Wednesday, January 03, 2007

All Over The Lot

Hang on just a minute. If anyone thinks baseball has cornered the market when it comes to handing out ridiculous contracts, look no further than the deal Alabama just awarded Nick Saban, $32 million for eight years. Guaranteed. This is a college football coach we're talking here, one who incidentally hasn't hung around very long at any of his previous posts, college or professional, and who has no history at this particular university. Eight year guaranteed contracts would be a stretch even for coaches with a long tenure at an institution, and Alabama has been burning through enough of them in the recent past that one would think they'd learned a lesson. Apparently not. Eight year guaranteed contracts might as well carry the subtitle "Coach for Life", something that puts Saban on the same level as Bear least until they blow the whistle and kick off.

Oh, and by the way, the contract calls for up to $4 million in bonuses should a Saban-coached Tide roll into a bowl game.

No word at this point on how the deal is being viewed in the Chemistry Department, but we can guess.

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Ruben Amaro has never struck me as a particular astute baseball man, but then, I've always given him the benefit of the doubt because he is the Phillies' assistant GM and thus not really calling the shots. Moreover, whenever GM positions open up in other cities, Amaro's name is frequently mentioned, so somebody out there must be impressed. After yesterday's comment about Ryan Howard's contract status with the team, you can put me down as definitely not undecided. Amaro gets no more benefits from this quarter; he isn't smart or diplomatic enough. Asked what the organization planned to do about Howard's contract given his monster year and his bargain-basement salary, Amaro bluntly stated "We're not doing something on Ryan Howard. He's not our priority."

Let's review Howard's role on this team apart from leading them in most offensive categories and Awards won since his arrival.

He is undoubtedly the face of the organization, literally, his image plastered everywhere. Did anyone in, say, Denver, give a damn what the Phillies did day-in and day-out in 2006? Next question. Did those same fans wonder whether or not Howard homered the night before? Did teams pitch around Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell or Chase Utley?

Let's take another approach. Can anyone recall broadcasters, reporters and commentators speaking so fondly of a local athlete, not just for his production on the field but for the way he carried himself, especially when everyone with a microphone or notepad wanted a piece of him? Even in Japan the fans and media could not get enough of this guy. Neither could his teammates in Philadelphia and among the touring MLB stars.

Let's get mercenary here, which is presumably what Amaro had in his narrow mind. When the Phillies push ticket sales this off-season and beyond, who are they going to dangle in front of prospective fans as the biggest enticement to come out to the ballpark? At at time when local sports heroes are dropping like flies or departing altogether, Howard stands out for his performance and personality.

"Not our priority"?

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It looks like Carlos Ruiz is the backup. None other than the Phillies web site has anointed Rod Barajas the starter and tutor to the younger Ruiz. It's hard to figure out what it is the alleged brain trust of the Phillies does not like about Ruiz, but clearly something is sticking in their collective craw. Hopefully, what we have here is merely another situation that resembles the slow integration of a rookie into the starting lineup, something the Phillies excel at. Ruiz showed he can hit at the major league level when given steady at-bats. Whether or not the pitchers like the way he handles them is something harder to determine, but based on his late season appearances in 2006, Ruiz earned the nod. Nevertheless, Charlie Manuel prefers veterans and may not want the inexperienced Ruiz handling a pitching staff with two newcomers and a few temperamental holdovers.


Tom G said...

My guess is that the Phils have talked with Howard so that he knows he is very important to them. After all, he also said Howard might get about a million dollar raise -- something the Phillies are under no obligation to do.

I think what Junior Amaro meant was, "given our looming arbitration cases with Chase Utley, etc., Howard is not a priority at this very moment as we speak currently in the present."

That's what helps me sleep at night anyway.

Tom Goodman said...

Given Howard is in the process of hiring a new agent it is clear to me he thinks his contract IS a priority. At the least, Amaro's bluntness was impolitic; at worst, it failed to recognize that what the Phillies are "obligated" to do and what they should and must do, are very different. This guy is worth a substantial raise if for no other reason than he will earn it back for the club ten-fold.

RickSchuBlues said...

The catching situation is a microcosm of everything infuriating about the Phillies. It seems that since Gillick came on board, their intentions are more veiled than they've ever been, which is really saying something. Why is it that the Phillies need Rod Barajas? Why is it that Manuel and Gillick can say that Ruiz is going to be the no. 1 guy one week, and then the next week they're signing Barajas and completely marginalizing one of the most popular and productive hitters on the team (Coste)? Other than throwing out runners, is Barajas really that valuable that he has to disrupt the position entirely? Based on his track record, I can't imagine that he is. What are the Phillies doing here? The problem is, it's next to impossible to know. No one says, and when they do, their actions retract their statements in the next instant. The web site says one thing, Amaro says another, Gillick says another, Manuel says another. The Phillies haven't missed the playoffs 22 out 23 years for nothin', folks. It is simply a deficient organization with no idea how to communicate and appease fans and players alike. No one seems to be on the same page because there *is* no same page. There is never any cohesion, no firm direction or philosophy with this team. One gets the distinct feeling that it's all improvised and done on the fly. Fitting that Amaro would say they intend to go "year to year" with Utley and Howard - that's how the Phillies operate, after all, with no long-range plan, no consistency, and as the mounting evidence will attest, nary a clue.

Tom Goodman said...

Sometimes I think Dallas Green must be writing the scripts for the Phillies' front office and putative PR director Scott Palmer only gets to correct the grammar, typos and edit out the odd four-letter word here and there.