For players, home not always sweet
Returning to the site of former glory carries risks
In 1983, Tom Seaver went back to the Mets. The Hall of Fame right-hander had spent his first 10 1/2 Major League seasons with them before being traded to Cincinnati, and after five and a half seasons with the Reds, he was a Met again.
The reunion in New York wasn't the same after the trade back to his old team. Seaver was 9-14 with a 3.55 ERA, and he wasn't the strikeout pitcher he had been in his glory days with the Amazins. He would finish out an otherwise glorious career with the White Sox and the Red Sox, and in 1992 he would record what remains the highest percentage (98.84) of votes by any first-year Hall of Fame candidate.
Will something like that be in store for Andy Pettitte now that he has re-signed with the Yankees? It is one of the closest comparisons one can find among elite pitchers in modern history. Another example might have been Tom Glavine, but in the last week, he took the opposite approach -- re-signing with his current club (Mets) rather than returning to the club (Braves) that constituted the bulk of his career before then.
Many people will now be talking about Roger Clemens and whether he follows Pettitte out of the Astros organization -- on the assumption that the Rocket returns in 2007 at all -- to either the Red Sox or Yankees. Both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald have speculated that if negotiations fall through with Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox will turn their attention to Clemens.
As the Herald notes, the Red Sox could pay Clemens a salary of $25 million and still save a minimum of $26.1 million if the $51.1 million made to the Seibu Lions for Matsuzaka is factored in. As for Matsuzaka, he is flying to Los Angeles this weekend and is expected to make his first trip to Boston early next week, as agent Scott Boras and general manager Theo Epstein try to close a deal in advance of Thursday's midnight deadline.
Clemens made some history with the Yankees before beginning the Houston chapter of his career. He recorded his 300th victory and 4,000th career strikeout with the Bronx Bombers, and helped them to World Series championships in 1999 and 2000. But returning to Boston, should it happen, would be more like Pettitte returning to the Yankees, or more like Seaver returning to the Mets.
It would be more like Pete Rose returning to close out his career with Cincinnati, where he had grown the legend of Charlie Hustle. Rose might not have been the same player at 44 that he had been in earlier Big Red Machine days, but in 1985, it was fitting that he was a Red when he broke Ty Cobb's all-time hits record. Tony Perez finished his career back home in Cincy, too, and was an RBI shadow of himself.
Who knows? Maybe Barry Zito signs somewhere other than Oakland, and Mark Mulder returns to the A's to make this a full-fledged trend. Barry Bonds is staying home. Sometimes home is sweet home. But sometimes going home, where the early bulk of a great career took place, brings more fans but just not those same results.
More often than not, the second scenario is true. For every Luis Aparicio -- who went back for a second round with his longtime original club and was pretty much the same asset -- there are many more who were examples of hopeful magic late in a career.
One can even consider Hank Aaron being dealt by Atlanta after his record-setting 1974 season. He was traded back to Milwaukee, where his phenomenal career had begun. But this time it was to the Brewers of the American League, for a player to be named later (Roger Alexander) and Dave May. Interestingly enough, Aaron hit the last 22 homers of his career in Milwaukee. That is the number of homers that Bonds needs to break Aaron's record of 755. But other than those last longballs, it was just the fading end of the ride for Hammerin' Hank and some extra marketing help for the young Brewers.
It's a risk seen often over time, and one that Glavine was not willing to take. The Yankees and Pettitte are. Indeed, it already has Bombers fans talking with a lot of swagger again. Maybe it will be a risk the Red Sox are willing to take with Clemens -- and vice versa. The Hot Stove was steaming with such talk the day after the Winter Meetings, and here is what's cooking around the Majors:
Blue Jays: GM J.P. Ricciardi said that he would like to sign center fielder Vernon Wells to a contract extension before New Year's. But if the two sides can't come to an agreement, the Blue Jays will explore trading Wells. Toronto is looking to the trade market to hopefully add one or two pitchers to its rotation.
Indians: The Plain Dealer reported on Friday that the Indians have talked to free agent Chris Gomez about their need for a utility infielder. After a shaky year from shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the Tribe is looking for some insurance up the middle. The club is looking for a player known more for his glove than his bat. If the Indians don't find one, they might have to give the position to in-house candidate Hector Luna or Joe Inglett.
Orioles: The Baltimore Sun reports that the O's offer to Jay Payton is for two years and $9 million. The Sun also reports that Baltimore has renewed interest in Aubrey Huff after missing out on Luis Gonzalez. MLB.com has reported -- and the Sun continues to report -- that Baltimore is trying hard to acquire Marcus Thames from Detroit.
Braves: A team source has indicated that the Braves are actively attempting to complete a trade for Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli. Atlanta is very reluctant to include left-handed starter Chuck James in any deal, but would be willing to provide top catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Devil Rays have said that they aren't interested in Adam LaRoche, and are seeking non-arbitration-eligible players.
The Devil Rays are believed to have said they want James in any potential deal for Baldelli, but having just traded left-hander Horacio Ramirez to Seattle, the Braves are concerned about depth in their starting rotation. At the same time, they believe James is capable of being a 15-game winner in 2007. The 25-year-old southpaw won 11 of the 18 starts he made last season, and surrendered two earned runs or fewer in nine of his final 11 starts.
Next season, Baldelli, 25, would serve as Atlanta's leadoff hitter and everyday left fielder. If Andruw Jones makes his expected departure after 2007, Baldelli would then become the club's starting center fielder.
Baldelli's contract is an attractive one. He'll make just $750,000 this year, which would allow him to fit within Atlanta's tight financial constraints. His contract includes escalators if he makes 600 plate appearances in a season. But even if he were to reach that mark in 2007, his salary would be just $2.5 million. In 2008, his salary wouldn't rise any higher than $4 million. The final three years (2009-2011) in his current contract are all club options. The option for 2011 is just $9 million.
Marlins: MLB.com has learned that word out of Colorado has the Marlins interested in veteran reliever Jose Mesa as a possible closer, even though indications are that Florida is not overly enthusiastic about him, and would likely pursue other reliever and closer options even if he signed. A trade for Giants veteran Armando Benitez, Florida's closer in 2004, is being batted around, but likely won't materialize.
Nationals: The Nationals have offered free agent Tomo Ohka a Major League contract, MLB.com has learned. If he agrees to the deal, Ohka will begin his second stint with the organization. The news comes more than a year after Washington traded the right-hander to Milwaukee for second baseman Junior Spivey in a deal that GM Jim Bowden called his biggest mistake during the 2005 season.
Bowden was not available for comment, but Ohka's agent, Jim Masteralexis, confirmed that the Nationals made an offer on Wednesday and that the proposed deal is below market value. The offer came three weeks after Masteralexis called Bowden to tell him that Ohka wanted to return. Masteralexis did not mention the dollar amount, but it's not a secret that the Nationals want to sign free agents cheaply.
Phillies: Talks of dealing Jon Lieber to Milwaukee for reliever Derrick Turnbow appear to have ended, but Pittsburgh and Texas have expressed interest in acquiring the veteran. Both are awash in relievers. The Phillies are searching for a left-handed-hitting outfielder off the bench, but that will be limited to trades. A possible deal for Washington's Ryan Church died when the Nationals asked for too much.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.