The Baseball Year doesn’t really end on December 31, of course. It really can’t be said to end until February, right around the time that Pitchers and Catchers Report. Still, everyone is doing end-of-year reviews now, and so I will join them.
Of course we still have open items, such as where will Prince Fielder end up? Who will sign Ryan Madson? What about Carlos Beltran (although he could be signed very soon)? And of course there are still trades to be made, before rosters are set going into Spring Training.
It was a great, great season on the field for Major League Baseball. The final night of the season was more excitement across the sport than anyone could remember or had seen…as the scenes shifted from Tampa Bay to Baltimore to Atlanta to Houston it was one thrill after another as the Cardinals and Rays clinched post-season spots and the Braves and Red Sox, so assured just weeks earlier, found themselves on the outside looking in.
The dominos started to fall almost immediately, Terry Francona out as manager of the Beantowners, Theo Epstein and his retinue off to Chicago to try to revive the Cubs, the Cardinals’ improbable and thrilling run to their eleventh World Championship followed by the exit of their skipper, Tony LaRussa, and their iconic superstar, Albert Pujols earlier this month.
Last year this time I wrote about how Cliff Lee’s wife Kristen Lee was instrumental in the decision that brought Cliff back to the Philadelphia Phillies. This year we can point to Deirdre Pujols’ anger and disappointment with the weak offer made by the St. Louis Cardinals to her husband as critical in their decision to make a move that ended up with Albert signing a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Anyone thinking that the players’ wives don’t have key input into these decisions is dreaming.
In business terms, the amicable and speedy agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the players and the owners and evidence of tremendous new sources of wealth available with the Angels’ 20-year, $3-billion dollar TV deal that enabled them to sign Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson from the Texas Rangers. This is going to be huge and enable the big-payroll clubs to continue to float salaries for superstars in the $20-25 million dollar range henceforth. At the same time, there is substantial revenue sharing that will enable the small-market teams to compete, with good scouting, smart signings, and baseball savvy.
Key in the CBA was drug testing, and how ironic that the NL Most Valuable Player of 2011, Ryan Braun, fell afoul so quickly. The story remains to be told and the details have not yet come out, but it is disturbing and troubling that one of the game’s great young stars has been caught up.