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Mussina Hung ‘em Up at the Perfect Time

On the mound, Mike Mussina didn’t show much emotion. He never had the fire or flare of a superstar, and never struck most Yankee fans as the type of stopper they expected to have for a guy making $19 mil a year in the final seasons of his then-monster contract. Perhaps it’s the money that kept the fans from realizing what Mussina was really all about — a consistent dose of high-level pitching that almost always gave his team a chance to win.

Mussina did his best work with the Orioles for the most part, which allowed him to make a killing upon signing with the Yanks. He never did take his game to the next level in NYC and win a Cy Young, but he did remain what he had been — a guy who tossed tons of innings at a 3.50 ERA level in the AL East — not too damn shabby. Things started to go down hill in ’04 and ’05 for Moose before he bounced back in ’06 only to struggle once again in ’07. In retrospect, he was by that point past his prime and already in the downside of his career. That’s what makes ’08 such a special season for the Moose.

Things couldn’t have possibly gone more wrong for Mussina in ’07. He went on the DL early in the season and never really seemed comfortable. He was afraid to attack the strike zone fearing that his pitches (much slower than when he was in his prime) would get crushed and he became ineffective. He was so bad that each start was worse than the next and he got demoted to the bullpen. Playing in front of the New York media and with the demanding Yankee fans made the situation about as bad as it could be; this was one of the top pitchers in the game hitting his absolute low point.

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Writer Encouraging Free Agent Doom for the Yankees with A.J. Burnett

Look, the Yankees already do a good enough job screwing up their team via free agency without needing help from outsiders. Think Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright for starters. Last year, the front office listened to the writers who suggested they start rebuilding their farm system and stay away from signings that plagued them in the past. So what happened? They decided not to trade the likes of Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera to the Twins for Johan Santana and they missed the playoffs for the first time since Brian Cashman had hair. Now they’re going back to their old ways and will use that Johan money on CC (who’s a worse investment in my opinion). And they’re not going to stop there; they’re going for Burnett, Lowe, Teixeira, and Manny. Heck, their only constraint is a 25-man roster. Apparently they haven’t learned the lesson that spending isn’t the answer — spending wisely is. I don’t think A.J. Burnett is a good investment, but some media members do. Take venerable front office man George A. King III of the New York Post:

Burnett, 32 in January, went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA for the Blue Jays this past season before opting out of the final two seasons, leaving $24 million on the table.

Coming off a career-high in victories, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is easily the second-best pitcher on the free-agent market behind Sabathia, so $15 million to $16 million a season for four or five years isn’t out of the question.

OK, let’s examine a few things here: 32 in January — fact. 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA for the Blue Jays — fact. Opting out of the contract — fact. 6’5″ 230-pounder vital stats — fact. Easily the second-best pitcher on the free-agent market? Are you kidding me? Says who, you? What makes Burnett the second-best pitcher on the market? If anything, replace “easily” with “arguably” or “potentially” and I’m fine with it. Even still, I’d rather invest my money in Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets, thus making Burnett the fourth-best pitcher on the market. To me, this is the difference between spending and spending wisely. Dropping $80mil on Burnett isn’t a wise investment. But according to baseball scout and stat guru George King, it is. So now that gets everyone who reads the Post and follows the Yankees thinking this is a no-brainer. Let me ask this: in four years when the Yankees are in danger of missing the playoffs and people are bitching about the $18mil a year they’re paying Burnett, is King going to be there to say he was a great signing, or is he going to criticize the team for their free-spending ways? The Yankees need to be cautious not reckless. And the media sure isn’t helping the cause here.

Nolan Ryan Whipping the Rangers’ Young Pitchers into Shape

Compared to the old days, or even when Nolan Ryan pitched, the hurlers these days are pussies. That’s putting the Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Brandon Webb crowd aside considering those dudes actually make efforts to finish off their games on a regular basis. I’m not saying the way we handle pitchers these days is a bad thing, but I am saying that somewhere along the line pitch counts, Dr. James Andrews, and guaranteed contracts took the place of rosin bags, chewing tobacco, and rubber arms. Thankfully the Texas Rangers still have Nolan Ryan to guide the new generation through the wussied waters. Mr. Express is putting 10 of the youngest, more-promising arms in the Rangers’ system through a conditioning regimen:

On the third day of conditioning camp at The Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday, the 10 young pitchers the Rangers summoned for this occasion had still yet to throw a baseball.

By the end of the day Friday, the last day of camp, the number of pitches that will have been thrown still will be the same: zero.

That’s the one thing many of the durable pitchers share in common: strong legs from good conditioning. Isn’t that something those big Texans like Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens had in common? Well, that and maybe they shared something else too. For people who consider themselves so medically advanced, it’s amazing to see how many pitchers go down with injuries these days. Maybe Ryan’s right. Maybe they all need to start focusing their conditioning on their legs — certainly didn’t hurt for him.

Why Would the A’s Acquire Matt Holliday?

The answer to that question should be pretty self-explanatory: the guy’s a damn good player. Matt Holliday’s an All-Star, an MVP candidate. He’s going to help any lineup in which he’s hitting. He’s going to play good defense in left field and even steal you a good amount of bases. And for his extraordinary skills, he’s going to be paid a boatload of money after the season when he becomes a free agent. So if that’s the case, then why the heck would the Oakland A’s want a piece of him? I think there are three reasons why the A’s feel it was worth their while to trade for Matt Holliday.

First of all, as previously outlined, Holliday’s an exceptionally talented player. Perhaps the A’s feel that adding Holliday’s bat will allow them to compete for the AL West crown, especially if the Angels fail to retain Mark Teixiera. Secondly, the A’s dismantled their team last year and traded away their top players despite having a good record at the time of the deals. Maybe the A’s wanted to make a move that would renew fan interest and help the fans regain confidence in the club. Lastly, maybe the A’s want to see how good they are with Holliday in the lineup. If they’re not as good as hoped, then Beane will have a strong bargaining chip at the trade deadline — someone for whom he feels he can get as much in return as he initially gave up (or close to it). That scenario is entirely possible.

Or maybe just maybe getting Holliday out of Coors will make both his numbers and free agent demand drop off. Maybe Billy Beane just wants to cost agent Scott Boras and his client major bucks. Oh yeah, and I think this is a great move for the Rox. Get some quality players (Greg Smith, Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez) in return for a guy you know you won’t be retaining after the year. This is a deal that should benefit both sides.

Jake Peavy Now Playing GM, Too

OK, so the Padres need a ton of help to become a competitive team again. Their offense last year was dreadful. They have one All-Star stick in Adrian Gonzalez, and a few decent ones in Brian Giles and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Their lineup was so bad that Jody Gerut appeared to be a brilliant pick up. There aren’t many hitters in the pipeline either, so San Diego is desperate to turn around their offense. Their pitching wasn’t terrible last year, being anchored by Jake Peavy, and Chris Young (when he wasn’t having his face caved in by line drives). Still, not too many arms in waiting there. And despite pitching like an ace again last season, Jake Peavy only wound up 10-11, with the team going 12-15 in games he started. As good as he is, with no offense and a bad defense behind him, even Peavy’s only a .500 pitcher. That’s why it makes sense to trade him — which has become a virtual certainty for the Padres at this point. Only a few problems.

Jake Peavy has an exclusive list of teams to which he’ll accept a trade, and for the most part, it’s to National League clubs he deems as contenders. Using what I just outlined as evidence, the Padres know they need several players in return in order to compete. And therein lies the problem: Peavy doesn’t want his arrival to result in the crippling of the team to which he is traded, which is why he’s now playing GM, too. Here’s the logic from Peavy’s agent that explains the potential holdups: “One of the things we will want to look at some point is, ‘Who are you giving up? How much are you weakening your team to make this deal?’” [Barry] Axelrod said. “If Team X trades three starting pitchers and a starting shortstop to get Jake Peavy, that lessens their chance of being a successful team.” So not only is Jake limiting the list of teams to which he’d accept a trade, now he’s being picky about who his new team is giving up. And you know what? I have no problem with it.

Jake already did the Padres a tremendous favor signing with them for more than a bargain discount. This is a guy who won the triple crown of pitching and the Cy Young unanimously. He could have named his price on the free agent market, yet he accepted a 3-year $52 million extension from the Padres. Barry Zito got $126 million over 7 years. Jake’s already done the Padres a huge favor, no need to do them a second. As for the Padres, from what I’ve heard in the rumor mill, it doesn’t sound like they’ll be getting back as much as they should for an ace of Peavy’s caliber. We shall see.

Don’t Buy Dodgers’ P.R. Spin on Manny

I love the way the Dodgers are trying to play this whole Manny Ramirez free agent negotiation. It’s going down exactly as I expected. Anyone who follows the Dodgers knows that Frank McCourt can’t afford to pay Manny the type of money he wants and probably deserves. At the same time, Manny is ridiculously popular with the fan base and McCourt can’t afford to have the fans be disappointed when the team doesn’t re-sign Man-Ram. So what do the Dodgers do? Exactly what they did Wednesday night.

In case you missed it, GM Ned Colletti made it abundantly clear to the free world that the Dodgers made Manny a contract offer. They used buzz phrases like “highest paid in franchise history” and “2nd highest annual salary” to sell the fans on their efforts. The Dodgers are trying to make it known to every reporter and fan that they are putting their best foot forward. They’re trying to position themselves as the good guys and Manny/Scott Boras as the bad guys when Manny goes to accept a longer-term deal worth more guaranteed money.

I’m guessing the Dodgers are offering two years, probably no more than three, at around $25 million or more per season. That’s fine for them because it’s short term and they can’t be hurt too much if Manny’s skills or interest start to decline. Everyone knows Manny won’t accept that; if he was willing to take a short-term deal, he could have stuck with the Red Sox and the guaranteed $40 million he was set to make with them over the next two seasons. He’s in it for the long-term guaranteed money — his one last chance to cash in. He’s probably going to get a four-year $100 million deal from some team. When Manny goes to take that deal, the Dodgers — McCourt, and Colletti — can say “We offered to make him the highest paid player … blah blah blah” and be absolved. They can say it’s not their fault that Manny and Boras are greedy. Meanwhile, I got headlines all over swallowing the Dodgers bait. Even Steve Levy on ESPN took the line and said “Colletti was refreshingly honest about the bid …” yeah, no crap, of course he’s being honest — he has a P.R. game to play. And so far the Dodgers are winning that war … if you don’t see the big picture.

Scott Boras Must Be High on Drugs

If you’re in need of a good laugh, wait no further. We have Scott Boras to credit for the following knee slapper:

Agent Scott Boras told reporters that New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada’s four-year, $52.4 million deal, which was agreed to last offseason, will serve as a benchmark for any team looking to land [Jason] Varitek.

God bless the almighty Rotoworld for passing that snippet along. Need I remind you that Jorge Posada batted .338, with 20 home runs, 90 RBI, and nearly a 1.000 OPS in his walk year? Needless to say Jason Varitek’s .220 and 43 RBI performance last season is worthy of a Posada-like contract. There was a time when their career numbers were quite similar, but there’s no doubt that Jason Varitek’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff the last three years. And if Boras thinks teams will pay $13 million a season for a defensive-minded catcher with a reputation for winning (don’t think that won’t change when he catches Cincinnati’s pitching staff), he’s absolutely on drugs. I wonder if Boras also planned to marry Heidi Klum coming out of college. Nothing wrong with setting your benchmarks high, right?