One of the annual highlights of the winter meetings is the talent show put on by the first-time general managers. It’s part of their initiation into the fraternity of team-runners. Rumors are that Ned Colletti is cooking up a tribute to ABBA. Can anything ever top Omar Minaya’s lecture on the cave paintings of the Paleolithic period–delivered on a unicycle while juggling flaming batons? One thinks not. Sadly, this is a secret rite not open to the public or the press. As with most things at the winter meetings, one gets by on rumors.

While all that is going on behind closed doors, the rest of us are left to discuss what is transpiring in baseball.

Hernandez vs. Molina
A lot of money has been thrown at catchers in their thirties in the last couple of years. Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez have all gotten some nice paydays. Even Mike Matheny got a three-year deal to take him through his mid-thirties, albeit for not as much money as the others. Ramon Hernandez turns 30 early in the 2006 season, making him nearly two years younger than the other major catcher of this year’s free agent crop, Ben Molina.

Over the past three years, Molina has played in 335 games while Hernandez has been in a nearly equal 350. Here are the results:

         WARP1    FRAA     EqA
Year   BM   RH   BM RH    BM   RH
2003  4.6  5.7   12  8  .261  .274
2004  2.0  5.1   -3  2  .254  .284
2005  3.5  3.6   -3 -2  .281  .275

Both have spent their entire careers on the west coast somewhat off the radar of the east coast media and fans. In terms of raw publicity, Molina has suffered less for this for two reasons: the Angels won it all in his tenure and the “Catching Molina Brothers” thing has some media legs. Hernandez has been better, though and, given his age, should get the better payday or at least an equal one.

Choose one: happiness or money
As even the most depressed resident of the most-out-of-the-way mental healthcare facility knows by now, Manny Ramirez is unhappy in Boston and wants to be traded. There are precious few teams who can afford his hi-teen salary, however. As Red Sox senior advisor Bill Lajoie asked Ron Blum of the Associated Press, “You’re going to pay another team to have that player beat you? That doesn’t make sense, does it?”

No, it doesn’t. So, why should the Red Sox–or any other team that finds itself in a similar bind–have to pay to make a player happy elsewhere? If we’ve learned nothing else in life it’s this: true happiness, the kind that makes you tingle, costs a lot of money. How about this, then? Ramirez buys himself out of his contract. Doesn’t that make sense? If winning the World Series and making the playoffs every year isn’t doing it for him, he should pay his own freight off the Island of Pain and Despair.

Clemens unsure of future
The Associated Press reports that, according to Roger Clemens‘ agent Randy Hendricks, he is closer to retiring than he is to returning for 2006–at least at this point in time. If for nothing else, it would be interesting to see just how far Clemens can take his career. The other Hall of Fame pitchers who enjoyed success past the age of 40 all cratered eventually–as nature dictates they must. They all overstayed and wound up having poor finishes. Of course, the only way to truly know if you’ve still got it is to hang in there and see how they’re hitting you. It’s a fine line to walk and, eventually, Cy Young, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan found out the hard way it was over.

The end comes swiftly at this age, but until we see it come, there is no proof that it ever will–other than the fact it did for everyone else who got this far. Aside from posting the lowest strikeout/9 figure of his career, Clemens is giving no indication he can’t keep doing this indefinitely. Perhaps he would go for a Ted Lyons Sunday-only arrangement to carry him through the next few seasons. How would it work out if he pitched seven innings a week? Could he last another five years?

Burnett and Beckett
All I can say is: thank you. Thank you to whoever is responsible for finally getting Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett onto separate teams. Between all those missed starts and the similarities in their last names, I was not doing a very good job of keeping them separated in my mind. Between them, they have one season that contains a full complement of starts and four years of pitching enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. They have similar NRAs, Burnett with 4.23 and Beckett with 4.08. Those numbers might be reversed. Not sure. One of them got pissed off last year and one of them had a great World Series in 2003–it might be the same one.

Now that the Blue Jays are solidifying their rep as this offseason’s craziest team, Burnett will be theirs for five years. Any deal that allows reporters to conjure the name Chan Ho Park as a comparison is probably not a good one.

Yanks lose big $$
According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees lost between $50 and $85 million in 2005. Now I don’t feel so bad. Personally, I lost between $25 and $30 million this past year and was a little down about it heading into the holidays. (A lot of my losses came from not purchasing lottery tickets with certain number combinations on them.) You know, if the Yankees can’t make money, what hope is there for the rest of us? Why should we even bother working? Of course, if we spent money the way they do, we’d be paying $15 for a gallon of milk, the everyman’s equivalent of the Tony Womack deal.

Anna Benson in a snit
The New York Daily News (again), has reported that Anna Benson, the spouse of Mets pitcher Kris, is yanked off at the team because she believes they are trying to trade her husband because she has been negotiating to get naked in Playboy. It’s all rather surprising, really, because up to this point, Ms. Benson has been the model of restraint. Oddly, this very thing happened to Cy Young when his wife was negotiating to be a pinup girl for the soldiers going off to the Spanish-American War.

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