News, Notes and Quotes (March 6, 2006)

  • THT’s resident White Sox fan, Dave Studeman, defended Ozzie Guillen‘s outspokenness last week by saying Chicago’s manager “may well be the most dynamic and entertaining person in baseball today.” I agree with Studes for the most part, which is very tough for me to say as a Twins fan. Studes also urged Guillen to “keep at it” and he certainly did. When told that Bobby Jenks claimed to be in the same shape now as he was at the end of last season, Guillen replied:

    He should take a look twice in the mirror. I hope he’s stronger, but he looks a little bigger. Maybe the commercial with McDonald’s got him going. He is overweight. I don’t say he’s overweight, he’s a big kid. He weighs more than he did the last pitch of last season. If he’s stronger, good. I want him to lose a couple more pounds to make sure the team picture looks better.

    Studes said Guillen is a modern-day Tommy Lasorda, but after that line about the team picture I think he’s more like baseball’s version of Don Rickles.

  • The level of quality defensive analysis has risen so much in recent years that I am now at the point of truly believing that a hitter as bad as Jack Wilson can still be a valuable player solely because of his defense at shortstop. With that said, I’m not quite at the point yet where I can understand why a 28-year-old .263/.304/.368 career hitter who has exactly one season of above-average offense on his resume is worth $20.2 million over three years to a small-market team.

    Multi-year contracts like Wilson’s often have a “team option” tacked on after the final season. In trying to determine if the contract is a decent one from the team’s perspective, I often wonder what the chances are of the team wanting to pick up that option year. In Wilson’s case, the question is what percentage of the time will the Pirates want to pick up his $8.4 million option for 2010? If the answer to that is somewhere between zero and, say, 20, then the rest of the contract seems like a mistake.

    In other words, if the Pirates know right now that it’s unlikely they’ll want to pay Wilson $8.4 million in 2010, then shouldn’t they also know right now that committing to pay him $7.25 million in 2009 isn’t such a great idea? If the long-term deal is a good one for the team, then adding an “extra” year to the end of the contract should never be a disaster. The fact that it very often is tells you that a whole lot of these long-term deals are way too long as far as the teams should be concerned.

    All of which brings me back to Wilson, who said the following when trying to explain that he probably could have gotten more money on the open market:

    I was thinking to myself, “Oh, wow, what if I don’t stink again this year? What if I do well? I’m going to go into my last year. How is this team going to afford me based on the market that’s out there?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized all I wanted to do was stay.

    I commend Wilson for wanting to stay with his current team and (at least in his mind) for turning down additional money to do so. However, it’s amusing that someone who just received a three-year contract worth over $20 million can say “what if I don’t stink again this year?” and not be joking. It makes me question if Wilson would have signed himself to a similar contract if he were running the Pirates, or if he’d look for a better investment than a guy who asks “what if I do well?” with legitimate wonder.

  • Julio Franco has always been one of my favorite players, both because of his odd batting stance and because of his absurd career path. I once wrote an ode to Franco entitled “Old Man Franco” in which I marveled at the fact that he was still a very productive player at such an advanced age. At this point I can’t decide which is more amazing: That I wrote the article nearly two years ago or that Franco signed a two-year contract with the Mets this offseason.

    Ben Shpigel of the New York Times wrote a wonderful piece on Franco last week that focused on how exactly he stays in such great shape at the age of 47. Shpigel describes Franco as “part Methuselah, part Incredible Hulk,” and documents Franco’s unique diet that typically includes at least 5,000 calories per day (almost none of which taste good). It’s tough to argue with success, because Franco has hit .292/.365/.427 since turning 40 despite taking just one at-bat as a 40-year-old and not playing in the majors at all as a 41-year-old.

    He hit .300/.376/.444 at 42, .284/.357/.382 at 43, .294/.372/.452 at 44, .309/.378/.441 at 45, and .275/.348/.451 at 46. Franco’s current deal with the Mets will take him through his age-48 season, and there’s probably a better chance of him being worth another two-year contract that takes him through to 50 than there is of the Pirates picking up Wilson’s option in 2010.

  • Felix Hernandez made his spring debut last week against the Padres and struck out Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron, and Brian Giles before calling it a day after one inning of work. King Felix’s extraordinary performance (how many times is that phrase going to be used over the next 20 years?) led to San Diego manager Bruce Bochy uttering this great quote: “Oh my goodness, that’s filthy stuff he throws.” Whenever a big-league manager sounds like your grandmother when describing an opposing pitcher, you know the guy is special.
  • Thanks to the outstanding research done on the subject by friend of THT, J.C. Bradbury, I’m a full-blown believer in the genius of Leo Mazzone. Because of that I’m very interested to see what sort of 2006 season Daniel Cabrera has under Mazzone’s tutelage. Cabrera has a ton of raw talent and at times pitches with nearly unhittable stuff, but he’s also very wild and maddeningly inconsistent. Mazzone’s only been working with him for a short time since taking over as the Orioles’ pitching coach, but he’s already got Cabrera saying the right things:

    It won’t matter how hard I throw if I can’t master my change-up. To me, the most important thing is to throw more strikes than the last two years. If you notice, hitters don’t do well against me, but what causes me trouble are the walks. This year I want improve on that. If I could throw my fastball for a strike all the time, then it would be perfect. But sometimes I lose a little bit of my control on the fastball. I think I need to have two other pitches. I have the curveball, and I need the change-up for key moments.

    Last year I tried five different types of mechanics and I was a young player in the league and whatever they told me to do, I did it. Those are things that won’t happen anymore because I didn’t have much success by doing that. This year, thankfully, Leo has me pitching at my comfort level.

    It’s a tired cliché, but when Cabrera learns to become a “pitcher” and not just a “thrower” he’ll have a real chance to reach his substantial potential. So far it sounds like he’s on the right track by simply recognizing his flaws and trusting Mazzone to help fix them.

  • Here are two pictures from Tigers camp that show life as a big-league player. The first one, of Carlos Pena, shows why being a player is great. The second one, of Nook Logan and Curtis Granderson, shows why being a player might not be so wonderful after all.
  • Quote of the Week, from Baseball Tonight‘s John Kruk:

    I still have two years on my contract with ESPN and don’t know what will happen. They say they want to keep me. If Derek Jeter wants to retire and wants to do Baseball Tonight, John Kruk is gone. I’m no idiot.

    Well, he’s half right at least.

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