Thursday, December 01, 2005

Market Value: 2005
By Ben Valentine

Five years, seventy million.

That is what Vladimir Guerrero got from then Anaheim Angels back in the winter of 2003. Arguably one of baseball’s top five hitters and one of the game’s most feared players, the Angels managed to snatch him up for a deal that equates to 14 million per season. And what did he do in his first year there? Only win the AL MVP. Not a bad investment, even for a guy who supposedly had back issues.

Five years, 60 million.

That’s what the White Sox gave Paul Konerko today. Math isn’t my strong point, but that evens out to 12 million a season, two less than Vlad. Not bad for a guy who plays in a hitters park and has had just two solid years in his career.

The period of baseball’s economic responsibility really appears to have been short lived; as in one year. Just compare the contracts Konerko and Guerrero got. The difference is roughly 2 million per season. Paul Konerko is a solid player; a good first baseman who again, has put up two solid seasons in a hitter’s park. Before this season Konerko never had an OPS over .900, though last year he came close at .894. This year he didn’t exactly shatter the mark at .909.

Guerrero is on his way to the Hall of Fame; he has put up MVP caliber seasons for the last seven years. Consider than Vlad is never posted an OPS under .900 in a season where he’s gotten at least 400 ABs, or every year since 1998. His lowest slugging percentage over that span? .566. (Konerko’s highest is .535!)The guy is just sick. Believe me, I’m wishing the Mets had spent the 17 million on him rather than Carlos Beltran.

The two players are actually the same age, meaning Vlad hit free agency two years younger than Konerko when he got his five year deal. (27 years old versus 29 for those of you keeping score) That alone should compensate for more than a two million difference in salary. Throw in the offensive numbers and you wonder how the hell the Angels got Vlad so cheaply, and how everyone else in baseball missed the boat.
Konerko isn’t the only player who has reaped the benefits of baseball’s return to fiscal irresponsibility. Billy Wagner somehow managed to get four years and 43 million out of the Mets; a contract that will be paying him until he’s 38 years old. Actually check that, there’s a fifth year option in there, so they might just be paying him a year longer. The Yankees threw 13 million at Hideki Matsui. Remember, Vlad is getting 14 million. Endorsements aside, who do you think the Yankees would rather have at their contract tags? A 30 year old Vlad with three years on his deal, or a 33 year old Matsui with four years on his?

The Yankees aren’t done of course. They’re reportedly about to pay Kyle Farnsworth 17 million over three years. For more insight into that Steve Karsay-esque blunder refer to my colleague Bryan Koch’s amusing post on the matter. (It comes complementary with a picture of a beautiful French anchorwoman. Can’t beat that!)

While contracts returned to their normal escalating ways last year, considering the perceived dearth of talent in baseball’s free agent class this off season, it is surprising to see these free agents get this much dough. Carlos Beltran got too much money yes, but he was 27 years old and entering the prime of his career. Pedro Martinez is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Roger Clemens, same deal.

Sure there were bad contracts last year; there are every year. The Yankees were idiots to pay Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano what they did. Kris Benson got seven million from the Mets last year, that’s way too much for a guy who’s putting up fourth starter numbers. (Though Esteban Loiaza just got the same deal from Oakland). Adrian Beltre is laughing all the way to the bank about how the Mariners are paying him nearly 11 million over the next four seasons. Still, at least he was 25 years old, coming from Dodger Stadium and plays a more valuable position than first base.

And it will continue. AJ Burnett is going to get Pedro money. Somehow, when history looks back at the former Marlin’s career, I think that’s the last similarity between the two one is going to find. Konerko? Does he compare with Tejada, or even Beltran considering his position or age? Closers are important, but how on earth did BJ Ryan get five years after producing one good one? I shudder to think at what the Mets might pay Bengie Molina, who while being a nice player, is also 31, has never posted an OPS of 800 and will no doubt decline sometime soon. Brian Giles just got thirty million from the Padres for three years. He’s going to be 35 in January you know. And while I doubt anyone is actually stupid enough to give Johnny Damon seven years, if he gets more than two it will be too much.

Just to bring it back to the Chi Sox for a moment, how can they justify giving Konerko that much money, after they just traded for Jim Thome? If you’re going to trade for Thome, take the money you were going to give to Konerko and spend it elsewhere. If you’re intent on signing Konerko, take the prospects you dealt for Thome and ship them off for a better, more sure thing. Hell, at least someone who plays a different position. Think about it… the White Sox will have 20 million invested between a first baseman and DH... the two most one dimensional positions on the baseball field! How much financial sense does that make? Look, one can argue the Yankees and the Mets can get away with overpaying, but how can the White Sox, Blue Jays or one of baseball’s other 26 teams justify it?

It just seems baseball teams don’t have any idea what players are worth. I hear a million other things justifying a player’s value; his heart, how much he means to the team and the city (rarely ever backed up by statistical data), his intangibles, his leadership etc. Whatever happened to: “This guy is 30 years old and has been a good hitter for a couple of years, thus he deserves ten million over three years?”

Oh that’s right it never existed. Because teams want to show they’ve done something rather than nothing; even if it means offering that player 65 million over five years. Intangibles and all that jazz are nothing more than paltry justification to “we wanted to make a big splash and sign SOMEONE, so we shelled out a ton of cash to the first guy who bit.” Believe me, the Orioles will be thanking their lucky stars in three years that Konerko decided to accept the hometown discount.

So what’s the moral of the story here?

If Vladimir Guerrero hasn’t fired his agent already, he should do it right now.


Blogger David Arnott said...

Five major points:
1)I remember that Guerrero's back was a huge block when he hit free agency, and everyone was at least a little tentative about pulling the trigger on a guy with a bad back and a violent swing. He would've made more had he not been seriously hurt the year before.
2)The White Sox basically copied the Jason Varitek deal for Konerko. He's not overpaid because, no matter how little baseball sense it makes to give him that contract at those years, it means a lot to the fans and the other players to have him around and have the team make a commitment like that to a guy who soldiered for them for so long. As far as Thome/Konerko, Jimmy will DH and that's not a problem. It's a problem if you have the Ruben Sierras of the world tied up at those two positions, but these are the guys you WANT to be huge hitters. That's okay by me.
3)The insanity of the Benson deal was that everybody agreed that that was the most he could possibly get from anyone, and that he clearly wasn't worth that much money, and at the time we all saw that. There's evidence to suggest that if the A's had waited on a Loaiza deal, the market would have swung too expensive for them to get anyone of consequence and they would have had to stand pat. Watch what happens when the Giants sign Matt Morris and Giants fans' heads all explode simultaneously.
4)Wagner's is a terrible deal. A tiny guy who's a power reliever, and they're expecting him to be worth all that money at age 37? Yeah, right. Ryan has had two utterly dominant seasons after breaking through with a good one three seasons ago. He's 6-6 and entering his age 30 season. When his contract ends, he'll basically be where Wagner will be after next season.
5)I think you only sort of touched on what's happening, which is that some teams feel like they have to do something to improve, and they're not swallowing hard and accepting that the best move might be to do nothing or little at all, as the Indians and (*gasp*) Devil Rays seem to be doing.
And a closing minor point: What do the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Braves, and now Mets all have in common? Their own networks. If you can control your media like that, you play by different rules than the Giants and Cardinals of the world (huge, far-reaching radio power), let alone the A's (relatively nonexistent media presence in their backyard), because the money flows like lava from Kilauea.

3:14 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

-I remember Vlad's back being a potential issue. Of course that didn't stop Jim Thome from getting a huge deal when he hit free agency. And bad back and all considering Vlad still went .330/.426!/.586/1012 that season, it's amazing someone didn't give him more money. Lesser players with injury concerns are signed to long term deals all the time.

-I hate justifying things based off "fan and player approval". The fans and players will fall in line based off how many games the team wins next year. If the Sox go into the tank, it won't matter they signed Konerko. Conversely, say they had not signed Konerko and they went on to win the division again, the fans would not care.

I might buy into the huge hitter argument if these guys were sure things. But Thome may or may not be done and Konerko was never a huge hitter.

-I'm not sure Benson couldn't have gotten more. Remember Jaret Wright got more than Benson did and had a prior injury history. Matt Clement got more, Odalis Perez got more.
And that doesn't change the fact 7 mil for Loiaza is still too much. That's getting into #2 starter territory, and he is not that. I'm surprised the A's would do it, but I've learned not to doubt Billy Beane.

-Wagner's contract is a bad deal. It doesn't make Ryan's any better. I just don't trust relievers. I've seen too many tank to easily. Rivera, Wagner and Hoffman are seemingly the exceptions rather than the rule. But of course the worst contract of them all is the Phillies handing Trash Gordon 3 years at somewhere between 18-21 mil. He's 38 years old and never was a very good closer. In that park, it will be Jose Mesa revisited.

11:42 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

Okay. So maybe the new network isn't as big a deal for the Mets as I'd perceived. Very interesting, though, how the luxury tax threshold is ridiculously high, and, by my rough reckoning, seems to be rising faster than inflation can catch up to it. Why not take a page from the NFL and set it based on total revenue from the previous season? Oh, that's right... MLB teams cook their books as a matter of course.

3:30 AM  
Blogger Sports Litter said...

gotta agree with david...

When Vladi became a free agent he was coming from a horrible team and had injury problems. No one knew how healthy he would be. Turned out he rebounded to an MVP. What a steal for the Angels. Vladi's injury cost him some money.

Konerko is coming off a World Series victory. People in the spot light will tend to get more money.

You think Beltran would have got a 100+ mil contract had he not had the amazing post season for Hoston? If he would have come to free agency from the Royals instead of the Stros. He would have got a deal similar or worse than Vladi's

11:11 AM  

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