The Commish Online
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.
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.