Friday, December 08, 2006

Free Agent Dementia

When I was a kid, I got a Sports Illustrated subscription for Christmas. One of the first magazines I received had an editorial by Leigh Montville that presented a fictional scenario where Jose Canseco and Roger Clemens were lying on a beach comparing their newly acquired $4 million dollar deals. In 1990, these deals were considered the pinnacle of out-of-control spending. Sixteen years later and a player strike later, a #3 starting pitcher with a track record for mediocrity is getting $11 million a year to play for the worst team in the Majors.

A few weeks ago, ESPN's Buster Olney suggested that the best thing some GM's could do in this baseball off-season would be to tell their respective owners to pocket their money in view of next season. Turns out he was bang on as usual. The ridiculous deals that are being struck because of a thin free agent market are going to haunt Major League Baseball for years to come. A few examples:

  • Coming off a year in which he missed 30 games and hit .270 with 26 home runs, Barry Bonds signed a one-year deal worth $16 million to play for the Giants. So much for the hometown discount.
  • Ted Lilly, a career .500 pitcher, signed a 4-year deal worth $40 million. He could have gotten $44 million to return to the Blue Jays.
  • Gil Meche, a similar player to Lilly, signed a 5-year deal worth $55 million to play for the Royals. The Blue Jays were offering a similar deal, but I guess their desire to win was too high. For four more million per year, the Royals would have been in the hunt for ace Jason Schmidt.
  • The Anaheim Angels signed Gary Matthews Jr., an outfielder with one good season (the Rangers had tried for years to rid themselves of him), to a 5-year, $50 million deal. If I'm Vernon Wells' agent, I'm salivating.
This is the most insane off-season I can remember. All this is going on without the Yankees even getting involved. My advice for J.P. Ricciardi: try and get Mark Redman, but don't overspend. Take all that cash you were going to splurge on Lilly/Meche and re-sign Wells (if he's willing - not a gimme). For a fifth starter, go with Josh Towers. Or Casey Janssen. Or Shaun Marcum. Easier said than done, yes, but we're already on Plan F here.