Hot Stove Roundup (cont.)
Mariano Rivera is the best pitcher I've ever seen. Others have been more valuable, because even a reliever as great as he is can't measure against a pitcher who throws 250 innings per year. On the level of a single pitch or sequence or inning, he is the absolute best.
Over the last three years, he's been even better than he normally is. When he signed his most recent contract, a three-year, $45 million deal (exactly the same amount the Yankees reportedly offered Derek Jeter initially), after the 2007 season, he had a career 2.35 ERA. During that contract, he ran up a 1.64 ERA. He also allowed one run in 18 postseason games, ridiculous even by his standards.
Despite all that, Rivera's new contract will pay him no more per season than his old one did. This has obvious implications for the interminable Derek Jeter negotiations. Logically, if Rivera just keeps his old salary for pitching better than he did in the past, Jeter should take a pay cut for playing worse than he did in the past. He can't even claim that being an iconic Yankee should entitle him to special consideration. There actually is a player more revered in New York than Jeter, and he wears number 42.
The Colorado Rockies have probably taken too much guff for signing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a six-year, $119 million contract extension that doesn't kick in for another four years. Tulowitzki is a baseball talent comparable to Cal Ripken Jr., and while you can throw out examples like Eric Chavez and Nomar Garciaparra as counterexamples, teams generally don't regret locking such players up.
The Rockies are, to be sure, assuming some real risk. Tulowitzki could get hurt. The United States could enter a period of extended deflation that will make the real value of his contract grow rather than decline with time. Space aliens could zap Denver with a ray that turns everyone into soccer fans and leaves the team with little income and no way to pay the contract off.
Tulowitzki, though, is also assuming real risk. This is a 26-year-old who is by every indication a historically gifted defender, and also capable of hitting 14 home runs in 16 games in the middle of a pennant race, as he did last September. He could go out and win three MVP awards in the next three years. His contract could end up looking like a bargain.
A deal where both sides take on some risk is fair. The team is betting that the player will remain a valuable property and the player is betting that he won't play to his absolute potential. In the end a not terribly rich team has made sure that it will keep its franchise player through his prime. That should be applauded.
Ahead of the winter meetings, aren't the Tampa Bay Rays the most interesting team? While everyone is keyed in on the fact that they'll spend less next year than they did this year, there are more significant facts. For one, they have just $16 million committed for next year, far less than any other team in baseball. For another, they'll be paying third baseman Evan Longoria and starter David Price -- reasonable bets as any to win the MVP and Cy Young awards next year -- just over $3 million. For another, they have a terrific farm system and an actual surplus of young pitching.
The Rays may not have a lot of money, but in baseball, talented young players being paid less than they're worth are even more valuable than cash. If the team wants to pay fair value for a young star like Colby Rasmus of the St. Louis Cardinals or Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks, they can do that. They can even do it while cutting payroll, perhaps by shipping off starter Matt Garza. The Rays haven't won the toughest division in baseball twice in three years by luck, and you can count on them to do something smart.
I think Ron Santo loved baseball more than anyone else I've ever met. Wrigley Field is an old ballpark with a cramped press area that can only be accessed by a narrow staircase. To see the work it took for Santo just to reach the broadcast booth on his prosthetic legs was to appreciate just how intensely he cared about calling Chicago Cubs games and enjoying Wrigley, which on the right day in the right weather is the loveliest place in America.
The day his number was retired -- and this is actually true -- it was miserable, with rolling clouds threatening rain. You figured that it would be just Santo's luck to have his day ruined. Just as a fanfare started to introduce the great man, though, the sky parted and bathed the old park in a warm light. I'm not exactly sure what kind of metaphor that makes, but I know that Chicago is going to be a much poorer place for not having Santo around, just as the Hall of Fame is a much poorer place for never having given him the honors he so very much deserved.
Tim Marchman can be reached at email@example.com