— Before we get too deep into what’s going on at camps across Arizona and Florida, let’s take a look at who’s not currently part of the fun.
The names are numerous and noteworthy, some even Hall-considerable, like Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado.
Further scan the still-unemployed list, and you can put together a representative big-league lineup: C Rod Barajas, 1B Russell Branyan, 2B Ryan Freel, SS Felipe Lopez, 3B Hank Blalock, LF Garret Anderson, CF Rocco Baldelli, RF Jermaine Dye, and take your pick at DH.
(And we even left out Johnny Damon, who keeps turning down offers for whatever reason, but figures to pick one real soon).
How about this rotation?: Jarrod Washburn, Braden Looper, Livan Hernandez, Smoltz, Martinez. Or a bullpen including Chan Ho Park, David Weathers, Kiko Calero, Flash Gordon, Ron Mahay and Joe Beimel?
And every good roster has depth: Jose Molina, Joe Crede, Darin Erstad, Aaron Boone, Rich Aurilia, Jonny Gomes.
By now, you get the point. Why so many unresolved cases as things already have cranked up in camps from Surprise to Jupiter?
Some of this is the natural selection process. Whether it be talent erosion, injury or both, for some, it’s just time.
Sheffield is 41, coming off a 10-homer/43 RBI season in Queens, and isn’t exactly the role-player type.
Boone, 36, was one of last year’s great stories with a 13-at-bat September cameo six months after undergoing open-heart surgery, but could be headed to the broadcast booth, if he so desires.
Gordon, 42, only logged 1.2 innings last season, 29.1 the year before that.
And there’s always the financial element at work.
Jim Thome found a gig in Minnesota, where his professionalism is almost as desired a commodity as his left-handed bat off the bench. Of course, it helps that the big guy was willing to take an $11.5-million pay cut from $13 million to $1.5 million guaranteed.
Not everybody is willing to do that, so no, this was not the winter to have your huge free-agent contract expire. Not in the midst of the nation’s biggest economic recession since there were four Triple Crown winners in a five-year span (that would be 1933-37, in case you didn’t already know).
Washburn has offers. Delgado has offers. And we know Damon has offers. Just not the right offers — not yet, anyway.
Washburn won nine games and allowed 160 hits in 175 innings, albeit fading down the stretch after being acquired by Detroit. He’s 35 but durable, and, he’s left-handed. Yet he’s still unsigned after the expiration of his four-year, $37-million deal.
Seattle is his first choice, but the Mariners chose to put their money on an Erik Bedard comeback, and in-house options. But odds are, a need will arise somewhere soon enough — maybe even this spring — and Washburn will pitch in 2010.
It’s an even bigger financial comedown for Delgado, who made $12 million in 2009, the option year of a five-year, $64-million deal that came on top of a four-year, $68-million contract covering 2001-04.
Rest assured Delgado wants the 27 homers he needs to reach the 500 mark. But he can walk away, too. Delgado’s agent says there are major-league offers, but nothing Delgado wants to accept — meaning not enough guaranteed playing time.
Coming off arthroscopic surgery on his right hip, Delgado needs more time to recover, anyway. So the likely scenario is an AL team in need due to an injury. That situation could present itself as soon as this spring, but is likelier to unfold mid-season.
Smoltz, 42, and Martinez, 38, want to continue pitching, but the combination of questionable health and contractual demands make them less attractive to teams with tight budgets.
If they wanted to go to camp on a minor-league contract with little guaranteed money, they’d already be somewhere by now. What makes more sense in both cases is the mid-season signing for a contender that develops a need — exactly what Martinez did last season with the Phillies.
Martinez is more inclined to walk away, while Smoltz’s ultra-competitiveness makes him the likelier candidate to keep pitching, possibly too long.
When it comes to the position-player glut, another element in play here is that the game is changing before our eyes. In this (we think) post-steroids era, it’s less about mashing and more about defense, speed and versatility. Yes, most players in their late 30s are showing signs of decline again — and not suddenly reaching new statistical heights.
The Red Sox spent their off-season getting defensive, adding noted glove men Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron.
The White Sox finally shed their abundance of slow, power-hitting types and have opted for a revolving-DH situation.
The Mariners didn’t bring back Branyan or Beltre, and instead spent $36 million on speedy lineup-igniter Chone Figgins.
All of which makes it tough for slow, aging, defensive liabilities to find work.
In the off-season game of DH musical chairs, the Yankees thought Nick Johnson was the way to go, and the Angels thought it was time for Vlad Guerrero to move on, which led Hideki Matsui to Anaheim and Guerrero to Arlington.
With David Ortiz, Jason Kubel, Jose Guillen, Ken Griffey Jr., Pat Burrell, Travis Hafner and their high price tags among the other regular DHs, there are only so many spots to fill.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a 31-homer guy such as Branyan out there, although he does have back issues. (You have to wonder why the power-starved Mariners decided to put their money elsewhere.) The Indians appear to be the best fit for Branyan, as young Matt LaPorta is coming off two surgeries, and may need a platoon partner.
Blalock stayed healthy enough in 2009 to play in 123 games — more than the previous two years combined — but hit only .234 and struck out 108 times in 462 at-bats despite hitting 25 homers. You wouldn’t think he’s finished at age 29, but at this point, he’s going to have to accept a minor-league deal to prove doubters wrong.
A: Nobody likes the unequal division system, Cody. Obviously, the four-team AL West mathematically is much easier to win than the six-team NL Central.
But your idea is unworkable simply because you can’t have 15 teams in each league. You must have a 16-14 split — an even number of teams in each league — or scheduling would be impossible. (Unless to go along with your realignment, there would be at least one interleague game per day — but we know that’s not going to happen.)
But that’s not to say there won’t be some realignment in the foreseeable future — even without an expansion or contraction, neither of which is being discussed any longer.
A handful of ideas have been floated, and although very unlikely to be instituted, they have some merit.
Geography always is going to play a huge part in things, but unless far more revenue sharing is a part of the next Basic Agreement, the Yankees and Red Sox will be dominating the AL East for quite awhile.
So one idea is to have a rotational situation in which the Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles and some of the AL Central teams switch divisions every three years or so.
Another proposal involves a situation similar to the soccer system where teams move between a super division and a lesser division based on the previous year’s performance — i.e. win the lesser division and you move up to the super division; finish last in the super division, and you move down.
Just food for thought.
A: Padres CEO Jeff Moorad says he is hopeful something can be worked out to keep Gonzalez long-term.
But Gonzalez’s agent, John Boggs, also recently was quoted as saying he feels the Padres will be forced to deal his client before the July 31 trade deadline.
So we’ll see where it goes from here, but signs are pointing to Boggs’ point of view. The Padres’ payroll dropped about $30 million between 2008 ($73 million) and 2009 ($43 million), and it’s going to stay in that range in 2010.
Gonzalez actually is an absolute steal at $4.75 million this season, and the Padres do have a 2011 option on him at the ridiculously low price of $5.5 million. So I don’t know why they seem so interested in dealing him so quickly.
I would keep him through this season unless I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. Then go into the 2010-11 off-season, and see what develops in the trade market.
Two seasons is a long time, and you don’t know what could happen. Maybe the Padres’ financial and talent situations will improve enough by the end of 2011 that they could be in position to offer Gonzalez something he would accept. But odds are, Gonzalez will be dealt before July 31.
A: Yes, the drug screening all major-league players are subjected to includes recreational drugs in addition to performance-enhancers.
But you have to realize that Lincecum only was charged with misdemeanor counts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession stemming from a traffic stop on Oct. 30.
(The charges later were reduced to a civil infraction, and he paid a $513 fine plus a speeding ticket fine.)
Since he has failed no MLB-sponsored drug tests, he’ll face no punishment from MLB.
And, since the Giants avoided an arbitration hearing — in which they could have used the possession bust as evidence in their case — and instead agreed on a two-year, $23-million deal with Lincecum, they aren’t going to pursue the matter any further, either.
Let’s hope the incident serves as a warning sign to Lincecum, who has to know he can’t put himself in that kind of situation again.