Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spring Training Is Here, Bonds Is Not

Enough with the Barry Bonds hatred introspection, which I suppose I'll just add to the list of things to bring up to my therapist.

ESPN's Jayson Stark has a nice piece getting us all psyched up for pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, and (no surprise), he mentions the Dodgers and their rivals many times:

Most Intriguing Story, #3: Didn't this used to be Dodgertown?--Say it ain't so. No more spring training drives down Duke Snider Street or Vin Scully Way? No more open-air dugouts? No more street lights disguised as giant illuminated baseballs on a pole? No more living legends leaning against the batting cage on the same, coconut-tree-lined field where Branch Rickey and Walter O'Malley once presided? Progress has never been more overrated than it will be this spring -- when the Dodgers vacate their hallowed, historic spring home of the past six decades.

Having never been to Vero Beach, I have to say I'm split on this. The LA Times reporters seem to have been pressured by the McCourts into writing a cavalcade of "good riddance" pieces trashing the historic spring training site (which as a conspiracy theorist I found both odd and extremely convenient, even at the risk of impugning Ross Newhan with whom I usually agree). But it will indeed be nicer to have the Dodgers' spring training camp closer to Los Angeles next year.

And if everyone is up in arms about losing the street names (Stark is not the first person to lament the loss of all these street names around the Florida facility), why don't we just build a couple of new streets and move the street names? Doesn't seem that difficult to me. Heck, Frankie can even stand to charge higher parking fees for those who want to park on Vin Scully Way. It's a win-win!

Most Improved Team: 1) Mets, 2) Diamondbacks, 3) Cubs--Here's how much of a difference maker Johan Santana is: Before the Mets traded for him, they were viewed as one of the National League teams that had done the least to get better this winter. But drop the best pitcher of his time into this mix, and people start changing that tune, faster than you can say, "Whatever happened to Deolis Guerra?" Can one player really make that much of a difference? Sure. When he's this player. Heck, the Twins went 105-47 when Santana started over the past five years (and only 335-323 when he didn't). So the Mets might go undefeated when he's out there.

Poll tidbit: The Mets got 14 votes from our panelists. The D-backs got 10. And no other NL team got more than three.

No one thinks the Dodgers have improved, which makes me wonder if this poll was taken before the Mark Sweeney signing.

Best Free-Agent Signing: 1) Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs (4 years, $48 million); 2) Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers (3 years, $35.3 million); 3) To quote one exec, "Was there such a thing [as a good free-agent signing] this winter?"--What a nutty winter. Once we'd finished disqualifying free agents who re-signed with their old teams in this category, the only free agents who mustered any real enthusiasm from our poll voters were guys who came with their own translators. Not that anyone is sure that Fukudome is going to generate the same productivity or electricity as some of his Japanese predecessors. But his left-handed bat is a perfect fit for the Cubs. And we're betting that if there are any curses out there he's familiar with, at least they have zilch to do with goats.

Poll tidbit: All you need to know about this free-agent market is that five players got votes for best and worst signings: Hunter, Francisco Cordero, Pedro Feliz, Eric Gagne and Andruw Jones.

The pressure's on, Andruw. Hope you didn't subsist on donuts and beer dring the off-season.

Worst Free-Agent Signing: 1) Carlos Silva, Mariners (4 years, $48 million); 2) Scott Linebrink, White Sox (4 years, $19 million); 3) Aaron Rowand, Giants (5 years, $60 million)--So many choices for this award. So few places to rank them. But in a category in which 17 (count 'em, 17) different players got nominated, the Silva and Linebrink signings squashed the rest of the field. It's a great country when a guy like Silva -- who hasn't had a winning record since 2005 and has struck out fewer hitters over the past three years than Jake Peavy struck out last year -- can rake in 48 million bucks. But as a whole, no category of fat contracts seemed to offend our panel more than excessive bullpen contracts. And $19 million for Linebrink, whose opponent OPS has swelled from .583 to .678 to .742 over the past three years, made him the bad-bullpen-contract poster boy of 2008.

Poll tidbit: Rowand would never have shown up on this list if he'd gotten, say, a three-year deal. But those fourth and fifth years, which the Giants so charitably guaranteed him, allowed him to edge Cordero, Gagne, Jose Guillen and Jones for that prestigious No. 3 ranking.

Hey, the Giants got a mention!

And have you stopped to realize that Barry Bonds is not on any team's roster? No one wants the all-time home-run leader, one year after he set the record? No one wants the extra attendance virtually guaranteed by his at bats? No AL team thinks that, even in a DH role, he brings more positives than negatives? Seriously, this is shocking.

Hank Aaron was able to find a new team the year after he he broke Babe Ruth's record, and he played two more seasons and hit 22 more home runs. Why doesn't anyone want Barry? (This is a rhetorical question, one need not comment with the answer.) (Oh, what the hell, comment if you'd like.)