Posted on: April 21, 2011 8:10 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 12:18 am

Braun is good, but is he $21 million a year good?

Every year he's played in the big leagues, Ryan Braun has been listed on at least one MVP ballot.

He's good. But is he $21 million a year good?

Is he so good that the Brewers should have extended his contract for five years, 4 1/2 years before his current deal expires?

I'm happy for Braun, one of the good guys in the game. But I understand why eyebrows are being raised around the game about his new five-year, $105 million contract, which doesn't even kick in until the 2016 season.

I also understand how dangerous it can be for a mid-market team to wait before trying to sign a star player to an extension.

Look what happened with Albert Pujols.

The Rockies had exactly that in mind when they extended Troy Tulowitzki's contract last winter, when Tulowitzki still had three years plus a club option remaining on his previous deal. If they waited, the Rockies worried, their franchise player might just get too expensive for them to keep, or too tempted by free agency.

Tulowitzki became the first big-league player signed through 2020. Now Braun is the second.

If Tulowitzki wins an MVP or two between now and 2014, when the new part of his deal kicks in, he could easily be worth more than the $20 million per year (from 2015-2019) that the Rockies signed him for. Same goes for Braun, whose new deal has an average annual value of $21 million.

But even if the Tulowitzki and Braun deals look team-friendly by then, they're not bad deals for the player. Not at all.

For one thing, they get security, and get paid even if they get hurt or don't perform. For another, they get more money up front. Braun's new deal included a $10 million signing bonus.

It's still a ton of money for a player the Brewers could have waited a year or two to extend. The $21 million average annual value is the second-highest ever for an outfielder, behind Manny Ramirez's two-year, $45 million deal with the Dodgers.

Braun is very good, one of just seven players to start the last two All-Star Games.

Is he good enough to warrant this big a commitment, good enough that the Brewers had to sign him to an extension with 4 1/2 years to spare?

Obviously, the Brewers thought so.

Posted on: April 19, 2011 12:55 pm

Year of the closer crisis? No, just normal April

The Twins have changed closers. The White Sox have changed closers. The Cardinals have a closer problem.

And last night, when John Axford was wild (again) and blew a save (for the first time since his opening day disaster), Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked if his team has a closer problem. He said no.

But here's the bigger question: Is there a closer problem in baseball overall?

Or is this just a normal April?

Well, through the first 19 days of this season, there have been 24 blown saves in the ninth inning or later (including four each by Matt Thornton of the White Sox and Ryan Franklin of the Cardinals).

That sounds like a lot.

Well, through the first 19 days of the 2010 season, there had already been 26 blown saves in the ninth inning or later. The Rangers had already changed closers. The Orioles had put their unsuccessful closer on the disabled list. Trevor Hoffman was on his way out of the job in Milwaukee, and the Diamondbacks were already on the to having one of the worst bullpens in history.

So is 2011 unusual? Or is this just a typical April?
Posted on: April 6, 2011 9:42 am
Edited on: April 6, 2011 2:31 pm

White Sox's Dunn has appendectomy

The White Sox are hopeful that Adam Dunn won't miss much time after an emergency appendectomy early Wednesday.

The initial indication is that Dunn may miss less than a week. The White Sox announced on their Twitter account that Dunn will miss "up to five games."

Matt Holliday of the Cardinals had his appendix out last week, and the Cardinals are similarly hopeful of a quick return. Last September, Andres Torres of the Giants missed 12 days after an appendectomy.

Dunn is off to a decent start after signing with the White Sox as a free agent last winter. In four games, he has a 1.045 OPS, with one home run and 5 RBI.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:02 pm

3 to watch: The opening day matters edition

On opening day, I want to be everywhere.

On opening day, I want to see every team, every game. Even if the Pirates are playing the Astros (which, thankfully, they're not this week).

Opening day is like no other day. But opening day is still only one game, and opening weekend is still only one weekend, and that means I'm still limited to just 3 to watch.

Just remember, as players, managers and columnists are sure to tell you, that opening day only counts for one win, or one loss.

But also remember that last year's two World Series teams, the Giants and the Rangers, both won on opening day. American League MVP Josh Hamilton was 0-for-3, but Joey Votto began his MVP season by going 3-for-5 with a home run.

Felix Hernandez began his Cy Young season in what would prove to be typical fashion, leaving in the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead that the bullpen didn't hold, and thus ending up with a no-decision. Roy Halladay won, of course, going seven innings and allowing one run.

And even if opening day only counts for one win, remember that had the Giants won just two fewer games last year, they not only don't win the World Series, they don't even make the playoffs. Had they lost on opening day instead of won, they'd have finished in a three-way tie with the Padres and Braves for the NL West and wild card.

With that in mind, here's the first 3 to watch of the year:

1. As I wrote in spring training , I think the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright-less rotation will work out better than anyone expected. I even picked the Cardinals to win the National League Central , although not with total conviction. I'll feel a lot better about that column and also that pick if Chris Carpenter looks like an ace in Padres at Cardinals, Thursday afternoon (4:15 ET) at Busch Stadium . One scout who spends every March in Jupiter said Carpenter looked old this spring, and that he "didn't stand out, the way he usually does." If he doesn't stand out against a Adrian Gonzalez-less Padres lineup, I may want to revise my picks by Thursday night.

2. Question: Which $20 million a year pitcher has never won on opening day? That would be Cliff Lee, who has the excuse of having started just one opening day game in his nine big-league seasons (2009 with the Indians, when he lost 9-1 at Texas). Lee won't start opening day this year, either (Halladay rightly gets the honor), but that only makes Astros at Phillies, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park one of the most anticipated Game 2s ever. But with the Friday forecast for Philadelphia (50 percent chance of rain), Halladay could end up bumping Lee from Saturday to Sunday.

3. The best matchup of the weekend at Yankee Stadium is on opening day, with Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia both beginning the season as Cy Young candidates. But the most telling matchup could be Tigers at Yankees, Sunday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium . The Tigers start Max Scherzer, who they're counting on to be a true No. 2 starter behind Verlander. The Yankees start Phil Hughes, who they need to be a steady starter behind Sabathia, since A.J. Burnett is undependable, Ivan Nova is young and Freddy Garcia is still an unknown. Scherzer was terrible in his final spring start (allowing 11 earned runs to the Orioles). Hughes' velocity was down significantly this spring. Should be fascinating, and it could be important, because there's a chance these two teams could be fighting for a wild-card spot in late September.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 3:13 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 4:05 pm

The All-DL opening day All-Stars

It's a team that might contend for a title, if it could only get on the field.

Then again, that's exactly the problem.

Think of the players that will (or likely will) begin the season on the disabled list. It's quite a group, lacking a little (for now) on the left side of the infield and behind the plate, but overflowing with top-level starting pitching and back-of-the-bullpen depth.

Not all the opening day rosters are official yet. Some teams are waiting until closer to Thursday's 11 a.m. deadline for final decisions, which only means that the All-DL-Stars could have an even better lineup by the time the first pitch is thrown.

Jason Bay, for example, should be your All-DL-Star left fielder by then. The Mets are expected to put him on the disabled list, but they haven't said so publicly yet. So I left him off, in part because this team is strong enough without him.

For now, we'll only go with guys we're pretty sure of.

So here goes:

1B -- Kendrys Morales, Angels

2B -- Chase Utley, Phillies

SS -- Clint Barmes, Astros

3B -- Nick Punto, Cardinals

LF -- Cody Ross, Giants (Bay could take his spot)

CF -- Grady Sizemore, Indians (with Franklin Gutierrez also available)

RF -- Corey Hart, Brewers

C -- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

Rotation -- Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Zack Greinke, Brewers; Johan Santana, Mets; Mat Latos, Padres; Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays (with Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and others in reserve)

Closer -- Brian Wilson, Giants (with the Phillies' Brad Lidge and the A's Andrew Bailey setting him up)

You'd take that team, wouldn't you?

You'd be guaranteed to lose on opening day, because not one of them could play, but you'd take that team.

Posted on: January 7, 2011 11:37 am
Edited on: January 8, 2011 6:02 pm

Cubs get Garza, NL Central gets stronger

Three big pitchers have changed teams this winter. Two of them have landed in the National League Central.

First Zack Greinke went to the Brewers. Now the Cubs have acquired Matt Garza, in a deal that was widely reported (including here) on Friday and announced late Saturday afternoon.

The price for Garza was high in terms of prospects, and that's why trading him suits the Rays in an offseason where they've already lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and their entire bullpen. The Rays need to build towards the next time they can seriously challenge the Red Sox and Yankees in the American League East, and that time is unlikely to be 2011.

The Cubs, on the other hand, are trying to win now.

Adding Garza to a rotation that includes Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster turns the Cubs into a serious contender in the Central, along with the Greinke-fortified Brewers, the defending division champion Reds and the always-involved Cardinals.

To get Garza, the Cubs sent pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld and catcher Robinson Chirinos to the Rays. The Cubs get Garza, and also outfielder Fernando Perez and pitcher Zachary Rosscup.

The Cubs have been searching all winter for a top starting pitcher, but there just haven't been many available. Cliff Lee left the Rangers to sign with the Phillies, and Greinke was traded from the Royals to the Brewers, but there wasn't much else there.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry said as much in the Cubs' press release announcing the deal.

"It's not every day a premier and proven big-game pitcher entering his prime becomes available," Hendry said. "It is impossible to acquire a pitcher of Matt's caliber and not give up some quality talent."

Baseball America recently ranked Archer, a 22-year-old right-hander, as the top prospect in the Cubs system, comparing him to ex-Rays right-hander Edwin Jackson. The newspaper also ranked Lee fourth and Guyer 10th.

At his best, the 27-year-old Garza can be one of the top pitchers in the game. His Game 7 win over the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series sent the Rays to the World Series and earned him ALCS Most Valuable Player honors. Then, in 2010, Garza pitched the only no-hitter in Rays history.

Garza was a 15-game winner in 2010, and the move out of the AL East and into the NL Central could make him even better as a Cub.

Or maybe the NL Central is on its way to becoming on of baseball's glamor divisions, too.

Posted on: December 20, 2010 5:22 pm

Brewers could win (and this time I mean it)

Don't ask me if the Zack Greinke trade makes the Brewers the favorite to win the National League Central.

I'm the idiot that picked the Brewers to win the Central last year.

So yeah, if you take the flawed team that I thought could win, then add Greinke and Shaun Marcum, I'm ready to pick the Brewers again.

This time, I won't be alone. This time, I might even be right.

"I think Cincinnati's much better than St. Louis," one veteran National League executive said today. "And I think Milwaukee's better than Cincinnati."

That opinion isn't near unanimous among baseball people. A quick survey of scouts and executives had quite a few favoring the Reds to repeat, and some even suggesting that the Cubs could win, if their young players develop.

But not surprisingly, every scout I talked to thought that the twin trades for pitching make the Brewers into a team that could win.

"I think they're a legitimate contender," one American League scout said. "I really think Marcum will solidify their rotation. He'll go out and give them seven innings basically every time out. He's a lot like Bronson Arroyo, coming over from the American League."

Arroyo came to the Reds in 2006, coming off a season where he went 14-10 with a 4.51 ERA for the Red Sox. He's 70-60 in five years with the Reds, with a combined ERA of 3.97.

This past year, when the Reds won the Central, Arroyo went 17-10.

Marcum, who was the Blue Jays' opening day starter in 2010, went 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA. Getting out of the AL East could help; he was 1-6 with a 5.64 ERA in 10 starts against the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, and 12-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 21 starts against everyone else.

Coming to the Brewers should also help Greinke, even though Miller Park is much less favorable to pitchers than Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. Greinke sometimes seemed disinterested in pitching for the sad-sack Royals in 2010, and in an interview today with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel , he admitted that he waived his no-trade clause to accept the deal with the Brewers because he was convinced that Milwaukee is now trying to win.

"Greinke can win in any park, if he wants to," one scout said. "He's a No. 1, if he wants to be. On good days, right-handed hitters don't have a chance against him, and lefties don't have much of a chance, either."

With Greinke and Marcum, the Brewers now have a real chance.

Take it from me . . . and from a few guys who were smart enough not to pick them to win in 2010.
Posted on: September 24, 2010 11:45 am
Edited on: September 24, 2010 12:23 pm

3 to watch: The Giant issue edition

Even if you count the Rockies as now basically out of the National League West -- the standings say they're in serious trouble, their recent history says who knows? -- the Giants' three games this weekend at Coors Field are a potentially huge obstacle to San Francisco's chances of winning the division.

Despite what happened Thursday at Wrigley Field (a nine-run inning, a 13-0 win), the Giants' path to first place in the West has been built almost totally on pitching. Including Thursday, they've now gone 17 games since they last allowed four runs, a streak that according to the Elias Sports Bureau is the longest by any team in a single season since the 1917 White Sox went 20 games in a row.

Now they go to Coors Field, where the Rockies have scored four or more in 19 of their last 21 games, and where the home team hits so well that some Giants apparently think the Rockies have been monkeying with the humidor process .

Since Coors Field opened in 1995, only five teams have gone through an entire three-game series without ever allowing four runs. All five of those series have come in the humidor era (which began in 2002), but it still comes down to one series a season -- and it hasn't happened yet this year.

And the Giants, despite all their pitching and despite three trips a year to Colorado, have never done it.

Maybe that's why the Giants haven't won a season series at Coors since 2005. They're 2-4 in the first six games this year, so they'd need a sweep to win this season series.

Given the Rockies' collapse on the road this week -- they couldn't hold a 6-1 lead Sunday in Los Angeles, then got swept in three games in Arizona -- the Giants don't necessarily need a sweep this weekend. Their lead over the Padres is only a half-game, but San Diego also faces a potentially tough series, at home against the Reds.

Besides, the Giants' head-to-head showdown with the Padres next weekend will be at AT&T Park, where the Giants have allowed just 16 runs in their last nine games.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Tim Lincecum hasn't won at Coors Field since May 20, 2008. Then again, Lincecum hadn't won anywhere for a month before his 2-1 win over the Rockies on Sept. 1 in San Francisco. He's been very good the entire month, and maybe that means he'll win at Coors, too, when he opens the series in Giants at Rockies, Friday night (8:10 ET) at Coors Field . While the Giants are 0-4 in Lincecum's last four starts in Colorado, he hasn't been awful, with a 4.32 ERA in that span.

2. The Reds enter the weekend with a magic number of 3, and that means the soonest they could clinch their first division title in 15 years is in Reds at Padres, Saturday afternoon (4:05 ET) at Petco Park . That would take a little cooperation from the second-place Cardinals, but all the Cardinals have been doing recently is cooperating. As Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse pointed out on Twitter, the Cards are 9-17 since Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols attended Glenn Beck's rally in Washington.

3. The biggest advantage the Braves have in the National League wild-card race is that the Giants and Padres play each other next weekend. That means for three of the remaining 10 days on the schedule, either the Giants or the Padres is guaranteed to lose (and that the team that wins could win the division and not affect the Braves' wild-card chances at all). For it to be an advantage, though, the Braves need to win. They need to do to the Nationals this weekend what they did to the Mets last weekend, and that means they need to beat Livan Hernandez in Braves at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Nationals Park . Hernandez threw eight shutout innings in a 6-0 win over the Braves last weekend in Atlanta, and he's 2-1 with a 2.19 ERA in four starts against the Braves this year. The Braves starter Sunday, they hope is Jair Jurrjens, who missed his Monday start in Philadelphia with a knee problem. As manager Bobby Cox said, "He'd better be able to pitch." Sunday is also the Braves' final regular-season road game, which means it's the final time an opposing team will pay tribute to Cox, who is retiring at the end of the season. The best gifts he has received so far: a No. 6 from the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, a set of wine glasses with all the NL team logos from the Reds, and many checks to support his charity helping homeless veterans. Cox entered the weekend with 2,499 wins in 4,499 career games.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com