Guest Writer Series: I Picked the Wrong Off-Season to Quit Drinking
by Scott Long
In the continuing series of having top Juiceblog readers offer up baseball pieces, Scott Fendley, better known around here as SMED, offers up his thoughts on the insanity that was this past off-season.
Scott is the Director of Advancement Services at Wabash College, which is a fancy term for managing the back office of the fund-raising machine. He’s been a baseball fan since he was a wee lad, and in love with baseball statistics since he bought his first package of baseball cards in1972 and saw all of those neat numbers on the back of Harmon Killebrew’s card. He’s owned baseball games by Sports Illustrated, Extra Innings, APBA, and Pursue the Pennant, and currently is replaying the 1976 and 1971 seasons on Diamond Mind.
Scott is a co-founder of The Baseball Clubhouse, a small forum set up to intelligently discuss baseball and other things, and also covers sports for the Paper of Montgomery County and writes about music, family life, and other nonsense at Smed’s Corner. He also somehow hornswaggled himself into being a commenter on Deadspin.
By Scott Fendley
The spring training games are starting to wind down, and while most of the country is either lamenting or praising their bracket predictions, or still recovering from their Super Bowl party, some of us are starting to scan box scores to see if they can uncover that one sleeper rookie that no one will select in their fantasy draft. (Like that’ll happen!)
However, some of us fans are still reeling from the inanity of this past off-season in baseball.
As you know, general managers and owners everywhere around baseball woke up after the World Series and said to themselves, “Hey, we’ve got more money than we’ve ever dreamed of, and we’d better spend it!” Even Scrooge McDuck…er…Carl Pohlad, opened his wallet a little bit.
(Of course, just a few years ago, they were all crying poverty, which was a crock, since all of the owners were wealthy, yet they were claiming they were as bad off financially as the Phillies and Browns during the 1930s. It’s almost comical, really.)
While it’s great for owners and general managers to put their money where their mouth is and made great efforts to improve their team, this crop of free agent signings borders on ludicrousness.
You know it’s absolutely nutso when the Yankees are only the ninth ranked team in terms of free agent spending, and that’s not counting deals like Michael Young getting $80 million from Texas. Basically, they locked up their starting shortstop until 2013, which sounds good until you realize that he’s a second baseman trying to play shortstop, and he’ll be 36 in the last season of that contract.
The odds of Young playing the middle infield at 36 aren’t great, and his numbers aren’t that spectacular for any other position but the middle infield.
It’s not the dollars that they are throwing around. That’s really just Monopoly money, and I don’t care if some player is making $20 million a year or playing for room and board, as long as he’s producing. What’s insane is the length of these contracts.
Back in the day, we scoffed at Ted Turner when he signed Al Hrabosky for a contract that basically indentured the scowling lefty for life. (OK, it was five years plus a personal service contract, but still…)
Barry Zito is well worth the money he’s getting for a couple of seasons. But a seven year contract for a starting pitcher that’s pushing 30? Holy Wayne Garland, Batman!
Jason Schmidt, when healthy, is one of the top starters of the game. But only in five of his seasons has he started over 30 games. If I’m paying over $15 million a year for three years, I want to be sure I get 34 starts a year.
Carlos Lee will be an old 37 when his Houston contract is done. Lee has finally learned to take a walk, and has decent power, but he’s probably best served as a DH, and his speed will start to erode. And if he dips to his 2005 production, is that worth $100 million?
The Brewers gave Jeff Suppan over $10 million a year for four years to be, well, Jeff Suppan. The Brewers have a decent rotation with Sheets, Capuano, and Bush, but to give Suppan a four year deal? He’s the kind of pitcher that screams out for a one or two year pact to stay a bit hungry.
Oh, there’s more. The Angels thought that Gary Matthews, Jr. was worth a 5-year commitment, when he’ll be 36 at the end of it and his career OPS+ is STILL under 100. Ah, well, he’s scrappy, I guess. And then, they gave Justin Speier a four year deal at $4.5 million per year to be a bullpen slappy. They seem to have forgotten that they got great seasons out of guys like Brendan Donnelley, Ben Weber, and Scot Shields for a mere pittance. And if one falters (like Weber), it’s not that tough to take to jettison him and find another.
Texas gave Vince Padilla a three-year deal, when in 2004 and 2005 he spent time on the DL. The Rangers, I guess, haven’t learned from any of their past dealings with free agent pitchers. I guess Padilla could call Chan Ho Park, Mark Clark, and Ismael Valdes to see if the checks cleared.
Juan Pierre, outmaker, got five years and $44 million from the Dodgers. Pierre will be 33 when his deal is done, and probably will have his speed. But the issue is that for five years, he’ll be making 500+ outs a year and blocking any Dodgers center field prospects.
Boston, I guess, thinks that J. D. Drew find the magic elixir that will allow him to stay healthy and give a crap over the next five years. Now, the signing of Matsuzaka, I think, is a great gamble. A 35-year old J. D. Drew just scares me, though. The safest thing to do with Drew is probably DH him a lot, sort of what they had to do with Paul Molitor. Yet, with David Ortiz and Manny still hanging around, they can’t do that.
I haven’t even gotten to the Cubs, yet. Jim Hendry has spent this offseason spending money like a Menendez brother on parole, and for what?
Last year, the team had big trouble scoring runs, so he imports Alfonso Soriano, Mark DeRosa and Cliff Floyd. Oooh, I’m trembling. Mark DeRosa, a 32-year old with one decent full season, is one of the saviors? Color me skeptical.
Soriano had a great year, for him, but he still had an OPS lower than Aramis Ramirez did, and many Cubs fans are complaining about the length of time given to Ramirez on his new contract. Plus, his 8-year deal means that he’s a Cub until 2014. What about Matt Murton, Jim? What about Felix Pie? When Soriano gets old, what will you do with him and Ramirez AND Derek Lee?
But Hendry showed his true self in dealing with his pitchers. He’s got a couple of hothouse flowers in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, a stud in Carlos Zambrano, and some kids with some potential like Rich Hill and Shawn Marshall. What they needed were a couple of stop-gap veterans for a year or two to get through this period. The perfect deal would have been a Jeff Suppan for two years and Gil Meche for two years. (I’m laying off the Royals – they’ve had enough thrown at them).
Instead, Ted “Pictures of Lilly” gets a four year deal to be league average (or worse), and Jason Marquis comes to town for a while. If Eric Milton didn’t have the great nickname “Whiplash” it could definitely fit for Marquis. What’s worse, Marquis gets to hang around for three years. Joy.
With all of that, picking on Hendry for the Henry Blanco and Daryle Ward signings is just too easy. But at least the new Neifi, Tomas Perez, signed just a minor league deal.
So, I say this to all fans whose team has committed themselves to long-term contracts that effectively will block young players and will become millstones to their clubs in the 2010’s.