Sunday, October 29, 2006

Murray Chass: Series is Over; Let the Bidding Begin

The New York Times
Published: October 29, 2006

In the early days of free agency, one of its fiercest opponents was a veteran baseball executive named Jim Campbell. He was the general manager of the Detroit Tigers, and he refused to sign free agents. They weren’t part of the baseball he knew and loved. Campbell epitomized the old guard who inspired the players union to fight for free agency.

The 2006 Tigers did not win the World Series; no team that played as poorly as they did could win the World Series. But the Tigers have at least entered the modern baseball world. Three players they signed as free agents in the past three years served as their foundation: Iván Rodríguez, Magglio Ordóñez and Kenny Rogers. Jim Campbell is in agony, wherever he is.

“That’s a long time ago,” Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ chief executive and general manager, said Friday in the hour after the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Tigers, eating a chocolate sundae as he talked about Campbell. “The game has changed so much since then. I understand there was a whole different mind-set from some people, but it’s a tool that’s helped us win, and we’ve gotten some good players that way.”

Nearly 200 players are eligible to become free agents in the next two weeks, and 59 filed yesterday, the first day of the 15-day filing period. Among those filing were Barry Bonds, Orlando Hernández and Steve Trachsel. Only a player’s 2006 club may sign him during this 15-day period, but beginning Nov. 12, all clubs are permitted to sign any free agent.

Starting pitchers will be in demand because they always are. Everybody needs starting pitchers, including the biggest spenders, a k a the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Barry Zito is the brightest name on the pitching list, and his record this season — 16-10 for a 102-63 career mark — did nothing to tarnish his stature. Kerry Wood, Mark Buehrle, Randy Wolf and Jason Schmidt can also be free agents, with Wood raising the most questions among the elite group.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Wood has had an injury-plagued career, making a full complement of 32 starts only twice in eight seasons. He started only four games this year and 14 the last two years.

But if you want to ask questions, ask if Roger Clemens will play another season. He hasn’t said, but at 44 years old, he looks as if he can still pitch effectively. This season he had only a 7-6 record, but his 2.30 earned run average sure looked good after a 1.87 in 32 starts the year before.

Mike Mussina will most likely be a free agent because the Yankees aren’t expected to exercise his $17 million option, but they could negotiate a contract at a lower salary by adding a year to the deal.

The Yankees, who had pitching problems the past season, will be one of the teams most actively pursuing pitchers. The Mets will be right there with them, and the competition for Zito could serve as the off-season’s Subway Series.

The free-agent list will have hitters, too, including outfielders Alfonso Soriano, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews, Torii Hunter and Juan Pierre. Among the top infielders who are expected to file are third baseman Aramis Ramírez and second baseman Mark Loretta.

And don’t forget Bonds. Clubs that would consider signing him, including the Giants, have to decide how much his 22nd home run will be worth to them. They can sell only a certain number of seats for the few games in which he may break Henry Aaron’s record of 755.

The recently negotiated labor contract has changed some of the rules for free agency. A player’s former club will no longer face deadlines for signing him, meaning their talks can go beyond the previous deadlines of Dec. 7 (if a club didn’t offer salary arbitration) and Jan. 8 (if it did).
The clubs proposed eliminating the deadlines, and the union agreed.

Parsing Girardi

Joe Girardi’s experience as a rookie manager in Florida was weird enough. Now he has made it more so.
Girardi did more than anyone could have expected with a rookie-laden team and a $15 million payroll. But it was the makeup of the team’s roster that was at the crux of Girardi’s conflicting comments.

Last week Girardi, who was fired at the end of the season, told The New York Times, “I believe the landscape changed from what it was originally going to be and I was misled a bit.”

But 11 months ago, when the Marlins were trading their best and most expensive players — Carlos Delgado, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, for starters — Girardi told The Times: “I knew they were going to make trades. We talked about that when I first met with them. They said they had to do some things they felt would make their club better for a long time.” And he added: “I knew when I signed the contract that the team was different than what it would be when we took the field in February. I’m excited.”

That doesn’t sound as if he was misled at all.

Who’s in Charge?

A Major League Baseball all-star team goes to Japan this week for a five-game series, but the players can’t be blamed if they don’t know who their manager is.

Initially, it was supposed to be Ken Macha of Oakland. But on the day Macha was announced as the manager, the Athletics fired him. Terry Francona of Boston was the next manager named, but Francona withdrew when he developed a foot infection and was hospitalized.
Then Bruce Bochy of San Diego replaced Francona, but when he manages the team, he will be Bruce Bochy of San Francisco. The Giants named Bochy as their manager Friday.

Easy Come, Easy Go

Like student, like teacher.

Why would the Padres give the Giants permission to talk to Bruce Bochy even though he had a year left on his contract, he had been their manager for a dozen years and he had directed the team to division titles the last two seasons? The belief in baseball circles is that Sandy Alderson, the Padres’ chief executive, wanted to make a change.

Alderson once upon a time was general manager, then president of the Oakland Athletics. He was Billy Beane’s boss and mentor.

Four years ago, Beane, the Athletics’ general manager, gave the Mets permission to talk with Art Howe even though he had managed the Athletics to three consecutive playoff appearances. The belief at the time was that Beane wanted to get rid of Howe.

Asked to explain the Padres’ decision to let Bochy leave, General Manager Kevin Towers said he and Alderson believed that if a team sought permission to talk to one of their employees, the employee “should have the right to talk to them.”

Alderson, Towers said, gave him permission a year ago to talk to the Arizona Diamondbacks about their general manager’s job. “I almost left, but it didn’t work out,” Towers said.
Bochy had one year left on his Padres contract, and they were not prepared to extend it now, if ever. Bochy opted for the security of a three-year contract with the Giants.

A Rule Meant to Be Broken

With his help, teams have made a mockery of Commissioner Bud Selig’s ban on major announcements during the postseason, particularly the World Series. The Chicago Cubs (Lou Piniella) and the Giants (Bruce Bochy) didn’t violate Selig’s ban because they received his permission to announce their new managers.

But what’s the point of having a rule if every time someone wants to make an announcement, Selig says go ahead?

In the Giants’ case, they asked to be allowed to announce Bochy’s appointment because he is leaving for Japan tomorrow. Selig could have told them to wait until after the World Series to make the announcement, then have a news conference when Bochy returned. As it turned out, the Giants could have held their news conference yesterday or today, after the World Series was over and before Bochy left for Japan.

No comments: