28 January 2004

It's Getting Better All The Time

Sorry for the long layoff. I've been waiting for something good about which to write, but it seemed nothing to inspire a whole column had occurred, until I realized that the lack of activity was actually a story in itself: High-profile players haven't been signing contracts because the market's correcting itself, and they haven't realized it yet. And this is a story.

So you get a "notes/week-and-a-half-in-review" column today, with a theme, and hopefully with better prose than Peter Gammons'. Not that that's such a stretch for me.

Roy Halladay Signs 4-Year, $42 million Contract With Jays

Darn, if that JP Ricciardi isn't one heckuva negotiator, eh? (Actually ESPN's initial headline read "$4.2 million" and I thought they'd really pulled a coup, but alas, 'twas naught but a typo.) Still, to sign a recent Cy Young winner, still in his prime (26), to a four-year deal for just over $10 million annually is pretty good by today's standards.

*Roger Clemens, 39 years old when he won the Award in 2001, managed to hornswaggle the Yankees out of an additional $10.1 million for his 2003 contract, even though they were already paying him over $10 mil that year not to pitch, as part of his 2001-02 contract.

*Randy Johnson, also much older than Halladay, and Pedro martinez, have both gotten $13-15 million each of the last several years, winning several CYA's in that span.

*Tom Glavine, Kevin Appier, Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort, Mike Hampton, Greg Maddux, Matt Morris, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz are all inferior pitchers to Halladay in one sense or another. Yet in 2003, all made as much or more than the $10.5 million annual average he'll be getting.

For that matter, Kevin Millwood asked for more than $10.5 million in arbitration, after finishing the season with an ERA over 4.00 and a record of 14-12. This leads us into our next topic...

What's Up With 'Service Time'?

Speaking of Kevin Millwood, Take a look at these two pitchers:

2002 27 34 217 186 78 16 65 178 18 8 3.24
2003 28 35 222 210 99 19 68 169 14 12 4.01
Totals 69 439 396 177 35 133 347 32 20 3.63
2004 Salary: $10 million, minimum

2002 25 32 206 198 75 16 53 128 14 11 3.28
2003 26 32 209 196 84 22 62 133 14 12 3.62
Totals 64 415 394 159 38 115 261 28 23 3.45
2004 Salary: $2.95 million, max

"Kevin" of course, is the aforementioned Kevin Millwood, and "Vince" is Millwood's teammate, Vicente Padilla.

What I haven't told you (sneaky, I know) is that 2004 will be Kevin Millwood's eighth year of service time, while Padilla has only been active for five years, so he's not elligible for free-agency yet. And this minor discrepancy in service time is what allows the same team to pay two nearly equivalent players very-not-equivalent sums of money. Therefore, Padilla's salary is in the range of what other 5-year veterans get, instead of what other 14-game winners, or 200-inning, 3.5ish ERA pitchers get, like Millwood.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus argues that the arbitration system is generally a good one, but that there must be some understandable exceptions to the rules, most notably Albert "Almost two MVPs" Pujols. He's right, but it's gotta feel a little lousy when you know you can produce like 90% of barry Bonds, or Kevin Millwood, and only make 25-50% of their salary. Of course, I'd like to feel lousy about having to "settle" for $7 million too, but it ain't gonna happen.

Former Florida Marlins Waiting For More Ridiculous Contract Offers

As you must know, Ugueth Urbina and Ivan Rodriguez still have not signed with anyone.

Ugie, apparently, has started to believe his own hype, and the lies spewed by the One-Inning-Closer Machine, and think that he's somehow more valuable than the $3-3.5 million that good-but-unspectacular free agent relief pitchers are getting these days. Jayson Stark reports that Urbina's agent can't even get that much (or that little, as he might tell you), but I suspect that tis is really just a negotiating ploy to get someone to start a conversation with them, so they can end up raising the ante to the level they wanted in the first place. Ugie and his agent are apparently threatening to sit out the year if they don't get the money they think he's worth, trying to somehow buck the general trend of the market correcting itself.

Kinda reminds me of Cleavon Little threatening to blow his own head off in Blazing Saddles. Heck, it worked for him, right?

And speaking (writing) of negotiating in the media, Scott "Super Agent" Boras has managed somehow to complain enough about his client (Pudge) not getting the deal he thought he should (4 years, $40 mil), that he now is negotiating with the Tigers for even more, even though they've already offered him exactly what he requested, which is about two years and $25 million more than anyone else has offered.

I don't know how he does it, but as Rob Neyer says, it's got to be considered genius. Even if you resent him and/or Pudge for it, you've got to give Boras credit. I, for one, hope that the "market correction" wins this battle, and that Pudge will have to acknowlege the changing ecomnomic climate and take what he's offered, which is already more than market value for him. The Tigers, in recognition of their position on the bottom of the barrel, are already giving him more than they should, just to try to lend some credibility to the sinking franchise. Boras and Pudge seem to have mistaken their desparate position for generosity or stupidity, I can't tell which.

So while Lennon & McCartney may not have been completely right about it getting better all the time, it seems at least that this situation is getting better: players are realizing that they're not worth as much as they think, and GMs are realizing that they don't have to overpay for mediocre talent.

Can you imagine what kind of reception Darren Dreifort would be getting if he were looking for a job now, instead of after the 2000 season?

"Sorry, Darren, we've already got an oft-injured, sub LAIM pitcher making $11 million per year. Maybe the Tigers can use you."

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