02/03/2005: Hot Stove League: Notes of interest on the baseball front.
I'm a little late getting this out, since I was a bit under the weather yesterday. So sue me....
There are a couple items which could qualify as "story of the week". As a Cardinals fan, my baseball universe revolves around the National League Central Division, so I'm going to (yes, arbitrarily) list as the biggest story:
1) Sammy "Corky" Sosa changes teams.... and leagues. Back about last Friday or so the Cubs and the St. Louis Browns.... um, 'scuse me, the Baltimore Orioles came to an agreement to send Sulkin' Sammy to Camden Yards in return for a couple of prospects and Jerry Hairston, Jr. (and then, in order to fill the big sucking hole in right field the Baby Bears signed free agent outfielder Jeromy Bernitz for one year and $5 million; The Question of the Year for Cub fans, it seems to me, is how much of that big sucking hole Bernitz is going to fill--while he had one of his best years in 2004, that was playing in Coors Field, which has to count for something). Interesting. The advantage to the Cubs here is completly intangible, I think--basically, there's a perception that Sosa had become a clubhouse cancer, and the meme quickly developed that he had to be dumped somewhere (right before the trade it seems that all I could read about Sosa was that when his picture was projected onto a screen at a recent Cubs winter fanfest it was roundly booed). One interesting reaction to the trade was penned over at The Birdwatch by my partner in crime, Josh, who opined:
The biggest piece of this deal that I think will go unreported is how it puts the lie to Dusty Bakers reputation as a great players manager. Dusty's job is to get the best players he has on the field and playing. Part of that is keeping them happy and Dusty should have addressed the Sosa personality clash within the team and kept it from getting out of hand. Instead he dumped a Cubs great and a great player because they didn't get along. If I owned the Cubs I'd have fired Baker this offseason. It's his job to keep things running smoothly, not to villify his best players.Meanwhile, Dan at Get Up, Baby! opines that all the Cubs have done is basically shoot themselves in the foot:
I've criticized La Russa enough in the past, but the star players under La Russa never complain about anything. The players La Russa has problems with are generally past their prime players whose roles are being adjusted, and they have a hard time with that (That's a failure on La Russas part, he needs to address those concerns, but in the pantheon of managerial shortcomings it's an extremely minor one). My opinion of La Russa has been rising in the last few years, not because of things hes done but because of stupid things other managers have done.
The move just seems a little too desperate for a team that hopes to compete in 2005. This late in the game, where the $7 million the Cubs freed up (they're on the hook for $10 million) can't be used for much of anything, it seems like it would have been better to take another .260/.330/.500 season from late-model Sosa than to get a player at a position you have filled and downgrade an already-weak outfield. If they do manage to swing a deal for Huff or Wilkerson then its murkier, but at the moment it seems like Cubs only hurt themselves.In another post, Dan has some more good observations:
And what are the Cubs paying [Jeromy Burnitz] to hit .225/.300/.450? $5 million(!) for one year, with a team option for a second. Now, when Sosa--who hit .253/.332/.517 and was booed so loudly the White Sox fans across the city assumed Frank Thomas had done something--was traded to the Orioles, one of the reasons often trotted out was that the Cubs needed to dump his massive contract. And yeah, I know some teams are Moneyball-averse, but you'd think that Hendry could have found somebody with a pocket calculator or a slide rule. Because...With only two weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report (at which point, Mike, the Java sh*t starts disappearing, OK? :-) ), I don't want to get overconfident, but it's hard to see the Cardinals not being the strongest team in the NL Central, even with the inevitable regression to the mean (prediction you can bank on: the Cards won't be winning another 105 games this season). Anyone who disagrees with that statement (the Cards being the strongest team in the NL Central).... well, that's why the comments are open.
The Cubs would have paid Sosa $17 million for 2005. Instead, they're paying Sosa $12.5 million to play at Camden Yards, Burnitz $5 million to become the next Todd Hundley, and Jerry Hairston $1.8 million to platoon with Todd Walker. Only the Cubs would manage to pay $19.3 million to dump a $17 million salary...
2) Further demonstrating my NL Central-centrism, my second biggest story of the week is the Cardinals re-sign General Manager Walt Jocketty to a three-year contract. According to the Post-Dispatch, financial terms were not disclosed, but Post sports columnist Bernie "I'm an insider!!! I'm really an insider, dammit!" Miklasz, Jocketty's average salary for the contract period will be over a million a year. Which leaves unanswered the question of why a few less successful GMs seem to be making more money, but if Walt's happy, I'm happy. For now. What does worry me is that there seems to be an attitude over at 250 Stadium Plaza that merely being associated with the St. Louis Cardinals should be reason enough for anyone associated with the team to be willing to take a "hometown discount", as they like to call it in the Lou. I have reservations about how long that's going to be true, if in fact it is, but relying on that to be true for an indefinite period in the future could come back to bite the Cards in the ass down the road....
3) Moving on to news that non-Cardinals fans might think more significant, the Florida Marlins made The Next Big Free Agent Signing, managing to get free agent 1B Carlos Delgado to agree to a 4 year contract worth $52 million, with an option for 2009. This prompted an interesting debate in the Miami Herald as to who will rule the National League, the Cardinals or the Marlins? Meanwhile, the Astros re-signed Lance Berkman, and Barry "Not a carbon-based lifeform, no way!" Bonds had arthroscopic knee surgery Monday. As a result of the surgery, Bonds will miss some of spring training but is expected to be at "full strength" by Opening Day.
Frankly, most of us are terrified by a hobbled Barry Bonds.
Len on 02.03.05 @ 07:38 AM CST