December 17, 2010
On the Beat
When the Best Isn't Enough
The Rangers walked away from their first World Series appearance disappointed in losing to the Giants but taking consolation in the belief they were set up to land the biggest prize on this winter's free-agent market.
Left-hander Cliff Lee had spent the second half of the season with the Rangers after being acquired in a trade from the Mariners just before the All-Star break and fueled their run to the World Series with outstanding performances against the Rays and Yankees in the American League playoffs. Lee indicated that he thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Rangers and the reception he received from the fans of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
While Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg, club president Nolan Ryan, or general manager Jon Daniels never publicly said they were sure that Lee would re-sign, they privately felt extremely confident. The longer what appeared to be a two-team tussle between the Yankees and Rangers to sign Lee dragged, the more apparent it seemed that the pitcher would end a vagabond stretch of pitching for four teams in two seasons by staying in Texas.
Then the bombshell dropped Monday night when Lee told Texas he had decided to sign with the Phillies, a team that supposedly wasn't in on the bidding and had traded him to the Mariners last December as part of a four-team deal in which they acquired eventual 2010 National League Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. The Rangers were crushed.
"We wanted to take the risk," Daniels said. "We felt it was a smart gamble. We're disappointed we don't have the player. Maybe down the road we'll look at this differently, but I don't want to paint this with that brush. I don't want to pretend we're happy or relieved. We wanted to sign the player."
Instead, the player is gone. The Rangers offered Lee what Greenberg called "a menu of options" and the most was a six-year deal worth either $120 million up front or $138 million if he deferred a significant amount of money along with a vesting option for a seventh year. Lee wanted the seventh year guaranteed but signed with the Phillies for five years and $120 million with a sixth-year option that could bring the total amount to $135 million.
"It would have been a matter of saying yes on terms we weren't comfortable with," Greenberg said. "He was willing to be with the Rangers, but it was beyond the aggressive parameters we were operating under. We didn't think it was in the best long-term interests of the organization. We were very aggressive and willing to step out. But along with being aggressive, we did not want to put this franchise back in a position where it was for a number of years before we bought it."
The Rangers got into such bad financial shape under former owner Tom Hicks that he was forced to sell the franchise at auction in bankruptcy court in August. Having worked through that situation, Daniels understood Greenberg's reasoning for not wanting to offer seven guaranteed years.
"We were in regular contact," Daniels said. "We exchanged ideas and proposals, but we couldn't find terms that worked for our side. We knew what it would take and we weren't comfortable with that. We went as far as we were comfortable going. Our ownership stepped up. I can't fault anybody on both sides. They had three good offers from three contending clubs. They went to a place where they are comfortable with a chance to be in a potentially historic rotation."
The Phillies' rotation could indeed be historically good with Lee joining Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The Rangers, meanwhile, are without an ace after losing Lee, though they still have two above-average pitchers in their rotation in left-hander C.J. Wilson and right-hander Colby Lewis. The Rangers are hopeful that lefty Derek Holland and righty Tommy Hunter step up next season, and they also plan to stretch out closer Neftali Feliz and reliever Alexi Ogando next spring with the possibility of moving them into the rotation.
"Whether it's free agency or trade, there will be a high price associated with pitching," Daniels said. "We've lined up different things, we've looked into different things and we'll continue to look into them. We really wanted Cliff, but on the rebound, we're not going to overpay for something."
The Twins became the first team to clinch a division title last season but certainly don't appear to be the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL Central champions. The White Sox have added designated hitter Adam Dunn to the middle of their lineup, while the Tigers have added a big-hitting DH in Victor Martinez as well as Joaquin Benoit to serve as the primary set-up reliever for closer Jose Valverde.
However, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is not ready to declare his team as the early-line favorite for 2011. He is mindful that Chicago was just eighth in the AL and 16th in the majors in runs allowed last season with an average of 4.35 per game. He also pointed to how the Giants won the World Series on the strength of pitching.
"Right now, the way we pitched last year, it's hard for me to say we're the favorite," Guillen said. "(Last season) in spring training, I was very excited because of the rotation we had. We didn't pitch that well and (Jake) Peavy got hurt. Now the rotation for us is pretty, pretty exciting. Who won the World Series this year? The people nobody even thought about being there. That's the message to baseball. You do not need big boys in the middle of the lineup to win it. You just have a good team, everything clicks for you, play good at the right time and that's it."
The Giants finally broke through for their first World Series victory in 58 years and first in their 54 years in San Francisco under manager Bruce Bochy.
Dusty Baker was the Giants' manager the previous time they reached the World Series in 2002, losing to the Angels in seven games then being let go because he and then-owner Peter Magowan were not getting along. Baker, who continues to live in the Bay Area, says he holds no animosity toward the Giants and even attended Games Three and Four of their National League Championship Series victory over the Phillies at AT&T Park. His 11-year-old son Darren also remains a Giants fan and religiously wore a "Fear The Beard" T-shirt in honor of closer Brian Wilson during the postseason.
"I'm happy for them," Baker said. "I'm happy for the city and happy for the coaches that were there when I was there in the organization. I'm not a hater, so yeah, I'm happy for them because 50-some years is a long time. You wish it was you, but I've got an opportunity next year."
Manny Acta had a rough first seasons as the Indians' manager in 2010 as his team finished 69-93. Injuries to such standouts as center fielder Grady Sizemore, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and rookie catcher Carlos Santana sabotaged any hopes the Indians had of possibly playing .500 or better.
Thus, the skipper was limited to what he could do from a strategic standpoint. However, Acta believes he helped the Indians in the long haul by taking a passive approach to his job.
"I think this year was a good opportunity for me to sit back and watch because some of the kids that were called up were not even supposed to be in the big leagues up until September," Acta said. "Some of those kids were looking over their shoulder when they first come up, wondering 'am I going to stick up here or am I going to be sent down?' We let them play. I think it helps that we set out that plan as an organization, and we knew that we were going to have to let guys like Lou (Marson), (Michael) Brantley, and (Matt) LaPorta go through some struggles. And I think the fact that we sat back, let them go through their struggles and allowed them to fight through it was the best thing that we probably could do."
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Yankees would like to know by Christmas if Andy Pettitte is coming back next season, but the left-hander reportedly wants a raise over his $11.5 million salary of 2010 to put off retirement for another year. … The general consensus among baseball people is that Adrian Beltre is going to have to come off his demand for a five-year contract to get a deal done. … Both sides are optimistic that the trade of Jason Bartlett from the Rays to the Padres will happen soon. … The Pirates are considering bidding on Carl Pavano, whom the Twins would like to re-sign. The right-hander is also on the radar of the Brewers and Nationals. … Brian Fuentes is still on the market but neither the Red Sox or Yankees are willing to meet his asking price of three years and $15 million and are instead looking at Pedro Feliciano as a lefty relief alternative. … The Orioles would like to sign Adam LaRoche, but his wish for a third guaranteed year has slowed the talks. The Orioles are also looking at Derrek Lee as a first-base option, as are the Nationals and Padres. … The Braves are close to signing Dan Uggla to a five-year, $60 million extension. … The Rangers continue to talk with Vladimir Guerrero about re-signing to be their DH in 2011. … The Nationals re-signed Chien-Ming Wang, who missed all last season. … The Marlins are considering signing Edgar Renteria to serve as a utility infielder, while he is also an option for the Giants and Cardinals to be their starting shortstop. … Garrett Atkins is considering playing in Japan next season after flaming out with the Orioles this year.