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Newsday's Ken Davidoff shares his winners and losers of the Winter Meetings, with a twist — he includes winners with downside and losers with upside. The Cardinals top the latter list, as Davidoff notes that losing Albert Pujols means they're "liberated of an albatross contract." Here are a few more Sunday morning NL Central links:
- The Brewers are still talking to Aramis Ramirez, tweets Jon Heyman of MLB Network. The Brewers appeared to be favorites for Ramirez, with the Phillies' interest fading and the Angels having spent their money elsewhere. However, Francisco Rodriguez's acceptance of arbitration may impact Milwaukee's pursuit of the third baseman.
- In light of Ryan Braun's positive PED test, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explains why MLB will never be as clean as the league would like.
- There's a lot at stake for Braun, the Brewers, and the league, says Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who received a text message from Braun saying the positive test was "B.S."
- Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recognizes the Marlins' strategy of significantly boosting payroll as they begin playing in a new stadium. As Biertempfel writes, the Pirates tried the same thing when they moved into PNC Park ten years ago, albeit with less impressive signings.
Ryan Braun won the 2011 NL MVP, according to the Baseball Writers Association of America. The 28-year-old becomes the third Brewer to be named MVP, joining Rollie Fingers and Robin Yount. Braun hit 33 homers, stole 33 bases, drove in 111 runs and posted a .332/.397/.597 line for a league-leading .994 OPS in 2011.
Braun obtained 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes to win the award over Matt Kemp, teammate Prince Fielder and Justin Upton. Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Lance Berkman, Troy Tulowitzki, Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard rounded out the top ten.
Braun assumes that Fielder will likely command upwards of $150MM this winter whereas Reyes can be had for around $120MM. The four-time All-Star was quick to admit that he's a huge fan of Reyes.
"[Reyes] is dynamic, man — he is one of the most exciting players in the game," the 27-year-old said. "He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion and I enjoy watching him play. He's one of my favorite players to watch. Whenever their games are on, I love watching him, man. He always plays the game the right way. He always plays hard. He runs everything out."
The Brewers can easily make room at shortstop this winter as they hold a $6MM club option on Yuniesky Betancourt's deal with a $2MM buyout.
Six players signed deals worth $100MM or more last offseason and they've now completed one year since finalizing their respective deals. Here's a look at how baseball's newest $100MM players fared in 2011 (in order of contract value):
- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, ten-year, $157.75MM extension – This deal, which was somewhat unexpected last offseason, is going as well as the Rockies could hope. Tulowitzki put together another tremendous season: .302/.372/.544 with 30 home runs at shortstop.
- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox, seven-year, $154MM extension - Gonzalez led the American League in hits and nearly won the batting title in his return to the Junior Circuit. He posted a .338/.410/.548 line and hit 27 homers on his way to an MVP-caliber season. His seven-year extension officially kicks in next season, though.
- Carl Crawford, Red Sox, seven-year, $142MM contract - Crawford posted a sub-.300 on-base percentage, saw his stolen base total drop by 29 and hit fewer home runs, triples and doubles than he did during his final season in Tampa Bay. The Red Sox still owe him $128MM, so they have to find a way to turn their left fielder's career around.
- Jayson Werth, Nationals, seven-year, $126MM contract – Though Werth doesn't like the idea that 2011 was a lost season for him and the Nationals, there's no denying that his numbers fell off. He had a .232/.330/.389 line with 20 homers and 19 stolen bases.
- Cliff Lee, Phillies, five-year, $120MM contract – We knew Lee was good, but it would not have been fair to expect this kind of year: he posted a 2.40 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 232 2/3 innings.
- Ryan Braun, Brewers, five-year, $105MM extension - Braun could win the MVP after leading the league in slugging percentage (.597) and OPS (.994). He hit 33 homers and stole 33 bases, posted a career-high .397 on-base percentage and made his fourth consecutive All-Star team.
Crawford and Werth were sources of excitement for their respective teams when they signed free agent contracts and the outfielders have since become sources of concern. The other position players – Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Braun – have turned in MVP-caliber seasons, while Lee should be a top-three finisher in this year's NL Cy Young balloting.
The latest on the Brewers on a night that owner Mark Attanasio, a native of the Bronx, watched his hometown team beat up on the club he owns…
- Brewers GM Doug Melvin told Jack Curry of the YES Network that Ryan Braun could be the Brewers' answer to Cal Ripken Jr. or Derek Jeter (Twitter link). Braun, who is signed through 2020, has a .308/.390/.554 line with 16 homers this year.
- Braun has been among the most productive hitters in the league, but he told Danny Knobler of CBS Sports that Prince Fielder "has probably been the MVP in the National League" so far. Fielder has a .305/.426/.611 line with 21 homers and a league-leading 68 RBI.
- Melvin told Knobler that Fielder has had a "great attitude" this year. The GM isn't going to distract Fielder, a prospective free agent, with extension discussions any time soon.
- Mat Gamel, who may take over at first base if Fielder leaves as a free agent, told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he remains focused on 2011, not Fielder's possible departure.
- The Cardinals have minimal interest in Sergio Mitre, who was designated for assignment by Milwaukee yesterday, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch (on Twitter).
- The Brewers would like to strengthen their bench, potentially with a right-handed hitter, according to Knobler.
Every year a few select players join baseball’s exclusive $100MM club with free agent deals and mega-extensions. Last offseason was no different – we saw six players sign nine figure deals. The contracts were all for five years or more, so it’s far too early to call them successes or failures. But as the season approaches its halfway point, let’s check in on baseball’s newest $100MM players:
- Troy Tulowitzki, ten-year, $157.75MM extension – Tulo has slowed down after a scorching start, but he's still having an excellent season. His .274/.339/.491 line and 13 homers look especially good when you consider that he's a good defensive shortstop.
- Adrian Gonzalez, seven-year, $154MM extension – Red Sox fans dreamed of a season like this when Theo Epstein acquired Gonzalez from the Padres in December. The first baseman is a leading MVP candidate with a .350/.403/.603 line and 15 home runs.
- Carl Crawford, seven-year, $142MM contract – Crawford was heating up before he hit the disabled list, but his numbers are poor overall. He has a .243/.275/.384 batting line, just 8 stolen bases and his lowest walk rate (3.2%) since 2002, his rookie season.
- Jayson Werth, seven-year, $126MM contract – Werth is hitting just .233/.334/.409, though he has 10 home runs. Nationals fans may be consoled by the fact that Werth erupted in the second half last year and has traditionally produced better after the All-Star break.
- Cliff Lee, five-year, $120MM contract – The prize of the offseason free agent market, Lee has a 3.12 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 104 innings. The lefty is in the midst of another fantastic season and this time he doesn't have to worry about being traded.
- Ryan Braun, five-year, $105MM extension – Braun is having a monster year. He has a .310/.397/.555 line with 15 homers and a career-best 12.1% walk rate for the first-place Brewers.
It's fair to expect Werth and Crawford to turn their seasons around and produce as they did before signing nine figure free agent contracts. The other four additions to the $100MM club are justifying the deals, at least to the extent that it's possible in less than three months.
After losing five of their first seven games, the Cardinals went 14-5 to finish April with a two-game lead in the NL Central. As the Cards attempt to extend their current winning streak to five games this afternoon behind Jaime Garcia, here's a roundup of today's NL Central-related links:
- The ninth inning carousel in St. Louis has been the team's achilles heel so far, says Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Ryan Franklin is out as the closer and is in the final year of his contract, but GM John Mozeliak doesn't know who the Cardinals' closer of the future is yet. "This season will dictate if [Mitchell] Boggs or [Jason] Motte or [Eduardo] Sanchez is the answer," he said. "It's a little early to render that verdict."
- Farm director John Vuch tells Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Cardinals have placed an emphasis on acquiring power arms in recent years.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports digs into the specifics of Ryan Braun's long-term contract extension with the Brewers.
- Carlos Pena isn't the first big free agent bat to get off to a slow start for the Cubs, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Despite a poor April, Pena still believes he can be a "huge contributor" in Chicago.
- The promotion of former fourth overall pick Danny Moskos gives the Pirates two left-handed relievers, something that manager Clint Hurdle was hoping for heading into the season, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Every club but the Astros is within two games of first place in the NL Central, where Joey Votto is following his MVP season up with a phenomenal start. Here's the latest from baseball's biggest division…
- The Brewers have signed infielders Hainley Statia and Angel Gonzalez to minor league deals and assigned them to extended Spring Training, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy (on Twitter).
- Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. told McCalvy that he was pleased to see Ryan Braun sign long-term in Milwaukee, where he is under contract through 2020. Ripken, of course, spent his entire 21-year career with the Orioles.
- Starlin Castro committed three errors in one inning yesterday, but as Yahoo's Jeff Passan explains, the 21-year-old shortstop has overcome bigger obstacles than that. Before he signed with the Cubs, Castro's father took him out on a fishing boat in the Dominican Republic and gave him a taste of a life he might have known if he hadn't become a pro ballplayer.
- Braun's extension includes at least $18MM in interest-free deferrals to be paid out in equal increments between 2022-31, blogs Adam McCalvy of MLB.com (per The Associated Press). All told, Milwaukee will be paying Braun till he's 47.
- Braun's extension makes less sense than the one Troy Tulowitzki signed with the Rockies, and it may even be riskier than Ryan Howard's with the Phillies, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. The fact that Braun is a bat-first player and has a shaky glove at a non-premium defensive position doesn't bode well for the Brewers' side of the deal. Interestingly, Cameron suggests Braun could eventually move to first base, which is likely to be vacated by Prince Fielder, who is a free agent at season's end and is not expected to re-sign with Milwaukee
- To that end, while most have surmised that the Brewers' immense financial commitment to Braun signifies the end of the Prince era in Milwaukee, Fielder himself hopes that is not the case, blogs McCalvy. "You never know," Fielder said. "I hope they have a little left for me."
In extending Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki through the year 2020, the Brewers and Rockies made bold commitments to their young stars by adding multiyear extensions on top of pre-existing contracts that already covered both men through 2015 and 2014, respectively.
Are these deals risky? Absolutely, but the contracts represent the latest step in how clubs attempt to lock up their young stars. It isn't enough to just gain cost-certainty on a player through his arbitration and first few free agent years. If a team feels they have a true franchise player, it won't hesitate to sign that player to what essentially could be a lifetime contract in order to (hopefully) avoid spending even more money to re-sign that player or a comparable star as a free agent.
Should other clubs look to explore this tactic of extending an extension, here are some of the possible candidates to join Braun and Tulowitzki in the "2020" club.
- Evan Longoria. We start off with the man with arguably the most team-friendly extension in baseball history. Longoria's six-year, $17.5MM contract signed in April 2008 contains three team option years (worth $7.5MM, $11MM and $11.5MM, respectively) that could keep him in Tampa Bay through 2016, his age-29 season. As MLBTR's Mike Axisa pointed out over the winter, however, the Rays' uncertain financial situation makes it unlikely that they would make an even longer commitment to Longoria than they already have.
- Robinson Cano. Cano signed a four-year, $30MM extension before the 2008 season that also includes team option years for 2012 ($14MM) and 2013 ($15MM). New York will obviously keep Cano in the fold through his age-30 season by picking up those two options, unless those years get replaced by a longer-term contract. Cano hired Scott Boras as his agent in February and while Cano said he isn't planning to ask for an extension before his current deal expires, the second baseman is clearly already thinking ahead.
- Justin Upton. The first overall pick of the already-legendary 2005 draft is signed through 2015 on a six-year, $51.25MM extension that will run out when he's 28 years old and right in the middle of his prime years. The Diamondbacks explored a few deals for Upton over the winter and set off a flurry of speculation, but it appears as if GM Kevin Towers was simply doing his due diligence to see if another team would go overboard with a trade offer. Upton had a slightly disappointing (.799 OPS) 2010 season, so Arizona might wait for at least one more superstar campaign from their young star to make sure he's worth the risk of another multiyear extension.
- Hanley Ramirez. It seems odd to think of the Marlins doling out any major extensions, let alone two to the same player. With the team moving into its new Miami ballpark next year, though, the extra revenue could make another multiyear deal for Ramirez into a reality — not to mention generating some goodwill amongst Marlins fans to get them to spring for season tickets. Ramirez is under contract through 2014 on a six-year, $70MM deal and 2015 will be his age-31 season. If Florida did explore an extension for Ramirez, they would surely have to factor in a move away from shortstop, since his defensive woes (a career -9.4 UZR/150) are likely to worsen as he ages.
- Ryan Zimmerman. MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith recently outlined how the Nationals' previous extension with Zimmerman — a five-year, $45MM pact that runs through 2013 — was a terrific bargain for the club. Given Zimmerman's production, age (he'll be 29 when his deal runs out) and Washington's willingness to spend, Zimmerman is probably the most likely player on this list to receive a Braun/Tulowitzki-esque deal.
- Joey Votto. The Reds took the first step towards locking up the reigning NL MVP when they signed Votto to a three-year, $38MM pact that covered the first baseman's arbitration years. Votto is still on pace to hit free agency as a 30-year-old in his prime, and as one agent put it, "the Reds took on all the risk" with this initial deal. Cincinnati has put itself in position to contend over the next few seasons, so that will theoretically take care of the Great American Ballpark's attendance problems and make it possible for the team to get Votto signed to an even longer-term contract.
- Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera signed an eight-year, $152.3MM extension with the Tigers before the 2008 season. He'll turn 33 in 2016, and that advanced age plus his off-the-field issues make him an unlikely extension candidate. Detroit has the money and Cabrera has put up Cooperstown-worthy numbers throughout his career, but there just may be too much risk involved for the Tigers to commit more money to the slugger.