The MLB Winter Meetings

The MLB Winter Meetings came and went; given the high profile of some free agents this winter, most folks assess that “nothing much happened” during the week in Las Vegas.  I tend to agree with that kind of analysis and I want to offer a possible basis for the outcome of “nothing much happening” there.

I kept flipping over to MLB Network all during the meetings to see if there was any “breaking news” or “really hot insider info” to be had.  There was not, and I began to feel badly for the MLB Network folks on camera on the set.  They soldiered on giving us reasons why this free agent would be a good fit with that team or possibly some other team.  Advanced analytics stats were thrown around like confetti after a Super Bowl game.  It became painful to have to watch all those folks sit there and find new ways to say:

  • “Ain’t nuthin happenin’ here…”

At one point they had as a guest some random guy in the personnel department for some team and they were fantasizing about what might happen if all of a sudden, the dam burst and a gaggle of free agents signed on with new teams over a short period of time.  It was such wishful thinking that I started to think that the MLB Network hosts deserved to win an Emmy for this coverage.  The basis for the award could be:

  • Not grabbing a half dozen MLB GMs by the throat demanding that they all do something – anything – even if it’s wrong in order to break the monotony.

And it was in that formulation for my imaginary Emmy that I recognized why it was that nothing was happening.  Maybe, too many GMs remembered some of the things that had gotten done with free agents in the past that turned out to be so wrong.  Maybe caution was the order of the day.  Probably the biggest signing event was Patrick Corbin signing with the Nats.

  • The deal is reported to be 6 years and $140M.
  • Corbin is 29 years old; at the end of this deal he will be 35.
  • In the late years of the deal, he may indeed still be a stud – – or not…

That is an example – albeit not a terrible example – of the inherent risk involved in signing a player to a really long-term deal.  In far too many cases, the out-years for that deal become albatrosses around the necks of the teams.  I have done zero research into expensive free agent deals in baseball history that have blown up in the face of the teams that did the signing, but I have recalled some long-term deals given to active players who are hauling down big bucks currently and into the near future without performing anywhere near what one would expect.  I will list them here in descending order of the value of the contract:

  • Albert Pujols – 10 years and $240M.  The contract was signed in 2-12 and runs through 2021.  Pujols was perhaps THE dominant player in the game in 2010-2012 but he is now a shell of player.  He hit .245 with an OPS of .700 last year.  The Angels will pay him $28M in 2019, $29M in 2020 and then $30M in 2021.
  • Prince Fielder – 9 years $214M.  The contract was signed in 2012 and ran though 2020.  Fielder was productive in the first several years but had to retire after cervical fusion surgery in 2016.  Reports said that he was still owed $96M on that guaranteed contract.
  • Jayson Heyward – 8 years $184M.  This contract was signed in 2016 and runs through 2023.  Last year was Heyward’s best with the Cubs hitting .270 with an OPS of .731.  There are still 5 years to go here with about $115M still to be paid out.
  • Chris Davis – 7 years $161M:  This contract was signed in 2016 and runs through 2022.  There is still $92M left to pay out on this contract and in 2018 Davis hit .168 with an OPS of .539.
  • Homer Bailey – 6 years and $105M.  This is a particular favorite of mine because it is a cautionary tale for signing pitchers long term.  The deal was signed in 2014 and will likely expire after next year (there is a mutual option in the contract for 2020).  From 2015 through 2018, Bailey has started a total of 46 games.  If my calculation is correct, his ERA over that 4-year span was 6.22; his record last season was 1-14.

I’m sure that data mining would produce other examples of long-term deals that have come to bite teams and GMs in the butt as badly as the ones above, but I think you get my point here.  Maybe the Winter Meetings were dull and boring for good reasons…

When March Madness rolls around and the Selection Committee has to include one team at the expense of another team – causing weeping and gnashing of teeth in the land – one of the factors considered is “strength of schedule”.  That is hard to quantify but let me present to you two “out of conference” schedules for two small Catholic schools to demonstrate what I mean by the eyeball test for such a criterion.

First is the “out-of-conference schedule” to date for Georgetown:

  1. Maryland-Eastern Shore
  2. Central Connecticut State
  3. Illinois
  4. Loyola-Marymount
  5. South Florida
  6. Campbell
  7. Richmond
  8. Liberty
  9. Syracuse
  10. SMU

Now consider the “out-of-conference schedule” to date for Gonzaga:

  1. Idaho St.
  2. Texas Southern
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Illinois
  5. Arizona
  6. Duke
  7. North Dakota St.
  8. Creighton
  9. Washington
  10. Tennessee
  11. UNC

If you cannot see the difference in the quality of the opponents for those two schedules, then you ought not be allowed to complain about any decision made by the Selection Committee in March.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found an interesting tidbit for comment out of the MLB Winter Meetings:

“The Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto, despite coming down seriously ill during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, nonetheless pulled off a three-team swap from his hospital bed.

“It’s believed to be the first deal in MLB history that’s contingent on a GM passing his physical.”

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