Sunday, February 3, 2013

Could sanity suddenly be breaking out in Major League Baseball?

With Alex Rodriguez yet again under microscopic examination for PED use, one of the hot topics of side conversations is how the Yankees can possible get out from under the $114 million they still owe him under his current contract.

Mark Teixiera
No matter which way you slice it, A-Rod never was going to deliver the value for money this contract represents. The Yankees also gave Mark Teixeira one of these ridiculous contracts (8years/$180 million) – but at least he recently admitted in a Wall Street Journal interview that there is no way he can justify it.

That’s sort of refreshing, isn’t it? I’m waiting now for Albert Pujols to admit that he should have gone for the (relatively) smaller paycheck the Cards were offering and stayed in St. Louis. I am not holding my breath on that one, though.

Huge contracts for extended periods of time have been the norm in the game for the elite-level players for many years now and the figures get mind-bogglingly silly in a big hurry. For those of us on the outside looking in, we easily see the insanity of Detroit giving someone like Prince Fielder $214 million for nine years or the Angels throwing $250 million for ten years at Albert Pujols. Will these players ever be able to remain in the upper echelons of baseball production for those lengths of times? Most pundits simply shake their heads, and for us outsiders, it just seems sheer lunacy. My guess is that both of these teams in a few short years will be experiencing the same buyer’s remorse the Yankees are now undergoing.

But that was last off-season.

Josh Hamilton, arguably the biggest free agent position player available signed a contract, again with the Angels (where are they getting all this cash?), for exactly half of the Pujols deal. Now Hamilton comes with a checkered past, so it’s logical he wouldn’t rate what his teammate did, but doesn’t this contract seem much more sensible? You can certainly feel more comfortable as a team owner, knowing that your newly-signed player will more-likely be playing at a high level in five years than he will a decade later.

Of course, the Braves blow my sanity thesis out of the water with their signing of B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million deal. Is Upton worth it when he’s only hit .300 one time in his career and has seen declines in BA to the point where he hasn’t hit over .250 since 2008. But please notice that this deal, too, is for less time.

The Red Sox, God bless ’em, also made an odd signing, giving Shane Victorino a three-year, $39 million contract after one of his worst seasons. The thinking by them here, no doubt, is that at 32, last year’s performance with the Phillies was an aberration, but you’ve got to wonder. I like the Jays’ two-year deal with Melky Cabrera for $16 million. If he keeps his nose clean (and even the impending PED scandal A-Rod’s entangled in can’t hurt him because he was already suspended and served his time), this contract certainly does not carry the same kind of risk that the Sox are taking with Victorino. Are they indulging in a bit of magical thinking, perhaps?

Those are some examples from the current off-season. Regardless of the sensibility of some of the contracts, you will notice one important factor: suddenly the length of the contracts offered have been halved or better. It is a small step towards financial sanity and has probably sent major shockwaves through the ranks of baseball agents, but I believe it is a good sign.

The Yankees can certainly afford the silly contract they gave Rodriguez if needs must, but there are other teams that have thrown around their future money with joyous-seeming abandon. The Tigers are not a large-market team and they could well rue the day Fielder joined their roster. I’d hate to see teams run into major financial difficulties because they didn’t use their heads when signing players.

Heck, I might as well close with the really major feature of this year’s off-season: the Yankees didn’t make any huge deals and actually reduced their salary by a good deal to get under the $189 million dollar cap. If the team occupying one of baseball’s penthouses is starting to watch the nickels and dimes, watch out!

Better (financial) times may be ahead, and while I hate to say it, Bug Selig’s plan to bring parity to baseball has chalked up one more victory.


John Trembath said...

Great article Rick. NO, I don't thinks sanity is brdaking out just yet. Not until a true cap comes in place. I agree long term contracts rarely payoff. The "cap" for this season is the same as last $179 million. $189 for 2014.
Chump change.

Rick Blechta said...

If $189 million is chump change for you, John, I really need to hang with you a lot more!