By In Stuff

Money money money

You probably know that one of Bud Selig’s big objectives as commissioner of baseball was to even the playing field – that is, to give the small-market teams a chance to contend. A luxury tax was instituted. Wildcards were added to the playoffs. The amateur draft had numerous rules changed. Sure, many people thought it was all a ploy to take money from the players and give it to the owners – and let’s not be naïve, I’m sure some of it WAS a money grab – but I always thought that competitive balance really was an issue close to his heart. Selig had been a small-market owner. He had grown up a small-market baseball fan. He will talk passionately and often about how every fan should have hope on Opening Day – he borrowed that from me, by the way — and I feel sure he believes that.

Funny thing: Here at the end of his tenure, baseball is closer to Selig’s nirvana than perhaps ever before. As Brian McPherson writes in the Providence Journal, the correlation between money spent and winning is at its lowest point in a long, long time. McPherson writes that the correlation right now between wins and money is actually smaller than the correlation between wins and alphabetical order.

Why is this a funny thing?

Because, I believe the reason for whatever actual effect we are seeing is pretty directly tied to the steroid years that Selig has been running away from for more than a decade.

Before we get to that, let’s look quickly at the playoff picture. As it stands right now:

American League

East: Baltimore (15th in Opening Day payroll)

Central: Kansas City (19th)

West: Oakland (25th) and Los Angeles Angels (6th)

Wildcard No. 1: Oakland or LA

Wildcard No. 2: Seattle (18th)

National League

East: Washington (9th in Opening Day payroll)

Central: Milwaukee (16th)

West: Los Angeles Dodgers (1st)

Wildcard No. 1: St. Louis (13th)

Wildcard No. 2: San Francisco (7th)

So, as you can see, the game is not being dominated by the highest-payroll teams anymore – of the Top 5 payrolls, only the Dodgers are in the playoffs in the season ended today. This, however, is at least a bit deceiving. Detroit has a Top 5 payroll and is just 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City – I suspect most people suspect the Tigers will catch the Royals before it’s all done. And those vampire Yankees, the team Michael Schur will tell you cannot be killed, linger two-and-a-half games behind the Mariners for the second wildcard spot. If just those two things switch, suddenly six of the ten playoff teams will have Top 10 payrolls. So it’s possible to get carried away by the moment.

Still, something is happening. Philadelphia is in shambles with a huge payroll. The Red Sox are again in last place with a huge payroll. The vampire Yankees have been hot lately but I’m still not buying them and they have flashed a whole lot more mediocrity than promise this year. The Rangers have a huge payroll and are the worst team in baseball. The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks and Reds and even the Twins are trying to spend money but seem to be spinning their wheels or are in screaming descent.

So, why is this happening? I have a theory – one that directly relates to my belief that many baseball teams are doing something that is monumentally stupid. I’m referring to the huge, long-term deals that they are giving players – deals that last until the players are in their mid-to-late 30s, and sometimes even carries them into their 40s. These contracts are a death trap, a suicide rap, and while there are exceptions to every rule, there are never more than a few exceptions. Giving huge, long-term contracts to players in their late 20s or early 30s is self-destructive. Period.

Let’s look at those big payroll teams that are struggling.

No. 2 in payroll: Yankees. Even with Alex Rodriguez mostly off the books for a year, the Yankees have these suffocating long term deals with Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, heck, they just scooped up the next two years of Martin Prado for some reason.

No. 3 in payroll: Philadelphia. Covered this one. Almost 70% of their payroll is going to big deal guys — Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, A.J. Burnett and Jimmy Rollins. Throw another $16 million in the pot for Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd. What the heck could Ruben Amaro have been thinking?

No. 4 in payroll: Boston. The Red Sox salary structure is a bit different from the Yankees or Phillies… but they are still putting an old team on the field. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, all in their 30s. You can see them trying desperately to get younger now.

No. 8 in payroll: Texas. Lots of terrible contracts here – Prince Fielder for another six years, Shin Soo Choo for another six years, some big money about to kick in on Elvis Andrus. The Rangers have had terrible luck this year with health but this is a team staring into the barrels of some serious financial pain anyway.

So … what does this have to do with the Selig Era?

Well, there were two things that happened during the late 1990s and early 2000s that were unusual. One, of course, was the crazy proliferation of home runs. But the second was the way players aged. For a long time before the 1994 strike, players tended to age at more or less the same rate. There are countless ways to quantify this – I did a simple spreadsheet looking at players with 3.0 WAR or better. A player with 3.0 WAR is a good player (but not necessarily a great one) and there are usually 25 to 30 of them in any given season, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less.

For decades before the late 1990s, about 72% of those good 3.0 players were younger than 30. Almost all the rest were between 30 and 34. Very few were older than 35 –  from 1972-1997 only 16 of the 594 players with 3.0 WAR were 35 or older. This seemed the natural aging pattern of players.

Here, for your information, is an incomplete list of Hall of Famers and all-time greats who never had even a 3.0 WAR season after age 35: Rickey Henderson, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken, Johnny Bench, Robbie Alomar and Yogi Berra.

It changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1998, for instant, HALF the 3.0 WAR players were 30 or older. It was similar in the the surrounding years. If you include all the years from 1996 to 2004, more than 40% of all the 3.0 WAR players were at least 30 years old.

Beyond that, we suddenly started seeing 35-year olds performing at very high levels. People will immediately say that this was because of the popularization of PED use, and that was certainly a factor. It’s also possible there were other factors – smaller strike zones, smaller parks, better bats, many others. But whatever the reasons, there were a few years there where the idea of a player performing well until his mid-to-late 30s suddenly seemed reasonable.

My guess is that this seemingly reasonable conclusion that baseball players had started to beat the aging process was, in fact, quite unreasonable and it is probably the biggest factor in these massive, sprawling and utterly doomed long-term contracts. Teams started trying to lock up player’s last year for huge dough. Best I can tell, there are 22 players who are signed for big money for at least five seasons after this one. They are:

Atlanta: Freddie Freeman.

Boston: Dustin Pedroia.

Cincinnati: Shin-Soo Choo; Joey Votto.

Colorado: Troy Tulowitzki.

Detroit: Justin Verlander; Miguel Cabrera.

Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols; Mike Trout.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp; Clayton Kershaw.

Milwaukee: Ryan Braun.

New York Mets: David Wright.

New York Yankees: Jacoby Ellsbury; Masahiro Tanaka.

San Francisco: Buster Posey.

Seattle: Robinson Cano; Felix Hernandez.

Texas: Elvis Andrus; Prince Fielder.

Washington: Ryan Zimmerman.

How many of those contracts would you want? Before you answer, consider that these are mostly newer contracts – we don’t have any perspective on them yet. But we do have perspective on the LAST batch of big-money contracts – here are the big money contracts running out the next three years: Vernon Wells; Alfonso Soriano; Cliff Lee; C.C. Sabathia; Matt Holliday; Ryan Howard; Mark Teixeira; Josh Hamilton, Jayson Werth; Matt Cain; Carl Crawford; Alex Rodriguez; Jose Reyes.

How many of THOSE contracts would you want?

Baseball owners’ and GM’s madness for big money contracts to aging players has, in its own way, evened the game more than anything else Selig or any other commissioner has done. The Yankees stopped developing their own players and bought their way into a pit. The Red Sox had a couple of only moderate seasons, went on a shopping spree, and bought their way to their two worst seasons in the last half century or so. The Phillies spent a crazy fortune in a hopelessly misguided effort to keep a good team together well past its expiration date.

Even the high-spending teams that are doing well this year – the Angels and Dodgers in particular – are basically tiptoeing around some calamitous contracts.

There’s a great line in The Office where the HR representative Toby – who knows that the boss Michael despises him – finds himself stuck in the back with the impossibly annoying Kelly and Ryan, who spend all hours fighting and making up and fighting more. “I don’t think Michael meant to punish me by putting me here with them,” he said. “But if he did – genius.”

That’s what I see here too. I don’t think Bud Selig meant to even up the game by getting the big teams to wasted their huge money advantages on old and rapidly declining players. But hey, if he did – genius.

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36 Responses to Money money money

  1. Joe, Albert Pujols still has 7 years on his deal till the age of 41!?! Should add it to your list.

  2. Joe says:

    Miguel Cabrera’s behemoth hasn’t even begun yet!

  3. Bob Loblaw says:

    Cole Hamels as well was left off. But the even bigger reason is that the teams with big money aren’t the best GMs. If you put Billy Bean on the Phillies and put Ruben Amaro on the A’s, the A’s would suck in 2 years and Bean would probably be orgasmic with all the money he gets to spend and all the great younger players he gets to keep before they hit the FA market.

    Common sense dictates that ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, teams that spend more money will win. In that ALL ELSE includes the skill of the GM.

    • Steve says:

      But what are those teams spending money on? What have the Yankees spent money on in the last five years that has helped them? Tanaka is an obvious one — a mid-20s ace from Japan. Who else? Every other big-ticket signing has fallen well short of expectations.

      • Bob Loblaw says:

        Cashman is nowhere near the GM as Beane and Freedman. Put Beane on the Yankees and they would probably win every other World Series.

        • 18thstreet says:

          I think this is somewhat irrelevant. Brian Cashman’s job is to field a winning team, not to field a winning team with a limited payroll. Lots of teams are expensive failures; the Yankees compete year after year.

          • Bob Loblaw says:

            I guess if you take my comment on its own, without reading the rest of the thread and why it was written in the first place, then sure it is irrelevant. However, when taken in context with the rest of the thread, you would see that what I am saying is that the skill of the GM has as much if not more to do than the amount of money spent. A great GM with no money will still field winners(Beane, Freedman are great GMs). A horrible GM with an unlimited payroll will still fail(Amaro sucks). An average GM with money will win, but not as often as a great GM(Cashman is about average)

          • 18thstreet says:

            Sorry to make you so defensive. I understood what you said, just fine.

            And I stand by my belief that Cashman has been very good at spending piles of money. I don’t think he’s remotely average.

          • Bob Loblaw says:

            I think if you put Cashman on the A’s or Rays with limited budget, he would not have the success as either Beane or Freedman. He may be slightly above average, but that’s it. He’s good at spending money, but I don’t think he is nearly as good at building a minor league system. Even Theo has shown to be far better than Cashman. Where are the stud Yankees that are up-and-comers?

          • 18thstreet says:

            But that wasn’t his job. It’s sorta like wondering if Mike Trout would make a great first baseman.

            Cashman has been given nearly unlimited resources, and has consistently put together a competitive team with those resources. If I were the Rays, I don’t think I’d want him as my GM. If I were the Yankees? I’d rather have Theo Epstein, but I still think Cashman is doing a good job.

            In Moneyball, Billy Beane said that the first thing he’d do — once he took the Red Sox’ job — was to trade away Jason Varitek. And while I can understand his thinking, I think this demonstrates that Beane, for all his genius, wouldn’t necessarily be a great GM for a large-market club.

            Heck, we’ll never know. I’m not 100 percent sure what we’re even arguing about.

        • bl says:

          I think you’re just wrong. You are completely overlooking the fact that Beane is afforded the time to build a team. He is not required to win every year. He is not required to even make it look like he is trying to win every year. He does not get skewered for failing to sign the big free agent or letting the popular player leave. If Beane ran the Yankees he may do a better job than Cashman, but he wouldn’t be doing the job he’s doing now. He would have to sign players he may not necessarily want because of ownership demands. He would have to trade prospects to make a mid-season upgrade. And he would have fewer prospects because his drafting position would be worse.

          • Bob Loblaw says:

            Are we talking about the Yankees circa 1998 or circa 2014? Because I don’t think Cashman is anywhere NEAR under the pressure to do what you are saying today. Maybe when the Boss was alive. But now? I think for at least the last 5 years, Cashman has had carte blanch to do whatever he wants without any problems from Hank or anybody else. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t feel like he has had to do more or less than he wanted to do.

  4. 18thstreet says:

    The Pedroia deal is interesting in that it pays him LESS in the last two years of the deal.

    Via’s Cot’s: 14:$12.5M, 15:$12.5M, 16:$13M, 17:$15M, 18:$16M, 19:$15M, 20:$13M, 21:$12M

    • Anon says:

      I’ve been wondering for YEARS why teams don’t do that more often. I’m sure they view it like taxes – the more you can defer it, the better. Period, end of discussion. TO me though, I think it would make a lot more sense to pay someone like Miggy $30M now so you can pay him $15-20M at the end.

  5. Cris E says:

    This is close, but not quite right. There are examples of these deals that do work out, like Jeter’s previous 10 year deal, Ichiro signed two contractswith SEA covering nine years that worked out well, Miguel Cabrera’s last deal was very good (but not so much the extension) and on and on. It’s not hard to find examples either way, and it mostly maps to if a guy got hurt or not. Performance usually doesn’t drop for no reason, but injuries do happen and can crush the value of a contract. (This is a fact of life when signing pitchers.)

    But what’s changed isn’t the expectation that these guys will be good ballplayers in their dotage. Dave Winfield’s huge Yankees deal ran through his 38 season, and in 1983 the Angels gave Reggie Jackson a three year deal for almost a million per that covered ages 37-39. Both of these deals ran into serious problems with injury and mediocrity, and I’m not sure anyone was terribly surprised.

    The thing that used to characterize these deals was the crazy, big city, mind-blowing extravagance of them. Seeing George or the Cowboy or Ted Turner whip out the checkbook and shatter expectations was part of the off-season entertainment each year. And more often than not that’s a lot of what it amounted to as well: the resulting baseball didn’t live up to expectations. But it worked often enough to still be a worthwhile gambit when so many teams just couldn’t afford take those same chances. It was what set large and small markets apart.

    If you move the cutoff a little, I would suggest that what changed in the past ten years was the revenue sharing that allowed everyone else to afford this sort of stupidity. Some teams can still afford a lot more dumb than others, but no team has to trade away the hometown hero just because it’s his turn to get paid. Pujols signed in STL (once) and Mauer in MIN because the money was there to make a big deal or two.

    And now that there are more fools to separate from their money it’s a wide open marketplace, where an agent only needs one Bigger Fool to establish a precedent for the next guy looking for that seventh or eighth or tenth year. The cost of these guys is what the market will pay, and the market has money to spend.

  6. The Yankees are indeed a mess, contract wise, but a large part of their struggles this season have been the devastating injuries to their projected rotation. Yes, you can assume a 34 year old Sabathia would get hurt here and there, but they’ve struggled because the 25 year old Pineda and Tanaka, and the 27 year old Nova have missed huge chunks of the season.

    It’s odd to think with their awful offense, but if they’d had even one of those three pitchers stay healthy, they might currently be in a playoff spot. But they’re definitely going to feel the pain of the A-Rod, Tex, CC long terms the next couple years.

  7. Tom Morgan says:

    Choo’s deal is the Rangers problem, not Cincy’s….

  8. richie bklyn says:

    in terms of big money gm’s, cashman has been the best, at least at keeping the mlb club in the playoffs every yr or close to it in the few yrs they missed. look at the other big money teams over the last 10-15yrs…. dodgers – haven’t been to the WS sine ’88, made playoffs a handfulof times since, Anahiem went big money, flopped more then went to playoffs . bos =3 ws, flopped or missed playoffs a bunch of times. Mets – had the highest payroll or clse to it from late ’90’s -2011…. made it to the ws n flopped below .500 or choked away playoff spots 3yrs in a row. Cahman for all his flaws like not building the farm and signing some really dumb contracts… still keeps the team afloat… and he’s very good at finding players on the scrap heap….gus like sp’s aaron small 10-0, colon, garcia, 3b chavez, ibanez/ichiro in ’12…. soriano last yr or this yr found solarte n parlayed him in2 mccarthy, grabbed capuano… traded for headley…. those are all moves that any gm could have made b/c there was little or no money in any of them…. and think of al the trades cashman has ade w/ n farm system….so far none of them in 15+ yrs have come to bite the yanks in the ass… he traded mike lowell who had a pretty good career for nobodies…..austin jackson has been decent n ian kennedy had a good yr or 2… but granderson more then held his own… in all the trades cashman has made only mike lowell 4x, mrp tyler clippard 2x’s have gone on 2 make the allstar game more then once…
    he has a lot of money to cover up mistakes but he also knows how to spend most of his money correct and when wrong,he knows how to plan b and plan c….. yanks lost 4/5 from opening day rotation, lost phelps who filled in stepped in… here number 3-4-5-6 hitters beltran n mccan teix soriano have sucked or been been hurt on the dl or both allyear…. 2b ss and 3b havnt given them anything offensvly or defensive for that matter….. cahman regrou7ped and got headley drew prado mccarthy capuano of the scrap heap for almost nothing prospect or cash wise.
    only prado 2yrs 1mil per makes anyreal money and yanks only took on all the money b/c they dont have prospects to trade… and yanks are still in the thick of a payoff run…. tex philly bos are all big money teams who got hit by injuy bug and/or have big money players under performing and have crashed…. have no hope and waiting for the offseason…. cashman’s yanks… keep the team afloat even when they crash n burn

  9. richie bklyn says:

    but my point is even thou i hate alot of moves that cashman makes. ellsbury 7yrs, mccann 5yr when they should have gotten no more then 5yrs and 3yrs.
    re-upping arod and cc when they opted out. even thou cashman told stienbrenner to let arod walk and was over ruled. and hate the yankees stupid rule of letting their players hit f/a market before re-signing them rather then looking them up earlier and cheaper. for example i dont get why they didnt offer robertson an extension 2yrs ago or brought back c- martin rather then go w/ stewart last yr…. should have signeda cheaper c last offsean to platoon w/ cervelli/muphy rather then give mccann 5+ yrs …..
    the yanks still contend year in and year out…
    only st. louis does it better… they win or contend ever yr w/o spending huge money on there overall payroll.
    sf n bos comes close but they are either great or suck, no middle ground.
    oak n tb do it right for small market teams by trading their best b4 they hit f/a n get back top end prospets n usually hit on them, then fill in w/ short term contracts.
    cashman does his job very good or great the same way beane does his job in terms of heres …. they do it diffrently w/ diff budgts and systems but end result they contend every yr.
    at least they have a plan… thers other big marget big payroll teams that dont even have that
    and small market teams like pitt and kc b4 the last few yrs that never make a run

  10. […] In the meantime, it seems, rich teams overinvested. […]

  11. Tampa Mike says:

    I don’t believe that the competitive balance has anything to do with Selig. I think it has happened in spite of him. I don’t think MLB has gone far enough. They’ve got to have a salary cap like every other sport does. Small market teams can have a few good years, but will eventually lose most of their good players because they can’t afford to keep them.

  12. Chris says:

    Big market overspending is one thing, but in my mind small market profiteering (looking at you, Loria) is equally offensive.

  13. bullman says:

    Way too much love for Beane, whose teams have never even won a pennant in 15+ years.

  14. Jaunty Rockefeller says:

    I think rank ordering team payrolls might distort this analysis a bit–there are a few outliers on either end of the spectrum, but the Red Sox are as close to the Padres as they are to the Dodgers, e.g. Plus teams don’t spend in a vacuum. Three of the top payrolls are in the same division, the AL East (and the remaining teams in the division are either the model of a smartly run franchise or the surprising Orioles). So a front office committed to winning has to set its budget not only with reference to the depth of the owner’s pockets but also with an eye to their chief competitors. Plus talent isn’t evey distributed across all ages, by which I mean let’s see what Stanton’s contract, Trout’s next contract, etc., look like before we declare the big-money, long-term contract era over

    Which of course is not to say that many/most long-term contracts are totally foolish.

  15. Bpdelia says:

    This fails to mention the main issue with these contracts.

    This is the market rate for an EXTREMELY small commodity.

    Consistently excellent elite baseball players are rare and are priced as such.

    And must of these contracts accrue surplus value up front and negative value in the back end.

    The large market trends have enough cushion that they can still get players. The Yankees payroll is so high BECA– USE of the mistakes being covered.

    If the twins whiff on a huge deal that’s dead weight and unusable revenue for ten years. If the Yankees or dodgers whiff it’s the same as a program at proctor and gamble showing a loss.

    You write it off and move on.

    Would you let Clayton Kershaw walk because you don’t want to over pay him his last 3 years?

    Baseball had never been more profitable. The players create most of that value and need to get a significant chunk of revenue.

    With the indentured servant nature of service time rules the only way to even the pie is to let guys get over payed later.

    Let’s imagine that the Yankees developed a rod and had him for his entire career.

    He would have been absurdly almost criminally underpaid for the first ten years of his career. And even to this day over the life of his career has produced a massive massive amount of SURPLUS value.

    You underpay guys until they are about 30, they get paid fairly until about 33 and you over pay them until they are 40.

    And the team that has been the poster child for “crippling suffocating” contracts has been in the playoff race every single year for about 21 seasons. Missing the playoffs twice.

    If that’s suffocation sign me up for some more.

  16. One of these things is not like the other. The Braves signing of 25 year old Freddie Freeman to an 8 year deal is not like signing a 30 year old Albert Pujols to a 10 years deal. I think the Braves are on the right track, locking their young stars to long term deals at what could turn out to be bargain rates as their careers unfold. Now, there are risks associated with these long term deals. Injuries, of course. Regressions, yes, those can happen even at younger ages. But what you don’t have is the virtual certainty of decline throughout the players mid to latter 30s (and 40s!!). Freeman’s contract ends with his age 32 year. Depending on how you calculate a players “prime years”, you are looking at only 1-2 years only slightly outside of prime during this contract. Similar deals are also in place for Simmons, Johnson and Kimbrel.

    Of course I have to contrast this against the stupid BJ Upton deal…. A player in his late 20s when signed, already showing obvious regression, given a 5 year deal. And I’m trying to forget about Dan Uggla. But maybe, just maybe, the Braves have figured this out.

    • Bpdelia says:

      Yeah fair enough. But I’m talking about the totality of value that is Albert pujols.

      At the end of career pujols will have been paid less than he has produced in a dollar/WAR calculation.

      Now obviously each individual team wants value.

      But fact is an Albert pujols is cashing in on years of being underpaid add a reward for years of consistent excellence at a bargain price.

      And again this is about marginal win value as well.
      Robbie cano will be underpaid by about 5-7 million for the next three years. Then for three years hell probably be slightly overpaid. And at the end he will be massively overpaid evening out the first 7 years when he was ridiculously underpaid.

      Systemically this all works out.

      And for big market teams it works out as, again, the Yankees and red Sox have been excellent for two decades

      It has taken gross incompetence to produce results like the mets and dodgers.

      Awful ownership short sighted front office.

      Put even basic competence levels in a big market and you have a consistent contender.

      Hire Ned colleti, Omar minaya or rube and you get disaster.

      Long story short spending still works and over paying for one of the few elite players who reach fee agency at 28-30 is still viable.

      As long as you get elite production from the first 4 years of one of these contracts they are good deals.

      As for the examples in the piece.

      Wells, soriano, werth were seen as hilarious over pays the moment they were signed.

      And amazingly soriano and werth still ended up being decent value.

      Over paid? Yes.

      Crippling? Only if the billionaire who signed the contract let’s it be.

      • Robert Perea says:

        This argument works for the player but not the team. the Angels are essentially paying for production the Cardinals received.

  17. Michael Green says:

    As a wise man said, all it takes is one dumb owner. Well, the even wiser Edward Bennett Williams owned the Orioles and the Washington football team, and said he had concluded that the dumbest NFL team owner was smarter than the smartest baseball team owner.

    But this goes back to a better point. When George III was trying to buy pennants in the 1980s, he failed miserably. So did Tom Yawkey in Boston. What matters is the whole team. Yes, you need stars. I get that. But I remember Earl Weaver talking about how the Orioles used to put together their roster very carefully, and one of his theories was that you should have a third catcher because then you could pinch hit, and you could always put the extra catcher in the outfield if necessary. That isn’t how some of these big money teams think.

  18. Ben says:

    It always surprises me that people don’t much discuss another calculation that teams must be making in these contracts: fan devotion. In the post about attendance, Joe reminds us that baseball is a spectator business, and there are lots of different things that keep fans engaged. A good “face of the franchise” is good for the team. That’s why the Pedroia, Ortiz, Tulo, Ryan Braun (signed before the PED debacle) and Utley contracts make sense to me: the teams aren’t just paying for performance, they’re paying for marketing. (Even Howard makes a bit more sense in that regard, but that was still a stupid contract.) Now, marketing can go sour, too – look at Braun – but considering the fundamental business structure of professional sports, it’s a totally rational reason to overpay for on-field performance.

  19. Dave says:

    The blame for this isn’t with the GMs–it’s with the CBA. The CBA requires a certain portion of the profits be distributed in player payroll, but then artificially retards the salaries of pre-free-agency players. For example, Joey Votto got MVP votes every year from 2009 to 2013 (and won the NL MVP in 2010). In those 5 years he averaged 6.9 milion a year in salary. That’s a relative pittance for an annual MVP candidate. The CBA allowed the Reds to greatly underpay him for his performance. The same CBA, however, REQUIRES teams to overpay players that are approaching or have reached free agency. The Moneyball plan of trading of your approaching free-agency players for uber-prospects is dated. Teams have figured out the system and won’t trade their uber-prospects anyone–see e.g. the relatively small prospect returns for David Price and Jon Lester.

    Hence, you’re a team with profits that can (and must per the CBA) be spent on player payroll. Do you trade these guys for middling-prospects and then spend your payroll room on shorter contracts for mediocre vets? Or do you pony up the cash on a long term deal for your star vets, knowing you’re going to get bitten at the end of the deal, but also knowning you’ll have a better shot of winning in the first couple of years of the contract? There’s no way to have your cake and eat it too.

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