16 March 2009

Manny Maladies

By the time of July it might not be his legs. It might be his oblique, or his elbow, or his wrists, or his feet, or his knees. The knees and feet are parts of the legs, but different from the part that hurting now. It could be anything, and nothing would be a surprise. Manny is old. They say old age starts at 27. Those scientists are just finding out what baseball fans have known for a long time. Manny is ancient!

No amount of good attitude can cure the physical ailments. It's not the mood that makes Manny a risk. It's the maladies. The lingering aches and strains the don't heal like they used to. Their is going to be a day when he pulls up lame around third base as he's trying to score from second on a single. There's already been the day when he hurts himself running down a ball to the outfield. He's going to need more days off then Martin, and it's going to be even harder to give them to him than it is to give them to Martin. How can you voluntarily give up his bat for even a game?

Disaster is always a moment away when Manny plays. Injury can strike at any time. The Dodgers are contenders with Manny, mediocrities without him. That's the setup, and don't dare argue with it. That's how the masses feel. Manny puts the capital D in Dodgers. That's the man they talk about, that's the man who makes our team relevant again. With him we're annointed masters of the NL West. When the injury comes it will be like old times again, when the Dodgers are just another team and the victories come hard. When. Why not "if"? Isn't 25 million enough to buy an "if" on the injury? But money don't buy love ... or health.

And yet ... a Manny injury needn't be inevitable. Yeah. He's rounding into shape now, that's all. Spring straightening. Oh dear. I'm mixed up, my writing and metaphors all tangled with my doubts. Let's just say it's either rounding or straightening, but not both, whichever metaphor is less likely to hurt him.

There will be a day when Manny comes up to the plate and hits a prodigious home run, and there isn't a thought anymore about his age or money or attitude or injuries or worries or contracts or deferred payments --- there will only be awe and delight in the moment. That's the antidote to worry.

05 March 2009

Think I'll Go Eat Worms

If Juan Pierre was a free agent right now, what kind of contract could he get?

A short one. Probably a half year contract, if such a thing was allowed. I guess the closest thing to that is a non-guaranteed minor league deal with an invite to spring training and a bonus if the player makes the opening day roster. Now I do think there are plenty of teams out there for which Pierre would easily make the opening day roster. There are maybe a few where he would makes sense as a starter, given the other options. But no team is going to reach out eagerly for him, thinking he is the difference-maker. No one is going to say to Pierre, "we really want you".

One year guaranteed would be Pierre's best case scenario. There just isn't any question about that, not when Orlando Hudson only gets a one year deal with half the money contingent upon playing time, not when Adam Dunn only gets two years. So when the Dodgers invite Pierre and his agent to pursue a trade of Pierre to another team, my first thought is that there is no way this can happen. Pierre has three years left on his deal. No matter how much of his contract the Dodgers consume, the team acquiring him is looking at a three year commitment. Hell, not even Manny gets three years.

I suppose that if the Dodgers devoured enough of his contract, the acquiring team could look at his acquisition as a one-year commitment. If another team is willing to pay Pierre 4 million for one year ( a high price ), then the Dodgers could make the trade if they paid all but 4 million of his remaining guaranteed money. Then the last two years of Pierre's contract would be gravy for the acquiring team --- they could either keep him for free after the first year, or just release him at no additional cost if something better came along.

That's a very high price for the Dodgers to pay just to get rid of Pierre. Though the price to keep him is even higher.

These moments must be soul-crushing for Juan Pierre. Waiting, all winter and into spring, for his final benching to come. It came yesterday when Manny was signed. He says he understands it, but does that ease the sting? And now looking for a job, looking for another team to want him. The Dodgers can't even be bothered to look for a trade partner. He has to do it himself. He has his money, but that doesn't feed the soul or make the days bright. It doesn't buy out the humiliation. But in the end he does have the money, and that's a lot more than a lot of people have right now.

Colletti made a terrible mistake two years ago, but Pierre did as well. Pierre's mistake was one almost anyone would make, but that doesn't change what it is. He could never live up to the contract. It was a lie from the beginning, two men fooling each other across the table. It was always going to end badly. There was never, ever, ever any question of that. Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt might have earned their money in the end if things had gone differently. There was potential with them for great things, even if there were also ominous warning signs. But there was never any of that potential with Pierre. His contract was a sunk cost from day one. And now he must realize it in some way. The sadness of his quotes about the situation shows that.

The contract is the part of the game I hate. I don't want to spend an offseason wondering if Manny will be back because of negotiations over his contract. I don't want to worry about Martin and Kemp and Ethier and Billingsley and Kershaw leaving years from now because the Dodgers can't offer them a large enough contract. I don't want the money they make be as important a stat as home runs or on-base percentage. The contract distorts the game. The contract invites rogues like Scott Boras into baseball. It pits fans against the players they once loved. It breaks hearts.

But there's no getting away from it. There is no professional baseball without player contracts. So we live with it. And when the games begin, when the everyday rhythm of wins and losses come again, we can almost forget it.

04 March 2009

The big news of the moment

Randy Wolf might start opening day for the Dodgers!

In less important news, the Dodgers have signed Manny Ramirez. This is less important because pitching is 90% of the game, and Manny isn't a pitcher. I can't believe the Dodgers would give a non-pitcher 25 million dollars. That's just --- irresponsible.

I will admit that it's been awhile since I heard someone say that "pitching was 90% of the game", but I used to hear something like that a lot. But it's clear that no one ever really believed it because the players have never been payed that way. The one I still sometimes hear is that you win with pitching and defense and clutch hitting. I guess Manny fills in nicely in the clutch hitting department. Not so much the defense.

Here's the lineup I'm imagining right now:


I put Kershaw in there because I'm most excited to see him pitch this season. I guess that's a pretty good lineup. Who is the most likely to hit poorly for his position in that lineup? Loney? Maybe Blake or Kemp? If the Dodgers stay healthy and none of the young or very old players takes a huge step back there aren't any holes in this lineup. You will score a lot of runs with a lineup without holes and one superstar.

Apparently Manny agreed to the same deal that was rejected a few days ago. Can we say that both sides end up looking like fools here? McCourt and his starting from scratch remarks, and Boras and his taking the offer that was once rejected. But it doesn't matter, does it? I don't think either of these guys should care that they looked foolish at one point. The deal got done. Neither side had any other options, not really. They were wise enough to see that and deal with the devil across the table.

It's a good day. I'll remember that, even if I look back on this day a year from now with mixed emotions. We really don't know what Manny will bring this year, and by saying this I am not so much questioning his effort to win but his aging body. But right now I'm assuming the best. Today, and tomorrow, and all spring. He'll hit 0.350, with lots of home runs, and lots of great quotes. He'll get the MVP this time. The stands will be filled with wigs, and fans will chant his name.

Manny is back.