I have this theory about job offers: I think employers have this special and secret chart they use so that they can offer you PRECISELY as much money as it will take to make your decision ridiculously hard. They will never offer so much money that you go, “Oh, that’s a no-brainer*.” And they will never offer you so little that you think, “Well, that’s humiliating, forget that.” Nope, they will find the perfect middle, they will offer salaries that are just enough to keep you tossing and turning all night.
*Except in John Grisham books.
In this way, I think most things in life are priced at levels that meet our eye. That’s not to say that stuff isn’t overpriced — I’d say one-quarter of all conversation revolves around how expensive stuff is.*
*The conversation chart around my life looks a bit like this:
25% How stuff is too expensive
15% General hotness level of various people.
12% Pop Culture
5% Sports (overall)
5% Sports specific to Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods and LeBron James
3% “The coach/manager/server at this restaurant/neighbor/pilot/doctor/anyone else suck at what they do.”
1% Religion and politics and family and science and current events and stuff like that.
1% Justin Bieber
But my feeling is that while stuff IS expensive, it’s usually not bizarrely expensive. By that I mean, yes, someone may point out that a night out at a middling chain restaurant might cost too much money.* They can’t believe movie ticket prices these days. They find that they actually WILL pay a lot for this muffler.
But after a while, unless you’re one of those people who keeps getting surprised by the same thing, the effect of price will wear off. Yes, at first, it sure seemed like coffee at Starbucks cost an unreasonable amount of money since coffee used to be a dime with all the refills you ever wanted. But now, when someone complains about the price at Starbucks, it sounds dated, like people who still use Roseanne as a reference point for culture jokes. A movie ticket is 14 bucks or 18 bucks or 20 bucks … but the only people who are shocked by this are people who don’t go to movies.
Then … there are some things that ALWAYS seems preposterously expensive no matter how many times you see the price. These I have decided to call: Texpensives. Yes, it’s my latest word. A texpensive (noun) means something (person, place, thing) that seems bizarrely, even comically, overpriced. It can also be used as an adjective, I suppose, though I don’t like it as much that way. Still it could. Example: Buying a World Cup is texpensive.
The word origin is pretty easy to explain. “Expensive” is obvious. The “Tex” part of it, can refer to state of Texas, where the state takes great pride in making everything absurdly large. But the real inspiration is Mark Teixeira. Really, the word should be spelled “Teixpensives” but having once lost a spelling bee on the word “chocolate” — who needs that second “o” anyway? — I don’t like unnecessarily complicated spelling words.
Tex is a terrific player, absolutely terrific, and I don’t want anyone to miss that point. But his contract seems to be bizarrely out of step with his reality. His contract is eight years, $180 million. Starting this season, he will get $22.5 million per year for the next six years. It is the fifth-largest total value contract ever given out (two of those are Alex Rodriguez deals), and Teixeira will be the third-highest paid every day player in baseball in 2011 (behind only Alex Rodriguez and Joe Mauer).
Why? Is Mark Teixeira the third-best player in baseball? No. Is he the best first baseman in baseball. No. That’s Albert Pujols. Is he second best? Third best? Fourth best? Maybe. But maybe not. After a while you look at the other best first basemen — and you realize a lot of them can hit about as well as Teixeira. Here are the Top OPS+ for first basemen over the last five seasons:
1. Albert Pujols, 177
2. Miguel Cabrera, 152
3. Joey Votto, 151
4. Lance Berkman, 143
5. Adrian Gonzalez, 141
6. Ryan Howard, 141
7. Prince Fielder, 140
8. Mark Teixeira, 138
9. Justin Morneau, 137
10. Carlos Pena, 134
11. Kevin Youkilis, 131
12. Paul Konerko, 126
Tex is a better fielder than many of these, so that adds value. He’s 30, so you would hope he still has some awesome years left in him. But that contract just seems a bit out of touch with the excellent but not exactly unique player that is Mark Teixeira. Why him? He seems like a texpensive to me.
The most obvious texpensive in today’s America, I think, are these high end razor blades. No matter how many times I see the futuristic names of these razors (Fusion! Mach 3!) and the absurd star-studded commercials, no matter how many times I hear the promises of getting a shave that will be just one notch below sex, I still cannot fathom how much razor blades cost. Both 16 razors the other day at Costco — I needed to have someone co-sign the loan.
Food around Times Square is texpensive. It’s a cliche, but it’s real. The other day, we went to lunch at Maxie’s — one of about 594 famous delicatessens near Times Square — and there were three of us, and each of us ordered something like an open faced cheese sandwich. The sandwiches all looked identical — like grilled cheese sandwiches not pushed together. One might have had tuna in it, another bacon, but basically three cheese-based sandwiched. And three sodas. Go ahead, give me a guess — how much do you think? Understand, if you ordered that exact thing at Carolyn’s Kitchen in Marysville, Kan., it would cost you, tip included, $8.50, maybe, and that’s if they decided to charge you at all (“All you want is cheese, honey?”).
At Maxie’s, it cost us 91 bucks, though I should say that included tip. I’m sorry, I’m going to repeat that: It cost us 91 dollars. For three cheese sandwiches and Cokes.
Well, there are a lot of examples of texpensives — real estate in San Francisco, radio talk show hosts (last I heard, Howard Stern was making a billion-jillion-shmillion dollars a year), anything to do with landscaping and so on.
But I suppose baseball players are the main texpensives in the world today. Every year, several players who you never thought were especially good will get ludicrous contracts. Every … single … year you will hear about Jose Guillen or Oliver Perez or Juan Pierre getting a lot of money and you think … really?
Sometimes, often, the baseball texpensives are right handed pitchers just on either side of 30 who are league average or just above league average, usually coming off pretty good years. This seems to be the number one need in baseball — an “inning eater.” Who knew that league average innings were so valuable, but apparently they are gold.
A.J. Burnett is the ultimate example — he was a good-enough right-handed pitcher coming off a slightly-better-than-average season (2.9 WAR), and he had proven over a number of years to be at his height a slightly-better-than-average pitcher (sometimes) and the Yankees gave him a five-year, $82.5 million. It’s pretty clear they have absolutely no idea what to do with him now.
And while this is the most texpensive of the good-enough right-handed deals, it is hardly the most outrageous. Chan Ho Park is probably the original crazy contract — Texas gave him five years and about $64 million after he pitched fairly well in the intense pitchers park that is Dodger Stadium. Amazing how often brilliant people with millions and millions of dollars at stake will not look park effects — more on this in a minute. Kevin Millwood got a lot of money coming off his best year. And there are many others, to name a few: Jeff Suppan, Todd Stottlemeyre, Aaron Sele, Vincente Padilla, Jason Marquis, Carl Pavano, Gil Meche, Aaron Cook, Matt Clement, Kris Benson Carlos Silva … all of these and many others got paid big bucks around the time they turned 30 for being good but not great.
Teams have had different layers of success with these signings, but the main point is that right-handed pitchers who reach age 30 with some big league innings and just above league average numbers will cost way, way, way more than seems necessary. And that’s a texpensive (“Carlos Silva got WHAT?”)
Another baseball texpensive — the seven year, $126 million player. That is exactly $18 million a year for seven years, if you want to work the math, and this tasty deal has been given to three players in baseball history.
1. Barry Zito.
This signing probably got the worst instant reviews of any in baseball history. Zito of course won a Cy Young Award, but he had been a vaguely above average pitcher for three years before the Giants signed him to the seven-year, $126 million deal. He was turning 29, his stuff was clearly declining. Nobody really understood this move and it turned out from just about the first day to be even worse than most people expected. Zito has been below average for four years, he wasn’t even on the Giants postseason roster, and he has three years left.
2. Vernon Wells
A year ago, I called this the worst contract in baseball. That was when Wells was coming off his disastrous 2009 season when he didn’t hit, didn’t field, didn’t run and still had almost $100 million left on his deal. But I’ve amended this somewhat because Wells rebounded with a pretty good 2010. He hit well in Toronto, anyway.* But I should say that the main problems with this deal remain — Wells is turning 32 this week, he is closing in on unplayable in center field, he still doesn’t walk, he’s not running nearly as well on the bases. It’s not impossible that he could have a fine second career in his 30s, but it’s certainly no sure thing. And there are four big years and $86 million left on that contract.
*I didn’t realize this, but all of Wells improvement came at home in 2010. All of it.
At home, Wells hit a spectacular .321/.363/.628 with 20 homers. … This was after he hit .214/.285/.348 at home in 2009.
But on the road in 2010, Wells was, um, not too good. He hit .227/.301/.407 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs. That’s the player we all saw in 2009.
Of course a player gets 81 games at home … and so the overal year was pretty good. Anyway, I don’t know what this crazy split means. In 2009, Wells also had a huge split difference but it was a reverse split — he hit .300 with more power on the road while not hitting at all at home.
3. Jayson Werth
And finally, we come to Werth who just signed that magical 7-year, $126 million deal with Washington. Werth has been a good player for a while, and he was very good in 2010. He’s good defensively, he’s a good base runner, he led the National League in doubles, he will take a walk. He is a fine player. But …
Just that: But. No reason to fill in all the reasons this deal was wacko for the Nationals. Who signs a soon-to-be 32-year-old outfielder who has had exactly one outstanding season (and a couple of a good ones) to a seven-year-deal at $18 million per? Who does that?
There are so many reasons this deal is absurd that it’s hard to pick just one … but ballpark is not a bad place to start. Philadelphia is not the hitter’s haven people that so many think, but it is a good home run ballpark. It’s not a GREAT home run park like it was four years ago, but it’s good. And Washington is not a good home run park at all.
What does this mean for Werth? In 2010, he hit 27 home runs — 18 of them at home. In 2009, he hit 36 home runs — 21 at home. From this you would take that Werth’s home runs figure to go down, perhaps dramatically, in Washington. It strikes me as insane that Washington people would not see this …
… but then I thought of something else and looked it up. And sure enough, I was right.
In 2010, Werth hit .419/.500/806 in eight games in Washington.
In 2009, Werth hit .306/.359/.915 in eight games in Washington.
Yep. He crushed the ball in Washington. And, though I don’t know, I would not be surprised if these 16 games of hitting played in the Nationals thinking. Hey, look how well Werth hit in Washington! He loves this ballpark! He owns this place!
Of course, it’s only 16 games. And it was against Washington pitching. And it’s only 16 games. And also it’s only 16 games. But big-money baseball signings are often emotional things, no matter how much people try to eliminate their personal feelings. My guess is that Washington desperately wants a star, someone to spark their potentially rich baseball market. Stephen Strasburg is hurt and in limbo. Bryce Harper is still off in the future.
Is Jayson Werth a star? No, probably not in the mind of most people. But there is what I like to call a “small market squint.” That is general managers squinting until the player in question LOOKS like a star. The SMS is what make Jose Guillen look like a “proven run producer” to the Royals. It’s what made Jeff Suppan look like “a winner” to Milwaukee.” And Jayson Werth, well, he might be the biggest everyday free agent out there — The Red Sox wanted him! Scott Boras thinks he’s great! And he has played for a World Series Champ. And on top of that he loved hitting at Nationals Park. How could he miss?
I fear it’s simple thoughts like this that turn good players into texpensives.