Pay Cut or What?

Much was made of Giants' executives stating, not long after J.T. Snow was tagged out at home plate by Pudge-Rod, that the team payroll would shrink in 2004 down to the mid-$70 million range.

According to Peter Magowan, interviewed on KNBR a couple days ago, the Giants' payroll stands at $78.4 million. He also said that going into spring training last year it stood at $81 million. (Thanks to Steve Shelby for the reportage.) According to my calculations, the projected opening day roster is just north of $75 million. My estimated figure includes signing bonuses, which many people don't consider part of payroll. So I thought my figure was high. Where in the hell does P-Mag get $78.4 mil?

While we're on the subject, does payroll include the 40-man roster? Does it include estimated per-diems for 25 players over the course of a season? I assume deferred money isn't included, but what about contract buyouts, such as the few hundred thou they paid Jose Cruz, Jr. to go away? Was that counted against 2003 payroll or 2004? When a team says "We need to get payroll down to X," there ought to be a standard definition of what that means.

My best guess as to the $3 mil difference between my estimate and P-Mag's figure: $1.3 M owed to Eric Young and Cruz to buy out their options; Jesse Foppert's salary; an inflated number for Pierzynski; maybe a few other guys who have had ML service time but won't necessarily head north with the team...?

Any thoughts, ideas, etc, let me know.

Place Your Bets

According to wire reports, Ivan Rodriguez is very close to signing a 4-year, $40 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. If so, he'll go from first to worst, literally. He'll move to an even worse hitters' park than Pro Player in Miami. He'll play his April, May and probably a few September home games in the northern chill. He'll live in one of America's worst urban areas. I predict it'll take Pudge-Rod about 5 minutes within signing to say that "it's not about the money, it's about the challenge," or something to that effect. Mm-hm.

Anyone care to start a "It's Not About the Money" pool?



No Nen?

As we here at El Centro del Malo have suggested several times, the Giants' fortunes in 2004 teeter precariously on the fragile health of three players: Jason Schmidt (and his right elbow), Robb Nen (and his surgically reconstructed right shoulder) and Barry Bonds (and his 40 years of life). Now we're hearing in fuller voice what has been hinted through the winter: Nen could just as easily hang up his spikes as he could return to the field this spring.

With all due respect to Robb Nen, here's a cruel thought: the Giants might be better without him this year. As we saw last year, there are lots of "closers" out there. With a strong bullpen top to bottom, there's less need for a ninth-inning savior. (Whether the Giants would have beaten the Marlins in games 3 and 4 of the playoffs last year with a healthy Nen is an excellent question, and one I won't try to answer.)

But if Nen retires -- or the Giants collect a goodly portion of his salary through insurance payments -- that's a lot of cash to use on 1) another strong reliever and 2) another bat, say, at short or in the outfield. Assuming they won't put that $9 mil toward debt service, that is. It opens up a lot of trade possibilities.

I love Robb Nen. Not enough to want to see him in a certain kind of video, but I'll be thrilled if he's throwing 98 MPH and breaking off nasty sliders in mid-June. All I'm saying is if he can't come back and the Giants are allowed to spend his salary elsewhere, it might have some positive unintended consequences. Which I don't think I could say if Bonds or Schmidt were seriously injured.

The worst-case scenario is if Nen returns, plays sporadically or ineffectively, and the Giants are put in the position of having to overpay for relief help at the trading deadline in July.



Maybe He's Not Such a Genius

ESPN's Bob Klapisch reports that Billy Beane almost called Brian Cashman to discuss a trade of Eric Chavez to the 3rd-baseman-less Yankees, then thought better of it.

"There's no one this side of Mickey Mantle we'd consider trading Eric Chavez for," Beane finally decided. "He's more valuable than anything we could get in return."

Personally, I'd trade Chavez for Ted Williams before Mickey Mantle. After all, Williams is cryogenically frozen, while Mantle is rotting somewhere without a liver.

But seriously, ladies and Germans, speaking of comedians, how about that Edgardo Alfonzo, now rumored to want a trade back to New York bcause he misses it? Hear me now and hear me later: whenever an athlete signs a big contract somewhere and says it isn't for the money, the proper response is a big hearty HA HA HA HA HA. With an extra HA or two thrown in. E-Alf, you had a chance to stay in New York; it was called 2 years and $10 million, or whatever the Mets allegedly offered that was a couple years and many millions shy of the Giants' offer.

So, let's just assume this rumor is correct and that Sabean and Cashman are doing a little parlay-voo on their cellie cells. What the hell could the Yankees offer? Drew Henson? (See previous "HA HA HA" statement.) Alfonso Soriano? (Ditto.) It can't be any of their newly-signed free agents, according to the rules. (Not that the Giants need another dose of Kenny Lofton.) Skimming the Yanks' 40-man roster, the only major-league-ready bat who could roughly replace Alfonzo is Matsui; his price tag is roughly the same, too. I don't know the Yanks farm system well enough to speculate on other trade bait, but my impression is that the Yanks have traded everyone worth anything the past couple of years.

I predict that if the trade is consummated, it's going to involve at least a third team. If the Giants are serious about Feliz, this could open up 3B for him full-time. (Not that I would recommend it.) They could then concentrate on getting in return for Alfonzo a power bat in RF, CF, or SS (Orlando Cabrera?), as well as a RH power bat off the bench who can spell Snow at 1B.



Elbo: Once in the morning, and once at night...

Thanks to Steve Shelby, I saw this item on ESPN.com regarding the Giants' bullpen in 2004:

Most pressure in 2004: Robb Nen. Giants don't have Tim Worrell as a safety net. ... Felix Rodriguez's career numbers: 10 saves, 20 blown saves.

Why do sportswriters do this? This would be a perfect example of misusing statistics in a way that obfuscates the truth. Of course Felix Rodriguez has blown more saves than he's earned -- it's because he WASN'T A CLOSER for most of his career.

When Felix comes into close games to protect a lead in the seventh or eighth inning, which he's done well over a hundred times, he's technically in a save situation, although no one expects him to actually earn a save. If he blows that lead, he's blown a save. So while he's spent most of his career protecting leads and occasionally blowing saves, it's not fair to compare the saves he's blown with the ones he's earned.

A better way to measure Felix's efficiency is to add his 10 saves to his 108 holds, and compare that with his 20 blown saves. He was successful in whatever role he was asked to perform 118 times, and blew the lead 20 times. That's an 85.5% success rate.

Robb Nen himself has garnered 314 saves and one hold, while blowing 54 saves. That means he has an 85.4% success rate.

A few others who have split their careers between setup and closer roles:
Tim Worrell 83.0%
Keith Foulke 89.0%
Arthur Rhodes 84.2%
Braden Looper 83.2%

I admit that grouping holds and saves together isn't perfect. If you're a setup man who's in the process of failing to hold a lead, the closer might come in and save your butt. Closers, on the other hand, are expected to finish games -- most managers leave them in until they either succeed or fail completely. But this simple metric is far more accurate than comparing Felix's saves to blown saves, which doesn't really illuminate any aspect of his ability to protect a lead.

Anyway I don't know if that metric is normally calculated, but any discussion of blown saves has to include holds.

Elbo: Sidney Ponson, Sad But True

I realize I'm chiming in for the first time in weeks just to say something negative, but there's no question in my mind that Sidney Ponson was a bust for the Giants. Quite frankly, I think he'll be a bust as an Oriole again too.

Most of my impressions of Ponson were formed early in his career, when I still lived in Baltimore. He had a reputation back then for being quite talented, but was regarded as an immature pitcher who couldn't keep his head together once he got in trouble. (He also notoriously rented a limousine ride to New York and back for a Metallica concert the night before a start against the Yankees in Baltimore. Ponson didn't exactly ride the lightning against the Yanks the next day, as you might imagine!) Everything about his one winning season says "Dreifort" to me.

As for his tenure here in SF, I agree that he pitched better than his 3-6 record indicates. But that trade was supposed to round out a championship team, or at least get the Giants back to the World Series. Instead, as Shea states, we got a pitcher who was hammered in the playoffs, and didn't exactly dominate down the stretch, showing the same old lack of ability to pitch out of trouble. What's more, we lost Kurt Ainsworth in that deal (although, thankfully, we found somewhere to send Damian Moss.)

I'm looking for Ponson to be around .500 this year, for Javy Lopez to do a pretty fair imitation of Javy Lopez rather than Yogi Berra, and for a good solid .285/34/100 out of Tejada. Palmeiro should be just fine, if a step slower. The O's won't contend with the Yanks and Sox, though they may pass the Jays in the standings.

Big Spenders

John Shea of the SF Chron has a piece in yesterday's paper that compares the free-agent spending of the Orioles and Angels. It's the first piece I've seen that gets beyond the breathlessness of big numbers and big names and concludes that the Orioles are doing what they've often done in recent years: throw big money after big free agents without a coherent plan. Granted, Shea's analysis isn't that deep; for example, he calls Ponson's short stint in a Giants uniform a "bust" because he went 3-6 but doesn't mention that, in general, he pitched quite well. But he lines up the Angels' acquisitions -- Guillen, Vlad, Colon, Escobar -- with the Orioles' -- Tejada, Ponson, Lopez, Palmeiro -- and concludes that the Angels had a plan, while the Orioles just had a big checkbook.



Let's Do the Numbers

On the Giants' team roster on ESPN.com, Michael Tucker's number is listed as "24." Sorry, Mike. That one's taken.

I assume the roster on the Giants' official site is more accurate. Tucker is assigned 20. Dustan Mohr has 22. Hammonds has taken 14 now that Galarraga's gone. And it looks like Pedro Feliz has surrended 39 to Brett Tomko. Feliz now has Marvin Benard's old 7. Pierzynski has traded 36'es with Joe Nathan, apparently, while Merkin Valdez has been assigned 61. Uh oh.



Quote of the Day

From one of my all-time favorites, El Duque Hernandez, after he worked out in front of several scouts in Florida:

"I just want to get back and get a job," the right-hander said. "If I was the owner of a team, I'd sign myself right away."

El Duque did not say how much he would pay himself or if, as owner, he would vote for Frank McCourt to buy the Dodgers, or allow the Expos to move to Washington, DC.


And from the Laz, a couple this day in baseball history tidbits:

1951 Fidel Castro ejected from a Winter League game after beaning

1990 Will Clark, NL's MVP signs a $15M 4-year contract with San
Francisco Giants




I saw a news blurb today that Marvin Benard has signed a minor league deal with the Chisox. I was surprised to see that Marvin is 34 years old already. He came up with the Giants in 1995, a 5'9" 50th round draft pick, born in Nicaragua with the middle name Larry. Gotta love it. Well, how quickly time flies.

When he was at his peak in '98-'99, filling in for Stan "The Monobrow Man" Javier, winning the starting job, hitting .300 with good pop and stealing bases (his 1999 numbers: 16 HRs, 55 BBs, 27 Sbs, .359 OBP, .457 SLG in 560 ABs), he was for a time my favorite Giant. He was a Fightin' Hydrant. I wanted a BENARD 7 jersey but couldn't find one. I was also at the game in July 2000 (I think it was) when he hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Dodgers on a Sunday night, one of the most exciting games I've ever seen. (I was also at the extra-inning game in Apr. 2003 against the 'giz when he threw out Todd Hundley at 3rd base in the top of the 12th then doubled in the winning run in the bottom...I always seem to be there for Marvin.)

I hope he catches on with the White Sox, has a few more heroic moments and remains one of Nicaragua's greatest sports heroes. (El Vice-Presidente, perhaps?). Sure, I booed him when his defense sucked and when he swung and missed at eye-high fastballs, but I want him to know I appreciate the good times. I hope you do, too.



Pedro Feliz, Brower Muy Feliz

This just in: two arbitration-eligible Giants have signed contracts. Not surprisingly, Pedro Feliz signed a one-year deal for $850,000, just $100K more than I estimated.

More of a surprise is that Jim Brower signed a two-year deal worth $1.825 M plus nearly half a mil more in incentives. That's pretty sweet cash, although I've argued before that Brower was an unsung hero of the Giants' staff last year. It's a nice enough chunk of change to make a 30-year-old journeyman pitcher happy, and it's not so nice that we're left wondering why that cash didn't go to Juan Gonzalez.

The contract is backloaded: $625,000 this year (plus a $75K signing bonus, so I'll count him as $700K against this year's payroll) and more than a mil in 2005. If he continues to do what he did last year, he's worth it. (Subtract his worst outing of the year -- 6 earned runs in 1/3 inning in garbage time vs. LA in April -- and his ERA drops from 3.96 to 3.43, his WHIP from 1.29 to 1.23.)

One could argue that $700K is a lot to pay for the long man out of the bullpen, but when that long man has proven he can, say, step into the starting rotation and shut down the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in July when the other starters need a break, the pay seems more than reasonable.

High and Tight

Elbo, the Fanch and I set out Saturday night after a scrumptious homecooked
lasagna dinner for the Great American Music Hall on O'Farrell, where the 5th annual Gram Parsons tribute concert Sleepless Nights was about to rock.

Before the concert, we had one stop to make: the release party for Chinmusic #6, a self-published mag dedicated to the twin pursuits of baseball and rock and roll. The party was at the Hemlock Tavern, where the DJ plays Scratch Acid and the Scorpions ("There's No One Like You"!), the men have greasy neo-mod hair, and the women have jeans that accentuate their love handles and flat asses. (What is UP with that? Yuck!) Everyone, of course, has tattoos.

The mag itself is pretty fun, very indy and irreverent and hooks some surprisingly big names for a self-publish-when-we-can venture. By far, the best article from the two issues available at the party was the meeting of the minds between Billy Beane and Johnny Ramone. The two got together at a game during the A's famous 20-game win streak of 2002. A few highlights:

BB: You know how I found out you were a baseball fan, Johnny? I had read somewhere that you knew John Wetteland.

JR: I met Wetteland when Peter Gammons came over one day. [Lefty Malo ed. note: With Susan Tedeschi and Letters from Cleo, perhaps?] He wanted to do a piece on baseball and rock and roll. He brought me over to Dodger Stadium and I got to meet Wetteland. And I was always a big fan.

BB: Yeah, I actually played with John in Detroit briefly when he got drafted... And at that point we were exchanging Roxy Music CDs. [Another LM ed. note: Speaking of Roxy Music, go to Chinmusic's Web site and check out the cover of issue #4.]

JR: Boy, at this point he's into Christian rock. So I guess he must have gone through some problems in his life.

BB: Yeah, he had a tough upbringing. But he's a real nice and enlightened guy...

And here, Johnny asks a question that has vexed the minds of great thinkers like Aaron Gleeman:

JR: Hey, how come Ben Grieve didn't develop like it seemed he was going to when he first came up?

BB: He had a solid rookie year, he went on to hit 28 home runs his next year, then he just seemed to plateau and it's just hard to explain. But wuth young players, the first hump you have is that you get up here and you're just happy to be here. I guess it's probably like an album. You come out with a hit album, and that first hit album wasn't so hard. It's the second one. You know, the ability to recreate that.

Ballplayers interviewed: Barry Zito (who explains that Carlos Jobim is "some really cool bossa nova from Brazil"), Jack McDowell, Tim Spooneybarger (not the brightest bulb), Mike Piazza (ditto).

Musicians interviewed/reviewed: The Weirdos, The Moonlighters, Rocket from the Crypt, Alan Vega of Suicide, Jack McDowell of Stickfigure.

Onward we went to the Gram Parsons tribute. No baseball references the entire night, although one guy in a curled straw hat got on stage with the Sin City All-Stars and I tried to convince Elbo that he was Barry Zito. Best performance of the night was turned in by SF local husband-and-wife team Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch. Like Jon Landau almost 30 years ago, I saw a performance that made me excited once again about rock and roll.

Rocket Don't Lose That Number

Thanks to the Laz for the tip on this Slate article and for the headline. The piece is a quick look at sports uniform numbers through the years. Barry Bonds first wore 24 with the Pirates to honor Willie Mays; he switched to 25 when he joined the Giants to honor his father.

Other funny uni numbers the piece doesn't mention: Barry Zito's 75 (anyone know the origin of that?), Turk Wendell's 99 (Turk's contracts all end with $99.99, too, as in $2,999,999.99 instead of $3 million). I also remember when Orel Hershiser joined the Giants for one unfateful year, punk-ass Shawn Estes refused to give up the double-nickel, so Hershiser had to settle for 53.



Elbo: Matt?

You mean the Matt Gonzalez?

P-Mag, Rising Star

Here's an almost offhanded tidbit from an AP piece on the owner's meetings and, specifically, the latest word from Big Bad Bud.

Baltimore's Peter Angelos and San Francisco's Peter Magowan were elected to the sport's eight-person executive council, replacing Atlanta's Bill Bartholomay and Minnesota's Carl Pohlad.

I always thought that Magowan was excluded from the owners' inner circle because he had the temerity to use (gasp!) private money to build Pac Bell Park, thereby providing dangerous ammunition for cities and citizens' groups that don't want to be blackmailed into subsidizing rich mens' toys. It cannot be emphasized enough: for all his other faults Magowan deserves eternal kudos for not pulling the typical horsecrap stadium politics.

But I always thought the reason the Giants haven't gotten to host an All Star Game at their lovely little jewel of a stadium is because the rest of the owners don't want to reward their private-sector behavior.

Maybe the pain and jealousy are wearing off. I don't know much about the eight-person executive council, but I assume it has power associated with it. Does this mean Magowan's no longer being punished? That he never was in the first place?

During the labor agreement negotiations of 2002, P-Mag emerged as a real hard-liner, if I remember correctly. I wrote him a couple letters, to which he responded each time and expressed his belief in no uncertain terms that compromise wasn't really in the cards. Perhaps that's what got him onto the executive council.

Curious that the two new members of the council have franchises going in opposite directions in terms of payroll: the Giants slightly down, the O's on a shopping spree. Curious also that they're political opposites: Magowan as noted below is a Friend of W., while Angelos is lefty enough to be labeled a "Democrat fat cat" by the Republican National Committee. (Given that they're both filthy rich baseball owners, "political opposites" is probably too extreme a term. Let's save that one for, say, Matt Gonzalez and Ralph Reed.)



P-Mag's Politics

from today's SF Chron:

Bush's bored room: Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill isn't the first Republican to take note of President Bush's seemingly disengaged meeting manner.

San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan has privately recounted a heated exchange at a meeting of baseball team owners a few years back, with everyone at the table fully involved -- everyone, that is, except George W.

Bush, then owner of the Texas Rangers, instead sat quietly -- reading the newspaper, his feet on the table.

Magowan, who has been a major financial contributor to the president, was reluctant to discuss the story Tuesday, saying only that Bush's style was "informal.''

"I'm a big supporter of George Bush,'' Magowan said, "and I like him as a person.''



Voodoo Roster, Slight Return

Thanks to a note from Steve Shelby of Giants News Diary, I've tweaked my 2004 potential Opening Day roster. With the signing of Tomko, it's unlikely the Giants will keep Correia. So he's off the speculative 25-man roster, and in his place for now is Cody Ransom. Because you can never have too many all-glove no-hit shortstops, can you? So that makes 12 pitchers and 13 position players. Seven relief pitchers is a bit much, but if Schmidt's on a short leash to start the year and/or if Nen can't work more than two or three times a week, the Giants might keep seven out of the gate. Otherwise, they'll add another bench player. Maybe Alberto Castillo as a third catcher, which would fre Alou to use Torrealba as a pinch-hitter? More likely, they'll add a seventh infielder or sixth outfielder.

Mark Your Calendars

Now that Roger Clemens the Houston Astro will learn what it's like to have a bat in his hand as fastballs buzz by his schnozz, keep your eyes on all the matchups that pit him against anyone he's ever serenaded with chin music. May 14 -16: the New York Mets come to town. June/July: lots of interleague. Aug 10 - 12: Astros in NY.

The Astros now have a 4-man rotation of Clemens, Pettitte, Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt. Compared to Prior, Wood, Zambrano and Clement, I give the Astros a slight nod. Any other NL rotations compare? Let's look.

LA's got Perez, Nomo, Weaver, Ishii (with promising rookie Edwin Jackson and scrap heaper Wilson Alvarez in the mix). Not as good. The Big Unit and Brandon Webb are a great 1-2 punch in Az. but it's all question marks from there. The Giants need Jerome Williams to prove he's not a half-year fluke, or else it's Jason Schmidt and the four nice guys. Florida: Beckett, Pavano, Penny, and Dontrelle with AJ Burnett scheduled to return mid-year is very good and getting better. But no Fla. hurler has yet put together a full, dominant year a la Mark Prior. The Phils have Millwood, Milton, Myers, Wolf and Padilla. I'd rank them near the top, except Milton has to answer injury questions and Padilla consistency questions. And sorry, Kevin Millwood isn't an ace. He may yet be, but his performance down the stretch last year makes his $10 million-plus price tag ridiculous.

So, here's how I rank NL rotations:

1) Hou.
2) Cubs
3) Fla.
4) Phila.
5) LA
6) SF
7) Ariz.

Watch out for S.D. I like Eaton and Peavy; they could blossom this year. Brian Lawrence is a Rueter-type. David Wells is a fat lout. But he could prove time and the laws of physics wrong and continue to pitch well. If the Pads sign Maddux and the youngsters keep developing, they could have a very strong rotation.

Ah, yes. Maddux. Whither the Mad Dog? If he signs with an NL team, I'll re-evaluate my rankings. Coming soon: the AL rotations.

Tomko, Revisited

Having missed Sunday's reports, I just now found out that $1 million of Tomko's 2004 salary will be paid in 2006, according to the Contra Costa Times. Spending $500K on a durable but mediocre veteran (who has a modest chance to have a break-out year) is a great idea.

But the larger point is that, although Sabean has collected a lot of so-called bargains who *might* have good years, the roster is a house of cards that will tumble if Bonds or Schmidt or Nen misses time or is less than healthy at any time during the year. There is no big #2 starter to step up; there is no big bat behind Bonds; Herges *might* be a good fill-in closer, a la Worrell, but that move would necessitate more bullpen shuffles.



Behold the Eater of Innings

The Giants have signed Brett Tomko for their starting rotation. The best thing we can say about him is that he's not always awful.

Sometimes he's decent, like in 2002 when he pitched for San Diego. Or his rookie year in 1997 with the Reds. The Giants are touting the fact that he has thrown 200 innings in each of the past two years. Innings-eaters who sport lifetime 4.50 ERAs are good at the back of the rotation; the Giants could do worse for a 5th starter. But this also sets off alarms that Jason Schmidt's elbow might not be ready for the opening bell, which would be bad news indeed.

Of course, money's a big factor, and spending $1.2 mil on a 5th starter (with a few hundred thousand more in possible incentives) is kind of like spending $1.5 million on a weak-hitting platoon-bound right fielder.

Still, he's only 30. If he stays healthy, he could be one of those pitchers who puts it all together a little later in their career. A Tim Worrell/Jamie Moyer/Esteban Loiaza type.

Assessment: if he makes 30 starts and doesn't give up too many BB's and HR's (his Achilles' heel), he could be a decent 4th or 5th starter with a mid-4 ERA. Anything much worse, and the Giants might as well have brought up Merkin Valdez or Noah Lowry for the minimum salary. Anything better than that, and he's a steal.

If he magically turns into Vladimir Guerrero, even better.

By the way, what's all this about Vlad perhaps taking mere-mortal money to stay in the NL? 3 yrs, $30 mil from the Mets? Even I could almost afford him at that price. C'mon Pee-Mag, open the pursestrings. If the guy wants to stay in the NL and play in a Latin-friendly city, I'll personally take him out for mofongo and cabrito, or maybe some pigeon peas y arroz, then to Roccapulco to go dancing. I'll even start blogging full time in Spanish if it makes Vlad more comfortable.

Tomko boosts my Giants prospective Opening Day Roster (look right) --->>
to 25 players. No guarantee, of course, that Zerbe or Correia will make the cut. And practically everyone could be trade bait. But I'm starting to mentally fortify myself, much in the way a prisoner of war does in the days leading up to his "interrogation."



Ludicrous Statement of the Day

From SI columnist John Donovan (italics added to highlight ludicrousness):

"I'm not asking you to feel sorry for Rose. He is, in fact, a character who calls for no sympathy, and that's no one's fault but his own. He's made millions of dollars playing baseball. He's made millions since retirement, in endorsements and memorabilia shows and just by being Pete Rose. His new book will bring him millions more. It's hardly a sob story.

But none of that is the point. Baseball has banned him from doing what he wants to do -- manage, be around the game, talk the game with baseball people, be in ballparks -- for the past 14 years. Now, tell me, in our society, which crimes merit that kind of punishment? Let me tell you. Not many."


Addendum: Rich Aurilia just signed a one-year, $3.25 M contract with Seattle. That's nearly a 50 percent pay cut from last year ($5.25 M base salary plus $1 M signing bonus). If the Giants had offered him arbitration and he'd accepted, the lowest they could have paid him would be..wait a sec, I'm not sure if the 20 percent maximum pay cut rule is based on total compensation or not. Would signing bonus money be included? I'm guessing no. So 20% taken from $5.25 M is $4.2 M.

It's no doubt a bummer for Richie, who was kind of snake bit with the appendectomy and the tear duct problem in 2003, but at least his name isn't Robbie Alomar.

Blog Collusion?

Yikes! Lat night I visited Esperar Al Boof, and I found the Tuesday headline made the exact same joke I did in my Tuesday posting. Not once, but twice. A reader chided me (humorously...I think) for stealing material, but as my Mom loves to say, "Great minds think alike."

Which, if you think about it, is not true at all. Great minds think different, uh, ly. (No, my Mom's favorite fictional character is not Polonius.)

But fear not, I would never nick a chuckle from a fellow blogger. As Polonius would have Hamlet know, "Borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry," and brother, let me tell you, the last thing I want is the edge of my husbandry dulled. My girlfriend would kill me.

Nor, as one might suspect in the current economic climate, would we collude to keep certain jokes from reaching their true market potential. So put away your suspicions, and be comfortable in the knowledge that you are in ripe comic times, when giants of Giants' humor stand astride the punning peaks of professionalism. Years from now, you can sit back on that 5-hour trip to Mars and tell your non-mad-cow-infected offspring that you were there, mouse in hand, when the grand tradition of three-headed Giants' right-fielder jokes first came to light in almost simultaneous form and fashion, much the way the steam engine was invented at the same precise second in both Budapest, Hungary and Fremont, California.

Your grandchild will smile and say, "I have one for you: How many Giants' right fielders does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"



Juan Gone Cheaply

A two-time MVP who hit 24 home runs in half a season last year just signed for $4 million plus incentives that could boost his pay to $6 mil, according to this story. That would be Juan Gonzalez, who will play RF for the Royals this year. Given his injury history, yes, it's a risk, but not much of one. If the guy plays three-quarters of a season and hits 30-35 home runs, I'd say Allard Baird will be one happy dude.

Some perspective: $4 million is just over a million more than the Giants will pay The Underwhelming Trio of Hammonds ($1 mil), Tucker ($1.5 mil) and Mohr ($.35 mil) without Hammonds' incentives kicking in.

Of course, if the G's had Gonzalez at $4 mil instead of Hamtuckohr at $2.85 mil, they'd still need a couple cheap backup outfielders. But at least they'd have the big bat they so desperately need behind Bonds.

Que sera, sera...



Cardinal Sin

As we've expected the past week or so, Pete Rose has finally admitted he bet on baseball games. It's all part of the publicity campaign for his new autobiography (that someone else wrote -- at least he hasn't complained that he's been misquoted).

[[In fact, the story of Rose's pending admission, and an unsavory deal struck with MLB, broke back in August.]]

Now that Charlie Hustle has admitted to what amounts to baseball's cardinal sin, it should be clearer than ever that this man should never, EVER be allowed onto a field again, into a clubhouse, or into the Hall of Fame. Not only did he commit the worst act possible (in the baseball universe, that is), he lied about it and called his accusers liars.

I hope Bart Giamatti's got his heavenly cable TV service working; he'd love to hear Rose's confession. Fay Vincent, too, and John Dowd.

Rose has had his chance for a second chance. He had 15 years to come clean. He's only now doing so in service of selling a book. Now that he's popped his head out of the spider hole of deceit, let's judge him not on sentimentality or nostalgia, and let's not wail "Hasn't he suffered enough?" Let's judge him according to the facts that are finally out in the open. And those facts point to getting him out of baseball forever.

Good riddance, Charlie Hustle.



Yogi Koan

The following is a reprint of my editor's note in today's SF Station Literary Arts newsletter. (I am the site's editor; the weekly newsletter goes out via e-mail to subscribers.)

On a chilly night just before the new year, I met an old family friend named Ray for a drink. Ray, who lives with his wife Marie in Redway, a few hours north along highway 101, is really a friend of my parents. When I was a kid we'd pack up the van and visit them in their homemade house in the Humboldt woods near the Lost Coast. I haven't seen much of Ray in my so-called adult life, but no matter: we've always connected despite our age difference, over comic books, baseball, and as I got older, nature and writing. Ray's a writer, too -- the real deal, with many books under his belt and true convictions and a generous spirit. He's what I want to be when I grow up.

We ordered our drinks and caught up on life, but the overarching news was the death of his son. Nicholas died in August, 26 years old, just growing into his skin after years of restlessness. A car crash one night, and Nick was gone. He was a country-boy mirror of my own younger brother: same age and restlessness, same rough-and-tumble good looks, same sensitive soul. One life gone, another moves on into our shared, blessed fear and uncertainty. One year gone, more years to come. But how many, we never know.

Ray and I sat at a cheap wooden table as the Pogues came and went on the jukebox. My hands warmed my whisky glass; I sipped from it slowly. Ray smiled and said, "You'll appreciate this question: What's your favorite Yogi Berra saying?"

There are many favorites, but one popped into my head immediately. Getting dressed after a game, Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford turned to Yogi and asked, "Hey Yog, what time is it?"

Yogi answered, "What, you mean now?"

Ray laughed and countered with this one: "Good pitching beats good hitting, and vice versa." He'd been thinking about that a lot since Nick's death. His other son, Neil, is about to become a father. With one life gone and another to come, Ray had transformed Yogi's koan into his own version: "Life trumps death, and vice versa."

It was almost time to go, and Ray handed me a card with Nick's picture. On the back was a passage from Nick's journal that he wrote just before his death. Ray and Marie found it as they pored over his personal effects, trying to sort a life from a death and vice versa. I've excerpted the passage below. I can't imagine a better question to ask ourselves as we move into the new year.

(from Nick's journal: "I must insist on giving as much love as I can to those around me for the rest of my life -- to whomever deserves it, and that is everyone because there is no separation between humans. And when I die do I take the love with me or does the love return to the world where it is needed most?")


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