Pittsburgh columnist: "The Mauer contract is lunacy"

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In the past 24 hours I’ve seen a lot of people note the risk involved in signing a catcher to a big contract as he’s coming off what could very well be the best year he ever has, but I hadn’t seen anyone say that the contract was a bad idea. At least until I read Ron Cook’s column in today’s Post-Gazette today anyway:

Somebody asked me Monday if I could imagine the Pirates ever stepping
up and giving a star player a $23 million-a-year contract, as one of
the other so-called small-market teams — the Minnesota Twins — just
did with All-Star catcher Joe Mauer. My answer shocked me.

“I sure as heck hope not.”

That from a guy who has spent the past 20 years screaming at the
Pirates for not spending more on their product and getting exactly what
they deserve — the demise of a three-time division-winning club, then
17 consecutive seasons of losing with no end to that streak in sight. Sorry. The Mauer contract is lunacy.

Cook’s major complaint is that by signing Mauer to this deal the Twins will never be able to afford a decent supporting cast for him. He then compares the deal to the Pirates giving Jason Kendall $60 million back in 2000, citing that as the blow from which “the Pirates never recovered.”

Which is simply wrong. No, the Kendall deal wasn’t good for the Pirates, but to suggest that the team would have been fine but for that contract is simply ridiculous. There were many, many reasons the Pirates went down the toilet, not the least of which included (a) a decade’s worth of terrible drafts; (b) contracts that worked out worse than Kendall’s did (remember Derek Bell? Pat Mears? Raul Mondesi? Kevin Young?); and (c) trades that would get rejected in most fantasy leagues (Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill; Jason Schmidt for Armando Rios and change).

I think that taking a risk on Joe Mauer is much smarter than taking a risk on Jason Kendall in 2001, but even if they’re identically bad ideas, a team can of limited means can survive such a thing as long as they don’t do multiple other silly things like the 1993-present Pirates.  At the risk of criminal understatement, the Twins front office is savvier than the Pirates’ masters have been lo these many years.

No one will be thrilled if Joe Mauer turns into post-2001 Jason Kendall tomorrow, but the Twins will survive such a thing better than the Pirates have survived their serial missteps.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”