November 2010

Derek Jeter … the villain?

Thumbnail image for Jeet.jpgNEW YORK — It isn’t unfathomable — but maybe a little ironic. 

For the first time in his eventual Hall of Fame career, Derek Jeter is a free agent and formally not a member of the New York Yankees. 
Because he is the most iconic player in the most successful franchise’s history since Mickey Mantle adorned No. 7, the Yankees are offering him more money than he would ever get in the open market. And because said amount is apparently not good enough, Jeter (pictured right by The Associated Press) may be something else for the first time: despised. 
OK, maybe “despised” is a bit too strong a word. But there appears to be a segment of the Yankees’ vast fan base — a rather large one, it seems — that is actually at odds with the demands of “The Captain” at this very moment. 
The Yankees have reportedly made Jeter a three-year, $45 million offer. (In my opinion, that’s more than enough for a 36-year-old shortstop who is bad defensively and coming off the worst offensive season of his career — even one with his “intangibles,” history and popularity.) Jeter, meanwhile, reportedly seeks a contract of five or six years with an annual salary in the $20-million range. 
A lot of that may have to do with the competitive fire that has made Jeter so great. 
Jeter and Alex Rodriguez haven’t been particularly close since they shared the right side of the Yankee infield. That’s no secret. There haven’t really been any problems, but it’s hard to deny the uncomfortable tension that exists between the two. Now, Jeter sees a 35-year-old A-Rod making no less than $20 million over the next seven years in what is the most ridiculous contract in sports history and can’t help but think he deserves something similar. 
That’s a big reason why these negotiations have played out as expected: Complicated and ugly. 
Somehow, Jeter has boasted a spotless record despite being the face of the most vaunted franchise and a good-looking bachelor in America’s most vibrant city. But as these complex negotiations between the Yankees and Jeter creep into the start of December, through the Winter Meetings and possibly into the New Year, sides are going to be taken. 
It’s historically difficult for fans to sympathize with an athlete upset over $15 million a year, but it’s also difficult to sympathize with such a lucrative franchise — which has given away so much money to undeserving players in the past — not forking over a few extra million to keep one of the all-time greats in pinstripes. 
And that’s just another reason why this offseason staring contest is so darn interesting. 
As a Miami guy, I witnessed how quickly an athlete can go from hero to villain very recently with LeBron James, who staged his own show to declare his basketball future and was instantly hated everywhere except in that little pocket of South Florida — even though he wound up taking less money. 
Jeter’s is a vastly different situation, sure, but it just goes to show you that fans’ perceptions of athletes can change instantly — no matter who’s involved. Will Jeter eventually be hated in the Yankee community? Of course not. But it’s interesting — and pretty surprising — to see the tide turn against him a bit for the first time. 
What if the unimaginable happens and Jeter winds up finishing his career elsewhere? 
Which side would you blame then? 
— Alden Gonzalez 
* In case you were too hung up on turkey, I recently wrote about whether this could be it or one Manny Ramirez.

You can’t really blame the Marlins this time

Based on history, it’d be easy to hate on the Marlins right now.

It’d be easy to call out the tight-wallet team that has let so many quality players slip through its organization and passed on so many big-time free agents. And it’d be easy to rip a club that has a hard time spending despite records recently showing they’ve turned handsome profits in the past.

You can’t get on the Marlins for trading Dan Uggla to the Braves, though.

The Marlins, in fact, almost overpaid for Uggla. They gave a 30-year-old second baseman with a long swing and a stiff glove a four-year, $48 million proposal, and according to The Miami Herald, they kept jacking up that offer in hopes of getting a deal done. But Uggla wanted five years at $71 million and reportedly wasn’t backing down from that.

Florida wouldn’t go there.

And it shouldn’t have.

“We felt like we were where we wanted to be in terms of an offer to Dan, that we were more than fair,” Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said upon announcing the deal from the General Managers Meetings on Tuesday. “We acknowledged all the things he had done in the game and will continue to do in the game, and we weren’t able to get it done. An option was to keep him for a year, realizing he would probably walk into free agency by the end of the year, and we chose to make a move.”

Braves general manager Frank Wren said he’d like to sign Uggla to a long-term deal, but Uggla isn’t going to get anywhere near what he’s asking for from a foreign club. Despite his big year last season and his home-run production throughout his entire career, Uggla will be 31 in March, and scouts are turned off by his strikeout totals and spotty defense.They like him, but they don’t love him. And that’s the kind of money you give to guys you can’t see your team without.  

Uggla’s best shot at a big contract came with a franchise that reveres him and is looking for good publicity heading into a new stadium.

He got that.

“We think the compensation would have placed him with the elite players at his position in the game,” Beinfest said. “Dan, I guess, saw it otherwise.” 

Veteran infielder Omar Infante (solid defense and a good contact hitter) and young lefty Mike Dunn (who supposedly has electric stuff and, well, throws left-handed) fill two critical needs for the Marlins. Could Beinfest have received more elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not. Uggla could get up to $12 million in arbitration this year, and he’s a free agent after the 2011 season, so teams probably weren’t willing to give up too much.

One important thing Beinfest said: “What Dan would have been paid in our budget, we will re-spend that money.” The Marlins have already begun to do that by agreeing to sign John Buck to a three-year contract reportedly worth $18 million. Perhaps they can add a cost-efficient starter, too.  

Full-disclosure, I really, really like Dan. He’s one of my favorite players ever to deal with. A real stand-up guy. I saw the impact he had in that Marlins clubhouse (one franchise player Hanley Ramirez is hardly a leader in). And I saw the love he got from the Marlins’ fan base.

I know it hurts to see another lovable Marlin go. Heck, just a few weeks ago, Marlins fans were forced to watch one of their all-time faves, Cody Ross, light it up for the Giants and win it all after the Marlins literally gave him away in August.

You can blame the Marlins for that. And with Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller now traded after neither performed up to par in the early part of their Major League careers, you can blame them for the Miguel Cabrera trade of 2007.

Want to blame somebody for what was announced in Orlando this afternoon?

“His name is DAN UGGLA.”

— Alden Gonzalez  

The offseason, from the defending champs’ POV

AP1011020698.jpgThe Giants beat the Rangers in five World Series games, but you can beat that shortly after the champagne dried in the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, both respective general managers went right to work on the 2011 season. 

Yeah, there is no offseason. 
Though both clubs won pennants, they face varying degrees of difficulty regarding this offseason. We’ll start with the easiest … 
The Rangers
Free agents: LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Frank Francisco, C Bengie Molina, C Matt Treanor, INF Jorge Cantu, INF Cristian Guzman, DH Vladimir Guerrero
Arbitration-eligible: LHP C.J. Wilson, OF Josh Hamilton, OF Nelson Cruz, OF Jeff Francoeur, OF David Murphy, RHP Darren O’Day, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP Dustin Nippert, RHP Brandon McCarthy, INF Esteban German
Needs: Catcher, right-handed relief, starting pitching, designated hitter
Outlook: Whether or not they resign Lee, the Rangers have laid the foundation, and they’re going to be a top-tier team in the American League for years to come. But they of course need to go after Lee, because he’ll take them to a whole new level. Most of their core is coming back, though, which means they’ll once again have a great offense, a solid bullpen and pretty good rotation depth. 
Texas’ payroll was at about $65 million in 2010 and will go up (perhaps all the way up to $90 million). If the Rangers don’t get Lee, they can counteract it a couple of different ways — by getting a mid-rotation starter like Carl Pavano, or moving closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation and getting a closer like Rafael Soriano — and then use the extra money to get a Victor Martinez or a Carl Crawford. Vlad should be brought back, especially since his option was declined and can be had at a much cheaper price. 
The Giants
Free agents: OF Pat Burrell, OF Jose Guillen, 1B Aubrey Huff, INF Juan Uribe, RHP Guillermo Mota
Arbitration eligible: RHP Santiago Casilla, INF Mike Fontenot, LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Ramon Ramirez, RHP Chris Ray, OF Cody Ross, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, OF Andres Torres
Needs: Corner outfield, corner infield, shortstop
Outlook: They didn’t call them the “misfits” for nothing. The Giants had a great starting rotation and bullpen, and they will continue to have that next season. But their offense needs a makeover, and rest assured GM Brian Sabean isn’t looking at last year’s phenomenal playoff run as any determination that the lineup is fine the way it is. It isn’t. The Giants need that steady run-producer they’ve always craved and could use some help at a few positions. 
With that in mind, there is one player they need to go hard after: Jayson Werth. He gives them the pop they need and plays a position of need. On top of that, they need to bring back Ross, and I think they need to part ways with Burrell. Some help on the left side of the infield — in case Pablo Sandoval doesn’t bounce back, or Edgar Renteria (pictured; Associated Press) or Uribe aren’t brought back — would be a big help. 
Celebrating is over. Time to get to work. 
Alden Gonzalez 
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