Inside baseball - Willis, Roberts well worth it - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Inside baseball - Willis, Roberts well worth it

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Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2005 7:07 am | Updated: 9:51 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Dontrelle Willis and Brian Roberts are not only All-Stars, they are a general manager’s dream.

All-Stars, and all-value.

They are the poster guys for money well-spent.

Playing at a level far above their scheduled salaries, Florida’s Willis and Baltimore’s Roberts are the kinds of players who are even more valuable in a luxury tax world.

In the professional sports model, players usually are paid for what they did before their most current contract, not for what they are contributing now.

But as Willis and Roberts work their way up the pay scale as their service time increases, it will be because of seasons like 2005.

While Willis stumbled in his last pre-All-Star start against the Cubs, he remains tied for the major league lead with 13 victories.

Willis, who will make $378,500, has been the anchor in a Florida rotation that has suffered through injuries and a sudden downturn by veteran Al Leiter, who was removed from the rotation earlier this year and who is to make $8 million this season.

Roberts’ breakout season includes career highs in home runs and RBIs, and he has been among the AL leaders in batting average, hits, slugging percentage and on-base percentage all season while replacing Jerry Hairston, who went to the Cubs in the offseason. Roberts is scheduled to earn $390,000.

There are others making near the major league minimum ($316,000) whose firsthalf performances have made them a steal:

• Before Arizona’s Brandon Lyon got injured, he was the best closer in baseball the first six weeks of the season, recording saves in 13 of his first 14 opportunities, including 12 in a row. He is scheduled to make $330,000.

• Milwaukee’s Billy Hall took over the starting shortstop position when top prospect and Tucson native J.J. Hardy was injured earlier this season. Hall has become entrenched as the starter and will make $344,000.

• Colorado shortstop Clint Barmes was hitting over .400 the first month of the season and was still well over .300 before suffering what is likely to be a season-ending broken clavicle six weeks ago. He will make $317,000.

• Right hander Yhency Brazoban has 16 saves after twice inheriting the Dodgers’ closing job in the absence of Eric Gagne, and has the low-to-mid-90s fastball to get the job done. He will make the minimum.

• Angels’ closer Francisco Rodriguez is paid at a level higher than most third-year players, $440,000. But as one of the premium closers on one of the best teams in baseball, he is still highly underpaid.

HOT-LANTA

While Chipper Jones and three-fifths of the Atlanta starting rotation heal from injuries, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz have kept the team within striking distance of the NL East lead behind dazzling Washington and comfortably ahead in the wild card race.

Jones, who will represent Curacao in the home run derby portion of All-Star festivities, leads the major leagues with 27 home runs after erupting with 13 in June. After enduring 0-for-28 and 7-for-54 slumps, he has recovered to hit 15 homers in 27 games entering Saturday.

"We’re still a ways from our target, but we could be further away if not for Andruw," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

Smoltz, a seven-time All-Star, began the season 0-3 while getting little support, but turned in a 5-1 June while Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson and John Thomson were sidelined.

Smoltz won five straight starts before a no-decision against the Cubs on Thursday but still is 9-5 with a 2.81 ERA in his return to the rotation after spending four seasons as a closer.

"For me, it’s mind-boggling for him to do that," said Cox.

Smoltz will return to Detroit almost 18 years after he was traded to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander on Aug. 12, 1987. He has 172 victories since coming to Atlanta, 111 more than any Tigers’ pitcher in that span, according to STATS, Inc. Frank Tanana had 61.

FIVE-PEAT

Moises Alou, the Giants’ only representative on the NL All-Star team, joined Gary Sheffield as the only players to be selected from five different teams.

A six-time NL All-Star, Alou, a free agent signee from the Cubs this winter, also was chosen while playing with Montreal (1994), Florida (1997), Houston (1998, 2001) and the Cubs (2004).

Sheffield was an All-Star with San Diego (1992), Florida (1993-96), the Dodgers (1998-2000), Atlanta (2003) and the Yankees (2004-05).

OVERHEARD

• "It’s a joke. It really is. For a free agent pitcher, you’d have to give him a lot of money to come here. It’s a hitter’s park. It’s unfair. It’s like the Little League World Series.’’ — Boston left-hander David Wells, on the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park.

• "We’re going to enjoy every moment, because we don’t know when it is going to happen again.’’ — Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, on his first All-Star start.

UNDERSTOOD

• With Byung-Hyun Kim pitching well enough as a starter, the Rockies are considering a six-man rotation after the All-Star break. Opening day starter Joe Kennedy could be the odd man out if they stay at five.

• Boston’s Curt Schilling will pitch out of the bullpen as he returns from an ankle injury, both to ease his way back and to compensate for the loss of closer Keith Foulke.

• Jeremy Bonderman, a candidate to start the All-Star game for the AL, is the first Detroit pitcher to win 11 games before the break since 1991.

WHO’S HOT

• Chris Carpenter: St. Louis righty has won his last five starts while giving up a total of two earned runs.

• Travis Hafner: Cleveland DH had eight home runs in 12 games.

• Luis Castillo: Florida second baseman has a 31-game hitting streak at Shea Stadium.

WHO’S NOT

• Matt Anderson: No. 1 overall pick in 1997 draft by Detroit, was outrighted to Triple-A Colorado Springs when he struggled as a reclamation project with the Rockies.

• Kirk Rueter: Giants starter lost a 6-1 lead by giving up three homers to Cincinnati on Monday and was demoted to the bullpen.

• Sammy Sosa: Baltimore slugger’s fly out Monday marked the first time in 15 at-bats he got the ball out of the infield.

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