It almost feels like Christmas in December. It’s baseball’s annual right of passage, winter free agent signings that net sums of money so ghastly even hedge fund managers are blushing. At this rate, the good folks at Major League Baseball may have to change the name to World $eries. The holidays are upon us, but don’t be confused. That slightly rotund fellow wearing red ain’t Santy Claus, it’s Lance Berkman, who last season ho-ho-hummed his way to a .248 batting average yet still Madoff with eight million dollars from the Cardinals. Nope, there’s no jolly old Saint Nick Punto or Johnson (they haven’t been signed yet).
What’s a Jayson worth you ask? Well, aside from the gross misspelling (someone should let him know already), how about a tidy $126 million over seven years. Forget a spruce, the Nats’ new addition may now hang his ornaments on a sequoia. I thought the folks in Washington DC were trying to rein in wasteful spending. He’d better do well in the nation’s capital or else someone in the Nationals’ front office made a huge Boehner. Ostensibly, there were no three wise men behind that deal.
Each year, baseball’s general managers descend on Florida like so many aging retirees who sport various shades of vibrantly-colored plaid pants. Both come in search of early bird specials. The only difference is that Dave Dombrowski is more likely to splurge on an overcooked piece of meat than, say, Uncle Mort. One can only imagine the reaction of Joaquin Benoit, a 33-year-old right-hander signed by the Tigers for $16.5 million despite the fact he has a career ERA approaching the Michigan state sales tax and a less-than-stellar 31-28 career record. He may be dashing through the snow in the Motor City, but can probably now afford more than one horse to pull that open sleigh (though convertibles are not really trendy in the D in the middle of winter).
In Los Angeles, where winter is as foreign as baseball titles these days, Dodgers fans must have been over-excited when they found out that their team had just acquired Tony Gwynn. But as soon as the knee-jerk reaction subsided, disappointment reigned once the realization kicked in that this was 2010 and it is the son who hit .204, approximately the same number that senior weighed in his svelte Big League days. There was no word on whether they could have coaxed Mr. Padre out of retirement to hit for a somewhat higher average. Perhaps the Dodgers were trying to balance their Gwynn-loss record after striking out twice with Chris during the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, it wouldn’t be a holiday arrangement for the Dodgers without a garland, so LA signed Jon, who has not the slightest ability to sing like Judy, but does have a better fastball.
If Rockies hopefuls were looking under the tree for a big surprise this year, they better have been wearing De La Rosa-colored glasses, because Jorge’s salary just got doubled after an 8-7 year. One may wonder whether Boof is the sound of a Mets fan getting punched in the stomach or their new front-of-the-rotation starter. Adam Dunn? Nope, Chicago thinks he’s got plenty left with a $56 million dollar deal. Scott Downs? Three years and 15 million dollars suggest that he’s on the up. Aubrey Huff has nothing to huff about with a hefty price paid by the Giants to re-sign the slugger. Presumably, Aaron Harang didn’t do too much haranguing of San Diego before they relented and handed over a four million dollar check.
The biggest surprise of the free-agent signing hullabaloo was Cliff Lee, apparently taking less money to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. Although, your definition of “less” may differ, $120 million can buy plenty of cheesesteaks (and a subsequent massive coronary). As of right now, after hours of scrupulous research, the genealogy tree yields no relation between this writer and the left hander. But, if there ever was a chance meeting, there’s plenty of material: uh, we both have August birthdays … He pitched in Texas for four months, I spent four months in a Denton motel one night. Putting him alongside the Roys: Halladay and Oswalt, makes for a better trio than those Tenors — Pavarotti could never hit a sinker anyway.
So, while the big contracts continue to get doled out to the shrinking pool of hitters and pitchers, teams continue to fight over the last schmo and (Kevin) Mench, like the perennial rock ‘em, sock ‘em fest that breaks out every year between parents jousting over the last Tickle Me Elmo and Furby. While the Boston Red Sox cleaned off the shelf, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to create a galaxy of stars, Yankees GM Brian Cashman may need one of those Roger Clemens B-vitamin shots this holiday season when he unfurls the wrapping on his new starting rotation only to reveal not a supernova but, alas, just an Ivan Nova.Google+