What teams should do with the big options on big names
A couple months ago, there was no way the Mets were going to pick up Carlos Delgado's $12-million option for 2009. Heck, as Delgado floundered through a miserable spring (batting below .220 as late as May 28) he was thought to be a candidate for release.
Since then, things have improved mightily for Delgado (now at .259 with 28 HRs and 90 RBIs), and the great likelihood now is that the Mets pick up that option rather than buy him out for $4 million. Since they have to pay him at least $4 million either way, they're looking at Delgado right now as an $8-million bargain.
The Mets have long been suspected to be a player for big-time free-agent Mark Teixeira. But while they like Teixeira, they also know Teixeira may get 20 times that $8-million figure.
Delgado's contract also calls for the 2009 option to vest if he should win the National League MVP, NLCS MVP and World Series MVP -- yes, all three. And that does nothing more than demonstrate the type of confidence he has. But since that award trifecta remains an extreme long shot, the decision to bring him back will belong to the Mets. And while they won't commit to their decision until they absolutely have to, only one call makes sense now: to pick up the option.
Beyond Delgado's vastly improved statistics, Mets higherups appreciate the fact Delgado came into camp in his best shape in years following a season in which he was hampered by hip and wrist troubles. But his slow start and slow swing raised the possibility he was batting a different issue: middle age.
Delgado's remarkable resurgence has thought to be tied to the firing of Willie Randolph. Yet, statistically, it didn't begin until 10 days after Randolph's June 17 ouster (or June 16 in Costa Mesa, where the beheading actually took place around 11 p.m. West Coast time, as has been recounted numerous times). Since June 27, Delgado has 17 home runs and a neat 55 RBIs in 55 games.
Delgado is feisty enough that this shouldn't be such a surprise. Back on June 13, when it was first reported here on SI.com and on Foxsports.com that Randolph was in major jeopardy of losing his job, I asked Delgado whether he thought Randolph should keep it, and after starting to say that it wasn't his place to say, he became angry, chiding me for asking the question and saying, "If you can be an ---, I can be an ---.''
It became clear at that point that Delgado didn't very much like Randolph (or me, either, perhaps). And Randolph, according to what he's told friends, suspects Delgado as his most ardent critic in his clubhouse, something that disappoints Randolph, who knew and respected Delgado as a fellow long-time American League fixture and strongly supported Delgado's acquisition from the Marlins after the 2005 season. Delgado might have been upset that Randolph benched/rested him a few times while he was slumping. Or it's also possible Delgado might just have thought Randolph wasn't the right man for the job.
In any case, Delgado has always had a strong, confident personality. When he was a young player in Class A, just starting out, Delgado strongly disagreed with a called third strike against him. But rather than go ballistic, as a kid may be apt to do, he simply laid down his bat and told the ump, "That's OK, when I get to the big leagues in a couple months, I'll send you a postcard.'' Not long after, Delgado made good on his promise to reach the majors (no word on whether he sent the card).
Here is a rundown of the other top players with club options, and what the team may do about them:
Jason Giambi, Yankees first baseman ($21 million option, $5 million buyout): Teammate/good buddy Johnny Damon recently told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that Giambi likes it so much in the Bronx he'd be happy to return for less than that $21-million figure. Damon isn't exactly giving away state secrets, but no matter what Damon or anyone says, the Yankees are more likely to try to lure Teixeira as they try to get younger. The call: The Yankees buy Giambi out and let him go.
Ken Griffey Jr., White Sox outfielder ($16 million option, $4 million buyout): Considering White Sox GM Ken Williams' well-known admiration for Griffey a return may not be out of the question. But not at that price. The call: The White Sox let him go.
Vladimir Guerrero, Angels outfielder ($15 million option, $3 million buyout): Guerrero is having an off year but has been a major bargain at that $15-million-a-year salary. The call: The Angels almost have to pick that up.
Garrett Anderson, Angels outfielder ($14 million option, $3 million buyout): He's still a professional hitter, and he'd like to return. But that figure is way too high for the fading star. The call: They'll reject the option but could still consider a return for significantly less money.
Carl Pavano, Yankees pitcher ($13 million option, $1.95 million buyout): His signing for $39.95 million was as close to an utter waste of money as you can come. Who knew? Everyone wanted this fellow when he was a free agent four years ago. This time, practically no one will. So long American Idle. The call: The Yankees buy him out, and cringe at even paying the $1.95 million (but have no choice there).