always, plenty of baseball reports and analysis.
Thanks for your readership. If you want to show your support, click on an ad or two or if you purchase something along the way, a few pennies will fall into my pocket.
San Francisco recently signed 45-year-old Randy Johnson to a one year deal worth $8 million plus plenty of room for incentives. The Big Unit should benefit from the pitcher-friendly home park, but he might be on the short end of some 2-1 ballgames thanks to the hitter-less lineup.
In Cincinnati, the Reds signed Willie Taveras to be their center fielder for the next two years. Taveras is a bit of a facade in that his speed and stolen bases lead you to believe you are getting a prototypical leadoff hitter and center fielder. The reality, though, is that Taveras has a career OBP of just .331. With a batting average of .283, Taveras seems more skilled at putting the ball in play than getting on base, so he is probably better suited to hit second, where he could see more pitches to hit in the strike zone and move runners over when necessary.
Willie provides decent defense and seems to be a good teammate just from the interviews I've heard, but he just seems like one of those guys whom you are always expecting more from. They always say speed doesn't slump, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. When speed can't get on base, then speed will be sitting on the bench not stealing bases for games at a time.
No sooner do I publish my previous post does ESPN.com come out with a story saying the Yankees are about to sign Teixeira for a whopping $180 million over 8 years. Wow. It's certainly not surprising given their track record and at least it gives non-New Yorkers one more reason to hate the Yankees. If one thing has been proven over the past decade in baseball, it's that blind spending isn't the single answer for success... although it sure doesn't hurt to have deep pockets!
The dealing with Mark Teixeira appear to be heading in the opposite direction of what happened with Sabathia. Sabathia seemed to court escalating offers until the final one from the Yankees exceeded anything remotely close. Somewhere along the line, $160 million over 8 years became the starting point with Teixeira, and instead of competing offers, only the Washington Nationals have officially expressed interest at that level. All other interested parties like Boston and Los Angeles (Angels) have backed off at that price and claim to be out of the running.
It may just be a strategic ploy by the teams' owners, but it seems like Teixeira's asking price is a bit more than the market is offering, so he's going to have to take the lowly Nationals' deal or accept something smaller for a contender.
As I expected, Rafael Furcal ended up returning to the Dodgers. When the rumors started about Furcal signing with the Braves but then weren't immediately followed up, things seemed a bit fishy. Few people know who was in the wrong between the Braves and Furcal's agents because for the general public, the media stories coming out are a bunch of "he said, he said." The deal is done, and it's time to focus on the next big signing - Mark Teixeira.
Teixeira doesn't seem to have a frontrunner just yet, but the Red Sox have reportedly taken themselves out of the hunt, claiming that they couldn't match current offers for the first baseman. If Boston isn't spending the money, then who can be left? Manny Ramirez is still "teamless," and just going by the odds based on how much money the Yankees are willing to spend over everyone else, I'm guessing one of those two big bats will be wearing pinstripes next year. We will find out soon enough, and you can be sure that both players will have a nice Christmas bonus when their deals are signed.
With good leadoff hitters few and far between, even oft-injured Rafael Furcal is being courted by several teams thanks to his speed and hitting ability when healthy. It was rumored that the Braves had a deal with Furcal, bringing the infielder back to Atlanta, but nothing is official and suddenly the Dodgers are back in the fold. Oakland shouldn't be counted out either, but as long as Billy Beane has been in office, the A's never got in a bidding war with anyone and walked away with the player.
Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com has all the details, but my suspicions are that Furcal will sign a new deal with the Dodgers, the Braves will be content with Escobar and Johnson in the middle infield, and the A's will find a much cheaper alternative who will post average stats and help keep Oakland competitive this year.
As if signing Sabathia wasn't enough, the Yankees went out and paid $82 million for the services of A.J. Burnett. Make no mistake, Burnett is a better than average pitcher according to his numbers, but his inability to log 200 innings for consecutive seasons makes the 5-year deal he signed questionable, considering he threw a career high 221 1/3 innings in 2008 and will be 32 when spring training rolls around.
On the positive side, Burnett finished 2008 on the strong side, lowering his ERA by more than a point since early July and winning 9 of his last 13 starts. Perhaps at 32, Burnett will prove to be a late bloomer with some extra innings left in his arm due to the inactivity early in his career. Predicting the future health of pitchers is a crapshoot, and Burnett may prove to be a better signing than Sabathia for New York despite CC's track record. Either way, the Yankees aren't afraid to spend money on risky propositions and don't think they are done just yet.
Looking at some of the signings/trades, the Mets appeared to have bolstered their bullpen immensely by adding Francisco Rodriguez and now J.J. Putz without sacrificing much in the way of talent. Rodriguez and Putz will be earning a lot of dough for guys who won't throw many innings, but they will be valuable innings if the Mets can get early leads. Elsewhere, I expect Javier Vazquez to be successful in laid-back Atlanta, and acquiring Ryan Freel in a small deal involving Ramon Hernandez gives Baltimore a little insurance should they decide to deal Brian Roberts.
CC Sabathia is ready to sign with the Yankees for a LOT of money ($161 million) and a LOT of years (seven). Normally, I would call the deal stupid, citing the idiocy of a seven-year deal for a pitcher, but with a virtually unlimited payroll and no salary cap, New York's only risk was not getting Sabathia, so they overpaid to eliminate that risk.
If and when the long term deal no longer benefits the Yankees, they will simply ship Sabathia and the remainder of his contract elsewhere, likely paying most of the freight. For New York's sake, they are hoping a World Series championship occurs before CC is sent on his way.
While I understand the Yankees' motives of overpaying, I don't understand why they overpay to such a high degree. Milwaukee and LA were the only teams I heard mentioned that were making any serious offers, and I can guarantee you that neither team was thinking seven years. The Yankee mystique should come with a discount, but instead New York ponies up extra cash because agents know they can.
While San Francisco hurt their short term future with the bad signing of Barry Zito, New York won't suffer the same fate - not because Sabathia is worth the money but because the Yankees can afford a mistake or twelve.
Greg Maddux, the best "clean" pitcher of my generation, is going to formally announce his retirement today. To me, Maddux is like the Hank Aaron of pitching: in any given year, it seems easy to pick one or two pitchers "better" or more dominant than Maddux. Those other pitchers come and go, though, while Greg Maddux was in that top tier for the better part of two decades. Like Aaron, Maddux wasn't flashy and didn't seek attention, but he will go down in history as one of the best at his craft. See you in Cooperstown in about five years, Greg, and thanks for a wonderful career!
Elsewhere, Ron Santo misses out on the Hall of Fame yet again and really needs to just get on with his life. If you are consistently deemed to NOT be worthy of something and you eventually get in, is there really any significance to it? It's one thing to be determined and accomplish things against all odds, but in this case, the accomplishments have been completed for decades and it's more a matter of campaigning than determination.
Finally some action in the Hot Stove League. Coincidentally, it involves the two teams I root for. The Chicago White Sox sent pitcher Javier Vazquez and struggling reliever Boone Logan to the Atlanta Braves for four prospects, among them Tyler Flowers, a well received catcher, and Santos Rodriguez, a tall lefty reliever. Vazquez was never going to survive in Chicago as long as Guillen is the manager as Guillen has questioned Vazquez's ability to perform in the clutch several times. After failing yet again in just that situation down the stretch, Vazquez was as good as gone. Logan was in Guillen's doghouse since day 1, and a 3-year ERA well over 5.00 didn't help.
From Atlanta's perspective, it's a great deal because McCann is a staple behind the plate, so Flowers wasn't getting called up anytime soon, and the other three players hardly scream "All-Star." In getting Vazquez, Atlanta begins to fill its most desperate need - innings from the starting rotation. Vazquez is the definition of mediocre (career record of 127-129 with a 4.32 ERA) but is also a model of durability, posting at least 32 starts for 9 years. Usually when forced to talk about a pitcher's durability, that means the pitcher's performance leave a little to be desired, as is the case with Vazquez. Ideally, teams want quality and innings quantity from starting pitchers. In Atlanta's case, however, they need to start with the quantity and hope for the quality. Expect one or two more similar signings by Atlanta this offseason, hoping to find some magic in a durable arm or two.
Bob Klapisch posted an article on ESPN.com today detailing the disappointing results the New York Mets received from Pedro Martinez during the 4-year, $53 million contract. The old saying "pitching wins championships" should be retold as "HEALTHY pitching wins championships." The Red Sox were well aware of the saying as they let Martinez go after he won them a World Series. For some players, better days are ahead, but in Pedro's case, Boston realized they reaped everything Martinez could sow and they cut ties accordingly. It's no coincidence the Red Sox are still thriving, never putting their entire future in one man (Manny who?) and choosing to reload rather than get in the position of rebuilding.
Oddly enough, baseball owners and general managers still continue to make the same mistakes. Barry Zito for how many years? Now, CC Sabathia is likely to sign a too-long, too-rich contract, and if Sabathia doesn't win a World Series for the team that signs him in the next three years, don't expect to see him in that same uniform in Year 4. Some kind of buyout or trade involving cash will occur so the same team that overspent will cut its losses (minimally) so the same mistake can be made again more quickly. See the current San Diego Padres and the dangling of Jake Peavy as a blueprint.
Attention executives: if you are going to overspend on a player who can make a difference, make it short term. When the player's agent insists on a long term deal and he signs with another team, just tell your fans you plan on picking him up at half price a few years later. He'll be there, believe me.