Ubaldo Jimenez got a five-game suspension for drilling Troy Tulowitzki on the first pitch Sunday. The Players’ Association intends to back him as he appeals it. They are actually right about this. This turns out not to have been a mere sticks-and-stones issue. The backstory is Tulowitzki’s public criticism of Jimenez’s public gripe that the Rockies—who traded him to the Cleveland Indians during last season—offered and signed Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to big-dollar extensions after signing him to a mere “team-friendly” deal but not thinking of a comparable extension after he had his big year. Tulowitzki suggested once or twice recently that “a certain point (comes) in this game where you go play and you shut your mouth. And you don’t worry about what other people are doing.” He may have been absolutely right. Jimenez may have been absolutely wrong to fret over one or another man’s deal compared to his own. His pitching in 2011 would certainly suggest how wrong he was.
But anyone who thought Tulowitzki was going to get away with popping off that way, in public, suggesting his ex-mate was a bad teammate who didn’t give everything he had, without his subject doing something about it in one of baseball’s time-honoured if often dubious self-policing practises, simply forgot about time-honoured if often dubious self-policing. A one-game suspension might have been appropriate. Five is a little much in the circumstances. And if Colorado manager Jim Tracy calls Jimenez’s drill the most gutless thing he’s seen in baseball by a guy for whom he’s lost all respect, there may be enough people losing a little respect for Tracy as a baseball man. Tracy has every right to stand by his player. Tulowitzki is normally one of the game’s class acts. But Tracy was way off base in seeing and raising the commentary that started the whole thing in the first place. No one should be surprised if the Rockies and Indians square off in interleague play this season and Jimenez has another little message to send his former club.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .
* THE ROAD COMES EVER TO A SLOWDOWN—That’s what may be facing Bobby Abreu, who hasn’t been the player he once was over the last year and a half and who may have to resign himself to one of three choices: a) part-time duty with the Angels; b) a possible chance to catch one more bolt of lightning elsewhere; or, c) retirement with dignity. The longtime on-base machine has been a trade talk subject, but the smart money says Abreu’s remaining contract dollars, and how much the Angels might be willing to provide, may be holding up their ability to move him; the Yankees (for whom he’s played before, and well) and the Indians were said to have been interested.
If Abreu continues reading the proverbial writing on the wall and opts to retire this moment, though, here’s a surprise that might await you five years hence: By the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Batting Monitor, Abreu shakes out as a very average Hall of Famer, maybe a tick below average, the kind of quiet superstar who crept up on you even with that remarkable on-base percentage. (At this writing, he’s number 70 on the top one hundred.) Most important, Abreu played the game with dignity, maximum effort even when he made it look about as complicated as putting on your socks, and played to his ability in the postseason; his postseason line is a pretty neat near-match to his regular season lines. Lots of players play over their heads in the postseason; lots of players play under their heads; Abreu is one of those who played the same in either situation, a certain indication that pressure baseball didn’t rattle around his attic excessively and keep him from doing what he did well. You’d like to see him put one more excellent season together, but at age 38 it isn’t necessarily a given.
* VOTTO DEAL!—Ten years, $225 million for Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto—the fourth-largest deal in Show history, and one showing the Reds mean business about keeping the nucleus of their recently re-competitive team together, in the wake of the six years and $51 million they committed to Jay Bruce after 2010. The bad news: the Votto deal means the Reds don’t expect to re-sign Brandon Phillips when the second baseman hits free agency at the end of 2012, though it doesn’t mean the Reds won’t try to re-sign him, either.
* WANNA BET?—The looming end of spring training customarily includes speculation on who will throw out the first manager of the season. The Bovada Sports Book has joined the fun, and San Diego Padres manager Bud Black is their top pick for the lead guillotine, citing Black’s 388-423 record managing the Padres since 2007. Bovada is giving 3-to-1 odds on Black’s early execution. The rest of their top ten? From two to ten, the candidates are: Brad Mills (Houston, at 5-to-1), Dusty Baker (Cincinnati, at 11-to-2), Buck Showalter (Baltimore, at 6-to-1), Ron Gardenhire (Minnesota, also at 6-to-1), Jim Tracy (Colorado, at 9-to-1), Charlie Manuel (Philadelphia, at 10-to-1), Joe Girardi (Yankees, at 10-to-1 as well), Bruce Bochy (San Francisco, likewise at 10-t0-1), and Mike Scioscia (Angels, at 12-to-1).
How likely are those predictions to pass? Well, in fairness to Mills you can’t really tell how good the manager is based on the roster he’s had to handle since taking the helm. Baker is always likely to be executed, especially considering his pitching issues (bullpen a lack of specialty) and his teams’s tendencies to implode when the big prizes are on the line (reference 2003 Cubs, 2002 Giants, for openers). Showalter’s execution may well depend on how willing the Orioles’ brass might prove to be in letting new general manager Dan Duquette anywhere near the electrocution switch. Gardenhire isn’t going anywhere just yet, unless someone spikes the Twins’ brass’s punch just enough to leave them vulnerable to suggestions that their dubious personnel moves and the team’s rotten luck are the manager’s fault. Tracy has a long contract—for now. Big League Stew has it about right when they say Girardi is safe unless George Steinbrenner faked his own death, and they’re also right that Bochy is still too safe thanks to a 2010 World Series ring—pending a bad 2012 and a slow opening to 2012.
Scioscia? Let’s see. He’s vulnerable only if a) the Angels implode, b) underachieve (considering the Pujols and C.J. Wilson deals), or c) can’t get past round one of the postseason (again). And even then . . . whatever problems the Angels have had since winning that stupefying World Series a decade ago, and they’ve had a few in spite of their consistent competitiveness, nobody really seems willing to blame them on the manager. Yet.