By Keith Law
Special to Page 2
Casual baseball fans may tune out after the World Series ends, but there's been plenty of activity on the proverbial Hot Stove League over the last two months. We here at Page 2 are happy to provide this helpful cheat sheet to allow everyone to catch up on the critical mistakes moves so far this offseason.
Three contracts to make their clubs' next GMs want to leap from the upper deck … because there's no way the GMs who signed these contracts are going to be around long enough to see them through.
• Alfonso Soriano. Perhaps the contract that did the most to kick-start the massive inflation in player salaries this winter, Soriano's signing doesn't even address the Cubs' major offensive problem in 2006 (a complete inability to put men on base), and the ripple effect may push one of their best OBP guys, Matt Murton, to the bench or to another team. Jokes about Jim Hendry were temporarily off-limits after his angioplasty during the winter meetings – one observer at the meetings quipped, "That's one way to avoid the lobby" – but I think it's fair to say that we can go back to criticizing his moves again.
• Gary Matthews Jr. My early pick for the single worst contract handed out this offseason could turn out to be the last big move for Angels GM Bill Stoneman, whose conservative style has put the Angels in a stagnant situation. They have Orlando Cabrera, Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood all in line at shortstop but won't trade any of them, which could serve them well after the 2009 rule change that allows a team to stack shortstops three deep into left field. They've already waited too long on Dallas McPherson and have probably done the same with Casey Kotchman. They have six starters and won't discuss dealing any of them for a big bat. So what's the solution? Give a 32-year-old fourth outfielder a five-year deal, of course! Never mind that he's no more than an average center fielder who's likely to have to move to left by the third or fourth year of his deal – he made That Catch! And he was an All-Star! That's worth $10 million a year, right, Arte? Right? Hello?
• Vernon Wells. This one's a little different, as nobody expects J.P. Ricciardi to be fired anytime soon. However, Ricciardi's most recent contract extension runs out after the 2010 season … and in 2011, the big money kicks in for Wells: $23 million in that year, and then a three-year, $63 million player option running from 2012 through '14. I'm sure that's all a coincidence, though.
The "We're Doing Five Blades" moment of the offseason.
The Yankees certainly didn't expect to be outbid by a factor of two on Daisuke Matsuzaka – a pitcher half of the Yankee blogosphere was penciling into the Bombers' 2007 rotation before the WBC had even ended – so when the next Japanese hurler was posted, the Yanks decided to go a little crazy-go-nuts. Kei Igawa would probably be a good fourth starter in the NL, but in the American League East – especially with that strong right-handed lineup in Toronto – he's a fifth guy, and perhaps is best suited for the bullpen. No matter: The Yanks bid $25 million, reportedly twice what any other team bid.
One contract to make Murray Chass even more crotchety about how much these young whippersnapper ballplayers make.
Jason Marquis has a good arm and has been quite durable; I dare say there's no pitcher in baseball who takes a 13-run pounding quite the way Marquis does. Unfortunately for him, he's been pounded like a veal scallopini with increasing frequency of late, posting a 6.02 ERA in 2006 despite pitching in the National League in a division of cupcake offenses. I thought Marquis was a great guy on whom to take a one-year flyer, since the disparity between his stuff and his performance was so great. Naturally, the Cubs gave him a three-year deal to be their de facto No. 3 starter.
Send a bouquet of your best black roses and one rotten apple to Mr. Zito.
There were months of speculation, no doubt fueled by his agent, Scott Boras ("My client send me to New York to make a money-contract. If is not success, I move on to next client."), that free agent Barry Zito would go to New York to turn himself into a media star while pitching for a perennial playoff team. Mets fans around the world had written Zito into their team's 2007 rotation. Instead, Zito followed the road taken (by Mike Hampton, Alex Rodriguez and countless other big free agents), taking the highest offer and going to San Francisco, where he'll have his Octobers free.
Zito should be billed for all the ink and electrons spilled over him in the last eight weeks, since the sports media seems to have fallen for the spin that he's actually some sort of ace pitcher, when in fact he's just a durable mid-rotation guy with good marketing. Zito posted the worst walk rate of his career in 2006 while putting up his second-lowest strikeout rate and second-highest home run rate (221 innings, 99 walks, 151 K's, 27 home runs). That's a guy you want to get into for seven years and a gazillion dollars? That's OK, though – New Yorkers aren't the type to hold a grudge.
Of course, San Francisco GM Brian Sabean was more than willing to ante up, since no one expects him to stay with the Giants beyond the 2007 season. Let the next guy clean up the mess. At least he can say that his team's defense is better than the football Giants' D.
The "Hello! I won the fifth freaking game of the World Series! Pay attention to me!" award.
To Jeff Weaver, who has been linked to ... nobody, actually. Apparently, no other team bought into those four good starts in October, either. You'd think the Mets or Tigers would sign him, just to prevent him from humiliating them again next fall.
Bill Bavasi, the author of "Dunderball: How I cornered the market in overpriced players who spend lots of time on the DL," will soon be available for book-signing events ... very available.
The man who brought us the Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre albatross contracts – which both have the remarkable characteristic of still seeming expensive despite this winter's run-up in free-agent salaries – recently pulled off two trades that made his roster older, more expensive and worse, for no apparent reason other than boredom. The Mariners' GM dealt Rafael Soriano, one of the better set-up men in the American League in 2006 before he was hit in the head by a comebacker in August, to the Braves for Horacio Ramirez, an almost surefire non-tender candidate and a mediocre pitcher in between his lengthy DL stints. As if to show us that it wasn't the worst he was capable of, Bavasi then swapped Chris Snelling (out of options, but still young and talented) and Emiliano Fruto (22 and hard-throwing) to the Nationals for Jose Vidro, whose plane was greeted at Sea-Tac airport by a Mariners employee with a wheelchair. Bavasi then gave Vidro a vesting option for 2009, which would be great if there was much chance of Vidro's ever being good enough to be an everyday DH in the American League. The only topper here would be if Vidro suddenly announced that he's actually 38 years old, and not 33 as listed.
The good news for Mariners fans: Bavasi is on a "year-to-year deal," so at least the M's ownership doesn't have to swallow a few years when it makes the inevitable change in the GM role.
All circuits between the left hand and the right hand were busy.
The Astros went all-out to sign Carlos Lee to a massive deal, one that should help their offense in the next two years before he turns into the Great Pumpkin. And they were so busy congratulating themselves that they forgot about Andy Pettitte, who went to the Yankees over a matter of just $2 million. They're going to need Lee's bat, because a rotation of Oswalt-Jennings-Williams-Laurel-Hardy isn't going to get them to the playoffs without a lot of help.
Department of Redundancy Department … or, It Pays to Update Your Organization's Depth Charts
• The Angels, with just one guy who drew more than 51 walks last year, two first-base prospects ready to play in the majors and a lineup that leans to the right, signed Shea Hillenbrand, who never walks, can play only first and hits right-handed.
• The Orioles, who have left-handed, defensively challenged Jay Gibbons under contract for the next three years, just picked up left-handed, defensively challenged Aubrey Huff. They also signed closer Danys Baez to a closer-money contract even though their current closer Chris Ray has a 2.70 ERA in 100 big-league innings.
• The Dodgers, who have Andre Ethier (.308/.365/.477 as a rookie), James Loney, and Matt Kemp all ready to step in and play for the minimum salary, signed Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra and Luis Gonzalez, blocking at least two of those talented kids while making themselves substantially more expensive.
Adam Eaton, who hasn't thrown 200 innings in the last two seasons combined, got three years and $24 million from the Phillies. I think that's its own punch line.