Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Matsui Mistake
By Ben Valentine

The first big “move” of the offseason has come and it was one that few should be surprised about. The Yankees resigned outfielder Hideki Matsui to a four year contract. What people should be surprised about is the ridiculous money they paid to him; 52 million over those four years, translating into a whopping 13 million per season. That makes him as rich as one Gary Sheffield, for those of you keeping score. And you know what the sad part about this is?

Everyone in New York thinks this is the right move.

I’ve written about Matsui in the past. He’s a solid player, but nothing more. If he were a non Japanese player out in Kansas City, he’d get six or seven million a year tops. I mean if you’re free agent centerfielder Brian Giles, how happy does this deal make you? Giles is older, but look at his splits this year versus Matsui’s.

Giles: .301/.423/.483/.906

Matsui: .305/.367.496/.863

Remember, Giles also played at one of the worst hitter’s parks in baseball. So how much does he deserve? Speaking of a player hitting fairly well at one of baseball’s worst hitter’s parks, here’s Milton Bradley’s splits: .290/.350/.484/ 834.

No, they’re not as good as Matsui’s, but Bradley was hurt for half the season and again, plays at Dodger Stadium. He’s also just 27 years old, where as Matsui is 31, meaning Matsui is more likely to decline next year where as Bradley should at least stay the same and probably will improve some. Take Bradley out of Dodger Stadium and his numbers should look better than Matsui’s. Plus he plays centerfield and could be had for a song right now.

To put it in a larger picture for this season, Matsui ranked tied for 17th in outfielder’s OPS (41st overall in baseball). He was tied with none other than the Mets’ Cliff Floyd. Now Floyd had a career year by all accounts, but if the Mets were to give him a deal like Matsui’s they would be ripped six ways from Sunday and rightfully so. Still, Floyd hit as well in a tougher hitter’s park, played better defense than Matsui this year by most accounts, and is just one year older. Last year he made 6.5 million. Does he deserve to nearly double his salary off that year? Of course not. Too bad he doesn’t play for the Yankees though.

What is amazing about this and the Yankees in general is that it shows just how poorly the organization is run, yet how having unlimited pockets will cover that up. Money can buy championships people. The New York Yankees are one of baseball’s inept organizations, but they have the cash to bail themselves out of it. Look at some of these names, Jaret Wright (7 million), Carl Pavano (9 million), Matsui, Jason Giambi (11 million- his deal is heavily back loaded), Derek Jeter (18 million- also badly back loaded). This is a team that gave Drew Henson millions before he saw a pitch at AA, handed Andy Morales and Jose Contreras huge contracts because they were big name Cuban defectors. They gave Steve Karsay five million last season to sit on the disabled list. Kevin Brown was paid 15 million each of these last two years to sulk up and down the clubhouse, while occasionally punching walls. They paid Mike Mussina 17 million last year and will again this year. Of the Yankees big name free agent signings/acquisitions over the last few years, were any actually worth what they were paid? Ironically, if you want to talk about players who actually live up to their contracts, the only guy who has done that is A-Rod, who won the MVP. He is the highest paid player in baseball, and has an award suggesting he is one of the best, if not the best.

It is starting to catch up with the team however. The Yankees were able to get by for years because they had a solid though often overpaid core based around a solid pitching staff. Now their core is old, and their pitching staff is even older because they don’t invest wisely, just in big names. They overpaid players like Jeter and Bernie Williams, but when they did so, they were in their primes. However, they gave them deals which were far too long because they could, and are paying for them now. They were stuck with Williams out in center last year despite his complete ineptitude in all aspects of the game, and will be doomed to a declining Jeter in the next few years. Do you really want to see what Jason Giambi’s going to look like when he’s getting paid 21 million bucks in 2008? Or for that matter Hideki Matsui four years from now? No wonder people are so high on the Robinson Canos and Chien Ming Wangs of the world. They’re desperate; fans and the team know things can’t stay the way they are. There’s a serious problem brewing.

But like an alcoholic in denial, they won’t correct the problem. Instead of doing what Theo Epstein tried to do in Boston, look to the future by building the farm system, they’re doing what they always do… throw more money at their problems and hope they go away. But eventually the Yankees will miss the playoffs and people will actually realize what an overpaid and poorly constructed mess this is. And the way free agency is looking nowadays, maybe, just maybe, the Yankees won’t be able to buy themselves out of it.

That my friends, will be a good day for baseball.

Writer's Note: Salaries were found at MLB4U.com

10 Comments:

Blogger Tony said...

I just found your site and I'll say you guys are doing a great job. Now on the Yanks. It all goes back to the owner - Steinbrenner wants to win, but he doesn't "get it." He can create an All-Star team that will get into the playoffs every year, but he don't know how to make a championship team. Remember, when the dynasty of 96-2000 started when George was suspended by MLB. I think if George lays off a bit and let Cashman do the dealing, the Yanks will be better.

As far as Giles, he won't get a higher deal than Matsui. Matsui helps the Yanks financally inside and outside baseball. Giles, while having basically the same stats will get a much lesser deal. I say around 6-8 million

4:27 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben,

If Matsui were American I'd be up in arms, but it simply isn't fair to measure the deal from a purely statistical standpoint. Matsui probably deserved something in the neighborhood of 9-10 million per year. Instead, he's getting 13. The revenue he brings in more than makes up for the difference.

Matsui's contract is about as bad as Ichiro's deal (if we're taking a strictly statistical approach), but again, Ichiro is worth it, thanks to the international market appeal.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Also, I just did a little more research, and Silver's (Baseball Prospectus) formula for performance value, in terms of dollars, put Matsui a hair above twelve million last year.

His metric isn't linear and reflects that teams must play disproportionately higher salaries for small increases in numbers.

Again, from a baseball standpoint, it's debatable. From a business standpoint, it's a slam dunk.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Bryan, you're right that this is the same argument I hear about Ichiro. It's true that by having him on the team the Mariners are opening up revenue streams that otherwise just wouldn't exist. But since none of that financial data is made public, it's hard for me as a fan to say that his contract is worth it.

The other issue with the Mariners is that unlike the Yankees, they refuse to put that extra revenue back into the team. They may sell more merchandise globally than any team but the Yankees, and they may have a more lucrative local broadcasting deal than anyone but the Yankees and the Cubs, plus a $550 million dollar stadium and a fan base which still shows up after two 90+ loss seasons, but their payroll will remain at about $85-90 million again next year.

Of course, even if the Yankees might be overpaying for Matsui in a purely baseball sense, he still will produce on the field, and if he keeps selling those #55 jerseys, then you're right, it's a no-brainer for the Yanks.

10:10 AM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

Damn you, Bryan, for stealing my revenue point:)

The big-picture point, though, is that the Yankees would be fools NOT to overpay their starters. Put it this way: In a Scott Boras world, who would have respect for the Yankees if they didn't shell out seemingly indiscriminately? They have a revenue stream that dwarfs other teams', so if a potential free agent, or a budding star that came up through the system, feels AT ALL like the Yankees are lowballing him, despite said massive revenues, you're increasing your chances that he'll go all Delmon Young or Pedro and look elsewhere for his "respect". It's a 40 man roster, there's more than enough money to overpay starters, and Matsui was going to get 10-12 per over 4 from another team if he walked. God forbid the Red Sox traded Manny and picked up Matsui.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

I remember people made this same revenue/intangible argument when the Yankees signed Jeter to his ridiculous 10 year, 190 million dollar contract. Yes, there's marketing to be had from Matsui, but that doesn't make the contract a good one. Next year, it won't look so bad barring some inexplicable collapse. But how marketable will Matsui be in 2009 when he's hitting .250 -.270 with 15 homers and playing terrible defense if he's not outrightly DHing? Will Yankees want to pay the guy 12 million then? I know that's three or four years down the road, but you've got to pay the piper eventually.

David, just because you can overpay, doesn't mean you should. I doubt Matsui was getting 12 million anywhere else; his numbers just aren't deserving. The only position player who's getting that type of contract talk is Konerko, who is younger and better offensivly. And people think 12 for him is too much.

The Yankees overpay because they don't look at the big picture. They sign the guys who they think will help them the next year and the future be damned; if they stink in three or four years, then the Yankees can go out and buy someone else to replace them. Well now those guys are turning to garbage in one or two years and the Yankees aren't finding replacements readily available. Look at this year. Randy Johnson, Wright and Pavano failed to live up to their hype. Mussina is getting old. The possible replacements are... AJ Burnett? Kevin Millwood? Overpaying for any of those guys won't save this staff. Just because you pay a guy 12 million, doesn't make him a 12 million dollar player.

If the Yankees were smart, they'd invest far more money in scouting and their farm system. Building from within is what made the Yankees great, having the funds to keep those players is what made them a dynasty. Until they get back those roots and produce QUALITY minor league talent (Not pitchers that strike out 3 batters per nine) they're just going to continue to fade.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Ben, I understand your points. And I agree with most of them. But considering that Steinbrenner has to get money to pay for his team somehow, it may be that Matsui's contract is actually a great business move (considering the Yankees as a whole, not just the on-the-field product). The problem, as I mentioned before, is that the financial numbers which might make it possible for us to quantify Matsui's contributions (beyond his performance on the field) are not available publicly.

How marketable will Matsui be in 2008? Well, unless a part of his aging process is that he stops being Japanese, I doubt they'll stop selling jerseys, and ad space, in Japan. He and Ichiro are legends, and there will always be a market for them in their native land.

2:26 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

Over at the Hardball Times, there's a three-part series examining how much revenue a player brings if you accept WARP1 as a relatively valid measure of his contributions to wins. It adds credence to my gut feeling that the Yankees are better off overpaying for starters, since WINS ARE WORTH MORE MONEY TO THEM than they are to any other team. By their reckoning, even not taking into account Japanese money, Hideki Matsui was tenth in marginal value in MLB last season.

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/measuring-the-dollar-value-of-a-player-part-3/

5:55 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

This time Dave stole my thunder. I was going to reference the same thing.

Matsui will only be 35 in the final year of this deal. We've been throwing around the idea here of the Yankees signing Brian Giles -- He's almost 35 now. I don't see much reason to think Matsui will decline over the length of this contract. In fact, four years seems perfect to me.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Maybe I'm missing something here, and that certainly is possible, but isn't that article showing that Matsui's monetary value comes more from the fact he plays for the Yankees than anything else? And that marketability of playing for the Yankees has to do with them winning. So if they continue down this path towards mediocrity, then eventually the marketability of the said players will decrease as well.

As you said though, it doesn't take into consideration Japanese marketability, which would probably send him and Ichiro higher on that list.

Bryan, Giles is considered to be more of an exception rather than the rule because he is such a good on base guy and eyes go slower than bat speed. His OBP is usually around 100 points higher than his BA.

Matsui isn't the on base guy Giles is. Heck he isn't the player Giles was at 31, offensively or defensively. I figure he'll be at best an average offensive corner outfielder at 35 and a below average defensive one. And while Zach you're right, he sells and will continue to sell jerseys in Japan and here, I doubt Yankee fans will be hanging their hats on that if he is hurting the team at the plate and in the field come 2008.

But then my whole point is that the Yankees don't care about 2007 or 2008 now. And that's a large part of their current problems.

11:17 PM  

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