Over the past week a few major league teams have put some pretty big “W’s” on the board. And all this before anyone has even taken the field.
The wins that I am referring to are the recent signings that three National League teams have had this week that have locked up some of their key players and also avoided arbitration. The Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, and Cincinnati Reds have all signed players that are very influential in their playoff hunt. Sure these guys don’t make the same splash or have the big name recognition that Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano, and Roger Clemens have, but none the less, these three players are large parts of the future of these teams.
Last Friday the Phillies agreed to terms with their ace Brett Myers and were able to avoid arbitration. The former first round pick signed three year, $25.75 million deal ($8.58 million per year) that will keep Myers a member of one of baseball’s most improved rotations. This signing was on the heals of the Chase Utley signing (seven years, $85 million) and hopefully will show the fans of Philadelphia that they are trying to put together a very solid ball club, not only now, but for the future too. If you look at Myers stats the past two years (2005: 13-8/3.72 ERA/208 SO and 2006: 12-7/3.91 ERA/189 SO), you can see has been very consistent. This will be huge as the key to the Phillies success this season will rely on their ability to not start off like they have the past couple of seasons. They need to get off on the right foot and carry it through the entire year in order to win the NL East. With the big lineup this team has, it isn’t out of the question for Myers to make the next step forward and possibly win 20 games this season. A lot of this does depend on how the team starts off as a collective unit, but no matter what, Myers is the ace of this staff and will only go as far as he can lead them.
On Monday the Milwaukee Brewers locked up one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season. Utility Superman Bill Hall signed a four year, $24 million contract ($6 million per year) that will keep the slugger part of the young and powerful middle of the lineup for the next few seasons. Hall came out of nowhere last season to lead the Brewers in runs (101), doubles (39), triples (4), homers (35), and RBI (85). Needless to say, the Brew-crew are ecstatic to plug this kid out in centerfield this year and right in the middle of their growing lineup. Alongside Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and soon top prospect Ryan Braun, Bill Hall adds another huge piece in Milwaukee’s hunt for the playoffs now and in the future.
The final big arbitration-avoidance signing happened just yesterday as the Cincinnati Reds locked in their ace Aaron Harang to a four year, $36.5 million contract ($9.125 million per year). This signing couldn’t be any bigger for the Reds who have struggled to find dependable pitching for years now. It is sometimes overlooked that Harang’s huge year in 2006 came in one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in all of baseball, making it all the more impressive. The 28 year old burst into the spotlight last season when he tied for the league lead in wins with 16 and lead the NL in both strikeouts with 216 and complete games with six. This was only the eighth time since 1960 that a player has lead the NL in both wins and strikeouts. Harang joined quite an elite list of pitchers in that category with Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Dwight Gooden, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale. History aside, Harang is part of a pitching staff that continues to improve with last year’s big season from Bronson Arroyo and the inevitable call-up of top prospect (and future ace) Homer Bailey. The Reds need to establish a solid pitching staff if they ever hope to compete in the pitcher’s nightmare known as the Great American Ballpark.
As the wild card chase of 2006 showed us, the National League as a whole has become more and more competitive and teams are finding themselves amidst a sea of teams that are very similar in strength to them. That’s why signing players like the three listed above are a lot bigger than some people may think. After all, I personally think that all three of these players will end up playing just as big a role (if not bigger) in their team’s success and playoff hunt in 2007 as the big name free agents will.
Who knows, after this season the names Myers/Hall/Harang may become interchangeable with the names Zito/Soriano/Clemens. Well maybe not after just this year.