CHICAGO -- C.J. Wilson has had a brutal postseason. He's winless in three starts, twice allowing six or more runs. The timing couldn't be worse for the Texas Rangers' ace, as he will become a free agent after the World Series.
Barring an about-face in the possible one or two starts he has left, Wilson could have cost himself $25 million-to-$35 million, in the opinion of one agent. But is the situation really all that bad?
Wilson is one player a team won't have to worry about holing up in his clubhouse, drinking beer and eating fried chicken, while his teammates are on the field letting a playoff spot get away from them. He's a Taoist who advertises his "Straight Edge" lifestyle, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
You can question the stuff on his postseason pitches against the Tigers and Rays, but not his character. And executives around the majors believe the ongoing ugliness with the Red Sox will cause teams to reward players they can trust while being more careful signing players with less than stellar reputations.
Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester, the Red Sox trio in the center of questions about clubhouse discipline, own contracts worth $142 million. Financial security did not make them better teammates, as the Cubs learned the hard way with Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley.
Doug Melvin, the general manager who has guided the Brewers to the threshold of the World Series, long has identified "character vs. talent" as the great debate for general managers. He traded Jose Canseco shortly after taking over the Rangers, sent Juan Gonzalez packing without a long-term contract and always has looked for high-value, low-maintenance players such as Mark McLemore and Jerry Hairston Jr.
Melvin sometimes gambles on question marks like Nyjer Morgan and Francisco Rodriguez, but seldom has he signed those considered borderline character guys to big contracts. That's a reason why his rookie manager, Ron Roenicke, has enjoyed guiding a team that plays well together. The Brewers have few of the chemistry problems revealed in post-collapse stories on the Red Sox, especially last week's examination by the Boston Globe.
Beckett, Lester and Lackey couldn't have looked much worse, although in fairness only Lackey failed to perform. Neither Beckett nor Lester reached 200 innings, experiencing minor injuries, but they were a combined 28-16 with a 3.18 earned-run average. But instead of supporting their teammates, they often stayed in the clubhouse, playing video games like teenage boys on a sleepover.
Beckett has acted like a classic spoiled brat since he gained the reputation as an heir to the Nolan Ryan legacy while a high school junior in the Houston suburbs. He has won huge games, carrying the 2003 Marlins and '07 Red Sox to their World Series victories -- neither team gets to the World Series without his dominant performances in their respective championship series when faced with elimination -- but has been a clubhouse cipher, or worse.
Jack McKeon recalls how he had to treat Beckett, Brad Penny and some other members of the '03 Marlins like he was running detention hall rather than a big league team.
"In between innings, they'd go to the clubhouse to get a drink or hang out," McKeon told the Palm Beach Post. "I said, 'Hey, I got no rule against going up if you have to go to the bathroom or something, but get back.' A couple of times I looked down the bench to talk to somebody and they weren't there. They were in the clubhouse. So I went up and got them out and said, 'OK, boys that's it. We'll lock the (clubhouse) door."'
McKeon said he actually kept "poo-poo cards and pee-pee cards" next to him on the bench, requiring players to get a printed pass before they could go into the clubhouse during a game. Seriously, that's how he had to treat supposed adults.
Ron Washington has had no such complaints about Wilson. Nor did Ozzie Guillen ever have to worry about Mark Buehrle (although Buehrle infamously drank a clubhouse beer before his 14th- inning save in the 2005 World Series).
Familiar position: The Rangers went to the 2010 World Series behind a No. 1 starter headed to free agency. While Wilson doesn't have the same standing as Cliff Lee, he has a fresh arm -- this is only his second season as a big league starter -- and delivered 16 victories, 206 strikeouts and a 2.94 ERA in 223 1/3 innings.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels knows it is going to be difficult to keep him. He says he expects Wilson's price to be "probably bigger than we would like and probably right about what he would like."
Wilson seems to be a perfect fit for the Yankees although he's a West Coast guy who enjoys being outdoors. He also could be in the picture for the Theo Epstein-led Cubs, who are expected to at least dabble in the Albert Pujols/Prince Fielder market.
"You know there are going to be some clubs out there that have a lot of resources that always are looking for pitching, and every ballclub in baseball is always looking for pitching," Ryan, now the Rangers' president, said. "When you have someone of C.J.'s caliber going on the market, you know there are going to be challenges."
Getting it done: Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan have made a lot of magic in their time together, including the least likely championship imaginable in 2006, and they have demonstrated this season their management style -- a combination of brains and toughness -- still works.
It has been a difficult year for the two. La Russa, 67, was forced away from the team to deal with an infection that discolored his face, impaired his vision and caused him to have nightly headaches in the dugout. Duncan, 66, has been absent often as he tends to his wife, who is battling cancer.
Yet they have the Cardinals knocking on the World Series door after being 10 1/2 games out in the wild-card race as late as Aug. 25. It took a 23-9 finish to overtake the Braves for the last spot into the NL playoffs and a comeback from a 2-1 deficit against the Phillies to get to the NLCS.
Chris Carpenter was a hero in both the regular season and division series, throwing a two-hit shutout at the Astros on the last day of the season and then a three-hit shutout in the deciding game against the Phillies. He's on track to start a potential Game 7 against the Brewers on Monday, unless La Russa tries him on three days' rest in Game 6. There's no one you would want to make decisions like these more than La Russa and Duncan.
Last word: "You can't run a baseball team the way they were run 20 or 30 years ago. It's a business now, one where smart decisions based on sound processes are necessary and innovation is increasingly critical." -- ESPN's Keith Law on why the Cubs need Epstein.
The Whispers: Could Rangers have eye on Sabathia?
One report this week has the Rangers preparing to make a run at CC Sabathia rather than re-signing C.J. Wilson. They have enough young pitching, including left-handers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, to let Wilson walk and enough resources to make a major signing, with Japanese ace Yu Darvish and possibly even Albert Pujols on their radar. ... Reds general manager Walt Jocketty doesn't understand why others are saying he's going to shop 2010 MVP Joey Votto. But Votto, a Toronto native, would have a tremendous value to the Blue Jays, maybe enough to send a package of players headed by lefty Ricky Romero to the Reds. Could Jocketty turn that down with Yonder Alonso positioned to replace Votto? The Reds' best player is Jay Bruce, not Votto. ... In the first 28 playoff games, winning teams had hit .365 with runners in scoring position; losing teams had hit .207. The most opportunistic team in the playoffs was the Phillies. Their aging lineup hit .406 (13-32) but didn't create nearly enough chances in the five games against the Cardinals. ... The Red Sox are going to have a hard time replacing Terry Francona. They need a manager who immediately commands the players' respect. Would free agent-to-be Tony La Russa want to make that his last job in uniform? It's not out of the question that he would retire if he pulled a third World Series out of his hat. ... The Cubs' Josh Vitters is off to a fast start at the plate in the Arizona Fall League (.405-2-10 in his first nine games). A natural third baseman, he has been playing some first base and outfield. ... The White Sox have two regulars on Team USA, which moves to Mexico for the Pan Am Games after playing the World Cup in Panama. Jordan Danks has played center field while Andrew Garcia has moved between second base and shortstop.