The world economy is limping along and Europe is slowly sinking into a quicksand of debt with every rosy report chased by a slew of gloomy ones. Meanwhile, yet another financial disaster is looming in America, which begs the question: If there's always a new source of ruin around the corner, why do the financial "experts" ever forecast recovery?
Even though we avoided the serious-but-not-so-serious-to-abandon-pork fiscal cliff, the UN's warning of a second global recession isn't dead yet.
But don't tell that to Major League Baseball.
New television deals and booming ticket sales have the MLB free-agent market going bonkers at the moment. The mantra seems to be "we're shaving off years, but not dollars," and the results have been bizarre. With many of the big-ticket items off the board, check out the carnage (worth a minimum of $10 million per year):
True, the contract is only for $36 million over six years, but the Bums also had to pay $25.7 million just to negotiate that deal. This for a pitcher who has lit up the Korean Baseball Organization, but whose exposure to major-league talent is limited to the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The domination of a professional league in a country that takes its baseball seriously, plus a dazzling turn in the WBC, make Ryu a talent to watch. That said, he's also a sizable gamble—remember that Daisuke Matsuzaka is the only MVP that tournament has ever known.
So, no, fiscal responsibility and austerity have not yet caught on in the Show.
Noticeably absent (for the most part) on that list of big spenders are the San Francisco Giants.
The defending World Series champions did shell out $40 million for the rights to the next four years of Angel Pagan's career, but that's a relatively mild price tag when placed in context. It's a big number and, objectively speaking, is probably more than Angel is worth. Nevertheless, he was one of the primary catalysts for the Gents' 2012 playoff push and was especially effective once Melky Cabrera went into witpro, on the lam from PED allegations and scandal.
Other than Pagan, San Francisco has spent minimally on free agents. The brass dished out $20 million for three years of Marco Scutaro, $18 million for three years of Jeremy Affeldt and $2 million for a year of Andres Torres. It's incredible to call roughly $25 million in 2013 payroll dollars frugal, but that's where we are at this point.
Brian Sabean is testing the wisdom of trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Recent results suggest it's not the wisest of strategies. S.F. brought back largely the same team that won the 2010 Fall Classic and the whole thing fell apart. However, 2011 witnessed Scott Cousin's infamous slide that ended Buster Posey's encore season prematurely.
If that doesn't happen, who knows how things shake out? Assuming Gerald Dempsey doesn't get Gillooly'd again—knock on wood—it appears we're about to find out.
The champs also have reason to cheer beyond the discretion shown by the front office on the open market.
The Dodgers are spending money like it's on fire, but those who break the bank rarely secure baseball's ultimate prize. If L.A. doesn't jump out to a fast start, that monster payroll and gaudy offseason will become less weal and more woe with each passing day.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres can't be dismissed totally because teams with young talent and minimal expectations seem to surprise the baseball world each year. Unless they drastically outperform their paper potential, however, they should be minor blips on the season.
As for the Arizona Diamondbacks, they shipped possibly the division's most intimidating physical talent to the Atlanta Braves. With all due respect to Matt Kemp, Justin Upton is that scary—has a similar tool set and is several years younger at 25.
But he's the National League East's problem now.
The Snakes still have a nice ballclub and, given Upton's prickly reputation, the team could be looking at a serious case of addition by subtraction. Still, the Giants' pitchers have to be smiling at the idea of a D-back lineup sans its premier bopper.
And then there's the whole Miami PED fiasco that broke around Super Bowl XLVII and is currently being investigated by MLB (via ESPN).
How refreshing is it for a performance-enhanced scandal to break without the involvement of los Gigantes? Pretty refreshing, I gotta say.
This latest dance with Victor Conte's ghost implicated a wide swath of players and clubs—the Washington Nationals' Gio Gonzalez, the Toronto Blue Jays' Melky Cabrera, the Texas Rangers' Nelson Cruz and the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (of course) to name a few. The Melk Man is no longer San Francisco's problem, so the franchise is free and clear of this one, allowed to sit back and watch the firestorm rather than fight for survival in the middle of it.
Nobody who cares about Major League Baseball can be happy about the ongoing PED idiocy, but it ain't going anywhere, so better to be on the outside looking in than vice versa.
Critics will say the San Francisco Giants didn't do enough. That other teams were more aggressive and made bigger improvements. That Sabes needed to make a bigger splash to compensate for the loss of Cabrera—a loss that didn't derail them on the way to a championship in '12, but somehow will be a fatal flaw in '13.
There may be some truth to that logic (not the bit about Melky, that's just dumb). In this business, you're usually falling behind if you're standing still.
But the Giants are world champs, which means everyone else must catch up to them.
And there are exceptions to every rule.
Judging from the headlines, this offseason might be one of them, and San Francisco's lack of "progress" has never looked so good.