Vlad and Money

The Baltimore Sun reports, as far I've seen, the first concrete contract figure that's been put in front of Vlad Guerrero: 5 years, $65 mil from the Orioles. No doubt other numbers have been bandied about without making it into the press, but the O's offer is an interesting one. Other than two extra years, the $13 mil per year is the same money that Gary Sheffield is getting from the Steinkee-Yanbrenners.

In other words, nothing to faint over.

If Vlad ends up getting less than $15 M a year, I'll be shocked. Collusion? Hmm. I know some people (agents and otherwise) are gathering evidence, but there are enough teams paying well (Orioles: Tejada, 6 yrs, 72 mil; Yanks, Red Sox, Mariners: $13 M for Raul Ibanez) that it doesn't seem like a huge, systematic conspiracy. Oh, and I forgot to mention the Detroit Tigers. They've just signed Jason Johnson to a 2-yr, $7 M contract. They're making good on their promise to overpay to bring some established players to town. Hell, bring back Damion Easley while you're at it, folks.

Note: Aaron Gleeman has a nice bit today about ex-Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve, and how he might have gone wrong. Gleeman peruses the deep numbers and notices that Grieve's power dropped off a cliff once he went to Tampa Bay. Did Grieve suddenly decide to become much less aggressive at the plate? His peripheral numbers seem to show this: more walks, more K's, lower SLG.

But why? One thing Gleeman notes then passes over in his analysis is how often Grieve was injured in Tampa. Now, when a strapping 24-year-old lad goes from established offensive force to has-been by the age of 27, at least three things could be happening: 1) He's bored, lazy, apathetic, etc. In other words, he's lost his fire for the game and isn't trying hard enough. 2) His Achilles heel has been discovered, and he can't for all his best efforts figure out how to fight back. (Marvin Benard knew full well that he had a weakness for the high fastball. But he couldn't lay off. In Greek tragedy, this is known as the fatal flaw. Hopefully Marvin, instead of gouging his eyes out, will retire and become a coach. He's a great guy and deserves to stay in the game somehow.)

And possibility #3: Injury. Ken Griffey, Jr. technically doesn't suck, although thousands of fans no doubt have said that the past few years. He's been injured, and rather badly. Over and over again. Ben Grieve has also had his share of injuries, including a serious blood clot last year that forced doctors to remove a rib. Not even Cher can hit a fastball while recovering from rib-removal surgery. I'm not saying all Grieve's hitting woes stem from injuries, but it's probably contributed. All players play with nagging injuries. Even the best players sometimes can't compensate for injuries that subtly affect their performance but aren't enough to hit the DL. Hence, numbers go down in one particular column or across the board. (Example par excellence: Jason Giambi had a bum knee at the end of the year and couldn't drive through his swing to generate his normal power, but he was good enough to play.)

Of course, reason 1) and reason 3) often go hand in hand. Player gets lazy, player doesn't keep in good shape, player pulls a lot of hammies.

I think the answer to "What the Hell Happened To [Insert Once-Famous Athlete]..." is often injury. Maybe we the sporting fan public know about it, maybe we don't. Unless it's a dramatic injury -- a broken bone, an elbow ligament that turns to hamburger -- we think, Rub some dirt on it and get back out there. In fact, that's what players often do. (See Giambi, above.) But it takes its toll.

I don't mean to play the "I play baseball" card, but having played in high school when I thought I was immortal; then taking my 20s off; then getting back to the game in my 30s, I sympathize a lot more with players who do it every single day. I'm in pretty damn good shape, and to play a doubleheader is a bitch. By the middle of the second game, the bat slows down, the knees ache in the outfield, the back really stiffens up.

It's often not the dramatic injury, the blown-out elbow that never recovers, but the little nagging ones that add up and make a guy look old and in the way. Makes you truly respect guys like Ellis Burks, who busted ass for years without any cartilage in his knees. Vat a mensch!

Whatever happened to Ben Grieve could be that Ben Grieve's body simply wasn't meant to play 15 years of professional baseball, day in, day out, at the highest performance level.


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