Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 21, 2006
Lots of baseball stuff to catch up on the past two weeks or so.
*Judging by the search engine traffic, a lot of people are looking for my take on the 2006 NL MVP race, the 2006 AL MVP race, and the other postseason awards; go here for that. The big surprise to me in the NL voting was Lance Berkman finishing third. Given Carlos Beltran's spectacular defense and superior baserunning, I have little doubt that Beltran was more valuable; then again, it's good to see Berkman get some overdue recognition.
*It can't have been lost on the agents for Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera that Alfonso Soriano finished sixth in the balloting, behind their clients, while having a career year. Soriano's 8-year, $136 million ($17 million per year) contract with the Cubs is utter madness. I know I was too hard on Soriano for his huge home/road splits in Texas, and it's true that (a) he's a tremendous athlete, and athleticism does matter in projecting how a player ages, and (b) under Frank Robinson's tutelage he drew 67 walks, more than he had drawn the prior two seasons combined and almost 30 above his career high. If Soriano can sustain most of that (his 16 intentional passes will probably fall off), he will remain a very dangerous hitter into his 30s, not only because he will get on base more but also because he will be less susceptible to pitchers taking advantage of his aggressiveness.
But that's a big "if" for $136 million (the Mariners made the same gamble on Beltre and look how that worked out), and Soriano remains either a bad second baseman or a mediocre left fielder (the Cubs apparently plan to keep him in the outfield), plus Lou Piniella wants to bat him leadoff, which is nuts. And even if he does repeat 2006 a few times, that's an awful lot of money and he is unlikely to be worth it by age 35, 36, 37 and 38. Perhaps the Cubs expect such salary inflation under the new collective bargaining agreement that $17mil for a 36 year old left fielder batting .270/.485/.340 with 18 stolen bases will be a bargain, but I doubt it.
And the Soriano signing represents a larger failure to come to terms with the organization's persistent inability to take a pitch. I was OK with the Aramis Ramirez re-signing, which was cheaper and for a younger player who plays third base, but the two in combination tie up a lot of resources in aggressive hitters. Consider, since 1986, where the Cubbies have placed in the NL in walks:
Although Sammy Sosa eventually learned patience, the tendency to import guys like Andre Dawson and Sosa and make them the team's signature veteran leaders has not helped this. Simply put, the Cubs will continue to underachieve as long as they fail to make use of the free pass.
*I'm yet again not thrilled with the Mets' signing of Moises Alou, which together with the money thrown at El Duque and Jose Valentin establishes a rather ominous pattern of over-investment in geriatric players (Glavine too, but Glavine's worth it). Replacing Cliff Floyd with Alou is six of one for half a dozen of the other in terms of their injury histories, and at 40 Alou is more likely to decline or get hurt again; I'd give Floyd a 60/40 chance of having a better year in 2007 than Alou. In an ideal world, you would platoon them and get rid of Shawn Green, who unlike those two has almost zero chance of slugging .500 again. Green was a necessary stretch drive pickup but with a full offseason to work with he should not remain penciled in as a regular.
What is doubly concerning is the implication that the Mets are looking to dump Milledge, who I discussed at some length here. I'm fine with trading Milledge if the Mets get major value in return, but telegraphing their interest in dealing him is probably the first step to giving up way too soon on a guy who is just 21 and (so far as I can tell) has no problems that maturity can't fix.
*The Mets also had a couple deals under the radar. They brought in Damion Easley, another 37-year-old infielder, which isn't great news but I'm inclined to trust Minaya on this one, as he has had a decent record locating veterans to stock the bench. I'm less happy with dealing minor league relief stud Henry Owens, who the Mets gave up on after 4 major league innings, for Jason Vargas (the deal also includes Adam Bostick from Florida for Matt Lindstrom; I know nothing about either except that Lindstrom is three years older and both have had trouble throwing strikes in the minors).