Author: Craig Calcaterra

Alfonso Soriano Getty

Alfonso Soriano’s retirement is a good reminder not to define players by their contracts


The news that Alfonso Soriano is retiring is a good reminder that a lot of us — myself included — probably think about player contracts too much.

It’s understandable that we do. We all like to analyze baseball and a huge component of baseball analysis is about team building and roster construction. And if you have a guy who is overpaid or underpaid in an extreme way it definitely impacts his team’s ability to field a good team. Indeed, it’s analyst malpractice not to consider contracts when talking about a team’s chances and a particular player’s place on it.

But we often go too far with that. And again, I’m not excluding myself in this. We often, when assessing a player’s performance and, quite often, his inherent worth and sometimes even his character, pay too much attention to his salary. In doing so we think of fine players as bums if they don’t truly earn their paycheck. Or, sometimes, we think of cheap players as better than they really are, simply because they’re bargains. We assign traits like grit, moxy, laziness, complacency, loyalty, greed, virtue and all manner of other things to them based on the free agent deal they either took or forwent.

Soriano is one of the greatest examples of this in recent history. When he was with the Yankees, Rangers and Nationals he was talked about in a certain way. When the Cubs decided to give him a contract that was too long and too big, he was talked about in quite another way. He was more likely to be a punchline than anything. And even if it was never truly meant personally by anyone or if it was more of a dig at Jim Hendry and the Cubs than it was at Soriano, it certainly dominated the conversation about him for several years.

That dissipated a bit as other players became the so-called Most Overpaid Player in Baseball. But I don’t think most of us ever went back and thought about Soriano the baseball player as much as we ever thought of him as Soriano the payroll albatross.

So, on the day after we learned about his retirement, I feel like it’s worth thinking about a guy who slugged .500 for his 16-year career, not the guy who made all that money because his GM made a poor choice. A guy who made the 40/40 club once and came close a couple of other times, displaying a power-speed combo we don’t see all that often. A guy who played all over the field. A guy who, by all accounts, was super nice and a guy who worked very, very hard, was always prepared and was never accused of not being in shape and ready to play. A guy who, if it weren’t for Luis Gonzalez, Mariano Rivera and the crazy events of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, would be remembered as a postseason hero for that homer he hit in the 8th inning of that game. Off of Curt Schilling of all people.

I’m sure I’ll fall into the trap of thinking too hard about player contracts once again. It’s just something I’m hard-wired for, I suppose. But I’m going to try to keep that in the proper context and not allow it to interfere with what I think about players outside of how they fit on a team’s roster and in their payroll. Because doing that is pretty rewarding. It allows to do things like think of how fun it was to watch Alfonso Soriano play rather than always search for a punchline about how much money he makes.

Minnesota columnist: Paul Molitor will crack down on those wimpy players with piddly little concussions

Joe Mauer

source: Getty Images

One guy who is really happy to see Paul Molitor take over as Twins manager is Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan. Why? Because he’s gonna stop coddling those wimpy players who beg out of the lineup with piddling little ailments like hangnails. And brain injuries:

His first order of business should be introducing a new mentality to the clubhouse.

During their four consecutive losing seasons, the Twins tried to exercise caution with injured or bruised players. Anyone complaining of an ache was given an extra day or two off. There is logic in that approach. There is also danger. The Twins clubhouse became a place where you could collect a check without actually taking the field.

One of the early tests of Molitor’s tenure will be his handling of his best player, Joe Mauer.

Both grew up in St. Paul. Both played baseball at Cretin High. Both had the early years of their careers defined by constant injuries. The difference between them is important. Molitor’s desire to play was obvious. Mauer’s is not.

When the guy making $23 million a year begs out of the lineup because of a bruise, it’s difficult for the manager to push others to play through pain.

Joe Mauer has been on the disabled list for the following ailments (courtesy of Twins Daily): A torn meniscus (2004); thigh strain (2007); lower back sprain (2009); bilateral leg weakness (2011); pneumonia (2011); concussion (2013); and an oblique strain (2014).

Maybe he should have rubbed dirt on his lungs to fight through the pneumonia. Maybe he should’ve just strapped it on and played through that concussion. Oh, wait, he tried that and Justin Morneau tried that before him. People like Souhan mock the bilateral leg weakness thing but it was ultimately traced back to a rare viral infection and, clearly, affected Mauer’s ability to play. Legs are pretty damn important to a hitter and a catcher, I’m told.

The fact is that the Twins, if anything, have typically encouraged or allowed far too many players to play through pain or injuries, and it hasn’t helped them a bit. Mauer’s doing so has likely hindered his performance in the short term while doing nothing to get him back to playing shape more quickly.

But despite all of that — and one bit that is often left out of these little bash pieces — is that Mauer has been one of the best players in baseball over the course of his career. He had a bad 2014 to be sure, but he spent a solid decade as the game’s best catcher, and when you’re a top hitting and defending catcher — who has averaged a bit over 500 plate appearances a year despite those injuries — no one can question your contributions and no one can question your toughness.

Yet questioning those things about Mauer is practically the Minnesota state pastime. The list of media idiots and ill-informed fans who have decided that all that ails the Twins is their best player and that, dammit, he needs to grow a pair and play more is as long as the Mississippi. It’s gone from comical to annoying to practically sick. Souhan is among the sickest. Really, I think he has some sort of pathological problem with all of this. He is, after all, a guy who argued that the University of Minnesota football coach should be fired because he has epilepsy. His newspaper issued a public apology for that. The motivating force there is the same as here, however: “your injuries and illnesses are getting in the way of my sports, dammit, and you are less of a person and competitor because of them.” Souhan questions Mauer’s desire? I question Souhan’s basic human decency and mental health.

But maybe this all ends soon. No, not because the Star-Tribune reassigns Souhan to the obituary page where he can mock the dead for being soft (that would make too much sense), but because Paul Molitor is now on the case, and he’s the LAST DAMN GUY who is going to put up with wimpy injured players. Indeed, he’s gonna outlaw the friggin’ disabled list altogether! He’ll lead by example!

Molitor struggled with injuries for much of his early career, being placed on the disabled list six times between 1980 and 1986. In 1984, Molitor struggled with elbow problems, played in only 13 games and ultimately underwent surgery in an attempt to salvage his career. He played in 140 games in 1985, hitting .297 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI. He followed that with a .281 average, 9 home runs and 55 RBI in 1986. That year he suffered a hamstring injury, returned for a few days, then reinjured it. He played in 105 games that season.

Um, wait. Well, um. OK, sure, he was injured a ton, but “HIS DESIRE TO PLAY WAS OBVIOUS!” I mean, once he was moved to DH anyway. Where he played 1168 of his nearly 2683 major league games.

I’m sure some of you will dismiss this as Souhan being Souhan. Of him just doing his schtick. Of being edgy because being edgy like this is what causes ESPN to back up the money truck for sports writers who want to go on those dumb shout fests they air in the afternoon. And maybe that is what Souhan is doing.

But one of my personal beliefs, learned by way of life experience, Vonnegut books and Batman — is that we are what we pretend to be, not what we claim we really are. And whether Souhan really is a dense, empathy-free person who chooses to eschew human decency in order to elevate sportsball over a person’s health and well being or if that’s just an act he puts on, that is, essentially, what he is.

The Twins are dropping their pinstripes

Minnesota Twins Photo Day

Some of my favorite offseason news is uniform news. As in changes to uniforms. The Twins are the first ones to make news in this regard, though it hasn’t been officially unveiled yet. They’re getting rid of the pinstripes on the home uniforms. They will keep pinstripes on those sweet home alternate throwbacks they wear. They will add a gold drop shadow to the “Twins” lettering.

Pinstripes aren’t anything new and gimmicky for the Twins, of course. They had them since the team moved from Washington before the 1961 season and kept them until 1972. That look is the current home alternate look. From 1972 through 1986 they had solid whites, but those were the pullover doubleknit jerseys sans belt. In 1987 they changed back to pinstripes, and have had them consistently since then.

So this will be the first time the Twins will ever have a home uniform without pinstripes in a non-1970s/early-80s style. Which should probably look good assuming that gold drop-shadow isn’t distracting.

Now: if they’d just stop wearing road alternate solid tops, we’d be in business.



Marlon Byrd is drawing trade interest

Marlon Byrd

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Phillies are drawing a lot of interest for Marlon Byrd.

Byrd is 37 but he still socked 25 homers last year. In a world where a little bit of power is hard to find, that’s valuable. Especially at $8 million, which is what he’s owed next season. There is an $8 million vesting option for 2016, but if he hits the plate appearances that trigger the option — 463 — it probably means that he’s doing something right, rendering it less of a risk.

Byrd does have a limited no-trade clause. It has four teams — the Blue Jays, Royals, Rays and Mariners — but Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that he has made changes to it. So, I presume, almost any destination is possible.