Rounding the Bases: Happy Holliday

MlbHlSqPlenty 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). 

Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals

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. 

Minnesota Twins vs Seattle Mariners in Seattle

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. 

World Series GM 6 X

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.

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4 Responses to Rounding the Bases: Happy Holliday

  1. Joe Cooter January 10, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    Here’s my problem the way that the hall of fame balloting is handled. They seemed to want to send a message to Roberto about his conduct in a game where he got thrown out of a game against umpire John Hershbeck. Hershbeck made a call that upset set Alomar, in a game that meant everything to Alomar and his team the Orioles who were fighting for a playoff spot, and Alomar said something to get thrown out of the game. Alomar then charged out of the Orioles Dugout at Skydome and started to argue with Hershbeck, while his Manager Davy Johnson tried to hold him back. It was at that Alomar spit on Alomar, and was subsequently suspended for five games by the league office. To this day, I do not know what the call was that upset Alomar so much. All I remember is the photographs of him spitting on an Umpire.

    In the years since that incident, Alomar and Hershbeck have made up and have reconciled, becoming quite good friends. They often have helped one another out on various charity efforts. Hershbeck himself publicly said that the voters should not use that one incident against Alomar when it came time to vote for Alomar in the hall of fame balloting. However, writers are writers and they will not be told what to do by anybody. There seems to have been a portion of writers decided to punish Alomar for the incident with Hershbeck. It seems that they wanted to send a message that Yes, character is a part of the requirements for entrance into the Hall of Fame.

    This action by the writers is not with out precedent. For years the Voters denied Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants entrance into the Hall of Fame because of an incident he had during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he hit Johnny Roseboro with a bat during a brawl. AT the time it happened, in 1965 many people were shocked and outraged. Marichal was suspended and his suspension and subsequent sub par pitching cost the Giants the Pennant. Marichal became persona non grata in Los Angles for nearly ten years, until the Dodgers signed him in 1975. In fact by that point Johnny Roseboro had forgiven Marchical and actually welcomed him to the Dodgers. The two became fast friends. However, in the minds of the writers Marichal had to suffer for his crime against the game of baseball. It wasn’t until Roseboro arranged for a public appearance between him and Marichal in a charity outing in Puerto Rico that many writers were persuaded to let by gones be by gones and Marichal was finally elected into the Hall of Fame.

    However, the whole issues of judging a man’s character seems to be a recent phenomenon and has only come up with in the last thirty years or so. Even though character was listed amongst the requirements it didn’t seem to be much of an issue when Hall of Fame balloting started 75 years ago. In fact, there are members of the hall of fame with horrible character who would not be voted in were they to be voted on today. I am not sure John McGraw would be voted in today when you consider the fact that he and his players regularly tried to get into confrontations with Umpires. Nor do I believe that Ty Cobb would get in based on the fact that he used to spike opponents, charged into the stands to attack a fan, and was a well know racist. I firmly believe that if balloting were held to day on those players, they would not get in. Why didn’t character seem to matter when it was time to vote on those players?

    In the grand scheme of things, what Alomar did is a crime against baseball. You really shouldn’t spit on an Umpire. Having said that, I do not believe that his crime measures up to the level of seriousness of what Ty Cobb did against the game, or what Pete Rose and Chick Gandil did against the game. Alomar lost his cool in the heat of the pennant race and has regretted it ever since. If the writers want to punish players for an incident on the field they should best remember that they are not their to judge people and that they’re function is to simply report on the game. They should balance an incident against the balance of a player’s career. If a player has shown a pattern of character issues, such as abuse of umpires, corking bats ex cetra, then I can see the writers using character as a reason to keep a player out of the Hall of Fame balloting. But if a player has an otherwise exemplary record, and there is one incident I think the writers have to balance this one incident against the good that a player has done. In most cases that one incident will not outweigh the good work that the player has done. In the Case of Robbie Alomar, he will get in.

    By and large the writers do a good job in deciding who does and does not get in. Having said that, I do think it’s time to open up voting to more people to better reflect the changing media climate. I would open the balloting up to broadcasters, bloggers, and former players and managers to give a more diverse opinion to the Hall of Fame balloting. That seems to be the best way for reform.

    • Matt Smith January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

      As you note Joe, the ‘character’ side of the criteria does open up the process to claims of double standards. I think it’s fair that a Hall of Fame should take this into account, but where do you draw the line? That’s a difficult question to answer.

  2. Joe Gray January 11, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    At least the Big Unit should not be surrounded by such a debate in 5 years’ time.

    As sure a case for a first-ballot entrance as there will have been for a while.

    What a legend.

  3. Joe Cooter January 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    No doubt, Randy Johnson will get in on the first ballot. However, it will in no way be uninimous because there is a block of voters who believe that no candidate should be unanimouse.

    last years vote involving Ricky Henderson seems to be a prime example as he recieve something like 94% of the vote. The outrage seemed to be that people believed Ricky should have been voted in unanimously. I however was not one of those people who felt that he should have been voted in unanimously. Infact, I’m not sure I would have been one of those who voted for him. AS impressive as Rickey Statistics were, there is an element of the way that he played the game that was somewhat unsettling. For instance, he had a surprisingly low number of triples for a guy with his kind of speed. He would often pull up at second base then steel second base during the next at bat. This annoyed at least one manager he had, Lou Pinnella who felt that he didn’t hustle and called him out on it. Rickey would often fake injuries when he felt like not playing. In fact, one time Pinnella once accussed Henderson of “Jaking it” which is a nice way of saying he wasn’t hustling out on the feild. In addition, when the Mets needed a pinch hitter during a game in the playoffs Henderson seemed more concerned with the card game he had going with Bobby Bonilla. There were times that Rickey could be selfish.

    In addition, a lot the vast majority of his stats were complied during the first half of his carreer. The second half of his carreer he wasn’t anywhere close to what he was the first half of his career. He seemed to hang on a bit too long just so that he could collect milestone records. I sometimes wondered if he really cared about the game itself?

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