On Chris Pronger, Vernon Wells and free-agent craziness
Thursday, November 30, 2006 | 09:49 AM ET
Final thoughts on Chris Pronger’s return to Edmonton: I completely agree with Scott Niedermayer’s post-game quote.
“It’s a credit to the folks here. They’re good, knowledgeable fans,” he said.
Considering the frenzy going in, Oiler fans handled themselves perfectly. There was booing, there were signs – including at least one thanking Pronger for his Alberta performance – and there was one tossed object. That’s an impressively low total, especially since there was some belief condoms might get thrown on the ice.
Edmonton fans showed tremendous class last year for the way they cheered the American anthem and sang ours. Tuesday night, lived up to the standard they set last spring.
Credit also to the Oilers organization for the pay-per-view coverage. Watching the game on Centre Ice, I wondered if the broadcast team would ramp up the hysteria. Instead, Gene Principe – one of my favourite guys in the business – and company handled it professionally. There was a poll asking who was the Oilers’ most hated opponent, but that’s as harmless as booing or signs saying, “The gap in your story is bigger than the gap between your teeth.”
That’s a great line, although such a deformity has hardly hurt either Pronger or David Letterman.
I always read the comments posted at the bottom of this blog, and I do appreciate them – both positive and negative. Occasionally, I will respond to or answer any questions, but, generally, I think readers should have their say without me trying to get the final word.
The Pronger column received the most reaction, not surprising considering the emotion. Most of you disagreed with me, and that’s fine. I like a good debate as much as anyone.
If you do have a question/want a response, just let it be known, and I will be happy to accommodate you.
Now, today’s sermonette: I think J.P. Ricciardi is going to follow Jay Feaster’s example.
As the 2004 NHL trade deadline approached, Feaster had a major decision to make. Nikolai Khabibulin was in the last year of his contract, and the Lightning GM knew he was going to have trouble signing his franchise goalie. Conventional wisdom is: Get something in return, don’t lose him for nothing.
But Feaster knew he couldn’t get equal value for Khabibulin – who was one of the major reasons the Lightning were a Stanley Cup contender that season. So, he decided to gamble, saying, “You know what, we have a chance to win it all. And we need this guy to do it. I’m going to keep him and go for it. If I’m wrong, I’ll get roasted. But a Stanley Cup ring is forever.”
(Not an actual quote. I’m making it up. But that’s what Feaster was thinking.)
We all know what happened. Khabibulin didn’t win the Conn Smythe – Brad Richards was certainly deserving – but he was the rock in goal as Tampa Bay beat Calgary in seven games. He signed with Chicago for $28 million over four years after the season, but Feaster would make the same decision again.
Now, it’s Ricciardi’s turn. I went to the Frank Thomas media conference Tuesday morning, and listened to the Blue Jays VP/GM/whatever discuss Vernon Wells with assorted reporters. Now, I am convinced that Vernon Wells will start the 2007 baseball season as a Toronto Blue Jay. And, he will stay a Blue Jay past the trade deadline if the team is in contention.
Every year, I go into the baseball off-season thinking these guys can’t possibly be so stupid. Every year, I am proven wrong. Thanks to some of the worst free-agent signings of all-time – and I’m not exaggerating about that – I don’t even think Wells or his agents know how much it’s going to cost to keep him.
I will always rank the Alex Rodriguez 10-year, $252 million contract as the worst given a baseball player by a team. (For that, I don’t blame Rodriguez. What’s he supposed to do, say no? Sure, he can’t handle the pressure of living up to that contract, but it’s not his fault Tom Hicks outbid the field by $93 million.)
Wells, 28 on December 8, will earn $5.6 million next season, the last in his contract. If he plays a full season, he will enter free agency by hitting .288 with 94 runs scored, 28 homers and 99 RBI. (Those are his 162-game averages.) Oh, he will also win a fourth-straight Gold Glove.
Before free-agency began this year, Ricciardi said several times that if Wells wants Carlos Beltran money, he’s a goner. Beltran, the Mets’ centerfielder, signed two years ago for $119 million. In the last four seasons of his contract (2008-11), Beltran will earn $18.5 million per season.
When he hit the open market, Beltran was just shy of 28, a year younger than Wells will be. Take out his second season – where he played only 98 games – and he averaged .289 with 111 runs scored, 24 homers and 104 RBI. He had yet to win a Gold Glove. (His first came this year.)
The two men were quite comparable before this month’s lunacy. Now, Wells might actually deserve more because of the following:
Alfonso Soriano: eight years, $136 million. Soriano will be 31 in January, and is to earn $18 million per year from 2010-14. He will be 34 in the first of those seasons. I’ll eat my laptop if he’s still a 40-40 man – as he was this year – by then.
Juan Pierre: five years, $45 million. Pierre, 29, is durable. He hasn’t missed a game in four years. Last season, he led the National League in hits for the second time in his career. He was first in singles, second in triples, second in stolen bases. He is also the toughest man to strike out in the sport. The problem is that he doesn’t walk, which means that for a leadoff man, he makes a lot of outs. His on-base percentage is ugly for a guy in that position. At .330, he ranked 130th in the majors. (There were only 160 qualifiers.) More than half of the players ranked ahead of him –75 – had a worse batting average than Pierre’s .292. (Wells’ on-base percentage was .357.)
Gary Matthews: five years, $50 million. This one might be the worst of all. Matthews made an incredible catch last season, but he’s had ONE good year, and he’s 32. Before 2006, he’d never been an All-Star, never finished in the Top 10 in any statistical category. He’s scored 100 runs once (last year), he’s never hit 20 home runs, he’s never driven in more than 79, he’s hit better than .275 once (last year). With numbers that low, you’d think a guy getting $10 million a year would be a pitcher. The guy’s been waived three times and released once, for God’s sake.
So, on Tuesday, I asked Ricciardi what the latter two contracts made Wells worth.
His response: “I have no idea. No one in baseball may have enough money to pay him what he’s worth.”
But his most telling comment came when he said, “What’s wrong with having Vernon in the lineup next year?”
J.P. is going for it. Good for him.
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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