It's a little early in the off-season to start complaining about the way the "market" is going, but there have been a few deals already, and already I'm confused. Lee Sinins sends out daily "Around The Majors" emails on the happenings of MLB, including signings, trades, notable game feats (when there are games), and even birthdays. Friday's list contained some curious entries...
1) The Cubs signed free agent P Scott Eyre to a 3 year, $11 million contract. There are incentives in the deal that could be worth an extra $2.4 million and the 3rd year is a player option.
Is this what a decent lefty reliever is going for these days? Almost $4 million a year, and more if he meets incentives? Eyre's OK, I suppose, but he's got a 4.52 career ERA in 480+ innings spanning eight seasons. He set career highs with 86 appearances and 68 relief innings, and a career low with a 2.63 ERA, the first time in his career that it's been under 3.32. He'll be 34 years old in May, and isn't likely to get any better than he was last year. In fact, his numbers are likely to look notably worse in 2006 both because of normal regression from the career year he enjoyed in '05 and because of the difference between pitching in SBC Park (a moderate to severe pitcher's park) and Wrigley Field (a slight to moderate hitter's park).
Eyre hasn't shown a particular left/right platoon split in the last two seasons, though there was a severe split before that, and he's still used as a LOOGY because of it, with 39 of those 86 appearances having been for two outs or fewer. Like I said, he's decent, "OK" as it were, but committing almost $12 million dollars for a guy who has exactly one season in his 8-year career you could objectively call "good" does not seem like an idea that's, well, good.
But I'll tell you this much: When I have a son (no time soon, Mom, sorry) I'm going to duct-tape his right arm to his torso and make him do everything lefty. None of this "finding out naturally" what his disposition is. He's going to be a lefty, dammit, and he's going to throw 90mph if I have to stand behind him with a wind machine to make it happen. He's going to have 2-3 decent years in a major league bullpen, and then he, his mother and I, along with any other siblings he may have are going to take the contract the Cubs or Yankees give him and buy an island in the South Pacific on which to retire. So there.
2) The Pirates re-signed CF Jason Bay to a 4 year, $18.25 million contract.
Sinin's RCAA (Runs Created Above Average) measure shows that Bay had marks of +18 and +59 in 2004 and 2005, respectively. His 2004 campaign (.282/26Hr/82RBI) earned him Rookie of the Year honors for the first time in Pirates history, and this year's numbers (.306/32/101, plus 44 doubles, 21 steals, 110 runs and 95 walks) made him one of the half-dozen or so best players in the National League, even if MVP voters didn't give him enough respect. At only 26 years old, Bay should be entering his prime as a hitter, and if the Pirates had anyone in the lineup around him at all, a guy like this could win an MVP award. Well, maybe if Albert Pujols got traded to an AL team.
And for the rights to those four years, which in all likelihood will turn out to be the best of Bay's (hopefully) long, distinguished career, the Pittsburgh franchise has shelled out approximately what Jeff Bagwell made in 2004 alone.
It would be amusing to write about how much smarter this deal is than, say, the ones that some team not too long ago gave to Pat Meares (5 years, $16 million) and Kevin Young (4 yrs, $24 million), for example. Good thing the Pirates aren't that stupid, right? Of course, it wouldn't be that instructive to do that, since those players were signed in the late 1990's, in a different economic climate and all that crap. Just amusing.
Any way you slice it, this is a tremendous deal for the Pirates, who have a franchise player, a potentially perrenial MVP-candidate, signed for LAIM money. League-Average Innings Munchers like Mark Redman and Kris Benson made that kind of money last year, about $5 million, but those guys are rotation fodder. This one's a star.
Also, those guys are pitchers, and this one's a left-fielder, so it makes sense to compare him to other left fielders signed in 2005, not shortstops in 1999 or pitchers in 2004, right? Well, lucky for us, we've got one of those: Hideki Matsui.
Matsui, who plays left field for the Yankees rather than the Pirates, and who did not win a Rookie of the Year award in 2003, when he was one, was signed to a 4-year $53 million contract, just two days before the Jason Bay deal. Unfortunately for Bay, his agent apparently never reads the newspaper, or he would have known that he could get a hell of a lot more than $4.5 million a year for his client's services. Not that Bay is likely to ever need help from PaydayLoans, but still. Fire that agent quickly, I say.
BAY AGE RCAA AVG OBA SLG OPS HR RBI SB
2004 25 18 .282 .358 .550 .907 26 82 4
2005 26 59 .306 .402 .559 .961 32 101 21
MATSUI AGE RCAA AVG OBA SLG OPS HR RBI SB
2003 29 5 .287 .353 .435 .788 16 106 2
2004 30 44 .298 .390 .522 .912 31 108 3
2005 31 26 .305 .367 .496 .863 23 116 2
Matsui gets on base less often, hits for less power, doesn't steal bases, and is four years older than Bay. The two have been worth roughly the same number of runs above average for the last two years combined (79 to 72 RCAA, according to Sinins, 72 to 62 Batting RAA, according to Baseball Prospectus) but the trend is up for Bay, and down for Matsui. In addition, Jason racked up those runs in 40 fewer games than Matsui. They play the same defensive position, and Matsui is at best Bay's equal, probably a little worse with the leather, according to most objective fielding measures.
And yet, for two reasons and two reasons only, Matsui will make almost three times Bay's salary for each of the next four years.
1) He played for nine years with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, a league with a skill level somewhere between AA and AAA in the American minor leagues, but to which the American mass media gives far too much credit.
B) He plays for the Yankees, who apparently can't find enough matches to set fire to all the money they want to spend next year.
Don't get me wrong. Matsui's a good player, but he was probably as good as he'll ever be in the last two years, and the Yankees paid through the nose for the right to make sure he doesn't go to some rival team and end up beating them.
3) The Blue Jays have reportedly offered free agent P A.J. Burnett a 5 year, about $50 million contract, with another team also offering a 5 year contract and 2 others expected to do so within the week.
Burnett strikes me as exactly the sort of pitcher who is bound to disappoint whichever team signs him, at least at that price. He's 28, with only two seasons in his 7-year career in which he's pitched 200 innings or more, and he's never pitched more than 210. His career adjusted ERA is only about 10% better than the league average, which isn't bad, but hardly seems like a good way to spend about $10 million dollars each year of the next half-decade. He's never won more than 12 games in a season, and has questionable control, walking about 3 batters per nine innings. Much of his "success" is owed to his home ballpark, Pro Player Stadium, which holds run scoring down by about 5% as compared to the rest of the NL. Burnett is 28-17 with a 3.20 ERA at home throughout his career, but only 21-33 with a 4.26 ERA elsewhere. Add to this the fact that he's only been healthy for two of the last four seasons, and you've got a $50 million recipe for disaster.
4) According to the Newark Star Ledger, Yankees P Carl Pavano wants to be traded.
Speaking of disappointing ex-Marlin free agent pitchers...
6) According to the Newark Star Ledger, if the Yankees are able to trade Pavano or find a team that likes losing so much that they will take Jaret Wright, then they could be interested in free agent P Jarrod Washburn.
Washburn has had the reverse of Burnett's problem, with an ERA between 1 and 2 whole runs higher on the road than at home for four of the last five seasons. Going to some other venue, especially one that's traditionally kind to lefties like Yankee Stadium, might do him good, but please, not for $10 million/year, OK? Of course this would require one of the Yankees' two stiffs getting traded, which isn't likely to happen. Their trade-values are probably as low as they ever will be, so it would behoove the Yankees to hold onto them for at least another year and hope they get helathy and bounce back a little.
7) According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Braves 3B Chipper Jones has agreed to a contract restructuring, contingent on him passing a physical.
So let me get this straight: Chipper Jones is doing the Braves a favor by restructuring his contract, and the team is still requiring that he gets a physical to ratify the deal? His existing deal pays him something like $15 or $18 million for each of the next three years and doesn't require him to have any physical other than the one he had when he originally sined it, but now they've got to make sure he's healthy enough to lower his salary by $5 million? Not sure I get that, but then I'm not a baseball player.