The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: December 6-12, 2010
Is Jayson Werth It to D.C.? Who Are Those Guys Deciding the Oakland A's Future?
Marvin Miller, Angry Old White Man Luke Scott, Misinformed Young White Man

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The Insanity of Winter
Baseball’s free agent signings this past week more than suggested that owners, after a few years of reining in the checkbook, are spending freely once again. There was much head-scratching over the Washington Nationals’ signing of former Philadelphia slugger Jayson Werth; the argument against his seven-year, $126 million contract is that he’s only been a full-time performer for three years and although he’s emerged into a solid player, he’s not a superstar, yet—and he may not become one. We would think that kind of money should be reserved only for the no-doubt-about-it guys—not players on spec—but that trend has been bucked over the years by the likes of Barry Zito and Vernon Wells, so what do we know?

The one deal that left our heads scratching was the Chicago Cubs’ decision to give Carlos Pena $10 million for 2010. We doubt there’s ever been a player rewarded with as much annual wages as Pena, who hit just .196 for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Yes, Pena can hit for power (he’s averaged 36 homers over the last four years) and compensates his Dave Kingman-like batting average with an abundance of walks, but that average has steadily and alarmingly declined since hitting .282 with 46 homers in 2007, and his sub-.200 mark during 2010 is bound to leave common players salivating for similar eight-figure salaries once their current contracts expire—and leaves you wondering if the upward bump in the game’s salary bar will soon make Albert Pujols (a free agent after 2011) baseball’s first $30 million-a-year man.

Et tu, Tampa Bay
Headline from an online column by the St. Petersburg Times’ John Romano: “Carl Crawford’s departure to Red Sox leaves Tampa Bay Rays fans wanting to lay blame.” His article echoes our thoughts on where the blame lies: The fans themselves, or the Tampa-St. Petersburg market in general. How the Rays can barely attract two million fans annually with sustained Cinderella success over the last three years in baseball’s toughest division is beyond us. For the fans who do show up and support the Rays, God bless them. But it’s apparently a small pocket of support in relative terms.

Maybe the Tampa Bay area just isn’t right for baseball.

This Week in Divorce McCourt—Epilogue
The judge presiding over the divorce trial of Frank and Jamie McCourt didn’t waste time on the two-month window he was given to rule on the final decision over who gets the Los Angeles Dodgers—and said that both McCourts remain as co-owners, effectively overruling a previous agreement that gave Frank full ownership of the club and for which Jamie was intensely disputing in court. So Jamie wins, in that she’s not out of the Dodger hierarchy and will reap the benefits of any sale of the club—a sale that appears likely within the next few years now that Frank doesn’t have full control. Already, groups are preparing a bid to buy, including former Dodger Steve Garvey—reportedly putting together financiers with big money.

Define 'Leverage,' Derek
Speaking at a press conference to announce his three-year, $51 million deal, New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter confessed that he was angry that the team took negotiations public by suggesting that if he didn’t like its offer, he could look elsewhere. (Never mind that Jeter’s agent Casey Close started the open-air back-and-forth by calling the Yankees’ negotiating stance “baffling.”) Jeter said he initially made it clear to the Yankees that the only team he was interested in playing for was them—not a particular smart tactic if the goal is to get the best contract possible.

Prior After Lee?
Cliff Lee isn’t the only pitcher the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers have been fighting over this offseason. The two teams are reportedly also interested in Mark Prior, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game in over four years. The big but very brief ace for the Chicago Cubs, hounded by injuries since recording an 18-6 record and 2.43 ERA in 2003, finally logged his first organized baseball activity since 2006 this past summer when he pitched nine games for a Southern California independent league; the Rangers picked him and he tossed one scoreless inning for Triple-A Oklahoma City, striking out two but leaving the bases loaded. Prior is currently a free agent.

'Rebuilding' is a Dirty Word
Headline from a story about New York Yankee general manager Brian Cashman in the Bergen Record: “Brian Cashman Knows the Future is Now.” Isn’t that the case every year at Yankee Stadium?

Next Week: The Fickle Finger of Fate Award
Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga continues to rack up some unique honors for his near-prefect game on June 2. This past week, Time Magazine named his would-be-gem, spoiled with two out in the ninth inning by a blown call from umpire Jim Joyce, as the top sports moment of 2010. The runner-up for the honor was LeBron James’ infamously televised “decision” to switch teams in the NBA.

Go East, Young Man
The winding, downhill path that has become Ryan Garko’s career has, for now, ended up in Korea. A college star at Stanford, Garko seemed to settle in for the long run with the Cleveland Indians in the late 2000s, keeping up a consistently good average in the .280 range with fair-to-good power and the ability to knock in as many as 90 runs, as he did in 2008 for the Tribe. But a trade to San Francisco midway through 2009 seemed to unravel Garko’s game; he was ineffective playing part-time for the Giants, and a move to Texas in 2010 only deepened the wrong-way momentum, getting stuck in the Rangers’ triple-A affiliate at Oklahoma City for much of the year (where he only hit .235). In 15 games with the Rangers, he managed only three hits in 33 at-bats. He’s been unwanted by the majors since his release from Texas, so he’s off to South Korea, where the Samsung Lions will pay him $300,000 to play in 2011. Garko becomes one of only a handful of Americans playing in Korea.

It's Miller Time—Not!
The Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee voted this past week on 12 candidates from the “Expansion Era” (1973 to the present) as part of a new process that will rotate the vote annually between that era, the “Golden Era” (1947-72, to be the focus next year) and the “Pre-Integration Era” (1871-1946, votes cast at the end of 2012). The 16-man committee, consisting of Hall of Famers, executives and writers, said yes to the one candidate least likely known to casual baseball fans: Former general manager Pat Gillick.

Among the players that didn’t get elected from the ballot were Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Ron Guidry, Tommy John and Rusty Staub. Billy Martin was on the ballot as a manager candidate but failed to get the necessary 12 votes; two other executives besides Gillick—George Steinbrenner and former union boss Marvin Miller—failed to get in as well, with Miller missing by a single vote.

Miller, now 93, showed that the contempt and mistrust he had with baseball’s powers-that-be (much of it justified, in hindsight), has not left him. In a statement, he said that the vote “hardly qualifies as a news story” and was “repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring.” Then Miller cut to the core of his true feelings: “A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence…It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out.”

Gillick’s entry into the Hall is based on the golden touch he gave to the teams he presided over as general manager. He became the Toronto GM in 1984 and, over the next ten years, the Blue Jays won five divisional titles and two world titles. Gillick then presided, from 1996-98, over the Baltimore Orioles, who made the playoffs in consecutive seasons under his watch. From there he went to Seattle, where the Mariners became a constant contender and won an AL-record 116 games in 2001. Finally, Gillick oversaw the Philadelphia Phillies from 2005-08, capping his stay there with the Phillies’ first championship in 28 years. It’s interesting to note that the Jays, Orioles and Mariners have not reached the postseason since Gillick left those organizations.

The Men Who Aren't There
There continues to be mufflings (yes, mufflings) in the San Francisco Bay Area over the status of Bud Selig’s three-person committee to give recommendations on a new ballpark for the Oakland A’s. It’s been over two years since the committee was formed and, hey, don’t you think they would have come up with an opinion or two by now? There has not been a word from the committee, Bud Selig continues to deflect when asked about the subject, A’s owner Lou Wolff probably is losing his patience and San Jose, considered the likely final destination for the A’s, has lost its patience, removing a ballot measure for a new ballpark next spring because it doesn’t know if a vote would even be relevant.

So as the cloak of secrecy (or paralysis) regarding this committee takes tighter hold from a public viewpoint, we finally had to ask: Who are the three members of this committee, anyway?

We found out. One, curiously enough, is Corey Busch, a former executive VP for the San Francisco Giants—a team that would fight any move by the A’s to San Jose because it claims territorial rights in that city. The second is Irwin Raji, a Washington, D.C. attorney who has previously consulted with MLB on finding a home for the Montreal Expos (you got them, Irwin!) and, more recently, smoothing out the sale of the Texas Rangers to baseball’s liking. The third member is Robert Starkey, a Minneapolis-based sports consultant and CPA who is said to be a good friend of Selig’s.

So now you know. The A’s sit in limbo while the committee apparently fiddles on, doing nothing—in public, anyway. Chances are, the real stonewallers in all of this likely are the Giants, who reportedly aren’t budging on the territorial issue—but if you are worked up over the continuing lack of progress, you can contact these three guys. They’re all publicly advertised on LinkedIn, Facebook or general e-mail.

Ditto Ditzo
Baltimore outfielder and apparent birther Luke Scott made a public stink this past week when he told Yahoo! Sports that he doesn’t believe President Barack Obama was born in the United States, piggybacking on one of the country’s current, more popular conspiracy theories. Scott said, “I was born here. If someone accuses me of not being born here, I can go—within ten minutes—to my filing cabinet and I can pick up my real birth certificate and I can go, ‘See? Look! Here it is.’”

In ten minutes, Scott could also go onto many legitimate web sites that will give positive evidence of Obama’s birth certificate, or he could take a nice winter vacation to Hawaii (he made $4 million last year, so he should have the dough), pay a visit to the local library and find microfilm evidence of not one but two Honolulu newspapers that reported Obama’s birth in August 1961. We’re just sayin’…

He Said What?
New York Met general manager Sandy Alderson on the Washington Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth: “That’s a long time and a lot of money. I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington, D.C.”

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