The New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts tonight in the Superbowl. I’ll be watching the BBC’s live coverage and enjoying all the action and razzmatazz, but I have to admit that part of the joy of the Superbowl for me each year is that it means the new baseball season is on its way. Keep on counting down those days: 57 until Opening Night and just 11 until the first pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.
The equipment trucks may have started their journeys to Arizona and Florida, but teams are still working hard to improve their rosters and this week several players finally found out which training camp they will need to report to, while one starting pitcher agreed a deal that will keep him with his current team for the next five years.
Tigers and Verlander
The Detroit Tigers signed ace starting pitcher Justin Verlander to a five-year contract extension worth $80m (£51.2m). The deal covers Verlander’s remaining two arbitration-eligible years and buys out his first three years of free agency.
The move is a very welcome piece of good news for Tigers fans who must be worried that their World Series window of opportunity has passed. The organization is still weighed down by some hefty contracts dished out by General Manager Dave Dombrowski when the team was firmly in ‘win now’ mode.
This year they will be paying a combined $72.1m to Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Brandon Inge, none of whom are likely to come close to ‘earning’ their respective salary. However, all but Guillen will be free agents at the end of the season so the Tigers will soon have some more breathing space. Verlander’s new contract takes this into account as he will earn $6.85m this year, before his salary goes up to $12.85m in 2011 and $20.1m in each of the next three seasons.
Detroit’s decision to lock-up their ace on a five-year deal comes just two weeks after the Seattle Mariners did the exact same thing with Felix Hernandez. King Felix’s deal also covers his final two arbitration-eligible years and his first three years of free agency, but was for slightly less money at $78m (£50m). The two pitchers have an eerily similar record so far in their careers:
* GS: Games Started, CG: Complete Games.
Those ‘rate’ stats (hits allowed per nine innings, home runs allowed per nine innings etc) are a decent indicator of how each pitcher has performed and they match each other almost exactly in these categories. While Hernandez’s ERA is helped a bit by Safeco Park, the Adjusted ERA stat (ERA+) on Baseball-Reference.com, which adjusts for the ballpark, still gives Hernandez a decent lead with an ERA+ of 125 compared to Verlander’s 116 (with ERA+, 100 is league average and the higher the score the better your ERA+ is. See the Wikipedia page here).
ERA aside, the most notable difference is that King Felix is three years younger than Verlander. The latter will be 31 in the final year of his contract and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be much-less effective by then, judging by the way players seem to be able to perform at a high level for longer in their careers nowadays. Both will still be in line for at least one more significant contract once these ones run out, injuries and contract extensions not withstanding. More importantly, both are outstanding pitchers and by signing them to longer deals the Mariners and Tigers have taken big steps in putting themselves into postseason contention for the foreseeable future.
Minnesota making moves
While the Tigers were extending their ties with a current player, their AL Central rivals the Minnesota Twins were adding second baseman Orlando Hudson on a one-year deal worth $5m.
Hudson’s not quite the players he once was, with the glove or at the plate, but he’s still a good player and, most importantly, is better than the options the Twins already had (primarily Nick Punto).
For the last 5 or 6 years, Twins fans have lamented their team’s reluctance to add an extra piece or two to complement an already good team. Hudson and Jim Thome, who was signed last week, are not superstar impact players on big money, but they are the type of small improvements that can make all the difference over the course of a season, especially in a division like the AL Central which looks set to be as tight as any in the Majors in 2010.
The positive impact of Hudson’s signing already has our resident Twins fan Marty worrying that I might pick his team in my 2010 predictions. He knows how my support of the Cleveland Indians last year turned out. Sorry Marty, but I think the Twins might just edge the White Sox and Tigers in 2010.
Twins fans had another brief moment of excitement (in fact that word probably doesn’t cover it) when rumours circulated that Joe Mauer had agreed a ten-year contract extension with his home town team. Those stories turned out not to be true, but all the signs point to the Twins coming to an agreement with their MVP catcher soon.
Reds and A’s
While the Twins were welcoming a new Orlando, their former Orlando was signing for the Reds. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera agreed a one-year deal with Cincinnati worth $3.02m, with a $4m option for 2011. Cabrera made a stack of errors (25) last year and his batting line of .284/.316/.389 wasn’t much to shout about, but he did play a part in the Twins’ successful stretch run last year after beginning the season with the Oakland A’s, and the Reds will be delighted if he can help them do something similar.
On top of the Cabrera link, the A’s and Reds completed a trade this week, with utility infielder Adam Rosales and outfielder Willy Taveras going to Oakland and infielder Aaron Miles leaving for Cincinnati just a few months after the A’s acquired him in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. The A’s side of the trade left me aghast at first. Willy Taveras?! An outfielder who had an OBP of .275 last year?! Just a day or so after adding Gabe Gross (career batting line of .239/.337/.399) to an outfield mix that already included Coco Crisp, Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, Travis Buck, Jack Cust (although it’s best to hide his glove and stick him in the DH slot) and prospect Michael Taylor?! What was General Manager Billy Beane thinking?!
No sooner had nightmarish thoughts of a Gross-Taveras-Cust outfield left me in a cold sweat than the news filtered through that the A’s had designated Taveras for assignment. In other words, unless another team claims him and his $4m salary in the ten days after he was acquired (not likely), Taveras will be cut from the roster. Basically it means paying out $1.3m plus Miles for Rosales, the back-up infielder so clearly needed. I can live with that. Panic over.
Mariners continue to strengthen
Continuing our ‘team link’ theme, former A’s outfielder Eric Byrnes has signed with the Seattle Mariners. Byrnes was cut by the D-Backs with one year left on a lucrative three-year/$30m contract that was always far too rich for a guy who’s really an energetic fourth outfielder. It’s worth the M’s picking him up for just $400k, but the thought that Arizona are paying him $10.6m this year while he plays for someone else isn’t going to cheer up D-Backs fans.
The Mariners added even more depth to their roster by signing first baseman Ryan Garko on a one-year deal that guarantees him $550k and re-signing starting pitcher Erik Bedard on a one-year deal yesterday worth $1.5m with incentives. Bedard is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and is likely to miss the first half of the season, but he will be a very useful guy to bring into the fold down the stretch.
Other notable deals
- Relief pitcher Kevin Gregg has joined the Blue Jays after a disappointing year with the Cubs in 2009. Gregg’s deal guarantees him $2.75m in 2010 and would be worth $16m in total if the Blue Jays picked up their options in 2011 and 2012. He’s going to have to be excellent for Toronto over the next two years if they are to pay him $8.75m in 2012.
- The Chicago Cubs signed veteran first baseman Kevin Millar on a minor league deal. In 78 games with the Blue Jays last year, he hit a paltry .223 with 7 home runs; however, he’s touting the intangible qualities that he could bring to the Cubs’ clubhouse. From the outside it certainly looked like they needed a positive influence in the clubhouse last year, but he needs to earn a roster spot before his reputation as a good teammate can be of any benefit to the Cubs.
- The New York Mets signed pitcher Josh Fogg and re-signed Fernando Tatis.
- The Colorado Rockies signed former Oriole Melvin Mora on a one-year deal worth $1.3m.
- The Washington Nationals had hoped to sign Orlando Hudson, but his move to the Twins made them go to their plan B of Adam Kennedy, who had a decent season with A’s in 2009.
- Finally, ‘Weaver Watch’ will resume in Los Angeles this year as the Dodgers signed Jeff Weaver to a minor league contract. They also picked up outfielder Reed Johnson on a one-year/$800k deal.