Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring Training Rundown

The deadline for a deal between Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals rapidly approaches at 10 a.m. (EST), but talks have ended between the 3 time MVP and the Cards. Because a deal wasn't made, negotiations will cease until the end of the 2011 baseball season. One rumor about the deal that is getting a lot of attention is that Pujols wants a 10 year deal for more than $25 million per year, but less than $30 million. For followers of MLB contract negotiations, the amount isn't much of a surprise for the most in demand player in the game. The surprise is that Pujols wants a 10 year deal rather than the 8 year deal that many other top tier players have been demanding. It's hard to imagine the Cards won't pay whatever price Pujols requires. However, we'll just have to wait and hope Pujols' 2011 production doesn't suffer under the pressure of no deal.

Not meaning to be a Cardinals-strong post, I can't go without mentioning yesterday's awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Stan "the Man" Musial. I don't know many baseball fans, minus maybe a few Cubs fans, who don't hold some reverence for Stan Musial. His talent is unmatched, except for maybe in the previously mentioned fellow-Cardinal Albert Pujols, and his class is legendary. Musial, like many players of his era, left the game to serve in WWII, and returned more dominant than when he left. The Hall of Famer spent his entire career with the Cardinals, had a .331 career batting average, 3,630 hits, 475 home runs and nearly 2,000 RBIs. Even if President Obama had been a fan of the Cubs rather than the White Sox, I suspect Musial would have still been chosen for the award. Congratulations to Stan the Man and a heartfelt thank you from this baseball fan and American.

Pitchers, catcher and injured players have been trickling in to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona since Monday. A majority of these players will arrive today and tomorrow. This is when baseball fans start getting excited. It may seem like a cool fall baseball day outside lately, but arrivals at spring training always signal the beginning of the end of winter. It's an exciting time.

News came yesterday from Bernie Madoff himself, serving a 150 year prison sentence for his epic Ponzi scheme, that the Mets ownership knew nothing of his scheme. Mets ownership didn't know, but the banks had to have known... The Mets ownership consisting of the Wilpon brothers and Saul Katz have come under considerable fire recently after Mets' trustee Irving Picard attempted to legally recover up to $1 billion from the Mets ownership because of what he says they should have known or may have known about Madoff's scheme. Recently, Marc Johnson of The Johnson Post had a great summary of the case and how it came about. I remember when the Mets' Citi Field opened, many broadcasters noted that many of the luxury boxes and seats were empty and their ownership wrapped up in the investigation and prosecution of Bernie Madoff. I hadn't thought much of it then and certainly didn't know how involved with Met ownership Madoff was. As I've followed the case, I honestly have thought on more than one occasion, 'Why couldn't Madoff have been a Phillies fan?' How awful is that? And what does that say about the complete joke that the Mets have become in recent years in relation to the much stronger Phillies, at times Braves, and the growing stability of the Marlins and Nationals? Given what the Madoff situation means to the bottom line in the Mets' front office, it will be interesting to see how the negotiations with Met shortstop Jose Reyes progress through the season as he approaches free agency.

Now here's the story I really want to mention: Chipper Jones reported to the Braves' spring training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida this week and the 38-year old third baseman took grounders and a few swings of the bat yesterday. It's great to see Chipper smiling and optimistic about taking the field again. When he tore his ACL after making a fantastic play (reminiscent of a much younger and stronger Chipper) at third during the second part of the 2010 season, I think a lot of Braves fans thought they were seeing Chipper leave the field in uniform for the last time. As he sat in the dugout after his knee surgery cheering on his teammates, it was much more logical to be asking when Chipper would be in uniform as a coach than when he might be in a uniform ready to take the field as a player. When the classy San Francisco Giants applauded the retiring Bobby Cox after beating the Braves in the NLDS, many Braves fans saw the end of the dynasty that had included Cox and Chipper Jones for years. Chipper will remain a Brave for the remainder of his career, regardless of how productive he can be after his latest knee surgery. If I am at all like other Braves fans, we're happy to hang on to Chipper and the Braves dynasty that we treasured for most of the 1990s. We'll take a lack of production from Chipper for the leadership and class he brings to the clubhouse. Good luck, Chipper! With the Civil Rights Game taking place in Atlanta this year, it looks to be a fantastic season in the ATL.

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