The Yankees got their man today, inking Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui to a 3-year deal reportedly worth $21 million according to the AP. With Nick Johnson on the block, looks like Popeye Zimmer is first in line to win the "Godzookie" look-a-like contest.
At the very least Jeff Kent adds a healthy dose of shit-kicker charm to the Astros, if ornery-old Jimy Williams being the second-coming of Dick Williams left ass cheek wasn't enough. Jeff Kent looks like one of those sturdy, good-looking California state troopers; aloof, and conceited in a rigid and humorless way. His sour disposition should be a good compliment to the incredibly likable trio of stars, Berkman, Bagwell and Biggio. So should his Hall of Fame stick. Especially when he's going to be hitting in that horseshit ballpark. Kent's addition to the Astros should at least garentee one bench clearing brawl against the Cardinals next summer.
Choosing between Rocket Clemens and Bartolo Colon is like asking yourself what cut of steak you are going to order at Peter Lugers. Which ever you choose, it amounts to a whole lot of meat. The big cut; with all the fat still on it. And just when it looked like these two were the only slabs left, Cuban defector Jose Contrera's announced his free-agency yesterday, adding ox-tail to the menu. The Post reported this morning that Grege Maddux will accept salary arbitration from Atlanta later today, which may free up either Kevin Millwood or the recently aquired Russ Ortiz (Atlanta needs a first baseman; Nick Johnson, this is your life). More meat. Mmmm, more meat.
If the Yankees sign Clemens we will get the opportunity to enjoy a great pitcher reach one of the great career milestones. The problem is: just how many people are going to be able to enjoy watching Clemens do it? The Red Sox fans who saw him give their home nine the best years of his life; Toronto fans, where Clemens won two straight Cy Youngs before he bolted to the Yanks; or the Yankee fans who have seen him trudge through his four seasons in New York, collecting a 6th Cy Young and two World Series rings along the way?
I don't mean to suggest that Clemens doesn't have his supporters. There is a lot to admire about his game, even more about his career. But I would venture to guess that there hasn't been a pitcher gunning for 300 who was more unpopular; who has been cast as the heavy, the villan. It's funny but I think before Clemens came to the Yankees, they didn't have a player that even a reasonable-minded Yankee-hater could really sink their teeth into. Rocket changed all of that. Clemens will be most remembered in pinstripes for his flair-ups with Mike Piazza, for being the guy that gave people an excuse to hate the Yankees (as if people need an excuse), rather than the Cy Young or the two rings. (I may remember him most as the man who made me dislike Andy Pettitte.)
If the Yankees sign Colon it's cause George just got so hungry for that Filet Mignon that he didn't care what he had to give up for that fat steak, he's just damn sure he's going to eat steak. Cause he's fat ass George and he loves a fat ass steak. Mike Lupica ostensibly makes the same point in his column in today's Daily News.
Colon can talk the talk these days, because he's in the prime of his career and his stuff is nasty. For the past four winters, my friend Javier and I ask each other, "Is this the year that Colon is going to decide to stop putzing around and win the Cy Young?" He wasn't good enough to win it last season, but it was his best effort to date. There is every reason for him to be grinning these days. He's like Vin Diesel (with more than a touch of Ernest Borgnine), sitting back, enjoying all the fuss being made over him I'm sure.
The most interesting character in the Expos drama of course is general manager Omar Minaya. He's been in the news constantly for two weeks and has yet to make a move, with the Yankees, Red Sox or anyone else. Minaya, a street-savvy, and engaging New Yorker has taken the only gm job ever offered to him, and run with it brilliantly. Minaya's first year on the job should keep him employed in the field for some years to come regardless of what goes down with the Expos. He took an opportunity and was aggressive and creative from the get go. Minaya sought out the sport in the challenge, and comes across as a very confident operator. Certainly able to hold his own between his bosses at MLB, and his contemporaries like Billy Beane, Brain Cashman, Phillips, Riccardi and the like. He's straight-forward, and unpretentious in his briefings with the press, but accesible, enthusiastic, and funny. Minaya has the energy of a jock, not a suit, and that's refreshing. Not a dumb jock, but a competitor, a gamer.
Steve Phillips is like a Slick Willie version of Gabe Paul. No matter what happens on his watch, his greatest talent may be keeping a job. Of course Gabe Paul also kept the Indians in Cleveland, and he did help George Steinbrenner build (and buy) a championship in New York, but his primary achievement was how many owners he convinced to keep him employed. Phillips won't have the shelf life that Gabe Paul did, but he does appear to have lasted longer than could be expected in Queens. Whether this is due to Fred Wilpon's poor judgement or Phillip's ability to create a positive impression (or a combination of the two), hardly matters.
Phillips is in the middle of another annual winter shopping spree. Ordonez is gone and so is Alfonzo. The union boys are in: veteran lefties Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton. But after practically being awarded Executive of the Year last winter, it's hard to get too excited about anything the Mets will do on paper this off season. Phillips is in the position to win now, so there is little regard for the future. He probably won't be around that long anyhow.
Phillips may look good getting rid of problems getting rid of mistakes (Ordonez, Burnitz, Cedeno), but they are his mistakes in the first place. My cousin Gabe has been depressed by all the Mets dealings in the free agent wilderness. (It's nothing that signing Cliff Floyd wouldn't help cure.) Where is the identity of this team? Where is the connective-tissue? Who is around from year to year to identify with? Johnny Franco? Oy veh.
"I wonder how long it's going to take me to not instinctively root against Glavine when I see him on sportscenter," Gabe told me over the phone. "I don't only want players that I heavily associate with another team."
Like who? Jack Clark, Danny Tartabull, and Don Baylor. It's funny that the Yankees have as much stability with a core group of players as any team in the majors, because they've always fervently embraced free agency.
Here is part of an e-mail I got from cousin Gabe the other day¡¦
The Braves are going to end up with a rotation that
includes Mike Hampton, Kevin Millwood, Russ Ortiz, and
Paul Byrd. For those four starters, the Braves will
pay less than $10 million in 2003. If Maddux accepts
arbitration, they have the best rotation in the NL.
If Maddux departs, they might still have the best
rotation in the NL, depending on where Maddux winds
up. It's brilliant how they assessed Maddux and
Glavine and said, You know what? We're not going to
blow the bank on these two. Let's figure out some
other way to have great pitching. Fuck that era.
It's time for this era.
Meanwhile, the Mets live off of others' dregs. Here's
my imaginary line-up / roster du jour for 2003:
Roger Cedeno LF
Desi Relaford 2B
Mike Piazza C
Carlos Beltran CF
Mo Vaughn 1B
Joe Randa 3B
Tsyoshi Shinjo CF
Jose Reyes SS
Bench: Joe McEwing, Lenny Harris, Carlos Baerga, Brent
Mayne, Raul Gonzolez, Esix Snead
Starters: GLavine, Leiter, Trachsel, Neagle, Heilman
Bullpen: Benitez, Weathers, G. Roberts, Jaime Cerda,
Stanton, Kane Davis
Harris, Relaford, Shinjo, AND Baerga??? Yup. Can you
sense my longing for continuity? I can describe how
we got all the new guys, if need be--I've worked out
all the transactions. If I really had the energy, I'd
figure out a way to unload Benitez...
The Mets could field a fun team next year, and even a succesful one, but one thing for sure is once again, they will be different. Especially for the casual fan, it's dizzying to keep up with all the changes.
Mike Stanton, bare-armed and grinning, is splashed across the back page of the Post today, in his newly-minted Mets uniform, tossing a baseball to himself. The headline reads "I'D PLUNK CLEMENS". After playing for Atlanta and the Yanks, Stanton shows he's got a little Sal Maglie in him, jumping across town to don the Mets home pinstripes. He may not look like the Barber, but Stanton does look as if he just got out of the barber's chair. If he gets the chance to plunk Clemens, he'll get to prove just how much like Maglie he can be.