Barry Svrluga reports in today's Post that Team Sosa and Team Bowden remain divided on the issue of guaranteed money. I hope Bodes holds firm on that point, especially since it serves as a deal-breaker, as I have no real desire to see any kind of Sosa deal in the first place.
The offseason has been Bill Ladson's time to shine, and his report adds a bit more depth on the subject. Interestingly, it seems Sosa's representatives, including the estimable Tom Reich, are pulling a sort of precedential guilt trip on Jim Bowden:
Hmmm. I'm getting a bit of the agents' con vibe here. It certainly smells hinky: something that is out of whack, just a bit off, wrong, confused, suspect.
Now, Reich is a smart guy, and the comparison to Davis has some superficial merit. Davis wasn't just down-on-his-luck heading into the 1996 season; rather, the guy had actually retired. Furthermore, while it would look like Davis was handed the everyday centerfield job just by looking at Cincy's team totals after-the-fact, this does not appear to be true. Davis started the first game of the season (unfortunately this was not Opening Day 1996---that was the day umpire John McSherry died on the field), but he did so as the left fielder; Mike Kelly started the season in center. Furthermore, it appears the only reason Davis started that first game was because the Reds faced a lefty, Jeff Fassero of the Montreal Expos. His initial platoon partner, Vince Coleman, began the season facing the righthanders. Davis didn't claim the regular job in center until the season's third week. By this time, Kelly was well on his way to flaming out again, batting only .184 in 19 games.
It might be said that Sosa is similarly-situated to what Davis was back then: a guy coming off an off-year (or, in Davis' case, no year), expected to provide support as a role player.
Question: If Bowden gave Eric Davis a guaranteed deal back then, indeed, why not to Sammy Sosa now?
Answer: It doesn't appear that Davis was given guaranteed money, that's why.
Now, seeing as we're talking about a decade ago and teh internets weren't as sophisticated back then, there's a surfeit of information as to what kind of deal Davis got in 1996. But it certainly appears he was a non-roster invitee. For one thing, there's this comment, dated January 15, 1996, from the Usenet newsgroup rec.sport.baseball:
Poster 2: They are both signed to minor-league contracts for cheap money. So the Reds figured to give them a shot to make the team out of spring training if either shows any performance at all.
Of course, those are two fans conversing online, and I don't see any fans with BBWAA cards. The second guy could have been wrong---except this USA Today notes article from spring training 1996 seems to reinforce the notion that Davis wasn't guaranteed a dime:
I know, I know. The article, while alluding to what appeared to be an up-hill battle for Davis, didn't explicitly state that Davis had no guarantee of a paycheck. [Aside: Also, strangely, the top of the page notes a date of April 15, 1997, but the details and context of the article make clear it was written in early 1996. For one thing, Davis was in Baltimore by the date on the top of the page.] However, I have to wonder if the Cincinnati Reds would have guaranteed anyone $750,000 back in 1996, yet make the guy fight his way on the Opening Day roster. That doesn't make sense---and we know from the past month's transactions that Jim Bowden utilizes non-guaranteed deals.
Consequently, I suspect Reich might be playing loose with the facts concerning Eric Davis. I can't prove that, obviously, given my station in (baseball) life and the lack of resources before me. But you have to admit that some evidence contradicts Reich's line of reasoning here.
As for Gant, well . . . a wizard did it. Actually, there may be a simpler solution: In 1995, Gant was just about to turn 30 and, despite suffering a freak motorcycle injury, hadn't suffered from any discernible sign of a slowed bat in 1993, when he hit .274/.345/.510, with 36 homers, 117 runs batted in, and an OPS+ of 124.
Sosa, on the other hand, is 37 and displayed a bat last season that was as maneuverable as an Imperial Star Destroyer. The odds are that Sosa's done, or extraordinarily close to it; a source tells Ladson that Sosa's hurt at the prospect of being treated like Enrique Wilson. Oh well; at least Wilson can play defense, right?
Bottom line: If Sosa's still got game, he can demonstrate it on the ball field, just like Eric Davis did a decade ago---whether guaranteed the money or not.