- After what seemed like a ghastly eternity, Barry Bonds finalized his contract with the Giants, paying him $15.8 million for one year. Giants' officials spent weeks upon weeks trying to hammer out an agreement with Bonds' agent. Speculation was that the club's concerns revolved mainly around Bonds' legal issues. Not only did was the club trying to structure performance bonuses in case of a Bonds injury, they were trying to include some sort of clause that would allow them protection in case Bonds was indicted (and thus unavailable to play). Their first agreement was rejected by the league office, but the sides were finally able to come to terms on a finalized deal. Details were sketchy, but this reliable source says that the club reserves the right to terminate Bonds' contract if he is indicted (with some restrictions), and that Bonds will not file a union grievance if this does occur.
Another very fascinating part of the contract states that Bonds' personal trainers are no longer club employees, and thus will no longer enj0y unfettered access to the clubhouse, etc. This shows that the Giants are trying to put some distance between themselves and Barry's medicine men, something that they probably should have done ten years ago. But where your conscience fails you, fear of a prosecution often compensates.
- A lot of ink has been spilt discussing contract extensions, as far as who's going to get them and who isn't. The most notable example would be the eternally outspoken Curt Schilling, who was not able to reach a deal with the Red Sox, and thus will become a free agent after this season. Schilling has a knack for polarizing public opinion in many ways, and I think the Sox were probably just tired of it. That said, the decision makes perfect business and baseball sense. At Schilling's age, there's no reason to commit big money to 2008 without knowing what 2007 holds. The Sox will miss Schilling, but not very much; he's been replaced as #1 pitcher by Matsuzaka and is too much of a financial risk at his age (and with his poor conditioning).
- Carlos Zambrano, who is also a free agent after this year, made a statement to the effect of "pay me now or lose me" to the Cubs, but then backed off. Making public ultimatums in Spring Training is rarely a good PR move. Even considering that the Cubs have already bought a small Mediterranean island this off-season, they'll probably end up ponying up for their star pitcher; it's just a matter of how much.
- There's been a lot of speculation about Alex Rodriguez's contract. A-Rod's deal has an opt-out clause after this season, similar to the ones included in the J.D. Drew and Aramis Ramirez deals. As if the media doesn't have enough reason to hound A-Rod into a self-imposed exile, now they're obsessing over whether he will decide to opt out of his current deal, as both Drew and Ramirez did.
I can't imagine how miserable it must be to be Alex Rodriguez in New York, but I'm not so sure that A-Rod would choose to opt out. Granted, I'm biased; I don't think he's the son of Satan bent on stealing money from orphans. Even so, both Drew and Ramirez opted out of their deals because, in the current climate, they could do better for themselves. But even considering the financial inflation involved, I'm not sure that A-Rod could find a better deal than his current one. If so, it's doubtful that it would be that much more -- certainly not enough to merit being burned in effigy in the Bronx. We'll see how this plays out, but I don't really see A-Rod "cutting and running" at this point.
- Keith Foulke, unable to make a comeback from the injuries that limited him over the past two years, retired last week. Foulke had signed a deal with Cleveland and was pencilled in as their closer, but this puts the Indians back at square one (i.e. Joe Borowski). Foulke was just 34. He may have been an old 34, but it looked like he still had some good ball to pitch. That he would make this decision after signing a deal must mean that he was in pretty bad shape.
- In what can only be described as some sort of moronic deja vu, there has been a bit of a disagreement expressed over the ownership of the baseball used to record the last out of the 2006 World Series. It hasn't reached the courts yet, and may be nothing more than a slight squabble, but Adam Wainwright has the ball and apparently Yadier Molina wants it.
- In other extension news, the Twins signed up Joe Mauer to a four-year deal that skips over his arbitration years. Good move for them. Bill Hall (of all people) signed an extension with the Brewers, an odd move to lock up a Player Out of Position. Austin Kearns signed a three-year deal to stay in Washington. Also, the Reds signed their two top starters to extensions; Aaron Harang gets a perfectly sensible deal (4 years, $36.5 mil), while Bronson Arroyo signed a two-year extension that will go into effect when his current contract expires after the 2008 season (2 years, $25 mil.). The Harang deal is great. And while I'm not on the "Arroyo-as-ace" bandwagon yet, two more years isn't so unreasonable, even if he is nothing more than above-average. And in 2009, $12.5 million a year won't be too bad for a starter. I guess you can forgive the Reds for getting antsy about their pitching. Two down, ten to go.
(There was an article in Cincinnati's Citybeat newsweekly about the Reds, which claimed that their biggest weakness was their bullpen. That's kind of true, but they're not exactly sitting pretty in terms of offense or starting pitching, and the former is mostly the fault of the current administration. The author was much kinder toward GM Wayne Krivsky than I've been, even suggesting that the complete turnover of his staff in two years is a good thing).
- In more depressing Reds news, Ken Griffey, Jr. confirmed that he did suffer a wrist injury in December, as had been speculated. Griffey claims that he suffered the injury while playing with his children, which may very well be true, considering that the man is made of Waterford crystal. It really looks like we're seeing the end of the old Ken Griffey, Jr., with last year's woeful performance not likely to improve this season.
Over at espn.com's Page 2, Jeff Pearlman begs to differ. He makes the argument that Griffey really was better then Bonds, and he's the one who deserves all the media coverage this Spring. Pearlman's argument is, essentially, that Griffey used to be a pain in the ass, but then grew up. Therefore, he's a better ballplayer than Barry, because he was a stand-up guy who didn't use steroids.
That's very debatable on a statistical level and is pretty doubtful even on an anecdotal level.
Pearlman has not only made the sweeping assumption that Junior is clean, he's determined that that makes him a better person and that it (apparently) jumps the huge gap between him and Barry as players. While we can all be sure that Griffey wasn't as drugged-up as Barry, that doesn't mean that he was clean. He looked clean, yes. But what the hell does that mean?
And even if Griffey was clean and Barry wasn't, there's not enough statistical weight in the world to bridge the gap between their performance on the field. And while I know it's tempting to create some heroes in a pretty barren moral climate, we just shouldn't be doing that. Because we either fail completely, or we deify someone by ignoring their imperfections. And neither I nor Jeff Pearlman nor any other mortal knows enough about Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey to pass this judgment upon them.
I hate to pick apart such an honest article by Pearlman, but I think this is the sort of thing we do too often with athletes. Searching for heroes, we take an athlete (or a politician, or a parent) and turn them into a mythical creature. And when they don't measure up, we blame them completely. Sometimes we'll even go to more trouble to tear down our former heroes than we did building them up in the first place. Doesn't s0und familiar? Look this man in the face and tell me that's not exactly what we did to him.
I'll be back soon with my predictions for 2007, one division at a time. One thing I'm sure of? It's nice to have this.