01/12/2005: Hot Stove League: Notes of interest on the baseball front.
A number of interesting developments in MLB this week.
1) Tied for first in general interest is the "inevitable" (if you believe everything the New York press says) fitting of Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson for pinstripes, as the Yankees came to terms with Johnson over a two year, $32 million contract extension. The whole Johnson deal is still (I hear) contingent on all players involved passing physicals, and it was Johnson's own physical, in Manhattan, which apparently provided some amusement for Salon sports columnist King Kaufman:
Randy Johnson's career in New York is off to a ring-a-ding start. I always thought he'd fit in beautifully there.2) Meanwhile, in the story tied with the Johnson trade for most interesting this week, the Houston Disastros failed to come to terms with centerfielder Carlos "Hundreds-of-Million Dollar Baby" Beltran by midnight, last Saturday (1/8/05), thus losing the right to negotiate with him until May 1. And if you really believed that Beltran would still be available come May 1.... well, your version of reality isn't the same one the rest of us inhabit (but we won't hold it against you). Beltran lasted about two days on the market after that. Not surprisingly, Carlos is headed to New York. More surprisingly, Carlos will be caling Flushing Meadows, not the Bronx, home, as he signed with the New York Mets for 7 years and a total of $119 million.
On his way to a physical Monday in Manhattan, Johnson, who was to be introduced as a Yankee Tuesday, got into a beef with a cameraman from a local TV station. The physical was part of the process of Johnson's trade from the Diamondbacks, which has been in the works for most of the last century. The Yankees sent Javier Vazquez, Wally Pipp and Red Ruffing to Arizona.
The cameraman's offense was -- get this -- trying to take pictures of Johnson as he walked along a sidewalk. Johnson reached out and covered up the camera's lens with his hand.
"Get out of my face," he said, which was odd because he'd had to stretch out his very long right arm to grab the camera.
"Don't get in my face," Johnson said again, "and don't talk back to me, all right?"
Don't talk back to me? It's no secret that baseball players have an exaggerated sense of self-worth, but "Don't talk back to me"? Who says that to another grown-up, much less a professional in the course of plying his trade? Good grief. Johnson has the worst nickname in sports: "Big Unit." Big tool is more like it.
He issued an apology later in the day, saying, "I hope that everyone will understand that the past few days have been a bit overwhelming and I wish I had handled the situation differently."
The funny thing is, there was no situation to handle. Someone was taking his picture as he walked around in public, which is the kind of thing that happens in New York if you're a very famous person, like a ballplayer for example. It kind of goes with the job. The only "situation" going on was that Johnson got mildly violent and laughably petulant with a photographer.
I have March 8 in the "Randy Johnson's next public meltdown" pool.
Over at The Birdwatch, Rob has a good rundown on the fourfold effect of the Beltran signing. Rob's assessment of the effect of the deal on the 'stros:
[T]he Astros, whose spacious center field was a perfect fit for Beltran, just lost one of their best players in 2004, and the Conventional Wisdom is that 2004 NL Cy Young winner Roger Clemens won't return now that Beltran's gone. With Oswalt, Pettitte, Lidge and Berkman on the roster, the Astros still could threaten in the NL Central, but they'll need a lot of help from unlikely sources such as Ensberg, Lane, Backe, and, yes, the fading Bagwell and Biggio. They don't have a place for the last two big-name free agents on the market (Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Delgado), their farm system might be worse than the much-maligned Cardinal system, and they don't have a history of picking up bad contracts for once-great players (e.g., Sammy Sosa), so there's not much help on the way.3) In a trivial Mets story that also caught my eye, the Mets signed free-agent 2B Miguel Cairo to a 1 year, $900K deal. That caught my eye both because Miguel is an ex-Cardinal, and because he was touted as a possible option for the Redbirds at second. But that, of course was before....
4) The Cardinals signed free-agent 2B Mark Grudzielanek to a one year deal worth $1 million. So with that, our middle infield (and pretty much the entire starting lineup), is fixed. Right now I'm seeing it as:
Yadier Molina, C
Albert "The Great" Pujols, 1B
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B
Mark Eckstein, SS
Scott Rolen, 3B
Jim Edmonds, CF
Larry Walker, RF
I know, I know, I'm missing a LF. Probably we'll see a platoon out there until TLR decides who he wants out there. Possibles: Reggie Sanders, John Mabry, and So "The Gooch" Taguchi as a late-innings defensive replacement.
5) Speaking of TLR, he scored a three year contract extension (his coaching staff all received two year extensions, which means we'll be seeing more of Jose "The Secret Weapon" Oquendo coaching third).
6) Lastly (because this is getting a bit lengthy), I'll mention that an interesting controversy has brewed revolving around ownership of the ball used to make the last out of the last game of the 2004 World Series. BoSox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who received the throw to make the putout for the inning-ending out, has kept the ball and claims that it's his; meanwhile the Red Sox claim that the ball belongs to the team and their fans. In an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, University of Tulsa law professor Paul Finkelman (an expert witness in the litigation over the ownership of the Barry Bonds #73 home run ball in 2001) concludes that both Mientkiewicz and the Sox are full of shit; the rightful owner of the 2004 last-out-of-the-Series ball is either a) the St. Louis Cardinals (his preferred position) or b) Major League Baseball and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. Go take a look; it's an interesting (and in my mind compelling) argument.
Len on 01.12.05 @ 09:01 PM CST