Before Drayton McLane does anything stupid, he might want to give Carl Lindner a call.
Lindner owns the Cincinnati Reds. In the summer of 2000, Reds shortstop Barry Larkin was playing out the last year of his contract, and was nearly traded ... but then Lindner stepped in with a lovely new extension: beginning in 2001, Larkin would collect $27 million over three seasons. This, even though the Reds had a perfectly good shortstop (Pokey Reese) waiting in the wings. This, even though Larkin was (then) 36 years old. This, even though Larkin's new salary would account for a hefty percentage of the small-market Reds' payroll over the course of the deal.
And the result? Larkin spent most of 2001 on the disabled list. He returned to regular duty in 2002, and posted the worst hitting stats of his long career. He's two years older. And in 2003, he'll make another $9 million while chewing up at-bats like a sumo wrestler in a spaghetti-eating contest.
Why did Larkin get that fat new contract? Because the owner of the club couldn't bear the thought of dealing with the fans and the media if Larkin -- a Cincinnati kid who'd spent his entire career with the Reds -- wore somebody else's livery.
Which brings us to Craig Biggio and Astros owner Drayton McLane.
As you've probably heard, Biggio's looking for a contract extension. Apparently the combination of 1) 2003 being the last year of his old deal, and 2) being asked to move from second base to center field has Biggio and/or his agent thinking that maybe it's time for the Astros to step up with a bit of security.
You can't blame Biggio (and/or his agent) for trying. However, let's review Biggio's recent performance against major-league pitchers ...
2000 2001 2002
Games 101 155 145
OBP .388 .382 .330
Slug .393 .455 .404
OPS 781 837 734
With his 2001 numbers, Biggio could play just about anywhere for anybody. His 2000 and 2002 numbers ... well, they're not bad for a second baseman, and Biggio's a second baseman. Or rather, he was a second baseman. Now he's supposed to be a center fielder, which is an interesting notion considering that 1) he's never played center field, and 2) if he hits in 2003 like he did in 2002, he'll be something like the worst-hitting everyday center fielder in the league.
Now let's review Biggio's current financial "situation" (i.e. windfall for the Biggio family). Shortly after the 1999 season -- a very good season, but not a great one -- the Astros signed Biggio to a three-year contract extension that would begin in 2001. The contract called for salaries of $6 million, $7 million, and $8 million ... plus a $7 million signing bonus. Total value: $28 million, or close to $9 million per season. And if you're wondering about the pay-out of the signing bonus, Biggio got $1 million each January 15 from 2000 through 2003, and next January 15 -- January 15 must be a happy day at the Casa de Biggio -- he'll get the rest of the money, a cool $4 million.
I don't generally like to dwell on money matters, but I'm trying to make a point here, which is that Craig Biggio has been generously compensated for at least the last few years. Well, "generously" probably isn't the correct word, because that implies kindness in the heart of Astros ownership. No, "handsomely compensated" is more accurate. Which is to say, at this point Biggio really doesn't need favors from anybody. If he can't take care of his family with what he's already got, that's on him.
And I bring this up because you will, especially if you live in the Houston area, read quotes from Astros players and perhaps a few writers who cover the Astros, to the effect that the franchise "owes" Biggio something after all his years of great service.
Or maybe you won't. Maybe everybody's actually smart enough to realize that the Astros don't owe Biggio anything except the respect that all of us deserve. Well, that and the money stipulated by his contract. Sure, he's been a great player on a number of good teams, but he was well-compensated for his performance. Handsomely compensated. And he doesn't have any claim on even a single extra dollar beyond what he's currently owed.
As we've seen, he's currently owed quite a lot.
For the numbers that Biggio might be expected to produce in 2003, most teams might be willing to pay something like a million dollars. Ah, but you can't measure Biggio's contributions by the numbers alone. That's what everybody says.
Fine. Let's say the head-first slides and the disgusting batting helmet are worth an extra million bucks. That still leaves the Astros holding the short end of the stick, to the tune of something like $7 million.
And there's absolutely nothing they can do about it. In 2003, the Astros are going to spend $9 million on a second baseman who's become a center fielder who should become a part-time player. Today. Or at the very latest, tomorrow.
Fortunately, Biggio's agent, Barry Axelrod, is "adamant that Biggio isn't seeking a rich contract similar to the three-year, $28 million extension he signed after the 1999 season." That's good news if you're an Astros fan. Of course, the problem is that even if Biggio agreed to a contract that called for a 50-percent pay cut, he'd still be vastly overcompensated.
My advice to Drayton McLane is this: If Biggio will play for close to nothing, then sign him for another year or two. What the hell, it's just a roster spot. Or if you're willing to consider his salary "off-budget," then pay him whatever he wants. But if the money's important and Biggio wants a lot of it, then you just gotta bite the bullet and let him go. As much as that hurts.
If you don't believe me, then give Carl Lindner a call.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason. His e-mail address is email@example.com.