On our show sometimes, we'll get things given to us by the local teams or maybe a sponsor for us to give away to listeners. You know the kind of stuff I'm talking about. The occasional Wild Wing Cafe $25 gift card, perhaps a Borat DVD, or on an especially generous day, a couple of Rockets tickets for a "guys night out." Nothing major, but free stuff that no one would say "NO" to. (Does anyone say "NO" to anything free?) We'll give the items away playing some form of a trivia game -- Six Degrees of Sam Cassell, Name That Fight Song, whatever.
Because we don't want to spend too much time playing trivia on the radio (average shelf life before it gets to be a station-changer is around four minutes tops), we give the contestants every opportunity to get the right answer. "Are you sure that's your answer?.....That's your absolute final answer?...Really, you think that Michigan's fight song actually belongs to Notre Dame?....Really, jackass?" Point being, we want the callers to get the right answer; we want winners.
I would imagine a similar conversation took place between Jose Valverde and his agent Gene Mato this week, only the prize for the right answer was a guaranteed $10 million to $12 million contract to close games stress-free for a 70-win team next season.
MATO: Jose, the Astros have offered you arbitration! This is good, the economy for free agents is terrible right now and the teams with money to spend all have closers already, not to mention that there is a glut of them on the street....do I need to ask what you want to do?
VALVERDE: (mowing down a plate of chicken wings) Hmmmmmm......
MATO: Jose, um, what is it that you want to do?
VALVERDE: Well....I'm thinking....
MATO: (to himself): Oh God....
VALVERDE: ....I'm thinking I want to reject the offer!!
MATO: Are you sure? That's your final answer????
VALVERDE: (licking wing sauce off his fingers) .....absolutely! Need a LONG TERM DEAL!!!
MATO: You're absolutely sure?? You're sure your answer doesn't rhyme with "SHMACCEPT IT????"
In the process of rejecting the Astros' offer of abritration, he unwittingly did the ball club a huge favor. Arbitration offers are strange sometimes. In this financial climate, the fact of the matter is that arbitration, which is largely based on comparative statistics and salaries from previous years, will in all likelihood be far kinder to a Jose Valverde than the Darwinistic nature of this year's free-agent market. I know sometimes ball players can become a bit detached, but someone really should tell him that the economy sucks.
In their heart of hearts, I think the Astros viewed the arbitration offer like...well....you know how sometimes you have neighbors that are nice enough people, but not anyone with whom you want to spend a whole lot of quality time? But because you're neighbors you naturally see each other all the time around the street, at school, wherever, and you both always say "We
really should get together and have dinner some night at one of our houses?", but in fact you have no desire to have dinner with them at all? Yet at some point, you have to extend the invite because it's getting a little silly saying "We should get together" every time you see them at the bus stop? And then when the invite is finally extended, you pray they're already busy that night? You know what I mean, right?
Well, that was Jose Valverde's arbitration offer...I think the Astros extended the offer to invite him back, hoping and praying that he would say "NO" because (a) they have no desire to spend that much on a closer, but it sends a message to the most naive of fans that says "Hey, look at us! Willing to go big on a closer! Heart of a champion, Houston!!" and (b) if he
signs elsewhere, the Astros will get draft picks, which they need. In other words, they invited Jose over for a really nice dinner; thankfully, he had other plans.
Where the Astros go from here at closer is frankly not of great importance to me. They'll probably convince LaTroy Hawkins to come back, or find some inexpensive alternative (LOTS of relievers on the market this off-season), or maybe even give a hard-throwing kid a shot at closing. It's not important to me because I'm conceding the 2010 season. To me, it's a season that we get closer to the end of the big-money, boat-anchor deals they're paying
their big stars, and a season to start mixing in some kids. If they win 75 games, it will be a miracle.
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The one thing I hope Drayton McLane sees is the reaction by most fans when the Valverde news hit. Most of the people I've spoken with or comments I've read online are relieved (no pun intended) that Valverde opted to turn down arbitration, which is counterintuitive to how Drayton thinks the fans think. He is seemingly under the impression that we have to cobble together a lame attempt at winning as many games as possible every season, even if it means (a) still having no shot at the post season and (b) the thinly veiled stagnation of a much-needed youth movement.
Drayton, Astros fans are OK with a season or two of planned steps backwards if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Re-signing Valverde for $10 million (minimum) to save 28 games for a 70-win team is a silly use of resources. Your baseball people know this. And now hopefully, you know that WE all know this, and you can get on with the business of building a
team where a $108 million payroll means you've got a great mix of solid kids, veterans in their prime, and cheap, high-character guys at the tail end of their career trying to get a ring --- as opposed to the 2009 version of the Astros which was essentially Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, a bunch of young kids who had no business in the bigs and a bunch of overpaid veterans who whined that their manager was mean and that they weren't having fun.
Jose Valverde saying "NO" to arbitration is progress. Now if we can just get Carlos Lee to voluntarily void the last three years of his deal....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game on the "Sean and John Show" from 3-7 p.m. weekdays, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.