It's been an offseason like never before
We don't use words like "collusion" lightly at times like this, in a world like this.So somewhere in this column, we're going to search for a different word, a more fitting word, to describe what might be the strangest offseason in modern baseball history. For the moment, we don't know quite what to call it. But let's just say we're convinced what we've been witnessing hasn't been business as usual.
Only four pitchers have won 10 games or more in all nine seasons of the '00s, believe it or not. Bet you can't name them. (Answer later.)
“We ask people in baseball all the time: Is there a logical explanation for all this? And on a lot of levels, there is. "It's the perfect storm," said an official of one club. "You've got a lot of good players on the market. The rules [on offering arbitration and the calendar] have changed, so there's no pressure to get deals done the first week of January. Draft picks are at a premium now. The economy is horrible. And these agents misread it." Again, it's all true -- to a point. But we've also heard agents say all winter they didn't misread the market. They knew this would be tough. They knew they wouldn't get the same deals they did three or four years ago. They expected offers to mirror the projected decline in revenues. But they're not even getting offers -- on good players. And most of these agents never once, for one second, dispute that the economy is a nightmare. It would be disrespectful for any of us to suggest that, in any context. But that doesn't mean that there isn't something more, well, strategic at work under what one agent has called "the legitimate umbrella of the bad economy." We should remember that the good folks at MLB have tried their hands at manipulating the market numerous times -- and they've been caught manipulating it illegally more than once. And not just in the late 1980s, either. They had to pay $9 million in damages to 59 players only two years ago, based on their actions in the winter of 2002-03. That offense wasn't, technically, collusion. And neither, we'd guess, is this. In the midst of an economic cataclysm like this one, it probably isn't even provable. "In this economy," said the longtime baseball man we quoted at the top of this column, "it's so easy to show that so many teams are in trouble, or that a lot of owners themselves are in trouble. And some of their lives have been horribly impacted by what's going on. So this would be very difficult to prove, particularly in this environment. "You'd have to prove," he went on, "that [a concerted, orchestrated effort] was the only reason this was going on. So lotsa luck. In this economy? Lotsa luck." In other words, "collusion" clearly isn't the right word for what we've witnessed out there on the free-agent seas this winter. But that doesn't mean nothing abnormal happened out there, either. You can call it strategy. You can call it cooperation. You can call it brilliant. You can call it sinister. But here's one thing us Rumblers and Grumblers think you shouldn't call it: An accident.
It's the perfect storm. You've got a lot of good players on the market. The rules [on offering arbitration and the calendar] have changed, so there's no pressure to get deals done the first week of January. Draft picks are at a premium now. The economy is horrible. And these agents misread it.” -- A team official
Ready to rumble• He left his dreadlocks in San Francisco?: Are people underestimating the Giants' ability to reel in Manny Ramirez? Absolutely, according to an official of one club who speaks regularly with the Giants' brass.
Caribbean Series box-score lines of the week• The Dominican's Jorge Sosa, in a wild 12-9 loss Wednesday to Mexico: 4 1/3 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, faced 25 hitters and allowed 12 to reach base. • Mexico's Adrian Gonzalez, in the same game: 6 AB, 3 R, 3 H, 4 RBIs, 3 home runs off of three different pitchers.
Contract clause of the weekWe've seen limited no-trade clauses in our day. But we've never seen one quite like the clause -- or clauses -- in Eddie Guardado's new contract with the Rangers.
Headliner of the weekFinally, all you regular readers of the relentlessly ingenious parody site/mag, The Onion, may know this headline actually appeared in November. But it's never too late to pass along overlooked brilliance: CUBS, ABSENCE FROM WORLD SERIES
AGREE TO 4-YEAR EXTENSION Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.