Hello? Anybody still reading this site? Okay, well, for the faithful who are still checking in, I apologize for the prolonged absence and dearth of content over the past little while. I've been sidetracked by work, then family obligations over the holidays, and I assume the same applies to our other contributors.
Anyway, there has been a lot happening, especially in the world of baseball. Below are my thoughts on some of the transactions, but first, a couple of boxing-related thoughts:
1. Mike Tyson is in trouble with the law after admitting to drug possession. I'm not really sure what to add here, though you wonder when Tyson will finally hit rock bottom, and what it will look like when it does.
2. Speaking of Iron Mike, he makes a cameo in Rocky Balboa. I couldn't understand what he was saying, partly because Grabia was laughing so hard, and partly because it's hard to understand Tyson under normal circumstances. I recommend that everyone goes to see this movie. Despite the reservations expressed by the likes of Bill Simmons, I thought it was well done and thoroughly enjoyable. It was well-written and kept me engaged for the full 102 minutes, had the requisite training and fighting scenes, and unlike some of the other installments, it didn't insult my intelligence too much. So go see it, and enjoy it.
Now to baseball:
Barry Zito to the San Francisco Giants, 8 years, $126 million
When Gil Meche can command $11 million a year, it doesn't seem right to complain about any other pitcher's salary, does it? Anyway, $18 million a year for Zito seems excessive, but given the going rate for starting pitchers on the open market, it's probably fair.
My concern about Zito would be that, aside from the question of whether he can be a #1 or even a #2 starter, his numbers at home with Oakland aren't very impressive. Oakland plays in a spacious ballpark, not unlike the Giants' home park, or those of the Dodgers and Padres, where the Giants play 9 or 10 times a year. If you look at Zito's home/away splits over the past three years, he's been a better pitcher away from Oakland than he has been at home, which would argue against him becoming a more effective pitcher in bigger parks. The difference appears to be his tendency to give up more home runs at home, so if he can get that under control, you might see him post much better numbers. Still, would you wager $126 million on this happening?
I'm hoping Avi will chime in on this point with better projections and analysis than I have, but for now, my crude argument will have to do.
Jeff Suppan to the Milwaukee Brewers, 4 years, $42 million
$10 million for a #3 starter on the open market seems fair. The big question is, with Doug Davis now in Arizona, can Suppan step up and be a #2? If Ben Sheets stays healthy, I think their rotation led by him, Suppan, and Chris Capuano can compete with almost any team in the NL. If their young hitters continue to progress, this team could surprise and contend for the league championship in 2007 or 2008.
Kei Igawa to the New York Yankees, 5 years, $20 million
Counting posting fees, they will end up paying him less than half what the Red Sox will pay Daisuke Matsuzaka, making this a very good gamble. As much as I hate to admit it, the Yankees are having a very solid off-season. If Igawa can establish himself as the #4 starter, the Yankees will have an absolute steal. Even counting his posting fee, their paying just over $9 million a year for his services.
Sheff to the Tigers, Big Unit on the Move?
I love what Brian Cashman did with Sheffield, picking up his option, then flipping him to Detroit for three pitching prospects. Now, having added two starting pitchers (Igawa and Andy Pettitte), and with a few more (Phillip Hughes, Tyler Clippard, Humberto Sanchez) on the way, he's exploring his options on the trade market for Randy Johnson, who has one year left on his contract.
Intentional or not, I think that Brian Cashman has stumbled upon a brilliant strategy for building a franchise. Sign or trade for high-priced veteran all-stars, and when they start to decline and/or no longer fit your plans, trade them for prospects to stock your farm system and use the money you freed up to sign another round of all-star free agents. I think this is going to work wonders.
Texas acquires RHP Brandon McCarthy
This is my favorite move of the off-season so far. The Rangers picked up right-handed prospect Brandon McCarthy from the White Sox in a five-player trade. They gave up three prospects, including top pitching prospect John Danks, but McCarthy still looks to be the best player in the trade. He apprenticed in the bullpen last year, but is poised to move into the rotation in Arlington.
I like this move because the Rangers are adding a potential front-of-the-rotation pitcher without breaking the bank (he earns $332,000 this year) or giving up any major league talent. They now have three hard-throwing righties at the front of their rotation (McCarthy, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla); coupled with their powerful lineup, they have a good chance of winning the AL West, especially since the A's and Angels will open the season with some serious question marks about their clubs (starting pitching depth and power hitting, and hitting overall, respectively).
Other Moves I Like
Texas taking a one-year gamble on Eric Gagne
Oakland signing Mike Piazza to replace Frank Thomas
San Francisco adding Dave Roberts to its outfield
St. Louis signing Kip Wells to a one year, $4 million deal.
The Dodgers adding Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf to its rotation.
The Padres signing Greg Maddux to replace Woody Williams in the rotation, and adding Marcus Giles at second.
The Phillies taking a gamble on Adam Eaton.
Moves I Didn't Like
The Angels "boosting" their offense by adding Shea Hillenbrand and Gary Matthews Jr.
Baltimore spending $40 million dollars to add Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Jamie Walker to its bullpen.
The Dodgers failing to boost their hitting.
The Astros replacing Clemens and Pettitte with Woody Williams and Jason Jennings (who might be okay).
Pretty much everything the Chicago Cubs have done.
Assumptions For What Will Happen Between Now and Opening Day
The Indians will find a closer.
The Mets will find a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Randy Johnson will be traded.
Early Picks for the Playoffs
AL: New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Texas
NL: New York, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Diego