It’s a good year to be an underdog.
St. Louis’ Game 5 win over Philadelphia Friday assured this outcome: the 2011 world champion won’t come from either coast, and won’t be one of the big spending Northeast teams that have won three of the final four.
The flyover country final four is the first ever (three out of four in 2005 and 1984). Whoever wins won’t be accused of buying a title, which the Yankees and Red Sox so often are, and the Phillies would have been.
Proving once again, that while having more money to spend is better than less, knowing how to spend is better than having more to spend. All three of the aforementioned teams were hamstrung by bad financial planning; it hindered them in 2011 and will continue to do so in the immediate future (ironically enough, the Yankees less than the other two).
- The Phillies extended first baseman Ryan Howard through 2016 at $25 million a year. That was a bad contract before Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon Friday night. Now it’s as restrictive for the Phillies as the cast Howard will have to wear. Howard will be 32 before he plays again; he’s already declining and Friday’s unfortunate injury may accelerate that. Yet, the Phillies will be paying him as if he’s one of the top four players in the National League; he’s not even one of the top four first basemen in the league. Can anyone say Mo Vaughn?
- The Red Sox celebrated when they signed free agents Carl Crawford and Jon Lackey in successive years. In 2011 they were among the worst players at their respective positions. Now, the wound is not just in the money spent on the two (another $121 million to Crawford, $52 million to Lackey), but the length of the contracts (six more years for Crawford, three for Lackey). How many more free-agent victories can the Red Sox endure?
- Think the Red Sox owe a lot of money? The Yankees owe almost as much to Alex Rodriguez alone. A-Rod is due $27.5 million a year for the next six years — that’s $165 million to an increasingly injury-riddled star who will be 37 when the next postseason begins. Forget October. A-Rod isn’t worth that from April-October. His OPS hasn’t topped .847 the last two years, he hasn’t batted more than .276, he hasn’t stolen more than four bases. He hasn’t played 140 games in the last three years. At this rate, he’s going to make A.J. Burnett (two more years at $16 million per) seem like a bargain.
Irony is, both of the National League finalists have similar big-money decisions. The Brewers apparently made theirs, extending Ryan Braun’s contract, but not Prince Fielder’s — as a free agent Fielder will be happy to cite Howard’s deal as precedent.
The Cardinals’ decision may not be theirs to make any more. Albert Pujols ended contract talks in February; there have been reportedly none since. Pujols wanted far more than $20 million a year, and who can blame him. Given the Howard and A-Rod contracts who’s to say $30 million a year is unreasonable?
Whoever signs him, or re-signs him, might want to remember: the two best days of a free-agent’s contract for the team are often the day it’s announced, and the day it expires.
Saturday’s game: Perhaps no move has impacted the postseaon more than Rangers’ manager Ron Washington putting Alexi Ogando, arguably his second-best starting pitcher, in the bullpen. Ogando has pitched in four of the Rangers’ five October games, and allowed just one hit and one walk in 4.2 innings. Saturday he got six outs without incident; the Rangers got 4.1 innings of one-hit, one walk relief, with eight strikeouts, among five pitchers and beat the Tigers 3-2 in Game 1. More importantly, they beat Justin Verlander. But the Tigers’ season has been about coming from behind; here’s another chance.