Soriano, Pavano, Betancourt only three to accept arbitration

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rafael soriano.jpgThe Braves certainly weren’t counting on Rafael Soriano accepting arbitration when they signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito last week, but now they have three expensive relievers on a roster already likely overbudget and still short a first baseman and an outfielder.
It certainly could be worse. Soriano is one of the game’s most dominant relievers, and while he would have been a poor gamble on a three-year, $24 million contract, he should be an asset at around $8 million for 2009. That’d be a reasonable figure for a settlement if the two sides can avoid a hearing. Soriano made $6.5 million while collecting 27 saves last season. He had a 2.97 ERA and a 102/27 K/BB ratio in a career-high 75 2/3 innings.
Soriano, Carl Pavano and Rafael Betancourt were the only three free agents to accept arbitration prior to Monday night’s deadline. They’re now signed players and must be placed back on 40-man rosters. Like other free agents signed to major league deals, they have full no-trade clauses until June 15. However, unlike other free agents, they won’t get guaranteed contracts, allowing teams to cut them in spring training if they can justify it for performance reasons.
That’s a big reason why Soriano’s choice was hard to believe. The Twins and Rockies, respectively, are happy to have Pavano and Betancourt back. The Braves, though, simply wanted the draft picks Soriano’s departure would bring them. They tried to dissuade him from accepting arbitration by telling him he’d be a sixth-inning guy. Since they weren’t counting on spending $20 million on relievers next season, they could well release him in spring training if he gives them any reason to do so.
Ideally, it won’t come to that. Soriano is an excellent pitcher, and he’d be a better choice than Takashi Saito to work the eighth if the Braves can create the financial flexibility to retain him. Also, there’s the chance that a trade could be worked out, with Soriano’s permission. Now that they won’t have to give up a draft pick for him, teams like the Tigers, Rays, Orioles and Astros could be more interested in his services. The Astros, in particular, could step up their pursuit since they dodged a bullet with Jose Valverde’s decision to decline arbitration tonight.

Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga to throw out first pitches in Games 1 and 2

CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 05:  Kenny Lofton #7 of the Cleveland Indians runs to first base against the New York Yankees during Game Two of the American League Divisional Series at Jacobs Field on October 5, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball just announced the details for the ceremonial and off-field stuff in connection with Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The one most people were wondering about was the ceremonial first pitch. Sorry, Charlie Sheen fans. Sorry fans of “Major League” in general. Two real baseball stars are handing first pitch duties: Kenny Lofton before Game 1, Carlos Baerga for Game 2.

Lofton needs no introduction. He should be a Hall of Famer but is criminally overlooked, perhaps because he bounced around to a lot of different clubs. He made his name in Cleveland, however, doing three separate tours with the Indians, leading the AL in stolen bases for five straight years early in his career and putting up a line of .300/.375/.426 in ten seasons on the shores of Lake Erie.

Baerga played for the Tribe between 1990 and 1996 and was, for a time, quite the superstar, even if people don’t talk about him much anymore. His career fell off pretty quickly in that way that often happens for second basemen and/or stars who end up on the Mets, but there was a time when he was perhaps the biggest star on some excellent Indians teams. People had “will Carlos Baerga be a Hall of Famer?” conversations and stuff. The mid-90s were a special time.

Beyond the first pitches, the National Anthem will be sung by Rachel Platten before Game 1 and by the group Locash before Game 2. As I am an old man out of touch with most things, I have no idea who they are, but I am sure their fans are passionate and their renditions of the Anthem will be fine and non-controversial. Fox, MLB and the folks at major record labels are pretty good about that sort of thing and everyone will be especially vigilant in light of what happened with that Canadian tenors group at the All-Star Game. If nothing else, I bet you pick up the check for the Anthem performance after the song, and not before these days.

I guess the White Sox don’t count

CHICAGO - APRIL 04: General Manager Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox shows off his World Series Championship ring during ceremonies prior to the start of a game against the Cleveland Indians on April 4, 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I realize everyone is super excited about the Cubs being in the World Series for the first time since 1945, with the chance to win it for the first time since 1908. But you’d think folks would remember that it’s just the Cubs — and not Chicago as a whole — who have been away from the Fall Classic for so long.

I know their recent struggles makes it seem like a long, long time ago, but the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. They were in the World Series in 1959 too. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you looked at some prominent media outlets:





I understand the impulse to tell the “a whole city is coming together!” story every time stuff like this happens, but there are a lot of White Sox fans in Chicago. A good number of them don’t give a crap about the Cubs. Many even resent them for being the glory franchise in the city in the eyes of many. They certainly don’t feel like there’s a championship drought afoot, and I imagine they’re somewhat cranky about having their team’s glory plastered over like this.