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Giants: Not Above Rewarding Mediocrity

(originally written 1/30/11)

Being a fan of major league baseball in the 21st century means one routinely has to bite one’s tongue to keep fully sane. A skill that, through (necessary) practice, I’ve mastered at expert level.

I’d hoped the 2000-2001 off-season—an out-of-control sweepstakes for anyone who could play at all (and several who couldn’t)—would be the last time I’d ever have to revisit the business (a.k.a. boring) side of MLB.  For many years, it was, as baseball seemed to be reverting back to generally sensible spending.

When I say “sensible”, I don’t necessarily mean “responsible”. Teams still overspent as much as ever, but by-and-large they would overspend on—what do you call ‘em—oh, yeah. Good players with good resumes. No player is worth $17 million annually IMHO, but at least the Carlos Lees and Mark Teixeiras of the game were the beneficiaries, rather than the next tier of dudes like Orlando Hudson or unestablished dudes like Jair Jurrjens (so there’s no confusion, neither of them make $17M. They’re just examples.)

You can thank the Houston Astros for my relapse to the dark side…

The first to cash-in during this eventful offseason was LA’s Hiroki Kuroda on November 15. He got a 1Y/$12 million (1/$12M) deal to stay a Dodger. I thought “Okay…$12M for a 35-year-old guy whose career high in wins is 11, has never thrown 200 innings, is below .500 in his career, and is certainly no Hideo Nomo in terms of fan attraction.” I let it go. It’s just a one-year deal, and it is the Dodgers, after all. But there would be more head-scratching windfalls to come. 

Carlos Pena, the one-time MVP candidate with the Rays whose .196 average in 2010 didn’t sway the Cubs from giving him $10M on December 8. Kevin Correia’s 2Y/$8M from Pittsburgh after a 10-10, 5.40 season—I know it’s different ownership, but surely someone filled in the Bucs’ front office on “Operation Shutdown” from the spring of 2002? Brad Penny is rewarded for a nine-start, 13-WHIP injury-halted season with 1Y/$3M from the Tigers.

A load of millions for a load of mediocrity. I kept my lips firmly pressed together.

Until January 25th, when into the lap of Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez dropped $35 million for three years.

And he wasn’t even a free agent. Rodriguez is in his final year of arbitration and wouldn’t have been free until after 2011. He was 11-12, and while I know as well as anyone that W/L records cannot ALWAYS accurately measure a pitcher’s performance—see 2010 A.L. Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez—Rodriguez is cashing in after a season in which he did not crack the NL’s top ten in any significant category besides hit batsmen, and a 62-64, 4.18 career. For the record, Roy Oswalt never made more than $14M from the Astros in any season.

Meanwhile, Pat Burrell—coming off a magnificent two-thirds of a season with the Giants in which he batted .266 with 18 HR in only 289 AB—will make $1M in 2011. Cody Ross, his teammate, batted .269 with 14 HR in 525 AB but will be paid $6.3M, again because the Giants wished to avoid arbitration. WHAT? We all get the reason you’d want to avoid the feelings of, say, Tim Lincecum in an arbitration hearing. If he were to get down on the Giants as a result and leave as a free agent, the Giants would be devastated to their core—on the field, with the fans, you name it. 

But Cody Ross? Who CARES if he’s insulted in an arbitration hearing? Yes, he’s a postseason hero, and he deserves compensation for coming up so big in the 2010 playoffs. But without Burrell, the Giants don’t even get to the postseason. I mean, if you’re rewarding postseason feats, why is the “insulted” Edgar Renteria with the Cincinnati Reds right now?

In closing, the Steroids Era has concluded, but we’re now in another lamentable era in baseball—the Scareoids Era. Just the threat of arbitration and free agency is forcing teams to overpay rather than risk losing average players. There has never been a better time to be half-decent in baseball. When Jon Sanchez reaches free agency after 2012, he will likely get $90 million from somebody so long as he makes 30 starts, throws 180 innings, and can manage acceptable ratios in each of the upcoming two seasons. Who can say what anyone is worth, and what “value” is, in a world where Todd Coffey and Chris Capuano are going to earn more 2011 dollars than Pat Burrell?

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