Houston slugger Lance Berkman basically split the difference between his and the teams’
arbitration offers, settling on a one-year deal for$10.5 million.A nice deal for a guy who will start the season on the disabled list due to a flag football injury.Berkman will be a free-agent after the 2005 season, is in a strong bargaining position
for a long-term deal, given the aging core of Astros players and the recent loss of Carlos Beltran.
A for Astros and Arbitration
The difficult off-season
in Houston continues.Even after signing Berkman,
the ‘Stros are preparing for arbitration hearings with three pitchers - Pete Munro, Roy Oswalt and Tim Redding.No team has more cases pending.These hearings are scheduled
starting the week after next.
Sammy Sosa’s trade to the
Baltimore Orioles is close to being completed, says the AP.The Cubs get a very
good second baseman/outfielder, Jerry Hairston, plus prospects.In return, they
ship Sosa and a boatload of cash to the O’s.So much money in fact, that it will
make the Cards dumping of Tino Martinez appear to be a bargain.OK, maybe not…
Anyway, Hairston will look nice as the Cubbies new leadoff man, but the Baby Bruins are still at least one outfielder short
coming into the 2005 season.Magglio Ordonez?http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylc=X3oDMTBpNWZic251BF9TAzI1NjY0ODI1BHNlYwN0aA--?slug=ap-cubs-orioles-sosa&prov=ap&type=lgns
Another more recent former
Cardinal, outfielder Colin Porter (2004), signed a minor league deal with the Yankees back on December 10.I think I may have missed the signing at the time.Good luck
to a fine young man who never showed enough with the bat to impress the Cardinals brass after being claimed on waivers from
the Astros last January.
Season ticket holders
Check your mail, as seating
location info for the new ballpark has been sent out.
It’s all your fault.You pushed him off the ledge.Well, not you, unless you are one
of the most vocal fantasy message board regulars and/or militant subscribers of Baseball HQ.The latter is one of the leading fantasy baseball advice sources in the business, published by former consultant to
the St. Louis Cardinals, Ron Shandler.
That’s right – former consultant.At the end of December, Shandler gave his Cardinals employer, Vice President of Baseball
Development Jeff Luhnow, a 30-day notice to end his nearly-one year tenure with the team. Shandler’s
Cardinals run closes early next week.
Shandler explains his decision
in a letter to his Baseball HQ clients today.He cites several reasons, but the
net is that his credibility was on the line and as a result, he had to take action.Frankly, it didn’t seem to be all that difficult of a decision for him.Says
Shandler, “I am in a unique situation that has forced my hand. I have no choice.”
Here is my synopsis of the
factors surrounding Shandler’s decision.
1) Increasing loss of
independent sabermetric industry voices as they have been hired
away by teams.Shandler laments the loss of folks like Mat Olkin, Bill James
and others who are no longer able to share their knowledge with the baseball community as a whole because their efforts are
internally-focused on a single organization.Shandler implies he doesn’t want
to be stifled like them.
2) Lack of influence.Shandler observed that his role
with the Cardinals was very different from the “control freak” approach he prefers.Let’s face it, as part of the Cardinals’ support structure, in effect, Shandler was a consultant to a consultant.After all, Luhnow spent time in the past working for the mother of all consulting
organizations, McKinsey and Company.As Shandler puts it, “Heck, that's the way
most corporations work. And that's why I was most ecstatic to leave Corporate America over a decade ago.”
In addition, it is fair
to assume that Advisory Board members coming to the table with differing philosophies of player evaluation did not always
agree with one another and that did not always foster an ideal working relationship among the parties.
3) Less than complete
upstream, there is the matter of how the sabermetric-driven input is actually being accepted and used by the Cardinals.Luhnow acknowledges it is but one decision-making factor considered by the team and
it is his role and that of the Advisory Board to consult and advise.That is
only right, and it clearly takes time to build credibility.But, this could distance
someone like Shandler one level further from being able to look in the mirror and know for sure that he was able to make a
Let’s be clear.Leaving was 100% Shandler’s decision.In fact, Luhnow tried
to convince Shandler to remain and continues to be very complimentary of his work.
Another person with
personal experience is Mark Johnson, who also left the Cardinals’ employ recently.Ever
so tactfully, Johnson said, “Speaking from experience, I am sure that Ron's decision to sever his
connections to the Cardinals organization was not an easy one to make.There
is no doubt in my mind, however, that he’ll refocus his attention on his readers and explore other relationships where he
could have a greater impact on the decision-making process.”
4) Perceived loss of
is clearly the clincher.For almost 20 years, Shandler’s bread and butter has
been Baseball HQ and its related enterprises, which he built from scratch.It
is not a stretch to assume that Shandler would never be able to retire on what he earned with the Cardinals.
Yet, over the recent months,
some of Shandler’s Baseball HQ customers and others who are potential customers directly questioned his integrity, making
some ridiculous and embarrassing accusations in the process.For example, one
reader actually accused him of tanking his projections on Mark Mulder in an attempt to lower the pitcher’s perceived market
value, easing the Cardinals ability to acquire Mulder via trade.
Upon reading Shandler’s
low projections on Mulder, yet having seen the Cardinals just acquire him, others accused Shandler of maintaining a double
standard; as if his projections and the trade needed to be somehow bizarrely hardwired together and rationalized as one.In his article, Shandler provides other equally-startling examples of where his attempts
to maintain impartiality were misinterpreted and attacked by those upon whom his livelihood depends.
Granted, some of these warped
cases are most extreme and miles from reality, yet they had to sting.I asked
Shandler why he couldn’t ignore them.His reply: “I have to be cognizant of all
public perception as that filters down to people's decision-making process when considering whether or not to buy my products.”
While the criticisms are
invalid, they brought Shandler to realize he could no longer remain in both camps.In
his own words: “In order to protect the public perception about the legitimacy of my work, I have to step down.”
While what happened (or
didn’t happen) over the past year with the Advisory Board may have put Shandler on the ledge, it is the message board yappers
and some of his HQ subscribers who appear to have given him the final shove.
Congratulations, rabblerousers.In some part, because you aren’t more understanding of the differences between the
real and fantasy worlds, you get 100% of your man back.However, the Cardinals
lose a valued and respected voice as a result.
Still, all is not lost for
the team.Deric McKamey and Doug Dennis, two of HQ’s brightest minds, will stay
on with the Cardinals’ Advisory Board.But, not Ron Shandler.As he notes, he made the atypical choice of fantasy-land over the real world.I wish he hadn’t, but I really can’t blame him for doing so.
In “The Buzz” column from
the February 26-March 1 USA Today Sports Weekly, writer Bob Nightengale reports that before signing with Tampa Bay, Roberto
Alomar was promised the starting job at second by the Cardinals.Assuming that
is true, the team must have guaranteed the offer.It also signals that they are
not as confident in Mark Grudzielanek as we may have been led to believe.Could
a trade still be in the offing?
Pujols for Nike Pro apparel
Some may have already seen
the new Nike advertising featuring six prominent athletes, including Albert Pujols.His segment is called Game Face.It is spread all over ESPN.com’s home
page this week.But, the best way to view the video clip of Albert’s commercial
is to go here.
One of the best minor league
experts out there, John Sickels, is leaving the employ of ESPN.com. Sickels pens the regular “Down on the Farm” feature
articles there and is the author of “The Baseball Prospect Book”.His future
plans have not been divulged, but note that his website, www.johnsickels.com, is hosted by Jason Grey and his team at Mastersball.com. Sickels' announcement
is here. Sickels leaving ESPN
Tim Kurkjian of ESPN penned
a great article about Scott Rolen and the brand of baseball that he plays.A
great read if you haven’t seen it already. ESPN Rolen story
Mariners make sabermetric
Another prominent writer
who did time at USA Today Sports Weekly, Mat Olkin, of “Mat at Bat” fame, was hired by the Seattle Mariners as a “player acquisition
consultant”.Olkin has a long history in the stats community and has a distinguished
resume’.Cards consultant Ron Shandler is mentioned in the story here.Olkin signs with M's
Bob Nightengale’s “Major League Report” column in the January 26-February
1 USA Today Sports Weekly has a very disturbing and embarrassing close.It follows:
”PAY UP: It boggles
the mind that clubs won't blink paying their players an extra $1 million or so, but when it comes time to pay their employees,
they act bankrupt.
The Cardinals, for example, better hurry and come to their senses before it's too late because they're
on the verge of losing general manager Walt Jocketty, the 2004 Executive of the Year, perhaps to the Diamondbacks.
widely considered one of the finest GMs in the game, is on the verge of resigning and accepting another GM job if the Cardinals
don't re-sign him soon. His contract expired Dec. 31, 2004, and the Cardinals' ownership has yet to sign him to an extension.
St. Louis offered Jocketty a three-year, $2.1 million extension — paying him $650,000, $700,000 and $750,000 — well below market
price considering Jocketty's tenure. Jocketty, 54, not only would remain one of the lowest-paid GMs in baseball, but he would
be paid nearly one-third of what GMs John Hart of Texas and David Dombrowski of Detroit get. They earn $2 million a year.
"I'd like to work out something here, but nothing's been done yet," says
Jocketty, whose teams have reached the postseason in three of the past four years. "Several clubs have expressed an interest.
If nothing happens shortly, I'll have to look at that."
The Diamondbacks and at least one other club have informed
Jocketty that they're extremely interested in him if he leaves.”
Walton’s take:This is a sham and a total embarrassment
to the Cardinals and their fans, not to mention to Jocketty himself.With the
revenues of the club, the success of the team and personal wealth of ownership, I can only hope this coming to light will
bring them to their senses immediately.
Still, it should never have
gotten to this point where the contract has to be negotiated via the press.Mr.
DeWitt, pay the man what he deserves.Period.End of story.
At Busch Stadium on October
Central time, Edgar Renteria bounced to pitcher Keith Foulke, who softly tossed the baseball underhand to Boston Red Sox first
baseman and defensive replacement, Doug Mientkiewicz.With that, the 2004 World
Series was history.
After 86 years of frustration
was released, the long-tortured Red Sox faithful apparently didn’t know how to act.With primadonna Pedro Martinez gone, goofball and Series MVP Manny Ramirez quiet and caveman Johnny Damon on his honeymoon,
the Beantowners managed to create their own issue out of virtually nothing.
A call to Mientkiewicz from
a Boston Globe writer hoping to unearth some fresh dirt on the first base rivalry between Minky and Kevin Millar didn’t achieve
its objective.So, instead, the writer changed his approach.As a result, Minky was blindsided in a January 7 story and before he knew it was cast far and wide as an
evil, money-grubbing villain for keeping that final-out ball from the Series.
Minky’s comments were twisted
and misconstrued as the story was told and retold.But, several points are clear:MLB declared the ball was his and any issues were between Minky and the Red Sox.Also clear was the fact that at the time the story broke, no one from the Sox had
even asked Minky for the ball.
In addition, it quickly
came to light that other respected players and past World Series heroes such as Cal Ripken, Jr. and A.J. Burnett had kept
their teams’ Series final out balls and no one seemed to care.Not so in the
east coast land of frustration, where it became front-page news.
After ignoring this story
for weeks, the reason I finally broke down and wrote this is due to reader emails from those who keep seeing this repeated
and morphed in the media.In fact, some have gone as far as to assert that the
Cardinals have the most valid claim for that damn ball.Well, I say, who cares?
Yet, the Mientkiewicz stories
go on and on.When I was in Boston a couple
of weeks ago, I though it was over.In fact, Sox general manager Theo Epstein
announced on stage to tremendous cheers at the “Hot Stove, Cool Music” charity event that an agreement had been struck with
Minky and the ball was on its way to Boston.I guess that hasn’t happened yet.
By the way, one of the most
prominent Sox players in the post-season, yet one who was run out of town, pitcher Derek Lowe, has the ALCS-winning game ball
in his possession, presented to him by none other than Mientkiewicz.Reportedly,
Lowe has no intention of giving that up despite the fact that many seem to value the victory over the Yankees far more than
the win over St. Louis.Lowe is now employed by the Los
Despite his defensive strengths,
Mientkiewicz’ job has also been in jeopardy since he hit .215 in his 107 regular-season at-bats with Boston.But, matters got even tenser on December 17, when Millar came out in
the press and said one of the two of them had to go.With his Red Sox career
on the line, perhaps Minky wants to maintain a bit of leverage with those who both hold his contract and treasure his prized
Folks, get a grip.It’s all a game.
As a recent MLB.com story
observed, the likely scenario is that Mientkiewicz will maintain ownership of the ball and loan it to the Sox for display.I’ve held the 2004 World Series trophy and I can assure you it is several thousand
times more impressive than a garden-variety baseball, anyway.
What a non-story.Leave to the Red Sox Nation to turn it into one.
P.S.For those who just can’t get enough of this gripping tale, here are some links for your reading entertainment.
Red Sox Nation for $9.95
or Cardinal Nation for Free
Some might conclude
that I am overly concerned about the Boston Red Sox, given my recent spurt of stories about them.It might have something to do with the unfortunate series in October or the untimely abandonment by the
Cardinals’ former shortstop.However, the reality of the matter is that World
Champs bring negative focus on themselves due to their money-grubbing attitude toward fans.
Was winning the World Series
a license for greed?We’ve already seen what it meant for their spring training
ticket prices.Now, the latest is something called “Red Sox Nation”.The team apparently devised this money-making scheme to actually squeeze a bit more from their loyal fans.
I received an email yesterday
learning of this.The note informed me that I was selected for a special “Exclusive
Ticket Opportunity” to get a chance in a drawing to maybe buy Red Sox tickets for selected games before sale to the general
public.All I need to do is fork over $9.95 to join the Red Sox Nation.That way, I could learn more, like basics such as what games at what prices, for example.
Or, looking at it the other
way, unless you pay some juice up front, tickets to the games you may want could be long gone before you ever knew what hit
Yeah, they throw in some
other stuff for the $9.95, but Joe or Jane average fan may or may not value them.Things
like a newsletter, a special web page, special offers at the RedSox.com shop, GameDay audio and best of all, an “Official
Red Sox Nation Citizenship Card”.
I don’t need to buy a super
cool laminated membership card or a decoder ring to validate and remind me which team I follow.The Sox fans can buy their loyalty.But, being a member of
the Cardinal Nation is priceless!
Yesterday, I hinted about
the contract problems facing the Cardinals next off-season with respect to the starting rotation.It further underlines the importance of not having traded away the young future starters, as the team will
not be able to afford all of the current six starting pitchers in 2006.
To make the point, let’s
assume that each of the six (Mulder, Carpenter, Marquis, Suppan, Morris and Ankiel) each win 15 games in 2005.Now, I know that isn’t likely to happen due to injury or ineffectiveness, yet five of them did reach 15
wins in 2004.So, the bar is not set that high.In fact, some will hopefully do better, but remember, this is an illustration.
I used Baseball Reference’s
comparison feature to identify players on other teams whose stats are similar to the Cardinals starters.That was to help ascertain and validate market value for these guys.Let’s see what each might command next season in this scenario.
Mulder – This one is easy as the team has a $7.25 million option on Mulder’s
services for 2006.
Carpenter – Back-to-back 15 win seasons in the prime of his career.Among the comparable pitchers are Jeff Weaver ($9.25 million in 2005) and Eric Milton (average $8.5 million
over three years).With inflation, a $10 million 2006 salary is not out
of the question.
Marquis – Settled for $3 million in 2005 as last season was his first in the spotlight.Walt Jocketty was quoted as wanting to go year-to-year with Marquis, since the 2005
market prices for pitching were so crazy.Who’s to say it will get better?With two solid seasons under Marquis’ belt, comparables could include Adam Eaton ($3.2
million) and Joe Mays ($7.25 million).Let’s assume Marquis could be signed for
$5 million for 2006.He might be able to get even more in arbitration.
Suppan – His current deal includes a 2006 option at $4 million.Let’s take the simple route and assume the Cards will pay.
Morris – Another 15-win season for Morris is short of his career-best, but he could
still command a deal somewhere in the same $10 million range that Carpenter might get.Remember that is less than the $12.5 million Morris earned in 2004.For
reference, a comparable, Chicago White Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia, recently signed for a $9 million average over three seasons.Another comparable, Tim Hudson, will likely fetch even more next off-season.
Ankiel – If Ankiel proves his mettle to the tune of 15 wins, expect he will surely
get at least the $3 million that Marquis got in 2005, and likely more.I will
estimate $4 million here.Again,
that may be conservative.
So, there you have it.A reasonably-successful 2005 season for the six Cardinals starters could easily lead
to this rotation costing $40 million in 2006.No one can assume that is affordable.So, could a trade or two be made down the road to fill other team needs?Worst case, the Cardinals will get high draft picks for Carpenter and/or Morris if they leave via free
agency in the next off-season.Clearly, at this point, those two look to be most
likely to depart for big bucks elsewhere.
Speaking of other team needs,
closer Jason Isringhausen and the entire bullpen except for Ray King, the second baseman and 2/3 of the starting outfield
are not under contract for 2006.Even if that were not the case, I would be pushing
Walt to get some extensions in place.
Or, is Walt buying time,
hoping Ankiel can come back?That could enable his 2006 rotation to be Mulder,
Ankiel, Marquis, Suppan and a rookie, with Carpenter and Morris being let go.That
rotation would cost about $20 million, which is comparable or slightly less than 2005 when incentives are taken into account.This is surely more in line with the Cardinals’ budget and ability to spend, with
so many other pressing 2006 needs, as well.
But, for now, let’s enjoy
in 2005 what is arguably a $40 million starting staff.It looks to be a one-time-only