In How I Met Your Mother, Ted is arguing with Lilly about whether he should pursue Robin. (I know, I’m on the first season, still). Lilly says that it’s a mistake, and Ted responds, saying that sometimes you need to make a mistake, even when you know it’s a mistake. And isn’t this true? You know that guy is just going to break your heart, but you go out with him anyway; you know that you shouldn’t have the second plate of wings, but they’re just so tasty; and you know that you shouldn’t sign a player whose production during the last year of a contract is far superior than his career averages, but we have to look like we’re doing something to make our team better.
That last clause can’t be right. I mean, in a relationship you’re guided by desire, heart and libido. While eating wings, you’re guided by your taste buds, which will let you down any chance they get. But a professional sports team? Worth millions and millions of dollars? They wouldn’t be so foolish as to be duped into signing someone based on one year of production and ignore a long career and statistical sample size. Yet, that’s exactly what so many of them do. The player who is setting up the opportunity for himself this year: Jose Reyes.
Reyes has had an excellent career: a plus hitter and great base stealing speed but an average (at best) defender at the short stop position. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t get a good contract. But he should get one that’s based on his career production, not based on one year of eight with the hope that he keeps up that intensity and production. I’m scared of players who play that much better when a contract is on the line. It shows their motivation, and I don’t want to give a long contract to someone who seems to be most motivated when their next pay day is on the line.
Despite this, he’ll be paid over a hundred million dollars and given six years. Teams are too afraid to lose fans because of apparent inaction; they panic and force their own hand, and then they hand out crippling contracts. The Red Sox did it two years ago with Lackey and this year with Crawford. The big problem is that there will consistently be teams that, like the Red Sox, will overpay for players and set the market high – it’s bad for baseball, and this is coming from a Red Sox fan.
If I learned anything from my Sox signing Carl Crawford to a 7 year multi-kajillion dollar deal it’s this: it’s the bad contracts that set the market. The Nationals screwed it up last off season by signing Jayson Werth to a deal that was way more than he was worth. The bar was set. Crawford is younger and more skilled than Werth, he certainly should get a better contract. It doesn’t matter what that skill set is worth, the formula is take what the last guy got paid, add a year and add a few million.
It’s usually the years that kill the teams more than the money. I can’t blame the players; Crawford wants job security until he’s 36, and that makes sense. But is he really worth 21 million at the age of 36? He’s not a slugger; he’s a player built on his physical ability to play great defense, score from first base, steal a lot of bases, and stretch a lot of singles into doubles and doubles into triples. That skill set doesn’t age well. It’s a bad baseball move. But what choice do they have?
That may seem like a rhetorical question, but it isn’t. If a team is smart, they won’t go above a certain number of years. You can’t let angry fans dictate millions of dollars. The Yankees are getting handcuffed by deals for Jeter and Posada right now, and two years from now they’ll be paying 30 million for a DH that can hopefully still walk to first (Alex Rodriguez can’t play third forever, but they are paying him until he’s 41). It’s the Yankees, they obviously don’t care about the money and have ruined baseball because a player will always know that he can get overpaid to play with a big market team. But this year it’s starting to hurt their roster. Posada doesn’t want to bat ninth, but now he’s a number nine hitter. Jeter is still batting second, but he has one of the lowest on base percentages of the team. I can gloat now, but I have problems of my own on the way.
Andddddddddddddddddddd they’re here:
Why in the world did Epstein sign Lackey as their highest paid pitcher. Like Reyes, he was solid heading into free agency, but he’s not as good as his contract. Lackey was a panic signing. They needed to improve their starting pitching. He was the best pitcher on the free agent market. So they paid him like an ace, when he is a good number three (at best). He has pretty solid career stats, but he fails the eye test, he just doesn’t have “it.” The “it” that’s necessary to put a guy away, rather than create a fifteen pitch at bat to try to induce a fly ball out.
That brings me to an interesting point that I’ve wanted to touch on, but didn’t want to write an entire blog on. So I’ll stick it in here, where it’s only mildly awkward. Epstein has had a really polarizing career. He has made some incredible moves. He found diamond roll players like Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar; the Red Sox don’t win the 2004 World Series without them. He drafted franchise players like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury who have all contributed to the major league team. And with that strong farm system, he has been able to trade for players, like Adrian Gonzalez, and not completely destroy his farm system (they traded their top pitching and top hitting prospects).
I think he just needs to be on a small market team. He’s that guy that always seems to live the same lifestyle, no matter his income. Not making much money? That’s cool, I won’t eat out or buy a new phone. I got a Christmas bonus? Let’s go to the steak house and pick up an iphone on the way. Because he has made some horrendous moves with all that money: signing J.D. Drew to fourteen million a year, which was probably a move to get on Boras’ good side so they could have an upper hand in the Matsuzaka sweepstakes; signing Matsuzaka, and he paid over fifty million just to negotiate with Matsuzaka’s team in Japan; Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, and John Lackey are all prime examples of just overpaying for players that didn’t pan out, at all.
So, I wonder if Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino (Sox owner) had the same conversation as Ted and Lilly before signing John Lackey (I’ll call that the most recent awful signing, because I still have faith in Crawford)
“Theo, you’re making a big mistake. He’s trending the wrong way. He hates pitching in Fenway. And the guy shows his own players up when they make an error; he’s a hot head. What’s going to happen when he has a rough start and starts yelling at his own players? It won’t be good,” says Lucchino, as he supportively places his hand on Epsteins forearm.
“I know it’s a mistake,“ says Theo, softly, intentionally. “But sometimes you have to make a mistake, even when you know it’s a mistake.”
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