Perhaps you are still hung over from days of studying college basketball bracketology. Or busy combing the Internet for more Reverend Wright shock-sermon videos. Or consumed by Britney’s conservatorship case. Or maybe you just work for a living.
Chances are that you haven’t paid attention to many Major League Baseball offseason news items over the past five months, excepting perhaps the very public crash-and-burn of Roger Clemens’s reputation. For those who are neither daily readers of BaseballMusings.com nor frequent guests at Jose Canceso’s wild parties, but who still love the game, here’s a primer to get you caught up in time for Opening Day — in America, anyway. (The Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s opened the season in Tokyo this morning.)
BORAS, CLEMENS, AND A COLD, CRUEL WINTER This offseason actually started before the postseason had even concluded. During the seventh inning of game four of the World Series, word leaked out that superstar Alex Rodriguez had opted out of his New York Yankees contract and would test the free-agent market. Peter Gammons of ESPNnearly blew a gasket, accusing A-Rod and his agent, Scott Boras, of trying to upstage the Red Sox sweep of the Colorado Rockies. George Steinbrenner’s son Hank made it clear that his team wanted nothing more to do with Boras’s client.
In due course, the American League’s Most Valuable Player panicked, sidelined his agent, sought out Warren Buffett’s advice, and finally signed a long-term contract to remain happily rich and ensconced in the Bronx for a long, long time. Meanwhile, Boras’s fortunes would sink still lower, after Kenny Rodgers fired him and Gary Sheffield ripped him publicly for a deal consummated years earlier.
On the bright side, at least Boras isn’t facing a potential indictment for lying to Congress. That summons will likely be reserved for Roger Clemens, by far the most visible player fingered in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. MLB nation was glued to the tube last month to watch the House Government Reform Committee’s tag-team wrestling match featuring Clemens and most of the panel’s Republicans versus Patrick McNamee and most of the Democrats. The committee probed Roger Clemens on his diet (“Have you ever been a vegan?” asked one member), whether he will go to Heaven (“surely,” according to another), and what jersey he might wear into Cooperstown (“Leavenworth,” quipped Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski).
Predictably, commentators on cable-news shows were quick to blame Congress for wasting the taxpayers’ money and not devoting its attention to more pressing business. (Someone might want to ask Shepherd Smith why his network showed the hearing uninterrupted in the first place. And even after the hearing mercifully concluded, why didn’t Shep alert viewers to breaking news — namely, the bomb blast in Damascus that vaporized Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imed Mughniyeh, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, Argentines, and Israelis? Just asking.)
DÉJÀ VU IN L.A. AND OTHER TRANSACTIONS One year ago, the management of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim determined that outside help was needed in centerfield. The club brought in Gary Matthews Jr. for five years at $50 million. The Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles felt the same: Juan Pierre was signed for five years and $45 million.
Fast forward one year: The management for the Angels and Dodgers determined that outside help was still needed in centerfield. (Never mind that, as Phil Gurnee of SportsHubLA.com pointed out, both teams’ general managers strongly defended their acquisitions at the end of last season.) This time, the Angels hooked up with Torii Hunter, the Dodgers with Andruw Jones. The former takes home five years and $90 million; the latter receives only two years but at $19 million per season — an astounding contract, considering that Jones had just endured his worst season in the majors.
There were several trades of note, most involving star pitchers in return for talented prospects. The New York Mets won the Johan Santana sweepstakes, acquiring the ace from the Minnesota Twins for considerably less value than had been anticipated; the Seattle Mariners picked up lefty Eric Bedard from the Baltimore Orioles; the A’s shipped Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks; the Detroit Tigers grabbed Dontrelle Willis — and monster third baseman Miguel Cabrera (who’s still only 25 years old) — from the Florida Marlins; the St. Louis Cardinals sent talented but injury-prone third baseman Scott Rolen to the Toronto Blue Jays for Troy Glaus, another talented but injury-prone third baseman; and the Chicago White Sox acquired power-hitting outfielder Nick Swisher from Oakland.
Swisher is not the only new outfielder in the Windy City. The crosstown Cubs made a big splash in the free-agent market in December by signing Japanese right fielder Kosuke Fukudome (no, it’s not pronounced that way) to a four-year $48 million contract. Unfortunately, Cubs management chose to celebrate the signing by releasing promotional materials featuring Fukudome utilizing a “Rising Sun” flag image. As On205th.com explained, the image managed to offend some American World War II veterans, not to mention the entire populations of Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Oops.
COMINGS AND GOINGS Last year, mediocre free-agent starting pitchers Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Gil Meche signed lucrative, multi-year contracts with new clubs. This winter saw the end of such irrational exuberance, as mediocre free-agent starters Kyle Lohse, Josh Fogg, and Bartolo Colon were kept in limbo until late in spring training before they agreed to bottom-of-the-barrel one-year deals with the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Red Sox, respectively.