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Hope Winters Eternal
2005-12-22 09:24
by Mike Carminati

Yesterday, there were a few moves that smack of, if not desperation, at least an extremely hopeful spirit brought on by the holiday season. But maybe it's insanity clause not Santa Claus that will coming down their chimneys this Festivus.

Witness: The Cardinals signed Sidney Ponson, a man whose scandal last season with the O's was eclipsed by the Rafael Palmeiro steroid circus. After a DUI arrest last August, the O's voided his ludicrous three-year, $22.5 M contract in the middle of the first year (and then said a collective, "Phew!"). He now claims that after a drying process quicker than the Waco Kid's in "Blazing Saddles", he is ready to step back into a major-league rotation. We'll see.

But I would contend that Ponson, DUI or no DUI, isn't the pitcher that I would hang a rotation spot on, or strained metaphors to that effect. The guy had a career year in 2003, and frankly even that year wasn't that great. That year, he won a career-high 17 games, a career-low 3.75 ERA, and career-high 115 Adjusted ERA (along with a 1.259 WHIP, a 5.58 strikeouts per nine innings, a 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and just 0.67 homers allowed per nine innings pitched), all respectable numbers. For a number three starter. In an average year.

OK, maybe that's a bit harsh but at best Ponson's image got a bit of boost by becoming the trade deadline sweetheart, and eventually was traded to the Giants. By the way, that was an atrocious trade for the O's after so much hoopla. They received three players, only two of which have played in the majors in the last two and one half seasons, and those two (Kurt Ainsworth and Damian Moss) went a collective 1-6 for the Orioles. Neither pitched in the majors in 2005.

But even if we concede that 2003 was the stellar year that the O's thought and apparently the Cards now think—GM Jocketty said "We signed him…based on his past career"— it was, Ponson has pitched seven other seasons and has the following career numbers when we remove the 2003 stats: 59-79, 4.99 ERA, 1.470 WHIP, 5.40 K/9 IP, 1.74 K:BB ratio, and 1.25 HR/9 IP in 202 games, 191 starts, and 1,227.1 innings pitched. Those are execrable numbers.

Maybe he would be worth a spring let's-see if he did not have so much baggage as well. Who needs a guy struggling to make the tail-end of the rotation who will be a major distraction? Who needs the press hovering around a marginal player to dreg up his history? And who needs to waste between $1M and $2.5M for the privilege?

That wasn't even the oddest pickup of the day for the Cardinals. They also signed Brian Daubach, who is about four years past his expiration date and is now 34 (!). Besides, this isn't like signing an aging Eric Karros to spell your starting first baseman on occasion or to DH in an interleague game. Daubach never was that good in his heyday. He was a decent guy to threw at first, a corner outfield spot, or DH for about three years in his Red Sox career. Somehow (arbitration?) he landed a $2.325M contract with the Red Sox in 2002, and his career has been careening out of control ever since. At least they did sign him to a minor-league deal.

Finally, St. Louis also signed pitcher John Riedling to a minor-league contract yesterday. "So what?" you say?

Well, Riedling had been the highest-paid Marlin in 2005 to remain a Marlin so far this offseason. He made $750K in 2005, which tied him with Damion Easley for the 16th highest on the team (not including Paul Quantrill and Ron Villone whose 2005 salary, or at least the bulk of it, was paid by another team. Riedling had been listed on the Marlins roster when I investigated the payroll cuts over the past month. Somehow (was he non-tendered?) he became a free agent and signed with the Cards.

All 18 players who were on the Marlins roster in 2005 and who made at least as much as Riedling were already gone by yesterday. Now, the highest salary from 2005 that is still on the roster is Brian Moehler's $400K, just the 20th highest on the team, ignoring Quantrill and Villone (though Moehler re-signed for $1.5M in 2006). Lenny Harris ($425M in 2005) also re-signed, but to a minor-league deal, so he's not on the 40-man roster.

That means that that 69% of the Marlins 2005 payroll has now been jettisoned ($41,308,834 of $60,593,334 by my calculations). I estimate that after arbitration their payroll will be just $18,750,000, just $10M above the mandated league-minimum payroll ($8 M based on 25 players at $320K).

In related news two California teams traded problems. The Giants got 40-year-old Virginian Steve Finley (actually, Tennessean but there are no Steve Carrell references that I could extract from that) for flagging third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. Talk about a lump of coal in your stocking. Both teams received a proverbial towel from Frank Cross as opposed to the VCR (yes, that was a different era).

A former star in Flushing, Alfonzo's career has been in a funk since joining the Giants three years ago. He is owed $7M from the fourth year of a $26 million, four-year deal he inked with San Fran back in 2002. He has registered Adjusted OPSs of 90, 93, and 79 in his Giant career (maybe David Bell aint so bad).

However, where I am sitting, the Giants got the—er, let's say short end of the stick in the deal. Finley is owed $8M in the final year of a two-year, $14 M deal. He was awful in 2005 (73 adjusted OPS) and is nine years Alfonzo's senior. Alfonzo may bounce back but Finley, even with the switch back to the NL, is highly unlikely to do so at age 41.

Besides, Finley is expected to back up Barry Bonds in left, Randy Winn in center, and Moises Alou in right. Given that Bonds is 41 and Alou is 39, it seemed that the last thing the Giants needed to add to the outfield was more aging players.

Alfonzo has a decent shot at starting at either second or third. Both players had seemed to lose their jobs on the old teams with Pedro Feliz apparently set to take over third in San Fran—at age thirty already: how cautious can the Giants be?—and Chone "Kruk's MVP" Figgins set to patrol center in Anaheim of Los Angeles. So basically it was a trade of big-salary players in their final contract year, who had essentially lost their jobs.

In any case, it looks like the Giants aging outfield will make history. There has never been a team who had three outfielders play at least 50 games each and who were at least 39 years old. The most was two by the '42 Braves (39-year-old Paul Waner and 41-year-old Johnny Cooney) and the 1927-28 A's (Ty Cobb, 40-41, and Zack Wheat, 39 in 1927, and Tris Speaker, 40 in 1928). However, in all three of those cases just one player started (Waner and Cobb) and the other came off the bench. The Giants are one injury to Winn away from the first 39-and-over outfield in baseball history. That's a gated outfield. All other outfielders will need to talk to the security guard to have an older outfielder buzz him in.

Then again, it's far more likely that one or more of the elder outfielders will miss time. Alou's 123 games in 2005 were the most in the trio. In any case, expect a spate of triples to rattle around the outfield in 2006 at whatever they call the ballpark in San Fran these days.

2005-12-22 20:13:54
1.   das411
Is that old OF the reason why the Dodgers added Furcal and Lofton?
2005-12-24 22:36:32
2.   DanUpBaby
Is signing a guy who hit .325/.426/.554 in AAA to a no-risk minor league deal really that odd? They don't all stick, but if they do you've got a decent bat off the bench. It's not like they plan on starting him, they've got some other guy at first base already.

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