Notebook > Sports

Common but not cheap

Sports | This offseason, plenty of other teams were throwing big money to unproven pitchers

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 17, 2005

Pitchers like Bob Howry, Kyle Farnsworth, and Tom Gordon all know who to thank. This year, it started with B.J. Ryan. In the open waters of baseball free agency, the inexperienced closer netted a five-year, $47 million contract that simultaneously announced the Toronto Blue Jays' arrival as part of baseball's cash-rich cabal and upped the price of all relief pitchers on the market.

The last time major-league baseball's annual winter meetings were held in Dallas, one huge contract changed the face of baseball free agency. Could the same thing be happening five years later in Dallas? If the Alex Rodriguez $252 million contract helped usher in the age of mega deals, this offseason's signings could signal another sea change-one where even relatively unknown players get massive contracts.

Relievers in particular got rich. According to the Yankees, Mr. Farnsworth is worth $17 million over three years. But it's not just the Yankees splurging. The Angels signed reliever Hector Carrasco for $6.1 million over two years-a pitcher who before 2005 had a career ERA well above 4.00. Then there was no-name reliever Scott Eyre, who netted a three-year deal worth $3.66 million per year. The Houston Astros may have created the league's biggest bidding war by what they didn't do: offer Roger Clemens arbitration, making him a free agent.

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Once upon a time, the Yankees were the only reckless spenders-though joined at times by the Texas Rangers, the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Mets. But now a surprising number of teams seem willing to step up to the big-contract plate. At the forefront is Toronto, which under the ownership of Ted Rogers suddenly seems willing to spend and spend. A year after letting first baseman Carlos Delgado walk, the Blue Jays signed Mr. Ryan and top-notch starter A.J. Burnett. The Chicago White Sox, fresh off a World Series victory, have, to the surprise of many, re-signed their top hitter, Paul Konerko.

And in perhaps the oddest turnabout, the Oakland Athletics, champions of the thrifty "Moneyball" approach under their former ownership group, even opened their pocketbook. Ironic then that the player whom Oakland signed (starter Esteban Loaiza for more than $21 million) was exactly the sort of risky proposition their old analytical approach was supposed to guard against. Perhaps it's just the cost of doing business. They can thank Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Ryan for that.

Around the Horn

First football, now this. The insurgence of instant replay in sports arrived in the tennis world when the new Hawk-Eye technology was implemented for a Champion's Tour event Dec. 2 in London. With an assist from the new video officiating, Jim Courier defeated Cedric Pioline 6-4, 7-5 in the quarterfinals at Royal Albert Hall. Mr. Courier said he felt there'd be a 90 percent chance the instant replay technology would be used in next year's U.S. Open.

The Eagles have finally landed-at the bottom. It's hard to imagine the Philadelphia Eagles could sink any lower than after their 42-0 loss to Seattle on Monday Night Football. "Embarrassing may be a good term for it," Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse said. "It was embarrassing and everything else bad that goes with it." At least the Eagles players, who suffered their worst home loss since 1962, had to dodge only boos from the crowd. In the past, Philadelphia fans have pelted players with batteries and hurled snowballs at Santa Claus.

Some college football teams preparing for bowl season should really be preparing their student athletes for the next academic semester, according to an NCAA report. A study revealed that nearly half of the bowl-bound programs failed to graduate more than 50 percent of their student athletes. Northwestern and Boston College notched two of the best scores, both graduating more than 78 percent of their players.

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