Friday, December 10, 2004
These activities are banned under the new guidelines for athletic recruiting.I really think current high school seniors should be grandfathered into this thing, because otherwise they are really getting a raw deal. The article has all sorts of other interesting stuff, including the athletics director of a major university saying the words "just as last year we had the Deja Vu incident." For those of you either not living in Minnesota or living here but under a rock, "Deja Vu" is a local "gentlemen's club." I'll let you use your imagination regarding the "incident."
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Jose Lima could have to pay a woman who claims she contracted genital herpes from him as much as $950,000, the woman's attorney said Thursday.Also, who knew the going rate for genital herpes was more than the going rate for John Mabry?
As if that weren't enough, he also had an article in the New York Times this week about better ways to evaluate NFL running backs. If I could accomplish just one of those things, I'm pretty sure I'd call it a successful career, so from now on he is definitely "the Aaron."
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Free Agent Wrap-Up: The First Wave (by Aaron Gleeman)
- National Attention: The Expos' 35-Year Journey to Washington D.C. (by Brian Borawski)
- Gathering (by Bill James)
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Radke Re-SignsIn the hours before Tuesday's arbitration deadline, as I sat white-knuckled, constantly reloading ESPN.com's front page in the hopes of seeing something new about Brad Radke's status with my beloved Twins, a little birdie told me that Radke and his agent, Ron Simon, were asking Minnesota for a three-year contract worth $33 million. After hearing that news (and it was accurate too -- or at least accurate enough to be reported in the newspaper the next day, which is all you can ask for from little birdies), I began to make peace with the fact that Radke had pitched his last game in Minnesota.
A three-year commitment for $11 million per season -- a full 20% of the Twins' projected payroll -- did not seem like something the team could swallow, and the prospect of offering Radke arbitration was even less palatable. What would happen if Radke agreed and the arbitrator decided he was worth $12 million in 2005, thus completely blowing apart the Twins' already-shaky budget for the upcoming season? No, as the minutes ticked away Tuesday night, it became quite clear that if Radke wanted to stay with the Twins, he was going to have to make some concessions.
Thankfully, he did. Whether you want to call it a "hometown discount" from a player who has been with one team for his entire 10-year career, a player choosing to give up a few million dollars to play in the place he wanted most, or just a rare case of a free agent not milking every last cent out of his freedom, Radke did it. He agreed to a two-year deal when he had been asking for three years, and he agreed to $9 million per season when he had been asking for $11 million. Those are, of course, the sort of compromises I dream of making ("I'm feeling charitable today, I think I'll accept $18 million to play baseball for the next two years"), but they are compromises nonetheless.
The big question now is whether or not Radke is worth that sort of money and, to be quite honest, I think the answer is pretty clearly no. It's not his fault, really, but rather the simple truth that a team with a payroll in the neighborhood of $55 million paying a good-but-not-great pitcher $9 million per season just doesn't make a lot of sense, at least not on the surface. But when you're dealing with a player who was an eighth-round draft pick of the Twins' back in 1991, came up through their minor-league system in the early 90s, and proceeded to pitch over 2,000 innings in his first 10 major-league seasons, all while being the lone bright spot on a lot of awful pitching staffs, you sometimes have to look beyond the surface.
While Radke will be 32 years old next year and has never been a dominant pitcher, the Twins know exactly what they'll get from him -- 30-35 starts, 200 innings, 10-15 wins, and a better-than-average ERA. He could have another couple years like his 2004 season, when he set a career-best mark with a 3.48 ERA, or he could have a couple years more like 2003, when his ERA ballooned up to a still-respectable 4.49. Either way, you'll get the starts (28+ in nine of his 10 seasons), the innings (200+ in nine of his 10 seasons), and the solid pitching (ERA+ over 100 in eight of his 10 seasons). He's not a #1 starter, but he's a perfect #2 guy, and that "ace" spot is all locked up by some guy named Johan anyway.
Is that worth an $18 million commitment? Not from a small-market team where that represents what will likely be around 17% of the payroll, but in general? Sure, at least in this market. Of the available free agents, I don't see a whole lot of guys who are in Radke's league and ready to sign for less than $9 million a season for only two years. When the Mets are giving Kris Benson three years and $22.5 million, and the Yankees and Phillies are giving Jaret Wright and Jon Lieber three years and $21 million each, I see no problem with giving Radke two years and $18 mill.
Compare how those four pitchers performed in their "walk" years:
IP ERA+ VORP RSAA WS WSAAWright, Lieber, and Benson all pitched well enough in 2004 to put to rest any concerns about their checkered pasts -- at least for the teams that ended up signing them -- and cashed in with three-year deals worth in excess of $20 million. Yet, none of them were as valuable as Radke was in 2004, and it actually wasn't even close. Radke pitched the most innings of the four, had the lowest ERA when you account for ballparks and leagues, and dwarfed their overall production in Value Over Replacement Player, Runs Saved Above Average, Win Shares, and Win Shares Above Average (plus a whole bunch of other metrics with cool names too, I'm sure).
Over the last three years, Radke has a 4.14 ERA in 550.1 innings, while pitching in the American League, in a hitter's ballpark. Over that same span, Benson tossed 435.2 innings with a 4.59 ERA, Wright threw 261 innings with a 5.03 ERA, and Lieber racked up 317.2 innings with a 4.05 ERA, and they all spent a lot of time in the National League. If anyone in that group deserved a third year on his contract and another year of guaranteed millions, it is most certainly Radke, and the fact that he's the one guy locked up for just two more seasons says all you need to know about his desire to remain in Minnesota.
The other interesting thing about Radke's new deal is that it is nearly identical to his last contract, signed prior to the 2001 season, which paid him $36 million over four years. However, because the salaries escalated in his last deal, and because he got a $3 million signing bonus that was paid during the final two years, Radke actually made a total of $21 million in 2003 and 2004. All of which means he is essentially taking a pay cut, and perhaps more importantly, his weight on the Twins' payroll is reduced. Though I'm not sure how this new contract breaks down per year, it is likely that Radke's 2005 salary will be at least $2.5 million and perhaps as much as $3 or $3.5 million less than it was in 2004, which becomes awfully important for a team going through its yearly payroll crunch.
As is the case every year, this offseason represents a difficult time for Twins GM Terry Ryan. I have my complaints about him as a GM, but the one thing that I think is undeniable is Ryan's ability to walk the small-market tightrope each winter, shedding contracts, restocking the farm system, and putting the team in a position to win the next season, all while essentially maintaining his miniscule payroll.
Last offseason, the team lost both its setup man, Latroy Hawkins, and its closer, Eddie Guardado, to free agency, in large part because Ryan just didn't have the money available to keep them. Instead, he got back up on the tightrope and traded his starting catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, to the San Francisco Giants. In return, he netted two solid pitching prospects and Joe Nathan, who filled in for Guardado closing games with a 1.62 ERA and 44 saves, one short of Guardado's franchise record.
That same offseason, facing yet another money crunch when it came to re-signing Shannon Stewart, Ryan let Kenny Rogers and Rick Reed walk via free agency and dumped Eric Milton and the $9 million he was owed in 2004 on the Phillies, getting Nick Punto and Carlos Silva in return. Silva stepped right into one of the gaping holes in the rotation and out-performed Milton in nearly every possible way, from innings pitched to ERA, and did so while saving the team about $8.7 million.
There have been mistakes along the way, and I certainly don't agree with a lot of things Ryan does, but his yearly task of building a competitive team with a bargain-basement payroll when quality players are due for big raises each offseason is not an easy one. At the end of the day, there are very few GMs around baseball who I'd rather have up on that tightrope, and that's why the Twins will enter the 2005 season with Radke, and as the favorites in the AL Central.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
My thoughts on Radke and Koskie ...... coming up first thing tomorrow morning. I went to bed relatively early last night (for me, anyway), so I couldn't wait up for the news to hit (and definitely couldn't stay up to then write about it) and I have a test and two classes before noon today.
I'll have far too many words about it tomorrow, I promise.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Light BloggingSome of you may have noticed that I haven't been my typical, Gleeman-length self for the last couple weeks, taking a few more days off than usual at The Hardball Times. The reason is that whenever the end of a semester nears, the amount of papers and quizzes and tests teachers assign go way up, and the amount of stress in my life goes through the roof. In other words, it's sometimes tough to find the time or energy to write 2,500 words on what the Twins might do with Corey Koskie this time of year.
Luckily, this semester ends in about two weeks, which means I should be back in my groove here and at THT before the end of the month. Until then, you'll just have to bear with me while I go through some days with very little content ... like today. In the meantime, we have a bunch of good stuff from people other than me over at THT, which you should definitely check out every day.
In fact, I got an e-mail from a reader the other day that expresses one of my biggest fears:
Hey Aaron,One of the problems with writing on a semi-daily basis at two different websites is that you run the risk of people only visiting one. Now, I'm not saying my writing here or at THT is the most brilliant stuff out there, but I do put a lot of time and effort into my columns and blog entries. And now I come to find out that someone who is clearly a longtime, loyal reader of this blog hasn't been checking out THT on anything resembling a regular basis.
That's not Scott's fault, of course, since he's free to visit whatever websites he wants, but it bothers me that I spent what was a very long time putting together a seven-part series on this offseason's free agents ("The Meat Market"), only to have it be ignored by someone who was very interested in reading it. At the end of each entry here, I always point you to the articles that appear at THT ("Today at The Hardball Times"), but obviously that's not enough in some cases. I'm not sure what else I can do, but it really does bug me.
And on that note ...
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Re-Imagining the Big Zone Sixties, Part 2: 1966-1968 (by Steve Treder)
- A Difference of Opinion (by Larry Mahnken)
Monday, December 06, 2004
A Program in DisarrayI fear the University of Minnesota men's basketball team is venturing into dangerous territory. They had a big academic scandal not so long ago, which led to the firing of the team's longtime coach, Clem Haskins, and all sorts of penalties for the program. With Haskins gone, they hired Dan Monson away from Gonzaga to rebuild the program and its reputation, a move that looked good at the time but has since proven to be a disaster.
Under Monson, the Gophers have become one of those teams in every major conference that the good teams count as a "win" before they even look at their schedule. The team is now at the low point of likely finishing at the bottom of the Big Ten conference for the second straight year. Monson is now in his sixth season at the helm of the Gophers and has gone 75-74 (.503) overall, including a miserable 29-51 (.363) in the Big Ten. And his record is only going to get worse. In Haskins' last six seasons at Minnesota, the Gophers went 115-62 (.650), including 60-44 (.577) in the Big Ten.
Monson has never won as many as even 18 games in a season at Minnesota, let alone 20. In his last six seasons here, Haskins won 18+ games four times and won 20 twice, including 26 wins in 1997. Monson has yet to take a Minnesota team to the NCAA tournament, let alone win a game there. In Haskins' last six years, the Gophers made the NCAA tourney four times, including a trip to the Final Four. A Monson team has yet to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, while Haskins got there four times in his last six seasons, including one Big Ten championship.
I could go on and on, but to be honest, it's not the losing that I'm worried about. What concerns me is that the team seems to be going in a bad direction in an effort to combat the losing. First they recruited and signed Rick Rickert and Kris Humphries, two McDonald's All-Americans who everyone in the world knew would only be staying for a year or two. But okay, plenty of teams are doing that.
Beyond that, Monson has now resorted to recruiting a lot of junior college players, undoubtedly trying to fight his lack of developed talent by landing a few guys who can be short-term fixes. He has also welcomed several transfers from other Division I schools, including Adam Boone from North Carolina, who was going to be the team's starting point guard before an injury, and Dan Coleman from Boston College, who is now perhaps the team's best player.
To me, mortgaging the future and any chance of building a consistently successful team by trying to patch holes with guys who, for whatever reason, couldn't make it on a Division I team out of high school is the beginning of the end for any coaching staff. First you lose, then you lose while trying to bend over backwards to bring in talented guys like Rickert and Humphries, and then when that doesn't work you lose by trying to find anyone you can who will allow the team to avoid being a complete embarrassment, even if those guys have questionable backgrounds and limited eligibility.
And that doesn't even begin to touch on the fact that few players actually improve under Monson, from Rickert to Mo Hargrow, my old high school classmate who looked great as a sophomore and not-so-great as a junior, before quitting the program and transferring to Arkansas (and then eventually transferring back, which is another issue). Hargrow was not the first star player to leave the program under Monson, as Joel Przybilla, another former McDonald's All-American, left in the middle of the year after reported problems with the coaching staff, and Rickert's departure came with some rumored problems as well.
Monson walked in to a very difficult situation here and, although I don't think he's done a particularly good job, I recognize that a lot of guys would have failed in his position. The team was a mess when he took it over, he was immediately hamstrung by the penalties, and he tried to restore respectability by bringing in Rickert, which failed because Rickert turned out to be not that good, and then Humphries, which failed because Humphries stayed for one year.
Now the team consists of a bunch of guys I don't even recognize. Their starting point guard, Aaron Robinson, is a guy who played 14 minutes per game last year, averaged 2.6 points per game while shooting 32.5%, and is slightly taller than Vern Troyer. (Seriously, I stood next to him at a bus stop last year and was startled that, yes, this guy plays major college basketball.)
Their starting center, Jeff Hagen, is a former walk-on who played 16 minutes per game last year, 10 minutes per game the year before, and, with all due respect, is someone who would have a tough time even playing at a place like Michigan State or Illinois. He's a serviceable player with some redeeming qualities, but at the end of the day he's one the team because he's seven feet tall, and the team is bad because that qualifies him as a starter.
The rest of the rotation includes two transfers, two JUCO recruits, and a freshman I literally never heard of before the Gophers announced he had signed on to play here. Spencer Tollackson is the only player on the team who was a legitimate, homegrown prospect who was recruited out of high school and enrolled as a freshman. They have no identity, they have no discernible plan, and they seem to be grasping for straws as they spiral out of control.
I don't see any conceivable way for Monson to successfully rebuild the program at this point. That's not to say he's not capable of doing so, because I think clearly he showed he can win while he was at Gonzaga. But rather, he is no longer capable of doing so here, if he ever was. As the old cliche goes, things usually get worse before they get better, and it seems to me we're at that "getting worse" stage right about now.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Not-So-Free Agents (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Rivals in Exile: Heating Up (by Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken)