Baseball Movement

The baseball winter meetings are over and there were certainly a sufficient number of trades and free agent signings to keep the seamheads busy for a couple of weeks. I will not pretend to have an opinion on all of those player movements but there were a few that I found interesting.

I think that the trade of Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler is an interesting swap – but not for the reasons that most folks expressed. Yes, the trade gives the Rangers a power hitter and it opens the way for them to play two very good young players in the middle infield together. Yes, Kinsler gives the Tigers lots of lineup flexibility and it gives the team financial flexibility too. I find the trade interesting because it gives context to the Robinson Cano signing in Seattle.

Obviously, I do not have access to all of the contracts that I am going to discuss here so I cannot say absolutely that the figures are exactly accurate but I believe these are the five biggest contracts in total value ever in baseball:

    A-Rod: His contract with the Yankees that is in force now

    A-Rod: His contract with the Rangers – the one he opted out of during a World Series.

    Pujols: His current contract with the Angels

    Cano: The contract he just signed with the Mariners.

    Fielder: His current contract – the one he takes with him from the Tigers to the Rangers.

Allow me to look at the Mariners’ acquisition of Robinson Cano in that context.

    A-Rod’s current contract with the Yankees presents even that team with a financial burden they hope to escape from – at least in part – based on the current arbitration hearing. Assuming no relief from the hearing, the Yankees have A-Rod through the 2017 season and will pay him $114M in base salary over that time. He may get another $20M in bonuses for reaching certain HR milestone numbers.

    A-Rod’s previous contract with the Rangers was for 10 years and $252M. All that contract seemed to do for the Rangers was to bankrupt the team and force it to be sold.

    Albert Pujols contract with the Angels is 10 years and $240M and it runs through 2021. The Angels still owe him $212M in base salary and there are incentive clauses in there too that could give him more than $750K in any given year. For the first two years of that contract, most folks would agree that the Angels have not gotten much of a value.

    Prince Fielder’s contract is for 9 years and $214M in base salary. It runs through 2020 and the remaining value for the Rangers is $168M in 7 equal payments over the next 7 years. Unless fielder wins the MVP award twice in the next seven years, the bonus clauses there are not very large. From the Detroit perspective, it surely appears as if two years of that contract were sufficient to seek to get out from under it.

Now that brings us to Robinson Cano’s deal, which goes through the 2023 season and calls for 10 equal payments of $24M. Cano is a very good player now; by every historical precedent, he will not be playing second base at a high level of proficiency by the end of his contract. Cano is 31 years old now. Let me look at the top level of second basemen over baseball’s history – the ones in the Hall of Fame – to see what they were doing in their late 30s and early 40s. Here is a sampling:

    Nap Lajoie played until he was 41. With a career batting average of .338, his final 3 seasons were all .280 and below.

    Rogers Hornsby played until he was 41. In his final 5 seasons, however he only played in a total of 123 games.

    Eddie Collins played until he was 43. From age 39 forward, however, he only appeared in a total of 143 games.

    Charlie Gehringer played until he was 39. With a career batting average of .320, his final two seasons saw batting averages of .267 and .220.

    Joe Morgan played until he was 40. With a career batting average of .271, his final two seasons saw batting averages of .230 and .244.

Not to belabor the point, the odds are that Robinson Cano’s stats at the end of his contract are not likely to resemble the stats he brought to the negotiating table earlier this month. The issue for Mariners’ fans is how much those stats will drop off and how soon the decline will occur. If Mariners’ fans want to look at recent history, they can see that Cano has played in 160 games per year since 2007. The question is:

    Does that indicate that he is durable and will be there in good condition for all of his contract?

    Does that indicate that he has a lot of “mileage on his tires” and could flame-out early?

    You make the call…

Jacoby Ellsbury going to the Yankees from the Red Sox was news for lots of reasons but I prefer to look at the deal he signed in comparison to the one Curtis Granderson signed with the Mets after leaving the Yankees.

    Ellsbury gets 7 years (through 2020) at equal payments of $21.1M.

    Granderson gets 4 years (through 2017) at a total of $60M.

Both play the outfield; Ellsbury will make on average over the 4 years covered by Granderson’s contract 41% more than Granderson will make. My question is simple:

    Is Ellsbury really 41% better than Granderson? Since I think they are both good players, I am not sure the Yankees got a good value here.

Oh, by the way, if you look at the deal Hunter Pence signed, I am not sure that the Mets or the Yankees got good value for an outfielder…

Bob Molinaro had this observation regarding Ellsbury’s deal in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“With his seven-year, $153 million contract from the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury makes more per season than all but about a dozen current MLB players, but he’ll also make more than LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. What were the Yankees thinking?”

The Rangers signed Jose Contreras (age 42) to a 1-year deal. My first thought was that I was surprised that the Phillies did not acquire him because it seems as if the Phillies are hell-bent on assembling the oldest team in MLB. Then I just decided to check his stats and saw that in the last 3 seasons Contreras has only appeared in a total of 41 games and his ERA over those 41 appearances is 5.24. I guess that is too unproductive even for the Phillies in their quest for old middle relief pitchers…

The A’s signed Scott Kazmir to a 2-year contract worth $11M. The last time Kazmir pitched 200 innings in a season was in 2007. He missed all of the 2012 season; the last 2 seasons where he appeared in 25 or more games (2010 and 2013) his ERAs were 5.94 and 4.04. I am not into advanced pitching stats very much, but that seems like a generous payment for someone who has been a marginal starting pitcher since 2007.

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding another free agent who went to the Mets:

“What do you call it when Bartolo Colon’s season is shortened 50 games by a PED suspension?

“A semi-Colon.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

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Comments

  • Rich  On December 18, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Will you be sending Dwight Perry to his room?

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On December 18, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Rich:

      Yes that was a pun – - but in the context of some of Dwight Perry’s other puns, this one merely evokes a “groan” and not a directive that he go to his room.

  • Rich  On December 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    As for Cano’s lengthy contract, each one of the second basemen you mentioned are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and as Brian Cashman said when Cano went for the ten years, he was on a Hall of Fame track with the Yankees. The Yankees learned by experience that these long contracts can backfire, especially when the team can’t sell those expensive seats behind home plate. Over the years players have used the Yankees as leverage for big bucks elsewhere, and Cano seems to have levered himself into the stratosphere, but away from New York. Pete Rose (who also finished his career with some bland numbers) unkindly said that Cano even got a month’s extra vacation with the contract, as he won’t have to play in October.

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On December 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Rich:

      I do not question Cano’s performance on the field for the next several years – unless he comes down with a terminal case of “Fat Wallet Syndrome” – but like the Yankees, I have come to be very suspicious of 8-10 year contracts for players in their early 30s. Maybe one of those deals will turn out to be a “great move” for both the player and the team; until I see one however…

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