Thursday March 6, 2014
Ryan Braun's reputation has been forever tarnished.
Any time his name is mentioned, we will recall his 2013 suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy. Most of all, we'll remember how Braun lied following a positive test in October 2011 -- and how, instead of admitting guilt, he tried to take down the collector of the urine samples, Dino Laurenzi Jr.
Braun knows this. He also knows the only thing he can to do to alter our thinking -- at least in some small way -- is come back this season, at age 30, and be the same player he was from 2007-12.
If he doesn't, the consequences will be huge. Most of us will believe, fair or not, that he gained much of his success -- which includes the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2011 NL MVP and five consecutive Silver Sluggers -- from performance-enhancing drugs.
If Braun comes back this season and mashes, we won't forget his tarnished past. But we'll also give him credit for producing while we can only assume he's clean, since he would be risking the rest of his career by using PEDs again.
This spring, Braun has been his 2007-12 self.
He has six hits in his first seven at-bats in spring training, with four runs scored, two homers, three RBI, two walks and no strikeouts.
After the furor that followed his suspension, it's easy to forget how terrific he was in his first six big-league seasons. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera were more imposing forces in that span, but Braun might have had the best across-the-board numbers in the game.
From 2007-12, he:
- Had at least 25 home runs each season.
- Hit 32 or more homers five times.
- Had at least 97 RBI each year, and drove in 103 runs or more in five of six seasons.
- Batted .304 or better five times.
- Had an OPS of .866 or higher in all six campaigns.
- Stole at least 14 bases each year.
Braun's season averages from 2007-12: a .313 average, 102 runs, 34 homers, 107 RBI and 21 steals.
Will he come close to that production this season?
My guess is he will surprise many people and do just that.
I wouldn't expect Braun to hit 34 homers, but an average above .300 with 25-plus homers, 90-plus RBI and 15 steals seems realistic.
Would that be enough to wash away the stench?
But it would at least provide a little fresh air for a player who desperately needs some.
Friday February 28, 2014
No, you say?
I would have agreed, until I read this ESPN piece by former Reds general manager Jim Bowden.
Bowden estimated that Mike Trout, who isn't even eligible for arbitration until next season, would command a total of $66 million in arbitration from 2015 to '17. He then guessed that if the Angels were to buy out some of Trout's free-agent seasons in a long-term extension, he could receive salaries between $32 million (2018-20) and $35 million (2021-24).
That's a 10-year total of $302 million, and the Angels would have Trout under contract for the next 11 seasons.
After reading Bowden's analysis, I went back to this About Baseball breakdown of the biggest contracts in baseball history.
Alex Rodriguez has signed the two most lucrative deals in MLB history -- a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers in 2001 and, once he renegotiated that deal as a member of the Yankees, a 10-year, $275 million deal in 2008.
When Rodriguez signed his first mega-deal, he was only 25. The second -- much (much, much, much) more questionable -- contract was agreed to when A-Rod was 32.
Trout is 22.
He will be 33 -- the age Rodriguez turned on July 27, 2008, the first year of his $275 million contract -- when the 2024 season ends.
He has played two full major-league seasons and another 40 games as a 19-year-old rookie in 2011.
His 162-game averages are a .314 batting average, 30 homers, 95 RBI, 41 steals and 124 runs -- with a ridiculous .948 OPS.
In the last two seasons, he has batted .326 and .323 with norms of 29 homers, 90 RBI, 41 stolen bases and 119 runs.
He's young, he's reliable, he's driven and he's a stud.
What's that worth to a marquee team that is competing with the Dodgers for headlines in Los Angeles?
How does $300 million sound?
At first, it seemed nuts.
Now, not so much.
Sunday February 23, 2014
Should a closer -- even the best one in the game -- be paid $10 million per year?
The easy answer would seem to be "not unless we're talking about Mariano Rivera," but Jonathan Papelbon changed that when he signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies in November 2011.
Strictly using Papelbon as an example, the Braves seemed to do pretty well for themselves when they signed 25-year-old closer Craig Kimbrel to a four-year, $42 million extension last week.
Kimbrel will make salaries of $11 million and $13 million in 2016 and 2017, and the deal could be for five years and $54 million if a $13 million option for 2018 (which includes a $1 million buyout) is exercised.
How good is Kimbrel?
So good he seems worth every penny. And so good he now has the second-largest contract for a closer in baseball history.
Papelbon, meanwhile, could turn his $50 million contract into a five-year, $63 million deal. To make the latter numbers materialize, the Phillies' closer has to finish 55 games in 2015 or a combined 100 games in 2014 and '15. If he does, he'll automatically vest a $13 million option for the 2016 season.
Papelbon has saved 67 games and appeared in 131 contests in two years with Philadelphia.
If you're thinking it's a shame Papelbon, and not Mariano Rivera, has the largest contract for a closer in MLB history, don't feel too sorry for the best relief pitcher we've ever seen.
Rivera never had a $50 million contract, but he made at least $10.5 million each season from 2003 until he retired following the 2013 season. From 2008-12, he made a combined $74.9 million, and according to his Baseball Reference page, he reeled in more than $169 million in salaries during his career.
Kimbrel might never reach that level, but he has been even more dominant than Rivera in his prime the last two seasons.
In 2012 and '13, Kimbrel saved 92 games in 99 chances. In that span, he has a 1.11 ERA and posted WHIPs of 0.65 and 0.88. He also has struck out 214 batters in 129 2/3 innings -- an average of 14.9 K's per nine innings that is 6.7 above Rivera's career norm.
He's so great I almost re-examined my stance on when to take a closer in fantasy baseball.
He's so great that paying him a shade under $11 million per year for five years seems like a steal.
Updated fantasy baseball rankings
Sunday February 16, 2014
The Oakland Athletics, somewhat improbably, have won a combined 190 games the last two seasons.
This offseason, they gave Scott Kazmir $22 million in free agency, extended Coco Crisp for two years and $22.75 million, and traded for the likes of Jim Johnson (who will make $10 million in 2014) and Luke Gregerson ($5.065 million).
The A's clearly believe they can advance past the Division Series, something they failed to do in each of the last two postseasons.
They also might be trying to keep up with -- at least in their own small way -- the Rangers, Angels and Mariners.
The Rangers signed Shin-Soo Choo for $130 million and traded for Prince Fielder and the majority of what remains of his $214 million contract.
The Angels are trying to bounce back after failing to make the playoffs in each of Albert Pujols' first two years in Los Angeles, and the Mariners broke the bank to sign Robinson Cano.
What's it all mean?
The division should have three or four playoff contenders this season. (Sorry, Astros, but, hey, it's nice to see your payroll top $30 million this season.)
We take a quick look at the loaded AL West and much more in this spring training primer.
Players to watch, teams to watch, stories to watch -- and no Alex Rodriguez.
It's that time of year.
Who knows, maybe it will even stop snowing one of these weeks.