Plenty of important business was completed in MLB during the first working week of 2010.
Matt Holliday signed what will probably be the most lucrative contract of the 2009/10 offseason. Jason Bay completed his move to the New York Mets, while several other teams, including the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, also added new players to their respective rosters. One of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen announced his retirement this week and the results of the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot were revealed.
Holliday signs with Cardinals
The big news of the week involved the St. Louis Cardinals signing free agent left-fielder Matt Holliday to an eye-popping, and jealousy-inducing, seven-year contract worth a guaranteed $120m (£75m).
Holliday went on a spectacular hitting spree after he joined the Cardinals from the A’s at the end of July last year, batting .352/.419/.602 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs in 63 games. His season ended in calamitous style when he clunked an easy fly ball that would have ended Game Three of the NLDS in the Cardinals’ favour. Instead, the Dodgers went on to win the game and the series and Holliday’s face was as red as the St. Louis cap on his head.
The Cardinals showed they held no hard feelings this week by signing him to the most lucrative contract in the organization’s history. It’s a record that may not last long. One of the main appeals of retaining Holliday is that he will be a formidable partner for the three-time (and counting) MVP award winner Albert Pujols for the next two years.
If that dynamic duo is to stay together beyond 2011, and the Cards without Albert would be like one beer without another beer, the Cardinals will have to find the money for an even bigger contract. Looking at the top free agent deals over the last few years (A-Rod, Sabathia, Teixeira etc) and factoring in Holliday’s annual rate of $17m, you would have to put a potential Pujols deal in the $22m-$25m per year range. Taking that forward as a seven-year deal would make an outlay of up to $175m, possibly with an option year that would make the total price around the $200m mark. That’s a tremendous amount of money, but within the MLB player market it looks fair for someone of Pujols’ ability and track record.
Holliday’s $17m per year salary actually will be reduced to $15m as $2m per year is being deferred, in fact some reports claim that the structure of his contract will make him a fixture on the Cardinals’ payroll until 2029. That $15m combined with Pujols’ pay could amount to the best part of $35m-$40m per year: a sizeable chunk of the Cardinals’ total payroll. Ultimately the success of either contract, and the Cardinals organization over the duration of those contracts, will depend on their ability to construct a winning roster around those two players with the money that’s left over.
There is some doubt as to how much competition the Cardinals faced for Holliday’s signature, with the suggestion being that they were bidding against themselves and were left with a longer commitment than necessary. Only Holliday and his agent, the ubiquitous Scott Boras, really know what other deals were genuinely out there. The contract looks a little longer and richer than arguably makes sense, but we all know that a World Series win (or two) makes any deal look like money well spent.
And with Pujols and Holliday manning the the 3 and 4 spots in their batting lineup, the Cardinals will be in the running to do just that.
Boston signs Adrian Beltre
Scott Boras earned himself even more commission this week as he helped his client Adrian Beltre sign a deal with the Red Sox.
The third baseman agreed a one-year contract that guarantees him $10m, with an option for 2011 that would either add an extra $4m or $9m to the deal depending on the number of plate appearances he makes in 2010 (full details, as always, are provided on Cot’s Baseball Contracts). Beltre had other offers on the table, including one from the A’s that reportedly would have guaranteed him more years and dollars, but he opted for a shorter contract that puts him on a World Series contender and gives him a chance to improve his stock for a future deal.
The Beltre signing is the latest in a series of moves by the Red Sox that haven’t been overly flashy, John Lackey aside perhaps, but have stealthily combined to make a strong roster even stronger. Their first choice infield of Youkilis, Pedroia, Scutaro and Beltre will make a healthy offensive contribution while being very good defensively. Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew remain in the outfield (the former moving from centre to left) with offseason recruits Mike Cameron (centre field) and Jeremy Hermida (4th outfielder) mixing in well. Victor Martinez will catch the bulk of the games, but he can make spot starts at first base or be a DH when David Ortiz isn’t in the lineup. Add in their abundance of pitching and this Red Sox team is going to be tough to beat, both over a long regular season and in short-series play.
Other deals completed this week
Jason Bay’s signing with the New York Mets was confirmed in a press conference on Tuesday. Bay will be manning left field at Citi Field for at least the next four years, which may or may not be a good thing. On reflection, I’m a bit more optimistic about this deal for the Mets than I was when the details were first reported. Bay is not a good fielder, but I don’t think he’s as bad as some are making out. These things often seem to snowball and become accepted as truth. He’ll give a bit back in the field, but his offensive production should more than make up for it.
The Braves completed the signing of Troy Glaus and followed it by agreeing a deal with free agent utility man Eric Hinske. That looks to be the end of any major additions to the Braves’ roster, so the hoped-for major upgrades to the batting lineup haven’t quite come true. Hinske does come with the tag of being a lucky charm as his teams have made the last three World Series (Red Sox, Rays, Yankees), so maybe that’s an intangible to focus on for Braves fans.
Both teams on the Bay made a batting addition this week by re-signing former players. The San Francisco Giants came to terms on a one-year deal with Juan Uribe, while the A’s decision not to tender a contract to DH Jack Cust proved to be a good one. Cust earned $2.8m last year and would have earned a decent raise if he had gone to arbitration. The A’s took their chances by non-tendering him and hoping another team didn’t step in and offer him a better deal. No team did, so the A’s re-signed Cust to a deal that guarantees him $2.65m (less than his 2009 salary) that could rise to $3m (still less than his arbitration salary would have been) if he meets certain targets.
The Kansas City Royals took another step to nowhere by signing outfielder Scott Podsednik to a one-year deal with a club option for 2011. General Manager Dayton Moore’s offseason policy appears to be ‘we couldn’t finish ahead of the White Sox in 2009, but maybe we can if we sign some of their players (or former players)’. I guess it’s a policy that could work, only not when it amounts to signing Podsednik, Brian Anderson, Chris Getz and Josh Fields. Zack Greinke’s starts at Kauffman Stadium once again are the saving grace for long-suffering Royals fans this year.
Just to prove it wasn’t all free agent signings this week, the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners completed a minor trade: Bill Hall joins Boston and former Angel Casey Kotchman returns to the AL West.
Randy Johnson Retires
One player who will not be taking the field in 2010 is legendary left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson.
He announced his retirement on Tuesday after a glittering 22-year career. His statistical achievements are impressive on their own: 303 career wins (ranking him 22nd all time) and 4,875 career strikeouts (2nd behind Nolan Ryan’s scarcely believable total of 5,714) averaging out at 10.61 K’s per nine innings (1st all-time). Combined with his five Cy Young awards and his role in the Arizona Diamondback’s World Series triumph over the Yankees in 2001, his place among the greats is assured.
However, very impressive though they are, those facts alone don’t do full justice to Johnson. When he reached the 300-win milestone last season, I wrote about the impression he made on me back in 1998 in one of the first MLB games I ever watched (courtesy of Five). Everything about him screamed ‘intimidation’: his fizzing fastball, nasty slider, towering height and ever-present glare combined to put fear into the hearts of many a Major League batter. As a wide-eyed newcomer to the sport, I couldn’t help but be transfixed by him. ‘Line up a load of British naysayers, get them to stand in the batter’s box one-by-one against Johnson and see if they still refer to the sport as ‘glorified rounders’, I thought to myself.
It’s the right time for Johnson to walk away, but he will be missed by all baseball fans, if not by the batters that had the displeasure of facing him for so many years.
Andre Dawson is elected to the Hall of Fame
Finally, the Hall of Fame player class for 2010 was announced on Wednesday. It was a class of just one as Andre Dawson was the sole person on the ballot to pass the 75 per cent threshold of voter approval, by 2.4 per cent, to book a spot in Cooperstown. He will be inducted on 25 July alongside manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey. Dawson is a player I’m not greatly familiar with as his career ended in 1996, 1.5 years before I took to the sport, so it has been interesting to read about his career over the last couple of days.
Bert Blyleven fell agonizingly short of election at his thirteenth attempt. The Dutch pitcher was on the ballot of 74.2 per cent of the voters and hopefully he will only have to wait one more year before he finally makes it. Blyleven’s case has been hampered in the past seemingly because some writers have held an entirely subjective opinion that they don’t feel that he was a Hall of Fame type player, regardless of the fact that the stats clearly show otherwise.
The Hall of Fame criteria shows that it is unequivocally not just a celebration of the players who were statistically the best, so an element of subjective opinion on behalf of the voters is fair. However, now that so many of the voters consider Blyleven to be worthy of the Hall, you would think that others would be prepared to reassess their opinion. And if they will not listen to their fellow writers, they should take heed of Hank Aaron’s assessment of Blyleven: “I hit against him, and if there was a finer pitcher than he was then I don’t know who it was”.
The other player who narrowly missed out on election was Roberto Alomar. Robbie was the person most people thought would be elected from this year’s group of players eligible for the first time. He fell 1.3 per cent short and is very likely to make it next year. Alomar certainly had a Hall of Fame career, but it was tarnished by a very unsavoury incident in 1996 when he spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. A one-off incident, disgusting though it was, shouldn’t take away from a long and distinguished career and even Hirschbeck himself supports Alomar’s Hall of Fame case.
In one sense, it will be a bit suspicious if Alomar does make the Hall next year. It’s difficult to believe that opinions on his career could change much in the course of just one year, so if he suddenly becomes worthy of recognition next year then his non-selection in 2010 looks like little more than a product of writers being vindictive. If some writers deliberately didn’t vote for him this time just to prove a point, and there’s a certain amount of suspicion that some writers treat not voting for a first-timer as something of a personal protest, then they should be ashamed of themselves.
If they value the Hall of Fame, they should treat their position as a voter with more respect.