A couple of pertinent or impertinent thoughts while waiting for whatever surprises the new year might bring, and anticipating the Jan. 8, 2014, announcement of baseball's annual Hall of Fame vote:
A few readers chided me, not too gently, for tap dancing around the Hall of Fame ballot a couple of weeks ago without divulging my vote. Obviously, they don't know me well; otherwise they'd know I'm incapable of dancing around anything. They'd also know that when it comes to deadlines, I'm a terrible procrastinator -- and because ballots weren't due until the last day of the year, I still had more time than most people use for a vacation to beat the deadline.
I'm most often a full-ballot kind of voter, and this year certainly was no exception, but it wasn't without difficult decisions. Although I'm not ready to commit to never voting for someone who has been tied to performance-enhancing drugs, for the second straight year I did leave off my ballot the five names most prominently mentioned in that regard -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa -- and had little trouble doing so, given the qualifications of at least another dozen or so candidates.
Without going into detail overload (we'll save that for after the results are official), here are the 10 players I voted for, in alphabetical order (hold the drumroll, please): Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell.
The only problem I had with these selections was leaving off others, who, in some cases, I feel are equally worthy. There are five bona fide candidates on the ballot for the first time this year. I will be surprised if more than three make the cut -- and, given the nature of the vote during recent years, would not be shocked if Maddux were the only newcomer to make it.
For those who in the past have questioned how you can vote for a player one year and not the next, I offer this simple explanation: take a look at this year's ballot. End of discussion.
To say I would also be shocked if the Orioles entered the bidding process for Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese wunderkind pitcher who is now up for grabs, would be the grosses of understatements for a lot of reasons. But, to borrow a phrase in vogue around these parts some 25 years ago, I also say "Why Not?" There really isn't anything to lose here, so the Orioles could take a shot, if for no other reason than to drive the price up, especially if the Yankees are involved.
It's not that I think the Orioles can drive the price up for any of the big hitters; it's just that sometimes it's fun to play like a mosquito at a picnic -- just nip enough to let everybody know the pest is still in the yard. And, really, because the Japanese posting system has changed dramatically, there's no reason for the auction to be limited to a couple of well heeled bidders.
When the Red Sox emptied the vault for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006, they had to win a posting war with a bid of more than $51 million -- then they gave the pitcher a six-year contract for the same amount -- and $102 million total investment. The Texas Rangers went the same route three years ago to secure the services of Yu Darvish, who commanded a $66 million, six-year contract after a $51.7 million posting fee -- a $117.7 million total package.
As ridiculous as those numbers are looking, those total packages have proven to be in keeping with some recent free-agent signings, so you can bet the number will escalate for Tanaka, who is 24 years old and had a 24-0 record with a 1.27 earned run average in Japan last year, statistics that neither Masuzaka nor Darvish could match.
But the rules of the game have changed enough that there isn't any reason for a team not drop a business card in the hat. Instead of one team winning the right to negotiate, any team can join the fun by guaranteeing $20 million, payable only if the player signs. Presumably the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka's former team, will get a cut of the pie, but he will not be restricted to one team -- he can negotiate with all posters, though not obligated to meet with all interested parties.
The big upset here is that agent Scott Boras will not be involved, as Tanaka has reportedly hired Casey Close as his agent. Another consideration is, unlike those left on the American free-agent market, Tanaka will not cost the team that signs him a draft choice, which is one thing that would appeal to the Orioles. The way I'm looking at it, even though the O's don't like long-term contracts, it wouldn't hurt for them to agree to the $20 million fee and throw out a $60 million to $75 million offer, just to get the bidding started and see where it goes.
Close happens to be Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's agent, but no inferences should be drawn -- he also represents Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, among others. And you can bet all 29 other teams will be anxious to push the Yankees to the limit, given their repeated desire to stay under the $189 million luxury tax limit.
Just because you kick the tires doesn't mean you have to buy the car, and even though I don't expect the Orioles to be big-time players or blame them for avoiding overindulgence, it does seem as if it would be fun to push the big boys to their own end of the pool -- the deeper, the better. There's something to be said for the nuisance factor.
Don't know about you, but I was really disappointed that former NBA All-Star Dennis Rodman left North Korea without meeting up with former Oriole Luke Scott, who is headed to South Korea for the next stop during his career. I figured those two could solve whatever parallel boundaries that may exist.
I always thought the Tampa Bay Rays would be the perfect team for second baseman Brian Roberts if things didn't work out with the Orioles. He makes his offseason home in Sarasota, Fla., which is right over the Skyway from the Rays' Tropicana Field, and a short distance down Interstate 75 to their training camp in Port Charlotte, Fla.
But with the Yankees' spring home another intracoastal bridge away, and the World Series cycle about due for reappearance, New York was probably the next-best thing. The hope is this will work out to be the best for all concerned, but it's a little petty to say Roberts didn't give the Orioles a chance to match the offer when there wasn't one on the table that the Yankees had to beat.
In all the discussions about the Yankees for 2014, the name that seems to be missing the most -- or at least overlooked -- is Mark Teixeira, who missed all of last year. A switch-hitting first baseman, Teixeira suffered through a down year in 2012 and is something of an unknown quantity. If he regains his pre-2012 form, it would probably mean more than what either Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran will contribute.
I'm ready for a better 2014. Hope you are, too. Happy New Year!
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.