The World Baseball Classic this coming March is an event that many of us baseball fans have penciled into our 2006 calendars. Slowly the event is creeping into the Sports Media forefront and it should gain even more momentum as the college and NFL seasons wrap up. With the winter meetings and the majority of the baseball off-season behind us, for baseball fans the WBC is the next thing to look forward to. Small controversies have already begun with the debates ranging from Mike Piazza’s country of birth to the Yankees ability to withhold catcher Jorge Posada from the event. While these issues are important to fans of the countries that these players seek to represent, the more pressing problem is the exclusion of Cuba from participating in the WBC. This is something that has not been discussed with necessary urgency up to this point. Cuba has a long tradition of baseball greatness and whatever your politics might be the exclusion of a country that has made such a significant impact on baseball throughout the world should be problematic to any baseball fan. The shortsightedness of George Bush, himself the former owner of the Texas Rangers, to allow a political vendetta to exclude Cuba from participating in a World Baseball Classic is something that fans around the world should be challenging. If the World Baseball Classic is to be set up as a yearly event, the exclusion of one country, by another for political reasons sets a dangerous precedent. With many Latin American countries, notably Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina democratically electing presidents with strong anti-United States reputations, it seems likely that by 2009 the pool of eligible countries will have shrunk again, eliminating other countries with long reputations within the sport.
Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer, Co-GM’s of the Boston Red Sox, have fans along Yawkey Way wondering why they woke this morning to find that the Grinch(es) had stolen Christmas. By allowing the Yankees to swipe Johnny Damon out from negotiations once controlled by Boston, these GM’s have crippled the team for 2006 leaving fans confused as to the direction this team is taking for the near future.
After dealing prospects for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell and adding, through another trade, a 34 year-old second baseman (Mark Loretta), it seemed that the Red Sox were bolstering their team for immediate impact in 2006. Then management dealt Edgar Renteria to Atlanta for top prospect Andy Marte. Though Renteria never got comfortable in Boston, this move weakens the team for the next few years. Because of the money sent to Atlanta in the deal, the Red Sox are effectively paying Marte $4 million a year as a back-up plan if Mike Lowell further declines. Finally, by remaining firm on their original 4 years for $40 million they allowed the Yankees to hang around in the Johnny Damon bidding long enough to lure him away for an extra $12 million, the Red Sox, barring a holiday miracle, have taken a big stride backwards from contention in 2006.
Looking down at the list of free agents that have signed with teams so far this winter and even at some of the trades that have gone through, we see that very few would have made much sense for the Yankees. B.J. Ryan, and Tom Gordon wanted to close. Brian Giles and Paul Konerko wanted to remain with their former teams. The Yankees did not need to acquire any starting pitchers with injury histories: Beckett, Burnett, Byrd or have a void to fill behind the plate. With Torri Hunter and Andrew Jones free agents next year it makes little sense to overpay for 4 years of centerfielder Johnny Damon, and ruin the chance to pick up a real stud next winter. Juan Peirre would have been a good one year option, but the Cubs likely gave away too much for a one year fill-in. A case could be made that 1B Lyle Overbay would have been a good fit, but the Yankees did not have the pieces for that deal. When looking at all of these moves, LHP Demaso Marte looks like the only guy who the Yankees could have acquired, for say Andy Phillips, that would have made sense for the team. For whatever the reasons, this year’s free agent class did not cater very well to the needs of the Yankees, but one man would be a perfect fit: Nomar Garciaparra.
Though every GM tries to improve the state of their team each off-season, whether by stockpiling young talent, or paying for free-agent studs, few can do enough in one off-season to bring a team from being a non-contender to a team with realistic Championship aspirations. In 2005, the San Francisco Giants finished third in their division winning only 75 games. GM Brian Sabean, has done as good a job as any GM this winter in picking the right pieces to get his team back over the top the NL West. Many exterior activities are working for him: the poor over-all talent in the division, and the return from injury of the greatest player in the last 25 years–Barry Bonds. That withstanding, Sabean has done a terrific job in improving his team for 2006.