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Barajas Syndrome

With Hot Stove season winding down, this is the time when true  hardcore baseball fans--the kind who come here in late January, the kind who had to think hard about our current front-page poll--tend to look back at all the seeming possibilities for improving the team that presented themselves at the beginning of November. Then they look at what moves were actually made, and 99 times in a hundred they bemoan the dumb decisions and the roads not taken.

As a look at the recent diaries and, yes, certain front-page stories shows, we're no exception. The Phillies signing Rod Barajas, not as minor-league filler or a deep bench reserve but as a plausible candidate to start 120 games behind the plate, was taken as a gut punch here, an indication that, as a smart man once said of another out-of-touch hierarchy, the Phillies have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

Our collective martyr complex, as well as the team's track record of ineptitude, impels us to believe that the Phils are special in this regard. But a quick look around the majors shows that almost every team has given their fans a Barajas Moment this winter.  

Let's first consider the darlings of the baseball smart set: the Cleveland Indians, run by Billy Beane disciple and my favorite big-league GM Mark Shapiro. What have they done this off-season?

Among other things, they signed relief pitchers Joe Borowski, Keith Foulke, Aaron Fultz, and Roberto Hernandez

Near as Cot's can tell, the Tribe will spend $14.4 million for these four over-30 relievers in 2007 ($5m for Foulke, $4.25m for Borowski, $3.5m for Roblowto, $1.65m for Fultz). Cleveland's total payroll for 2006 was about $56.8 million; even if they raise that by $8 million or so, that still means four aging relievers will account for more than 20 percent.

Did Ed Wade use santeria to possess Shapiro? More to the point, imagine how you'd feel if Pat Gillick had signed these four guys.

How about Cleveland's division rival and the toast of the old-school baseball world, the Minnesota Twins? If Shapiro is the post-Beane avatar of saber-based smart roster construction, Twins GM Terry Ryan is the guy whose organizational vision seems best designed to turn on the Buster Olneys of the world.

Their winter activities have included signing starters Sidney Ponson and, just yesterday, Ramon Ortiz. Ponson's on a minor-league deal, but he'll cost the Twins $1 million if he makes the team: this is a guy who's put up full season ERAs of 6.21 and 6.25 over the last two years, in 215 total innings. Ortiz evidently will make $3.1 million next season; his ERAs the last three years have shown a definite trend, going from 4.43 to 5.36 to 5.57. 2006 was his worst big-league season, despite pitching half his games in Washington's spacious RFK Stadium. The HomerDome will not treat him kindly.

Again, the mind reels to think about how Phillies phans would react to these signings.

I won't go team-by-team here, but just consider your reaction if the Phils had made these moves, all by likely contenders: the Dodgers and Angels giving mega-contracts to mediocre outfielders Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews Jr.; the Red Sox signing jerkass J.D. Drew and bringing back auto-out Alex Cora for a more generous contract than what the Phillies will pay Abe Nunez; the Tigers giving Jose Mesa $2 million; the Giants overspending in the near term for Pedro Feliz ($4m in 2007) and the long term for Barry Zito (7 years, $126 million); the Cardinals  cluttering up their roster with the likes of Scott Spezio (sentimental value, I guess) and Ryan Franklin (who knows).

In baseball, dumb moves are epidemic. The Phils certainly are afflicted, but their case is far from unique and, even in comparison to more functional organizations, evidently not all that virulent.