In my last post, previewing this season's Tigers pitching staff, I mentioned in passing that I couldn't believe Jeremy Bonderman re-signed with the Tigers this past offseason for a reasonable $38 million dollars over the next four years. This was doubly surprising given the outrageous amount of money teams were throwing at any starting pitcher capable of throwing 200 innings regardless of whether they were any good. The fact that Bonderman, who is still only 24 even though it seems like he's been around forever, signed for (marginally) less money than both Ted Lilly and Jeff Suppan is mind-boggling. Not only is Bonderman better than both of those pitchers right now, but given his young age and big league experience he will continue to improve over the next four years while Suppan and Lilly will inevitably begin to slowly decline, (as a quick aside I've never been a big Lilly fan, I've seen him pitch a few times and have never really been impressed and it seems like people always say he's on a verge of a breakthrough but now he's 31 and it still hasn't happened, however, I am an idiot so remember that I said this when he's starting for the N.L. in the All-Star game this summer) and, if you believe the soulless robots that produce Baseball Prospectus every season, Bonderman is going to improve exponentially this season and possibly move into the upper echelon of A.L. pitchers. I'm also aware that Bonderman wasn't a free agent this off-season so it's slightly unfair to compare him to Lilly and Suppan and had he hit the open market Bonderman would've likely received a much larger bid than both of those pitchers. I also realize that by signing this deal Bonderman is making more money in the first two seasons than the Tigers would have likely been forced to pay him in arbitration. On the flip side I'm sure the game will still be flush with cash in two seasons when Bonderman would've initially become a free agent, especially for experienced and talented 26 year old power pitching aces, (I can't wait to see the haul Zambrano gets after this season, I just hope its enough for him to be able to afford to wear a jewel encrusted baseball cap for his next team or at least a top hat....something classy). Trust me I'm not killing Bonderman for signing this deal, just the opposite, I'm thrilled that he made a commitment to the Tigers and that the Tigers are attempting to keep their young core of players intact, especially since it was Detroit's first successful season since Schoolboy Rowe stalked about the pitcher's mound at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull (I don't know what that last sentence was about it would've sounded better if it had been read by a fast-talking reporter on an old news reel, but I digress). My only problem is that the deal is reasonable.....suspiciously reasonable if you ask me. So I did a little intrepid reporting and after successfully breaking into Dave Dombrowski's office and rifling through his desk and cabinets I was able to procure an old 70's style audio tape and transcribe the negotiations between Dave Dombrowski, agent George Milton, and Lennie Small.....errr....i mean Jeremy Bonderman.
Dave Dombrowski: "Hello you two, please come in, take a seat, get comfortable and I'll pour you a drink, what'll you have." ( Dombrowski opens a large, fully stocked liquor cabinet).
George Milton: "Well that's mighty kind of you sir, but I don't drink spirits, bad for the soul...I'll take a sarsaparilla, and Jeremy'll take a glass of water."
DD: "O.k.....I don't think I have any sarsaparilla, how about a Canada Dry? Say, George I couldn't help notice that you don't look like a normal sports agent but more like a 1930's Okie dirt farmer. No offense, but instead of slicked back hair, a sharp suit and talking really, you're wearing a straw hat, twill pants and talk in a slow, measured, southern drawl.....are you really a sports agent?"
GM: "None taken. (pulls his hat brim up, wipes brow with handkerchief from back pocket) Now Mr. D I may not have some impressive law degree from some fancy rich-boy school like Harvard, Princeton, or Wayne State but I've got honesty and integrity, and well, I've known Jeremy a mighty long time and I just want to make sure he gets what he wants not what someone wants for him."
DD: "That's very honorable Mr. Milton, and we would like to accommodate him. We believe Jeremy is a great young pitcher who is just starting to put it all together and is posed for a breakthrough season. We would like to keep our young core of players together because we think there is a bright future ahead for this team and we want to remain competitive for a long time. We are prepared to make a very substantial offer to Jeremy."
GM: "Those are some mighty kind words, Mr. D. (leans forwards and looks into Dombrowski's eyes intensely) But Jeremy is a different breed. He's not looking to break the bank or take advantage of your hospitality, he just wants to live offa the fatta a the lan', ya knaw, maybe tend ta some rabbits. He would also like something soft to hold, ya knaw, like a puppy, Jeremy's just a really gentle guy."
Jeremy Bonderman: (racing forward excitedly) "Puppy!!!......(trailing off) they are so soft."
DD: "We can do that, let me just draw it up, in return for four years of service, we'll give Jeremy a small farm in northern Genesee County and this adorable little scamp that was left over from Mr. Ilitch's breakfast. Now Count Ilitch requires contracts to be signed in blood, so if you could just sign here......and we're all set."
GM: "Thank you Mr. D we really appreciate your generosity and I know Jeremy is happy to be here."
JB: "Yes Mr. Dombrowski, thanks for little Curly......he's....so....soft, (pets hard, holds puppy eye to eye and whispers)....puppy.
After a round of handshakes and back slapping, Bonderman and Milton leave and a content Dave Dombrowski opens the liquor cabinet and pours himself another drink before putting the newly signed contract in his desk drawer, tidying up around the office and leaving for home when he runs into a distraught looking Jeremy Bonderman in the hallway holding a lifeless puppy.
DD: "Jeremy what's the matter, where's George, what happened to Lil' Curly?"
JB: "Well George went home and me and Curly were playing around in the locker room and I couldn't stop petting his soft little head and he started whimpering like and.....and.....I done a bad thing." (staring in the distance forlornly).
DD: "No, No, Jeremy, you didn't do anything wrong, this was just an accident. Oh, man this is terrible, I've got to make this right. O.k., o.k. let's see what's your jersey number? 38, o.k. umm I'll just keep adding zeroes until you tell me to stop, (counting zeroes 1....2....3....). Jesus Jeremy thats up to 38 million I can't go any higher than that."
JB: "O.k. Mr. Dombrowski sir, will that be enough to buy me another Curly?"
DD: "Yeah Jeremy....all the Curly's you want."
JB: (smiling slightly)....."puppy."
So there you have it, after consulting the audio tapes The Mystery of the Reasonable Contract has been solved in the only way possible....Steinbeck style.
Disclaimer: It wasn't until after I finished this post that I remembered Bonderman suffers from dyslexia, which forced him to quit high school and was a major obstacle in his pursuit to become a MLB player. I was in no way attempting to make light of this or portray Jeremy as some kind of bumbling idiot, it was purely coincidental.