February 10, 2006
The Brewers' acquisition of Corey Koskie was the baseball equivalent of redeeming cereal-box UPCs for a free gift of minimal value. A month after completing the Lyle Overbay deal with the Blue Jays--a win--the Brewers provided the Jays a place to dump last winter's big mistake, a player who they had no room for after acquiring Overbay and retaining Shea Hillenbrand.
To get the last two years on Koskie's contract (of which they'll be paying just $5.5 million), the Brewers gave up a 25-year-old right-hander who was released less than a year ago. His name is Brian Wolfe, a fact that the Jays may or may not know even now; he's irrelevant to the transaction, just the guy involved to make the deal a "trade" rather than a sale.
Koskie doesn't have to do much to provide a return on such a minimal investment, which is fortunate because he can't be expected to. Increasingly fragile, slow and defensively challenged, Koskie has seen his playing time drop in four straight seasons and his EqA drop in two straight. He'll be 33 in June, so there's little reason to expect those trends to reverse themselves.
Free stuff always makes people happy, but in this case, there's one pretty big loser in the pickup: Corey Hart. Hart was set to go to Maryvale as a candidate for the Brewers' third-base job, the highest-upside guy in a so-so pool that also includes Bill Hall and Jeff Cirillo. Hart, the Brewers 11th-round pick in the 2000 draft, has bounced around as a pro; in five seasons, he's played 174 games at first base, 187 at third, and 216 in the outfield. Wherever he's played, he's hit for good averages and power, and impressed scouts with his tall, rangy build.
Coming off of his second go'round at Triple-A--a .308/.377/.536 season spent mostly in the outfield--Hart seemed ready for a big-league role, an impression reinforced by a good performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he returned to the hot corner. With the Koskie trade, though, the Brewers now have veterans at three of Hart's positions, and their top prospect, Prince Fielder, plays first base. If Hart is to stick with the Brewers this spring, he'll have to do so as the team's fourth outfielder, showing enough defense to be the backup center fielder and stealing at-bats against lefties from Koskie, Fielder and Geoff Jenkins. It's a tough job for a 24-year-old, now caught between the minor leagues and a major-league backup role when he's at least shown enough to warrant a chance at more.
Sometimes, even free stuff has a cost.
In the legal world, lawyers sometimes hear things from their clients that make it impossible to represent them effectively--such as that they intend to lie on the stand. Since lawyers generally don't like suborning perjury--yet they're bound by confidentiality not to reveal that their client's a lying slimeball--the best thing to do in such a situation is to find a way off the lying slimeball's case, such as gently convincing the client to find a new attorney, and "fire" the present one, rather than face humiliation in court.
That's the "quiet exit," which permits the attorney to leave the client to his own devices without screwing up the fellow's case. Some attorneys don't go for the quiet exit, however. When they beg off the wannabe perjurer's case, it's citing ethical rules, which is just about as subtle as yelling at the judge, "E'shay an amnday iarlay!"
Throughout Major League Baseball, players have spent the past month doing the "loud exit" from the WBC. In a short time, Barry Bonds, Tim Hudson, Carl Crawford, and Eric Gagne have all announced to the press that they intend to opt out of the Classic. The Yankees seem to have led the pack in players announcing early and often that they would much rather be sweating with their coaches in Tampa, Florida this Spring, than representing their countries in the World Baseball Classic. Gary Sheffield was perhaps the first and least diplomatic player to announce that the Classic was a waste of his time. Alex Rodriguez was more philosophical, seesawing from playing for the Dominican team to playing for the American team to not playing at all before adopting a reluctant noblesse oblige attitude, and settling on Team USA.
Reportedly, the Yankees successfully lobbied MLB to keep Jorge Posada, Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano off WBC rosters, on the basis of age and injury history. It is also believed that they attempted, but failed, to make Mariano Rivera and Chien-Ming Wang ineligible for the tournament. Even without the Yankees' help, Rookie of the Year Runner-Up Robinson Cano asked the Dominican team to make do without him.
The loudest of the loud exits, however, came from a pair of national icons on the Yankee roster, each arguably their country's best player. Hideki Matsui raised the collective eyebrows of a nation when he announced his desire to spend the month of March preparing for the American League rather than defending national pride in the Classic. When Rivera declined Panama's invitation to the Classic, it ignited a firestorm in his homeland, where Rivera's decision to sit out the tourney was considered a no-confidence vote in the team's ability to hang in there with the more storied national teams. While Rivera has taken pains to talk to Panamanian manager (and former Yankee) Roberto Kelly to clear the air, the damage to the closer's reputation in his country might be irreparable.
Despite all this carnage, the Bronx Bombers will probably be well-represented with high-profile players in the WBC. Johnny Damon seems determined to play, as does Derek Jeter. Rodriguez is also committed--unless he changes his mind again, that is. Wang, Miguel Cairo, Ron Villone and Bernie Williams could all still wind up on their countries' 30 man rosters.
That the Yankees' ballclub is resisting the World Baseball Classic is no surprise. The Yankees were the only team to vote against the WBC's creation, and they have consistently resisted allowing players from their organization to play in the Olympics or other international competitions. However, the fact that so many individual players have decided to step out and announce their decision to snub the WBC--rather than declining more quietly--indicates that maybe George Steinbrenner isn't alone in his lack of enthusiasm for international tournaments.