Hope Springs Eternal as Spring Training Approaches
Hope, optimism and positive energy are in the air as baseball fans count down the days until Opening Day. It all starts with spring training, which means fans break out the Bermuda shorts and players break out the following clichÃ©: â€œIâ€™m in the best shape of my life.â€ Everyone in camp says that, with the exception of Tommy Lasorda and Ron Belliard.
Most teams start off the spring with optimism, with the exception of the Royals, Pirates and Padres, who were mathematically eliminated during the off-season. As for the Royals, Iâ€™ve finally figured out their strategy. They are trying to accumulate an entire roster of mediocre former White Sox players and when theyâ€™ve got 25 of them, petition the league to be renamed the White Sox so their fans will be tricked into thinking they are rooting for a legitimate major league team. Unfortunately, no awards are handed out for cornering the market on outfielders best suited for a backup role or aging catchers who canâ€™t hit, field or throw. And the scary thing isnâ€™t that Yuniesky Betancourtâ€™s OBP was .275 last season â€” itâ€™s that his OBP continues to trend down each year. We now have the Mendoza line for batting average and the Betancourt line for on-base percentage. Yikes!
Hereâ€™s an idea: baseball should implement a hard salary cap that forces all 30 teams to spend exactly $100 million on payroll â€” no more, no less. Can you imagine how bad the Royals would be if they were forced to spend $30 million more on payroll? They would probably trade for Vernon Wells and sign Gary Sheffield, Paul Bako and Livan Hernandez to three-year deals. Perhaps see if Kyle Farnsworth has a twin brother. Sign Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million contact. Oh wait, they already did that last one.
The Cubs would get down to the $100 million mark by jettisoning their only players who are not overpaid â€” Aramis Ramirez and Ted Lilly. What would the Pirates do, you ask? First, theyâ€™d trade Paul Maholm and Zach Duke for minor leaguers with little upside â€” leaving them with $80 million to spend â€” and then they would move the team to China in hopes the exchange rate would bump them up to the salary threshold. The last good player the Pirates signed to a big contract is Pud Galvin, and they wouldnâ€™t let him keep the pen. The Marlins got slapped on the wrist by MLB for not spending enough on player salaries, but at least they signed Hanley Ramirez to a long-term contract
Then there are the Yankees â€” who knew they had a budget? Maybe Congress needs to work out a bailout plan to help them through this cash crunch, because the historic team is just too big to fail. Evidently Hal and Hank Steinbrenner only spend like drunken sailors for odd-numbered seasons. Brian Cashman feels slighted because he never gets any credit for his brilliant moves as GM. After all, he could have signed Mike Jacobs to the 8-year, $180 million contract to play first, but he was smart enough to go for Mark Teixera. He could have traded for Barry Zito or Carlos Silva, but he signed CC Sabathia instead â€” brilliant! Or maybe the baseball world remembers his deals for Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Jeff Weaver, Jaret Wright and Kei Igawa â€” from the ill-advised rotation from hell category.
The baseball world remains riveted with concern over Johnny Damon. Will he find a home with a contender? Has agent Scott Boras unearthed any more mystery teams under the couch cushions? Damonâ€™s kids evidently need shoes, because heâ€™s not settling for just any two-year contract offer that comes along. Perhaps Boras has secured him the services of a bionic arm to replace the wet noodle heâ€™s been using to bounce his throws to the cut-off man.
Hereâ€™s the perfect scenario: Damon signs with the Tigers and ends up staying with them for four years, delighted that he can finally satisfy his craving for octopus. He lives up to Borasâ€™ declaration that heâ€™s an iconic, legendary player who personally makes his team a winner by leading the Tigers to a World Series title. On top of that, he stays healthy, allowing him to reach 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs, 300 home runs and 500 stolen bases for his career. Now imagine the poor folks at the Hall of Fame who would have to decide whether Damonâ€™s Hall plaque features a Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers or Royals cap. Maybe they call it a four-way tie and split the difference by honoring his one great season with the Aâ€™s.
Speaking of Damon, Rickey Henderson was probably sitting at home watching the World Series and thinking, â€œNo one told Rickey he couldâ€™ve gotten two stolen bases on every pitch. Man, Rickey couldâ€™ve had 2,800 steals.â€
Let the games begin!