Thursday, January 25, 2007

Congrats, Willie!

The big news around town this morning, baseball-wise, is ex-Yank Willie Randolph's three year , $5.65 MM extension with the Mets. The extension, which tears up the last year of the existing three year deal Randolph struck with the Mets after the '04 season (worth $700,000) will keep Willie in blue and orange through the '09 season, with a club option for 2010.

One thing I didn't realize, until Mike Lupica brought it up in his column on Randolph's extension, is that this contract calls on Willie to make more per year than he ever made in his playing career. I actually didn't believe that at first--after all, Randolph was a star player in New York for all those years, and he never made $2 million in a season? But checking on his Baseball-Reference page, the most money Willie made as a player was $1.06 million in 1986. If that option for 2010 gets picked up, Randolph could wind up making more as a manager than he did in his entire playing career.

So, despite the fact that he'll be earning the big money as a member of the Mets organization, we're happy for Willie on a well-deserved payday.


In other notes, Robinson Cano has reportedly changed his number, from 22 to 24, so that #22 will be available for Roger Clemens. Thank heavens Cano doesn't appear to be too superstitious, because he's had a darn good start to his career wearing 22. As for Clemens, I'd still be surprised if he's not pitching in Houston this summer, but at least the club is doing all the small things to make him know he'd be welcome. In another purely symbolic move, earlier in the month the Yanks signed Jeff Nelson to a minor league contract, so that he could retire as a Yankee. Not really sure how that works, but if it makes him happy, I'm happy for him.

Speaking of retirement, the big question has been, what to do about Bernie Williams, now that he's the odd man out on the Yankees' roster? Jorge Posada wants Bernie Baseball to return, which isn't surprising since the two boricuas are close, but the Yanks seem determined to make a go of things with only four outfielders for 2007: Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera. With the team carrying three firstbase/DH types--Jason Giambi, Josh Phelps, and Doug Mientkiewicz--the best chance of Bernie remaining a Yankee would be to accept a Spring Training non-roster invite, and hope for an injury or that he outperforms one of the fellows above. It would improve Bernie's chances if he'd spend the off-season getting familiar with a first baseman's mitt, which there is no indication that he's done or plans to do.

The other option is the old "I'll be in shape in case they need me" non-retirement solution, where Bernie signs with nobody, but waits around in case the Yanks come to their senses. That latter option--raised by Posada in the Newsday link above--just about never works out. In Bernie's case, in particular, it seems far-fetched. He's never been a quick starter--historically, April is his worst month with the bat by far--and that's with a full Spring Training under his belt. Now, say the Yanks have a big injury in June, or Dougie Spellingerror isn't hitting his weight in mid-May, or Phelps once again has trouble hitting in a job-sharing situation--how quickly could Williams be ready to help the team, if he's just been at home, staying in shape? Usually, when the Yanks need help, they need it immediately--would the ballclub really wait around for Bernie to go to extended Spring Training, then get some minor league games in as prep, before making the roster?

Hope as we might, I think that you have to call this what it is, which is the end of the road for the Yanks and Bernie. Baseball breakups sometimes happen quietly, not with a big messy fight, but with the club quietly giving your job to someone else and moving on. Bernie should ask Don Mattingly, whose career ended a lot like this after the 1995 season--the Yanks picked up Tino Martinez (along with the aforementioned Jeff Nelson) in the off-season, and the Hitman was stuck between retiring in the only baseball uniform he'd ever known, or scratching out employment elsewhere. Sometimes, when Mattingly's interviewed, you get the feeling he wishes he'd taken a different path at the end of his career.

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