The good folks at No Bias Baseball released the second episode of their Matt Around the Order podcast. In it, they sit down with Jim Callis and talk offseason. At around the 16-minute mark, Callis opines on the Santana negotiations: “Depending on who you talk to…[the Twins] were never really offered those offers,” he says, referring to the reported Yanks’ offers that centered around Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera. We’ll probably never know the truth about the month-long Santana Sweepstakes, but the more we hear, the more likely it seems that the Yanks were never too keen on sending the farm to Minnesota regardless of Hank Steinbrenner’s public comments.
As you might have heard by now, MLBPA plans to investigate the lack of offers over the winter for 43-year-old Barry Bonds. While this might seem like big news, it’s really little more than routine. Don Fehr, head of the player’s association, tells us that his organization looks into free-agent issues every day. Only if they “come to the conclusion with respect to any player that there’s a matter worth pursuing, [they’ll] pursue it.”
So, under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be news. However, we’re talking about a guy who hit .276/.480/.565 in 477 plate appearance last year. A guy who hasn’t had an OPS+ below 150 since 1989. A guy who, by all anecdotal evidence, has kept in shape this winter and could conceivably give your team another 450 or so plate appearances at a well above average clip.
Still, it’s easy to ascertain why he hasn’t landed a gig anywhere. An entire book is dedicated to proving that he abused PEDs willingly. The Mitchell Report, while not harping on Bonds like it did Roger Clemens, didn’t help the former’s case much. Why bring in a publicly-assumed PED user when there are younger, more flexible players on the market to fill your roster?
Before I go any further, I’d like to mention the definition of collusion: “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” I’ll revisit this later. But for now, let’s move on.
For some teams, this was an easy decision. Bonds can DH and play some kind of role in left field, but that’s about it. So right then he’s limited in a way that has nothing to do with steroids. The Yankees, for example, already have two players slotted for DH duty, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui. And beyond that, they already have a lefty-heavy lineup. So you can strike him off at least one team’s list, two if you count the Giants, who publicly told him he wasn’t welcome back, three if you count the Red Sox, who have Ortiz hogging the DH spot, four if you count the Indians, who have Travis Hafner doing the same. And let us not forget Frank Thomas in Toronto, Gary Sheffield in Detroit, and Jim Thome in Chicago.
What’s holding the other teams back? Well, you first have to consider that Bonds only fits on contenders. So beyond the seven teams we just named, we can strike out the Marlins, Nationals, Astros, Pirates, and Orioles. So that’s 12 teams out of 30 who right off the bat should have no interest in Bonds. And that’s before we get a bit deeper into the matter.
Jon Heyman at Sports Illustrated relays the story of how A-Rod almost wasn’t a Yankee anymore. It’s a nice look back on a story that was pretty much lost in the rest of the off-season hoopla. Once the Santana derby took front page, we all kind of swept A-Rod under the rug. Which is nice, since he was taking the brunt of it from the fans for the few weeks in which this situation was up in the air.
According to Heyman, the Angels, Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, Tigers, and Giants were in on A-Rod, whether explicitly or implicitly. Further, A-Rod planned to meet with all of them, if for no other reason than to increase his leverage. However, it appears his desire to remain in the Bronx remained at the forefront of his mind.
So why did he opt out?
Rodriguez and Boras had believed that the Yankees needed to see, 1) that A-Rod was willing to leave, a serious concern since Boras thought A-Rod tipped his hand too much throughout his glorious 2007 season, and, 2) that others were willing to pay much more. Boras always believed the Yankees would get back in and pay the market rate, which he felt was 10 years for at least $300 million, for the three-time MVP with as much marquee power as home-run power — but only after he opted out and gave them a reason to.
And so we had the opt-out situation, in which many of us waved goodbye to A-Rod, even though it wasn’t our ~$21 million he had blown. The Yankees had made it pretty clear that he wouldn’t be welcome back if he opted out.
Boras felt the Yankees needed to be shocked. And while the opt-out did that, it apparently also shocked A-Rod. Rodriguez understood he’d be opting out, but he didn’t plan on the quick negative reaction by fans, media, and especially by the Yankees, including new boss Hank Steinbrenner, who publicly said the Yankees were done with A-Rod. “Good-bye,” Steinbrenner announced on opt-out night.
We did plenty here at RAB after the opt-out. Namely:
- Bid him adieu, noting that the opt-out signaled that he never intended to re-sign.
- Moved his category from “Current Yankees” to “Selfish Jerks.”
- Created a new one: “A-Rod’s Shimmy Makes the Women in New York Puke.”
- Explored the myriad options open for the Yankees to fill the third base vacancy.
A few weeks later, though, we learned that A-Rod was talking to the Steinbrenners about a contract. We were baffled a bit — and I talked to more than one person who thought it was a facade to extract more value from the other teams on the market. But after a day or so, it became apparent that these talks were serious, and that A-Rod would be a Yankee for the rest of his career.
Rodriguez triumphantly called Boras from the meeting with the Steinbrenners. He mentioned some hope for incentives but didn’t seem to care too much about them. Boras nonetheless pressed for $30 million in very attainable home-run milestones and finalized the contract language. So with the $10 million Texas was obligated to pay after the opt out, that could bring the total haul to $315 million — which is not too bad for a guy who was portrayed as crawling back. Yet, it probably still fell short of what he could have gotten elsewhere (or maybe even from the Yankees, had he waited it out).
Given the treatment of A-Rod by the fans and media in the past, I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to his re-signing. While a number of fans thought that we were making a mistake by giving him 10 years and $275 million, he was for the most part welcomed back with open arms.
And A-Rod is glad to be back, too.
“New York brings out the best in you. And the worst,” Rodriguez said the other day. “You have to be able to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself I didn’t want to go to a place and hide and have my weaknesses be swept away. New York has made me a better man. And it’s made me a better baseball player.”
It might be spin, it might be PR speak. But it’s damn nice to hear those words from the best player in baseball.
Earlier this week, RAB reader Justin sent me the following e-mail:
My question is …why not add Bonds? Nobody wants him. We could have him for cheap and he would GREATLY improve our offense…I think it would make ours the best in the baseball (I think we’re probably a step behind Detroit). Bonds as a full time DH (so able to handle 600 AB’s without breaking down) and batting in front of Arod in Yankee Stadium is likely to put up a 300 avg 40HR and 500OBP season. He’s still one of the best hitters in baseball and he’s an OBP machine. Yes I know we have Giambi and Matsui but both those guys are inferior to Bonds (especially Giambi). This would also allow us to trade Matsui for prospects…I know Bonds is supposed to be a horrible guy and all but there were many teammates of his who enjoyed playing with him. Plus, bringing him to the Yanks takes the spotlight off Pettitte and Arod (who we really need to just focus on hitting) and all the other nonsense. I would also LOVE for Bonds to take Cano aside and teach him pitch selection. What do you think? I understand its a dangerous PR move but Yankee fans love winners and after about 3 home runs the fans in the bronx will embrace him…
Oh, Barry Bonds. Ever the tempting target. Imagining a player of Bonds’ caliber filling the DH role in the Bronx is enough to make any Yankee fan salivate. The only problem is that Barry Bonds comes with, well, Barry Bonds. He comes with a surly personality. He comes with baggage. And, oh, yeah, he comes with a federal investigation. The Yanks have enough of those right now, thank you very much.
It’s not so hard to believe that Bonds remains unemployed. Jeff Borris, Bonds’ agent, claims that the slugger is in great shape and is just waiting for a team to call. “He was an All-Star last year. His numbers were still off the charts, and for any team committed to winning, there’s no reason they wouldn’t want him on their roster,” Borris said.
Yet, the response to Bonds has been nothing but deafening silence. No one is talking about collusion because no team is going to offer Bonds a deal. Notably, this spring, his former Giants teammates have been rather outspoken about how much of a negative presence Bonds was in the San Francisco clubhouse. And there’s no love lost between Bonds and Giants owner Peter Magowan. “He has the statistics that would indicate he can still play,” Magowan said. “[But] it’s not up to me to get him hired someplace. It’s not my job.”
And then there is, of course, this matter of an ongoing legal battle. With the echo of the explosion from the Mitchell Report still ringing in baseball’s ears, it’s hard to envision a team willfully taking on Barry Bonds.
Finally, Bonds’ health is a question mark. He’ll be 44 in July, and he’s reached the 600-plate appearance plateau just once in the last five seasons and not at all over the last three. To expect him to reach that level, even as a full-time DH, is a gamble.
It sure is hard to ignore an OPS of 1.045 even in 500 at bats. The Yanks don’t really have spare parts that can put up those numbers sitting around. But I think the negatives of a Bonds signing far outweigh the positives, and at this point, Bonds is a gamble that the Yanks — and 29 other teams — are not willing to take.
Says Hank: “We’re one of the five best, and no nobody really knows who’s better than who at this point. There’s Detroit, Boston, Cleveland, there’s Anaheim, and there might be a couple others as well. … With (Johan) Santana, we’d be the favorite right now. I’d like to win it this year. But we had a chance, and it will only get better.”
While WasWatching.com says Hank is expressing some Santana remorse, it seems to me that Hank recognizes that the future will “only get better” with the Big Three around. Considering Hank was long the one who pushed hard for Santana, this is a welcome change of heart from one of the guys in charge.
We’re moving out of one Hot Stove League and into another. This morning, C.C. Sabathia announced that he will wait until the end of the season to negotiate a new deal with the Indians. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll test the free agency waters. There will be time between the end of the season and the free agency filing period, even if the Indians do go to the World Series. But for now, it appears Sabathia will pitch out the final year of his contract.
Then again, this doesn’t really mean that negotiations are dead. If you’ll remember back to last year, Carlos Zambrano not only said that he wanted a deal done before the season started, he said he’d leave the Cubs if that wasn’t the case. Four and a half months after the season began, he signed a five year, $91.5 million extension. So we can’t really take this as the be all, end all. I’m sure if Mark Shapiro blew him away with an offer, he wouldn’t outright refuse it.
This is good news for the Yanks, though, who have a ton of money coming off the books after this season. We have Farnsworth ($5.5 million), Pavano ($11 million), Giambi ($21 million), Abreu ($16 million), and Mussina ($11 million) this season, and both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui at $13 million each next year. So there will be funds for this transaction. It’s just a matter of Mr. Sabathia’s demands.
He’s probably going to want six years, and I’d say somewhere around the $137.5 million given to Johan Santana. Is that something you’d do as a free agent signing? It’s very tempting, especially for a horse like Sabathia. Then again, when we were debating the merits of Santana, many of us pointed out the high innings total as a red flag, an indication that he might break down sometime during the deal.
But someone is going to pay CC. Might as well be us.
The Yanks may have lost out on Johan Santana, but for one year, I think we’ll be okay. “One year?” you ask. “What happens in one year?” Well, that’s when C.C. Sabathia becomes a free agent. It’s highly doubtful that Indians will re-sign Sabathia after 2008 as Paul Hoynes and Jim Ingraham write. The Indians, very much in competition for the AL Central, can’t trade C.C. this year. So when November rolls around, I’d expect a good ol’ fashioned bidding war. It’s never too early…