Maybe this is exactly what baseball needed. The past few years have marked a decline in the popularity of baseball in the shadow of the steroid era as we witnessed a huge upswing in the popularity of the similarly-roided-up NFL. Now that the NFL is shut down, and the NBA has a shutdown looming over our heads as well, baseball and hockey is all we have left. This could be a very good thing for baseball. Pretty far removed from the dark period that was the steroid era, Major League Baseball is ripe with fresh new stars like Tampa's Evan Longoria, Washington DC's Ryan Zimmerman, San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, and Cincinnati's Joey Votto. Because of murky labor relations the ever-popular NFL and NBA are out of the way, giving baseball center stage to reassert itself as America's pastime. If there are no football and basketball this fall, what other than the World Series will die hard sports fans have to watch? There may be plenty of football fans ready to live off a diet of purely college football this fall, but I'm not one of them and I'm probably not alone. For some tortured fanbases like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the joy of Opening Day lasts just a day before hope quickly fades into more losing seasons, but until tomorrow there is still hope for all 30 Major League Teams.
As the first pitch—to be thrown either by CC Sabathia or Livan Hernandez—nears us, we have interesting news on the transaction front and rumor mill that, depending on your team's outlook, may serve to either improve or rain on the parade of today's festivities.
First off we have a contract extension to report on out of Tampa Bay. season while dealing with some injury troubles, the 24 year old tapped into some of that potential, garnering 12 wins, a 4.10 ERA, and 6.1 K/9. In the second half of the season, those ratios improved to 3.28 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 6.2 K/9 after an abysmal start to the season. As his career minor league statistics—50 wins, 3.28 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9— indicate, the young hurler still has some growth ahead of him. In a savvy move by Tampa's front office akin to what they did with Evan Longoria, the club decided to lock up Davis now instead of waiting to shell out big bucks after he establishes himself. Just recently the two sides came to an agreement on a contract that guarantees Davis will be in Tampa Bay through the 2014 season, with the club holding options in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If all the options are picked up, the contract buys out two free agent years from the pitcher, who is guaranteed $12.6 million over four years by the contract. If all three options are picked up, then the deal increases to $35 million over seven years. After long, cheap deals for Evan Longoria and now Wade Davis, it's pretty safe to say Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office are the kings of netting team-friendly contracts.
Meanwhile, things aren't going quite as swimmingly on the other coast, where Los Angeles right fielder Andre Ethier indicated that he may not be returning to the team next year. Ethier is under team control for 2012, but is set to go to salary arbitration this winter. Because of the performance the stud outfielder has turned in—including a 30 home run season in 2009 and a .292/.364/.493, 23 home run, 82 RBI in an injury-shortened 139 games last year—Ethier will not come cheap to the Dodgers, who are financially strapped because of the divorce proceedings of owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie. Even after the team announced a contract extension for number two pitcher Chad Billingsley, Ethier, in a candid statement, did not express an optimistic outlook for his future with the Dodgers. Bringing up his looming arbitration eligibility, Ethier is expecting to get non-tendered because of either performance or salary demands. After losing the big bat of Manny Ramirez, the consequences of losing out on Ethier would be dire. After learning about these comments the Dodgers expressed no interest in trading Ethier, but that doesn't mean it's all water under the bridge. It is possible at this point that Ethier becomes a malcontent and damages morale in the clubhouse. If the situation goes this far, then it would not be out of the question to see the Dodgers shopping Ethier at the deadline.
With the opening pitch a little over 10 minutes away, we can take some time to put these issues behind us. After all, winter's over, baseball's back, and soon enough the mercury will rise in the thermometer so the snow will go away! Why ruin this brief moment of bliss by worrying about money? You can ask the NFL how that's going for them.