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The natives are generally in a better mood and Fifth Avenue looks nice this time of year, but I would still argue that December in New York City is not the Big Apple at its finest.
Broadway-bound tourists carrying overstuffed shopping bags and traveling in groups the size of the NFL rosters pack every street like it's Yawkey Way 20 minutes before first pitch at Fenway. Unwatchable Knicks and Giants games infiltrate TV sets like the onslaught of unwatchable reality TV. And, like clockwork this time of year -- as dependable as the ball dropping on Times Square or the screaming teenagers outside of MTV's studios during TRL tapings -- the New York Mets make a bad deal.
The Mets aren't alone. This baseball's offseason has too often left me feeling like I did after seeing Ocean's 12 a few nights back: In a state of bewilderment, shaking my head, I left the theater asking, "What were they thinking?" But more on Ocean's 12, the worst sequel since Rocky V, later. This winter baseball general managers have rationed their money as wisely as giddy spenders at FAO Schwartz. This is what happens when there are teams out there more desperate than the wives of Wisteria Lane.
I've spelled out in this space why I think it's a mistake for the Mets to sign Martinez, but they are reportedly going to pay even more (four years for as much as $56 million) than I'd have thought. (Unless, of course, the package covers post-game appearances by Pedro's Mini-Me.) Yes, Martinez will likely have one or two very good seasons in a pitcher-friendly ballpark tailor made for the right-hander, but do they believe a 33 year-old declining pitcher with a questionable right shoulder will be an elite pitcher come 2007 and 2008?
Here's an even better question: What is Kenny Williams thinking in Chicago? By dealing Carlos Lee to the Brewers for Scott Podsednik, Luis Vizcaino, and a player to be named later, the White Sox GM saves about $6 million in salary for next season, but he has lost Magglio Ordonez to free agency and Frank Thomas might not be back until midseason. Lee is a dependable power source and after a breakout 2003 season, the speedster Podsednik looked overmatched last season and had a puny .313 on base percentage as the Brewers' leadoff man. Williams might be making room to go after Matt Clement or even Randy Johnson, but unless the GM successfully lands a front-line starting pitcher, the deal makes little sense.
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And what on earth are the Diamondbacks, a team that logged 111 losses last year and has $165 million owed in deferred salaries, doing spending $78 million in two days as they did last week? Arizona struck not one but two astonishingly bad deals when they vastly overpaid for third baseman Troy Glaus (four-year, $45 million contract) and right-hander Russ Ortiz (four-year, $33 million contract). The fragile Glaus won't have the luxury to DH in the National League, and Ortiz was barely good enough to make Atlanta's playoff rotation in October.
There are teams making good moves. The Blue Jays made the right decision when they added Corey Koskie. And the Braves lose J.D. Drew, Jaret Wright and Ortiz but are quickly reloading for another playoff run in 2005. They are major players in the Tim Hudson trade talks, and they added an All-Star closer (Milwaukee's Dan Kolb) while adding an arm to their rotation in John Smoltz. A great move for the Braves. One of the more interesting storylines to the 2005 season will be Smoltz's comeback as a starter.
From the notebook:
The last person on earth who needs more air time is Regis, and yet the man who is replacing Dick Clark on New Year's Eve was on SportsCenter Monday night going off about Notre Dame's hiring of Charlie Weis. To me, this is as interesting and valuable as Kelly giving out fantasy tips. ... Correction: the last person on earth who needs more air time is Donald Trump. Still, The Apprentice finale on Thursday has as much juice as NBA games in December -- I'll take Kelly and the points. ...
In honor of Ocean's 12 (how does Bernie Mac get about three lines the entire movie?) the Daily Blog offers its worst sequels of all time:
5) The Karate Kid Part III (1989): Even the return of Cobra Kai sensai John Kreese couldn't save this shameful mail-in.
4) Speed 2 (1997): Worse actor ever -- Jason Patric or Dermont Mulroney?
3) Batman and Robin (1997): George Clooney as Batman was a bigger miscast than Cuba Gooding Jr. as Radio.
2) Caddyshack II (1988): Chevy Chase's talk show was more inspired than this disaster.
1) Rocky V (1990): Rocky Balboa wasn't the only one suffering brain damage in this one.