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Posted on: November 23, 2011 2:10 pm

New CBA hurts 'balance' more than it helps

They keep talking about "competitive balance."

Then they make it harder for the less competitive teams to get that balance.

They tease them. But it's just a tease.

I didn't like the new rules on draft and international bonuses last week, when they were still sketchy and unannounced.

It's no better now that we know most of the details.

This isn't going to help teams like the Pirates and Royals. It's not going to hurt teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.

It's not going to help Theo Epstein, who came to Wrigley Field preaching the wonders of player development, only to find out that baseball just made player development less costly but more difficult.

It's not going to help baseball, because lower signing bonuses could chase away talented two-sport athletes.

Bud Selig didn't get the hard-slotting system he wanted for the June draft, but what he did get in the new collective bargaining agreement announced Tuesday might well be worse.

Here's why:

The last few years, teams like the Pirates, Nationals and Royals have realized that they can build a farm system quickly by spending big in the draft. The draft and the international market have become the one place where teams like that can realistically compete with the big boys for the best talent.

Now, if they exceed their assigned "signing bonus pool," they'll lose future draft picks, or the right to sign future international stars.

Baseball would remind you that the "signing bonus pool" will be higher for teams that pick higher in the draft (the teams that finished lower in the standings the previous year). That's true, but the cost of losing a future pick is far greater for those teams than for teams like the Yankees.

I'm not advocating a hard-slotting system, which would assign a specific bonus to each draft pick. But it sure would be a lot harder for the Yankees to take advantage of that system than this one.

The Yankees have been more than willing to surrender their first-round pick to sign free agents. They did it last winter to sign middle reliever Rafael Soriano.

So wouldn't they be just as willing to surrender a future pick to overspend on a big-time talent in the draft?

In most cases, the pick they'd be surrendering would be somewhere in the 20s. If the Pirates did the same, the pick they'd be surrendering might well be in the top 10.

And believe me, the new system makes it very easy to lose a pick. You only need to exceed your assigned "bonus pool" by five percent in any one year to lose the following year's first-round pick.

Baseball would explain that teams can choose to divide the "bonus pool" any way they wish, spending more on their first-round pick and going cheap on the second and third rounds, for example. But by the current rules, the Pirates overspent by a ton in both the first and second rounds in 2011.

Baseball would remind you that picks surrendered by teams that overspend will be distributed in a lottery that favors teams that need the most help (i.e. finished lowest in the standings). But to qualify for the lottery, you need to stay within your limit, and potentially allow the best talent to go elsewhere.

There's no way this rule helps "competitive balance," even with provisions that provide extra sandwich picks (between the first and second rounds) to low-revenue teams.

There's a reason that most baseball people don't like this new system, even though many of their owners pushed hard for it.

It should accomplish Selig's goal, which is to severely limit the amount of money teams spend on the draft and on international free agents. Truth be told, he'd love to limit the amount they spend on major-league free agents, too, but that wasn't going to happen.

It will not help "competitive balance."

Other parts of the CBA are big pluses. The fact that the CBA got done without even the smallest threat of a work stoppage is a huge plus.

This new draft and international system? It's a minus.

Category: MLB
Posted on: November 10, 2011 5:39 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 6:40 pm

Cespedes could top Chapman's $30 million contract

Aroldis Chapman's big contract surprised some people as much as his 105 mph fastball.

Get prepared to be surprised again.

Cuban outfielder Yoennis Cespedes, currently working out for teams in the Dominican Republic, will likely match or even top the six-year, $30.5 million contract that the Reds gave Chapman two winters ago, two veteran scouts who follow the international market predicted Thursday.

"I'd take him over Chapman," one of the scouts said.

Cespedes defected from Cuba over the summer. He has yet to be declared a free agent, but that's expected to happen soon. Scouts familiar with the market say it's hard to pick a favorite to sign him, but the Yankees and Marlins are both known to have strong interest, and the Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs and possibly even the Pirates and A's could be heavily involved, as well.

Cespedes was one of the stars of the Cuban national team, and scouts drooled over him when he played in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

They still do now.

"He's a five-tool guy, built like an NFL running back," one scout said. "He has tremendous raw power, with all the tools to be a 30-30 guy in the big leagues. His mother pitched on the Cuban national softball team, so he has athleticism in the family."

Asked for a comparable player who has played in the big leagues, the scout first suggested Bo Jackson, then back away, but only slightly. If you want to judge for yourself, there's a YouTube video that has already made the rounds.

The question, as with all international players, is how quickly Cespedes can adjust to American culture and to American baseball. He's already 26 years old (five years older than Chapman was when he signed), so it's not as if he is some young prospect.

Chapman, even with the 105 mph fastball, has yet to live up to expectations.

Then again, if Cespedes is a 30-30 guy in the big leagues, he's worth Chapman money and even more.

And he'll probably get it.

Posted on: October 31, 2011 7:30 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 8:16 pm

Sabathia won't opt out, staying with Yankees

CC Sabathia is staying with the Yankees.

Sabathia announced his decision early Monday evening via his own website, saying that he has agreed to a contract extension and that he hopes to finish his career as a Yankee. According to sources, the one-year extension guarantees Sabathia another $30 million, on top of the $92 million the Yankees already owed him for the final four years of his contract. It includes a vesting option for a sixth-year, which would bring the entire package to $142 million.

Essentially, the 31-year-old left-hander has a new five-year deal for $122 million guaranteed.

Sabathia originally came to the Yankees as a free agent three years ago, signing a seven-year, $161 million deal that was the biggest ever for a pitcher. To convince Sabathia to agree to the contract, and to overcome any reservations he had about coming to New York, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman added a clause giving Sabathia the right to opt out after three years.

As it turned out, Sabathia and his family liked New York, and he helped the Yankees to a World Series title in his first season. And the opt-out clause became simply a way for Sabathia to get more money, rather than an escape clause.

Sabathia and the Yankees faced a Monday night deadline, although technically the pitcher could have opted out by the deadline and still signed a contract with the Yankees after becoming a free agent.

The Yankees had little choice but to retain Sabathia, because neither the free-agent market nor the trade market seemed to include any starters who could successfully take his place at the top of their rotation. With Sabathia off the market, the best free-agent pitchers available are C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle, none of whom profiles as a true ace.

Sabathia is 59-23 in his three years with the Yankees, with a 3.18 ERA over 101 starts. The only pitcher in the major leagues with more wins in that span is the Tigers' Justin Verlander, who is 61-23 with a 3.08 ERA.

Sabathia put on considerable weight during the 2011 season, and Yankee officials whispered concern about whether committing too many more long-term dollars to him made sense. But their rotation needs help even with Sabathia, and no matter how heavy he was, he was still one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball this season.

Category: MLB
Posted on: October 29, 2011 6:47 pm

Best game ever? How about best month ever?

The Yankees don't think it was such a great month. The Phillies are sure it wasn't a great month.

Oh, and the Red Sox? No, the last 31 days weren't exactly pleasant for them.

But it sure was great for the rest of us, the best month of baseball most of us have seen, or will see, in our lifetimes.

If it gets better than this, I won't complain. But I'm not planning on it.

We had the best single regular-season night ever, on the final night of the regular season, and maybe the best game ever, on the next-to-last night of the World Series.

We had so many great games that the best individual offensive performance in World Series history barely makes the list. So many that Chris Carpenter's three-hit 1-0 shutout in a winner-take-all Game 5 wasn't even his most important performance of the month.

This is the third year now that I've written a postseason recap, and it's the first time that the best game of the month wasn't the first game I saw. Nothing against Tigers-Twins (Game 163 in 2009) or Roy Halladay's no-hitter (Division Series 2010), but it's a better month when the drama builds.

This month, we saw Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, Chris Carpenter, Nelson Cruz and David Freese. We saw squirrels. We saw Na-po-li. We saw history.

We saw Game 6.

What a month.

Here's a look back:

Best game: Some people are insisting that Game 6 of the World Series can't be called great, because there were physical errors early and possible managerial errors late. Sorry, but that's ridiculous. So it wasn't the best-played game ever. Fine. It had thrills, it had drama, it had plenty to second-guess, it had great performances and gritty performances. You go ahead and say it wasn't perfect. I'm going to say it was the best game I've ever seen.

Best moment: The flashbulbs going off when Albert Pujols batted in the seventh inning of Game 7 were great. Yes, it could have been his final Cardinals at-bat. But the best moment of the postseason -- Pujols' best moment -- was when he called time out to allow the Miller Park crowd to honor Prince Fielder, who very, very likely was stepping to the plate for his final Brewers at-bat.

Best chant: In the end, maybe this wasn't the Year of the Napoli, after all. But it sure was the month of the "Na!-Po!-Li!" at Rangers Ballpark. Mike Napoli became such an instant hero that I saw a Rangers fan who had altered his year-old Cliff Lee jersey, adding "Na-po" above the "Lee."

Best crowd: It was incredibly loud all month in Texas. It was louder than ever in St. Louis for the final outs of Game 7. But everyone who was at Miller Park this month came back raving about the atmosphere and the Brewers' fans (and everyone who was at Chase Field said there was barely any atmosphere for the Diamondbacks' two home games).

Best player: Tough call. Freese was a revelation, and not just in the World Series. Cabrera was outstanding. So was Ryan Braun. But Pujols was the guy I'll remember most, from his great defensive play against the Phillies to his historic three-homer game against the Rangers.

Best movie review: Moneyball took a beating every time Cardinals manager Tony La Russa took to the podium. La Russa went to see the movie the night Game 6 was rained out, and the next night he said that it "strains the credibility a little bit." La Russa, like others, complained about the portrayal of scouts, and about the lack of mentions of Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. "That club was carried by those guys that were signed, developed the old-fashioned way," La Russa said. "That part wasn't enjoyable, because it's a nice story but it is not accurate enough."

Most disappointing team: The Red Sox. The Phillies didn't make it out of the first round. Neither did the Yankees, who then apologized to their fans for their "failure." But Boston's collapse was so bad that it led to the departure of the manager and general manager who broke the curse. The Red Sox will recover, but they'll never be the same.

Best prediction: It's well established by now that I can't pick winners. But when the postseason began, I jokingly wrote that every series would go the distance. Turned out I was almost right, as 38 of a possible 41 games were required. Three of the four Division Series went the distance (and none were sweeps). Both League Championship Series went six games. And the World Series went seven, for the first time in nine years. Oh, and I even picked the World Series winner, Cardinals in 7, even if I did it because Rangers officials demanded that I pick against them.

Five who helped themselves: 1. Pujols. I'm not saying it makes a difference in his final free-agent price, but a great postseason reminded all of us how good he really is.

2. John Mozeliak. You think Cardinals fans will finally admit that it was a good idea to trade Colby Rasmus to help this team win now?

3. Mike Napoli. The Angels traded this guy for Vernon Wells. The Blue Jays then traded this guy for Frank Francisco. The Rangers will not be trading him.

4. Ryan Braun. MVP voting includes only the regular season, and not the postseason. But anyone who chose Braun over Matt Kemp in the National League race had to be happy to see him hit .405 with a 1.182 OPS in October.

5. David Freese. He was the best story of the month, the hometown kid who quit baseball after high school, and came back to become the World Series MVP. Now everyone knows him.

Five who hurt themselves: 1. C.J. Wilson. He's still going to get overpaid on the free-agent market, but imagine how much he might have gotten if he'd had a good October, instead of a lousy one.

2. CC Sabathia. He's still going to get a great new contract, too, but imagine how much he might have gotten if his postseason ERA was 1.23, instead of 6.23 (and if his waist size didn't expand just as fast).

3. Cliff Lee. The team he left went to the World Series without him. And the team he couldn't beat in Game 2, after his teammates gave him a 4-0 lead, went on to win the World Series.

4. Alex Rodriguez. Two years ago, he had a nice October and shed the label of postseason choker. This year, he went 2-for-18 against the Tigers and appeared on the back page of the New York Post as one of the Three Stooges (along with Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira).

5. Tony La Russa (for about 48 hours). I'm guessing Cardinals fans will now totally forgive him for the phone/noise/bullpen mess from Game 5. He's now the guy who has won two World Series in St. Louis, to go with the one he won in Oakland. Still one of the very best managers in the game -- in the history of the game, that is.

Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:51 pm

In Game 7, home team has edge (or not)

ST. LOUIS -- You've no doubt heard by now that no road team has won a World Series Game 7 in 32 years.

The Cardinals won at home in 1982, the Royals did it in 1985, the Mets in 1986, the Twins in both 1987 and 1991, the Marlins in 1997, the Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Angels in 2002.

It's tough to win the decisive game on the road . . . except when it isn't.

There were three decisive Game 5's in the Division Series this month. Two of the three were won by the road team (Cardinals over Phillies, Tigers over Yankees).

The Rangers won a decisive Game 5 last year at Tampa Bay.

The Cardinals won Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series on the road.

In fact, over the last 10 years, there have been 18 decisive games in the postseason (Game 5 in the Division Series, Game 7 in the LCS or World Series), and the visiting team has won 11 of them.

After Game 5 three weeks ago at Yankee Stadium, Tigers manager Jim Leyland made the argument that it can actually be an advantage to be on the road, because there's more pressure on the home team (certainly true in the cases of the Yankees and Phillies), and because there are more distractions at home.

Oh, and about those eight straight road-team wins in Game 7 of the World Series?

Go back through eight more Game 7's, and it basically evens out. From 1965-79, the road team won seven out of eight Game 7's.

Posted on: October 9, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 7:13 pm

Ordonez breaks ankle, Tigers in trouble

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Tigers have lost another outfielder, and this one's bad.

Magglio Ordonez is out for the rest of the postseason, after fracturing the same right ankle he broke in July 2010. Given how much trouble Ordonez had coming back the first time, and given his age (he'll be 38 in January), this injury could well be career-ending.

The Tigers at first announced only that Ordonez had reinjured the ankle, but later confirmed that X-rays and a CT scan showed a break. According to a source, Ordonez hurt the ankle before Saturday's game, tried to play, then was pulled from the game after the second rain delay.

While the Tigers can and will replace Ordonez on their postseason roster, they're already short on right-handed hitters, after losing Delmon Young to an oblique strain in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Yankees.

That's two right-handed hitting outfielders, and two middle-of-the-order hitters, lost for the Tigers in just two days. Worse yet, the Rangers are starting three left-handed pitchers in this American League Championship Series, and the Tigers have few right-handed options to replace Ordonez.

Ordonez was 5-for-11 in the Division Series, and he said last week that he finally felt healthy, after nearly a year trying to recover from the initial injury. Ordonez said that the recovery was so slow and so difficult that he seriously considered retiring a couple of months ago.

"It's like a car with a flat tire," Ordonez said then. "Now the tire has a lot of air."

Or it did, until Saturday.

Ordonez had three plate appearances in Game 1, a 3-2 Tiger loss. He grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the first inning, in probably the biggest at-bat of the entire game. He struck out looking in the fourth, then was intentionally walked in the fifth. At that point, Don Kelly pinch-ran for Ordonez.

Ordonez has played 15 seasons in the big leagues, and has a .309 career average and 294 home runs. He made six All-Star teams, and finished second in the American League MVP voting in 2007.

Posted on: October 8, 2011 8:05 pm

Rangers' Sundberg favored matchup with Tigers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The official Rangers position was that they didn't care whether they played the Yankees or Tigers in the American League Championship Series.

An unofficial position, expressed the other night by Jim Sundberg on Twitter, was that the Rangers were better off with a matchup against the Tigers. Sundberg, a former Rangers catcher, now works for the team as a senior vice president.

"My gut tells me NYY but my preference is Detroit," Sundberg wrote, under his Twitter handle of @backstop10.

Why the Tigers?

Sundberg wrote on Twitter that he liked having home-field advantage, which the Rangers have against the Tigers but wouldn't have had if it had been the Yankees. But there was more.

"I just felt like we matched up better against Detroit," he said. "For some reason, I felt uncomfortable playing the Yankees again."

Saturday, Sundberg weighed in with a prediction, not for this ALCS but for the World Series.

"WS winner will come out of the AL," he wrote. "Both us and the Tigers could beat either [NL] team."

Category: MLB
Posted on: October 7, 2011 1:00 pm

Tigers give Ilitch 'one of greatest days'

Mike Ilitch has won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. His Tigers made it to the World Series in 2006, before losing to the Cardinals.

And yet, when the Tigers won Game 5 Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, Ilitch told general manager Dave Dombrowski: "This is one of the greatest days of my life."

That says something about what it means to win an elimination game against the Yankees -- on the road.

But it also says a lot about the 82-year-old Ilitch, and what motivates him. For all his hockey success, he badly wants to win in baseball. He wants to win a World Series before he dies.

I've had my differences with Ilitch over the year. I've criticized him at least as much as I've praised him (probably a lot more).

But he sure does care about winning.
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