Friday, December 04, 2009

Tigers' Loss of Polanco Another Reminder: Baseball's a Business

Four-plus years ago, Placido Polanco got run out of Philadelphia---they do that a lot in that town---because the Phanatics wanted to see Chase Utley, and pronto, play second base. So quick to rid themselves of Polanco were the Phillies that they accepted a soon-to-be felon from the Tigers, pitcher Ugie Urbina, in a straight up heist.

It wasn't quite Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio but it wasn't Rocky Colavito-for-Harvey Kuenn, either. At least the Phillies had Utley as their ace in the hole.

Polanco is back in Philly, again nudged out of a job by a youngster who plays second base.

This time it's Scott Sizemore who has forced Polanco out, as the Tigers made their decision known loud and clear when they didn't offer Polanco salary arbitration by this week's deadline: we want Scott!

Scott's cheaper, you see. By far.

Polanco is back in Philly, and that's odd, because the only thing worse than playing in Philadelphia is playing there TWICE.

But it won't be at second base; the Phillies want Polanco to play third base. And they're going to pay him about $18 million over the next three years to do so. That was too rich for the Tigers' thinning blood.

It was a wise move for the Tigers. Polanco is 34 and Sizemore is going to be 25 next month and he'll work for peanuts compared to what the Tigers would have had to cough up for Poly's services.

Sizemore is rehabbing a snapped ankle but all indications are that he'll be good to go by the time spring training rolls around.

Does Polanco have the arm strength needed to be an everyday third sacker? The Phillies have 18 million George Washingtons that say yes, apparently.

Polanco was a good soldier in Detroit. Shortly after arriving in the summer of 2005, he signed a contract extension to remain a Tiger through the 2009 season. He wasn't a bandwagon guy. The Tigers weren't very good when he made the decision to sign on long-term. He put his faith---and the prime of his career---into the belief that the Tigers were on the road to contention. Or was it the Road to Redemption?

It worked. Polanco rolled a lucky seven. The Tigers made it to the World Series the next year (he was the MVP of the ALCS, too) and were strong contenders in 2007 until Gary Sheffield hurt his shoulder in July and the team went sideways.

The Tigers win the pennant! The Tigers win the pennant!

Get ready for some errors at second base, folks. That's not a knock on Sizemore, it's a knock at a lack of perfection. While Polanco patrolled second in Detroit, E-4 was something you called out while playing "Battleship."

The Tigers need offense, and so letting Polanco and his career .300+ batting average go away might seem self-defeating. But the Tigers need a more powerful, more intimidating brand of offense than what Poly provided. They need a thumper, not a pattycake hitter.

I wish Polanco well---and lotsa luck. They didn't even care much for Mike Schmidt at times at third base in Philadelphia. But to each his own.

This is one of those times when we're reminded harshly that it's business, it's not personal. In fact, often times it's damn impersonal. Placido Polanco is a Phillie not because the Tigers didn't want him---they just couldn't justify paying for him. It's a fine line, but a distinct one all the same.

There's always the memories. Those are free, and priceless at the same time. Remember Polanco, ski cap and all, jumping around wildly as he rounded the bases after Magglio Ordonez's pennant-clinching home run? He looked like Billy Barty trying to reach some cookies on the kitchen counter. But it was an indelible moment.

Polanco might go down as one of the most reliable players to ever jitterbug around a baseball diamond wearing the Old English D. He rolled out of bed every winter, put in his time at spring training, then hit his .300 and played flawless second base and struck out once a week, just about.

But it's not $6 million-per-year stuff anymore, at ages 35 thru 37. Again, business.

Poly's a small guy, but he wore big shoes. Now we'll see if this kid Sizemore is up to filling them.


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