Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

teixeiraThe last thing I’d ever do is begrudge a player, any player, for going for as much money as the market will give him. 8 years for more than $170 million is a good haul for Mark Teixeira, and it sets him up for the rest of his career, which, if he plays up to the form he currently has, will be as a New York Yankee. So don’t even try to bring outrage about oversized player salaries in a bad economy or saying the league needs a salary cap because the rest of the owners can’t compete. This is invalid because:

a) The Steinbrenner family has clearly managed the franchise well enough in order to have the reserves to spend $400 million in one off-season

b) Just because the cheap-shit owner in your city is sitting on his piece of the revenue-sharing while raising your ticket prices doesn’t make that the Yankees’ fault.

Teixeira in the Bronx is an obvious move. Jason Giambi was off the books, they’ve had a gaping defensive hole at first base for years, they need another power bat. Here’s the problem: now the Yankees are the most talented team on paper. Wonder how that might work out once the season starts? Let them play the games before declaring the Yankees the masters of all once again. There’s still an aging Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui in the outfield, and a defensively suspect Derek Jeter manning short — and don’t think the Red Sox or the Rays will simply fold in fear. The Phillies won last season and the Red Sox a year before that with a core group of players either from the farm system or who made their names with the team. Where is that with the Yankees right now?

(Also, if you’re a NYC taxpayer, how do you feel about billions of your tax dollars funding the new Yankee Stadium while they blow $400 million on free agents? Since when did the Steinbrenners need a bailout?)

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This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race

krodcitifieldMy mild disappointment at learning that Omar Minaya had pitched in $13+ million per year to land Francisco Rodriguez was leavened somewhat by learning that it was only a three-year deal. Having watched a large slate of Angels games over the past few years, I’m mildly concerned about the knock on him as a 9th inning flower, who rarely, if ever came in to have to get four, five, or six out saves in the AL.

Then again, anyone to solidify ANY inning not pitched by a starter is a considerable upgrade over the mess the Mets bullpen was last season — even when Billy Wagner’s elbow didn’t give out on him.

Getting Seattle’s former closer J.J. Putz in a three-way trade to play set-up man also seems like a step in the right direction — any direction is good as long as it involves getting rid of the long-reviled Aaron Heilman, who was nothing but a leaking gas tank for the past couple of season. Whether it actually pays off would be dependent upon the rest of the bullpen being reliable enough to handle innings six or seven — and whether the starting rotation remains in good enough shape.

Across Manhattan Island, the big news is the agreement in principle to make CC Sabathia the highest paid pitcher in baseball with a 161 million dollar deal over seven years.  The money was so stupid that Sabathia had to take it and ditch his preference to play in his home state of California, but the nagging questions about the hurler are his physique (6’7″ and 311 lbs.) and more importantly, how much form will he regain in returning to the American League?

Bear in mind that Sabathia was mired in a half-season of mediocrity when the Tribe shipped hiim off to Milwaukee — he then proceeded to destroy NL line-ups, with the easier turnover of the bottom third.  He may like hitting, but you can’t be so sure that AL pitchers have figured him out, although so much of his struggles with Cleveland were due to the offense not hitting for him. (These things can be fickle: obviously Cliff Lee got enough run support in combination with wicked stuff to win 20+ games and a Cy Young.)

There’s a reason the Yanks are also looking at A.J. Burnett despite his injury history, is all I’m saying.

The Odds Of Not Being Rent-A-Players Are Pretty Good

Much of the discussion surrounding Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira on their new teams here on the Left Coast revolves around their impending free agency and what they would command on the open market. The stakes are a bit higher for the Halos, as they dealt away a very good first baseman in Casey Kotchman for a great one in Teixeira, with no guarantee that he will stick around after the playoffs. (Let’s admit it: barring an incredible collapse that would make last year’s Mets swoon look like amateur hour, the Angels will be the AL West winners. That division needs a fifth team badly.)

By contrast, the Ramirez trade only makes the logjam in the outfield worse, as Joe Torre continues to believe that Juan Pierre is his sole option to lead off, thus putting his lousy arm in center field and relegating either Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier to the bench. (Our obvious, objective solution: Kemp wasn’t too bad as a leadoff guy a while there. Run him out there again.)

However, I’m pretty convinced that both teams will make plays to hold on to both of their new acquisitions, and will likely be successful.  Scott Boras represents them both, and is looking for a deal reaching the $200 million range for Teixeira and a four-year deal for Ramirez at about the $20 million he gets now (which probably won’t happen at that length.)  We are dealing with two owners — Arte Moreno and Frank McCourt — with deep pockets and few reservations about spending the cash on their teams (although, in McCourt’s case, he could get a better GM than Ned Colletti to do his spending for him.)

Moreno will cut a deal with Boras and Teixeira will stay an Angel not only because the team will have to come up with another first baseman on short notice, but also because it looks like Francisco Rodriguez is going to walk. He’s going to break Bobby Thigpen’s single-season save record of 57, but I’m not convinced that the Angels have to pay $15 million a year when they can put Scot Shields in the closer’s slot. (Remember, K-Rod’s ascendancy allowed the Angels to let Troy Percival go.) Locking up Teixeira and getting Vlad Guerrero to stay are vital to the strategy, particularly if they go as deep into October as expected.

Ramirez has told an ESPN Deportes reporter that he wants to stay in L.A. to finish out his career. Now, I usually file stuff like this under the “bullshit athletes say when they make their debut for a new team,” but I buy it — for now, until Manny changes his mind.  Sadly, as a Dodger hater, McCourt has deep enough pockets to spend the money to keep Ramirez in left field — which could make the team good again, if the decline isn’t that steep in his offense, and as long as McCourt can elicit a promise out of Colletti and Torre to make Andruw Jones a very expensive pinch hitter and Pierre a defensive replacement type. Essentially, McCourt has to ink Ramirez if he gets the Dodgers to the playoffs; it would be a way to start rectifying the many errors of the Ned Colletti era.

These are owners who can and will deal with Boras — and may get the players for less than the bluster than he is talking for either one of their services.

Photo: AP/Chris Carlson

Chasing His Hoop Dreams Overseas

Brandon Jennings going to Italy to play pro ball to avoid the NCAA is one thing. A semi-established player like Josh Childress spurning the Atlanta Hawks and the weird land of restricted free agency to sign a three-year, $32 million deal to play for a Greek team is a whole ‘nother can of worms for the NBA.

Before we go any further, one signing obviously does not a trend make, much like Jennings’ jump won’t be judged until next year at the earliest. However, at this point we can safely say that this is a new route opened for guys who are in the middle tier as far as the NBA goes — not superstars, not considered the elite, but guys who make an impact on the game as the glue guys in the starting line-up or valuable sixth men — these guys now have a chance to get more money for shorter contract terms in the prime of their careers, and thus upset the NBA’s status a bit.

It has to frustrate Hawks fans on a very basic level; despite defensive lapses, management had cited re-signing both Childress and fellow RFA Josh Smith as top priorities, yet they apparently did not consider the option that he would leave the country rather than allow ownership to counter any tender sheet he got from another NBA team.

GM Rick Sund had offered $33 million over five years, but in a world where the euro is outdoing the dollar big time and all of Childress’ salary with Olympiakos will be tax-free as far as Greece goes, that’s even more of an economic incentive for the second tier of NBA players.

It may be as revolutionary as we think it could be down the road; it may just be a blip. Regardless, it’s safe to say that we’ll be watching to see how it goes, whether or not Childress will come scurrying back after one year or finish out the whole contract.

The Beard Abides In Staples

So, one day after opting out of his contract with the Warriors, it appears that the King of Slauson is coming back home to L.A. (“King of Slauson” a trademark of D-Wil.)

Baron Davis is taking $65 million over the next six years from Donald Sterling, and will fill the Clips’ gaping need for a point guard. Now, a lot of the analysts are jumping the gun in predicting the Second Team in Staples will be a playoff contender. Last I checked, the Western Conference was pretty damn competitive, with three teams duking it out for the 8th spot until the last day — which the Denver Nuggets won on their way to being swept by the Lakers in the first round.

Much of the slathering of the Clippers is completely dependent upon whether Elton Brand is going to return — and Golden State seems to want to get back at them by offering him a sheet, although it’s being reported as damn near a done deal that Brand will return to play with Davis. While Davis, Brand, Chris Kaman, Al Thornton, and first round draft pick Eric Gordon rounding it out looks like a pretty good starting five, you’re dealing with the Lakers, a more experienced Hornets team, the Spurs, a Portland team on the rise, and we’re not even getting into playoff perennials like the Jazz and Rockets on that side of the divide.

This move does instantly make the Clippers ten times better. But that ten times better probably means a 6 or 7 seed at best. Hey, that still gets you in the playoffs, and for that miserable, miserly franchise, that’s a damn good start.

You Want Him, Nay, Need Him In That Slot

Essentially, Randy Moss re-signing with New England had to happen — not just for Moss and the work he’s done without question there, but for the health of Tom Brady’s passing stats and his game. Note that Donte’ Stallworth has taken his peripatetic ways to Cleveland, and several members of the Pats’ secondary have sought more money (Asante Samuel) or to return home (Randall Gay to the Saints) — which means that the offense will need to keep its high scoring ways going just to win, never mind about another attempt at perfection.

Moss clearly desires and thrives in environments where the concept of playing to win is foremost; where it is an embarrassment to lose — and that’s probably Coach Hobo’s preference (I’ve not watched a coach on TV who seems to despise losing as much as Belichick does; he stews.) Moss’ ability to envelop and catch anything in a five-yard radius made him the first truly elite WR Tom Brady ever had; Brady and Moss then became a lethal combination. If the Patriots had let Moss go (and did you seriously think they would?), we could have stuck a fork in them as far as Super Bowl hopes.

Re-signing Moss means the offense is still a serious threat, and that’s an absolute necessity when the defense is hemorrhaging players (and was just bending for the last half of last season anyway). Now, if they could move Moss and Wes Welker in and out of the slot at will…imagine the fuck-ups on mismatches.

Patriots re-sign Moss [Boston Globe]

Fun With NFL Free Agency!

I’m not really as bullish on the whole Michael Turner deal as a lot of other people. There’s a lot to be said for the guy’s running style, but he spent a lot of his time running against beaten down defenses that had been facing LaDainian Tomlinson during his days in San Diego, and also running behind Lorenzo Neal at fullback and a very good offensive line (the Chargers released Neal, and I don’t think they’ve tried to sign him for less yet, which is a mistake.) That said, the Falcons had a need for Turner, trying to get the whole power and speed dichotomy with two backs. Of course, Warrick Dunn was the odd man out here — and has been cut this morning. Dunn’s best days are gone — but he is one of the more remarkable men in the NFL with his charity initiatives. If he still wants to play, here’s hoping he can.  Secondary thought: the Falcons obviously want no part of Darren McFadden for character reasons (although baby mama drama is low on the list of character issues to be concerned about) and they don’t have enough confidence in Norwood despite a nice yards-per-carry average. That #3 pick is going for either Matt Ryan or Jake Long now. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

The Falcons are clearly OK with the concept of clearing out most of the players associated with Michael Vick — not necessarily because of the Vick association, but because they probably view that team’s window as closed and time to start over. It will be to the Titans’ benefit now, to create a team around another superstar QB in waiting — Vince Young — by adding one of the more solid names at receiving in the TE category in Alge Crumpler. The Titans will still need to address the WR issue, but to have Crumpler there will give VY another target in crucial spots over the middle. [Nashville Tennessean]

Ben Roethlisberger’s $102 million contract extension is kind of a no-brainer — and really, it’s about the guaranteed money right now. With about half of that appearing to be guarantees or bonuses, that $50-something million is what he’ll get, and the rest will be renegotiated several years down the line. But that’s the move you have to make to solidify in the starting quarterback game — and in terms of scale, he’s got a contract reflecting a Super Bowl winner. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

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