It has been a good run but nothing lasts forever. This particular run started in 1995 and lasted longer than anyone ever could have imagined but really ended after the 2009 World Series Title. However in the interest of historical perspective it should be noted that the Yankees made the playoffs in 18 of the previous 21 seasons. A total of 5 World Series titles, perfect games, several future hall of famers winding up careers etc. Yankee fans have experienced more than they deserve over the years. The younger Yankee fan (the ones under 30) does not know the meaning of the word most closely associated with losing in sports,”REBUILDING”. At this juncture that is exactly where the Yankees are. They are rebuilding starting in 2016 and it may take a couple of years to complete. The good news is that this will not be a crash and burn rebuilding such as what the Atlanta Braves have been doing the last couple of years. This will be a controlled landing and a scheduled take off in 2018 to return to being a legitimate playoff team again.
Where do you start to rebuild a team that has several prospects that are not really ready and aging stars making millions? You have to let some time go by so some of those aging stars contracts can expire while not spending too much money. The Yankees basically did that going into this year. No big money free agent signings. They traded for Starlin Castro from the Cubs to play 2B. Castro is a good young player with a very favorable contract. They also traded for Aroldis Chapman from the Reds and have him signed to a one year contract. That is pretty much it for the acquisitions. No Jayson Heyward or David Price type signings which is fine. It is the smart way to go. The following contracts expire after this season: C.C. Sabathia – $25M, Mark Teixeira – $22.5M and Carlos Beltran $15M. Alex Rodriguez’s contract does not expire until after next season. You can replace Teixeira with lefty power hitting 1B prospect Greg Bird, who filled in very nicely for Teixeira last year. You can replace Beltran with another up and coming prospect in OF Aaron Judge. Judge stands 6’7” and reminds me of Giancarlo Stanton. He has developing power and should be ready for the majors by the end of this season. On the horizon is another prospect with big promise. SS Jorge Mateo stole 82 bases last year in Class A ball. He could be ready by 2018 and the timing would be perfect. C Gary Sanchez could be up this year. Sanchez is another power hitting prospect that can start the transition to younger productive players that are less injury prone and under team control for 6 years in terms of salary. “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades” as the 80’s song by Timbuk 3 goes.
So what will the Yankees look like in 2016? You are going to see a team very similar to last year with one significant difference. Let’s start with the pitching. The best bullpen in baseball got much better with the addition of Aroldis Chapman. The pen that already featured Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller now has the top three K’s/9 innings pitchers in the game last year. It is the epitome of a shutdown bullpen. The game is changing and the pen in many ways has become as important as the starters. The Yankees really only need the starting pitchers to get them 5 to 6 solid innings. This is good because the rotation features several pitchers that fall into this category. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are always an injury risk so their innings will be limited. Luis Severino and Nathan Eovaldi figure to be 7 inning pitchers. CC Sabathia or Ivan Nova are more like the 5 to 6 inning pitcher. I would not call this a strong rotation but maybe “serviceable” would be the right term. If Tanaka or Severino go down it could make for a very long season.
The offense is full of if’s and but’s but what we really need is the candy and nuts. C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, DH Alex Rodriguez and OF Jacoby Ellsbury all have to stay healthy and have good years for this to work. The history of those players health does not give reason for great optimism. This offense could use a big year out of OF Brett Gardener or 2B Starlin Castro to help move things along.
The CC Sabathia issue is likely to come to a head this season. He has been named the 5th starter as the team breaks camp even though he did not pitch well in spring training. However it makes more sense at this point to run him out there and see what happens as opposed to sticking him in the pen. He stands to earn $25 million in 2016. Not exactly what you want to pay an unproductive pitcher at the end of his career. This could be very painful to watch. More interestingly though is the wording in Sabathia’s contract concerning 2017. Read on:
5 years/$122M (2012-16), plus 2017 vesting option. Signed extension with NY Yankees 10/31/11 12-15:$23M annually, 16:$25M, 17:$25M vesting option ($5M buyout). 2017 salary guaranteed if Sabathia 1) does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, 2) does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or 3) does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury. No-trade protection. Perks: suite on road trips.
What this basically says is that if CC Sabathia is healthy in 2016 that the Yankees automatically have to renew him for 2017 for another $25 million. The Yankees have a $5 million buyout of that 2017 vesting option which we can almost guarantee will be exercised if Sabathia stays healthy all year. They want no part of one more year of CC. If it costs big money to get out of it they will spend it.
Tanaka and Ellsbury are both making $22 million a year and neither of those players is truly living up to their contract. Teixeira and Arod are shaky to live up to their deals. Sabathia has not lived up to his in years. The old way of doing business no longer works in MLB. It does not work for the Yankees and not for anyone else. You can sign one or two players to big free agent contracts to fill needs not 5 or 6. Your risk of a devastating injury or a player just not playing well just becomes way too high the more players you sign. The goal should be to develop your own players that are good and get 4 or 5 good years out of them before they are eligible for free agency and then decide what their worth is and whether you are willing to pay for it.
The Toronto Blue Jays seem like the best bet to win the AL East going away. The Yankees will be a team just like last year, just over .500 competing for a Wild Card playoff spot. A playoff spot that even if they do earn it they are not likely to advance very far. They would need some rebounding performances and a couple of surprise seasons to be much more than that in 2016. It will be a controlled landing over the next couple of years and fewer big names by next year. In 2017 the Yanks say goodbye to Arod which could be a circus in and of itself and develop a few young players. The takeoff begins again in 2018 when I expect this team to be legit again. Wait a minute…isn’t that the year Bryce Harper becomes a free agent? You never know. To be continued.
I originally wrote this article in January of 2015 shortly after the Hall of Fame voting and the announcement of the players to be inducted. I am reposting this article to bring to your attention a very big change in who will be permitted to vote from now on to enshrine players in Cooperstown. Look at the four changes that I call for in how the voting is done. The second one listed has in fact been changed for the 2016 voting! There will be 100 less “writers” allowed to cast a ballot this year. The Hall of Fame has decided that if you have not actively covered baseball for the last 10 years then you lose your right to vote. It is no longer a lifetime privilege. Good job by the Hall of Fame Committee because that one issue really needed to change. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on January 6th 2016. Ken Griffey Jr. is a lock to get elected. Trevor Hoffman may have to wait another year or two.
It was a lot easier in 1936 when the BBWAA ( Baseball Writers Association of America ) first got together to vote in the first class of hall of famers. Those first 5 inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. The term “no brainers” comes to mind so you would think that the first class of inductees and the voting that elevated these fine players to HOF status would be without controversy. I looked at the voting for that first class and managed to have a raised eyebrow at what I saw. Cy Young failed to get in by only garnering 49% of the vote? Young had 511 wins pitching over a 21 year career, a record that will never ever be broken. What does a guy have to do to get a little respect? Cy Young was later inducted of course and the award given out each year for the best pitcher in each the National and the American League was named after good old Cy after the 1955 season. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received two votes on that first year ballot even though he had already been banned for life from the game with no eligibility for reinstatement or election to the Hall of Fame. This was as a result of Jackson’s alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The scandal implicated 8 players on the Chicago White Sox that were believed to have been losing intentionally and being paid off by gamblers to do so. Joe Jackson was a .356 career hitter during the “dead ball” era and hit .375 with 1 homerun and 6 RBI’s in the 1919 World Series. There have been issues and controversies nearly every year since the voting the Hall of Fame started over 70 years ago.
The 2015 class of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio is a good one for the most part except for Smoltz. John Smoltz is a first ballot hall of famer? I don’t even think he is a hall of fame worthy player at all but to put him in on the first ballot? He had one very, very good season when he won the Cy Young Award in 1996 going 24-8 with the Atlanta Braves. Other than that Smoltz had a very good career not a hall of fame career. When they change the name of the building to the Hall of The Very Good then Smoltz should be a first ballot inductee. Mike Piazza is one of the top hitting catchers of all time and it looks like he won’t get in until his fourth year of eligibility next year. I will get back to the Piazza issue in a moment. Biggio has been labeled a “compiler” by his detractors but I have an answer for that as well. Let’s not diminish a player’s career that included durability, versatility, longevity and productivity over 20+ years because he did not hit 30 homers a year. What Biggio did is very hard to do make no mistake about it. Only 27 other men that ever played the game have reached 3000 hits. I for one will not diminish any of those players careers. What Biggio did is hard to do, it is unique and it is Cooperstown worthy, case closed.
The biggest problem facing the voters the BBWAA is how to handle the steroid era and the players that put up video game type stats during it. It is a conundrum of major proportions but I know what I would do if I had a vote. Players that have steroids attached to their names should be separated into 2 categories.
Category 1 – The users and abusers
These are the guys that have either failed a drug test, admitted using or have such overwhelming evidence against them that it can’t be ignored. The most notable ones are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will be eligible in the future and are in the category as well. These players changed the game and its statistical records so much that they have altered the game in a way that can only be fixed by vacating the stats which will never happen. They made the millions and took the health risks and now have to live with the results. No Hall of Fame for these players, ever.
Category 2 – The locker room whispers
The players that come to mind are Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield and Jeff Kent. These are the guys that players, fans and writers whispered in corners of the room about but no hard evidence ever came forward. There is a 5 year waiting period after a player retires before he is eligible for Hall of Fame. If the evidence did not present itself during a players long career plus the 5 years after then I have to measure the player based on his performance on the field and steroids does not enter into my thought process.
In addition to deciding what players should or should not be on the ballot there are big problems with the the Hall of Fame voting process. It is riddled with issues that need to change. Here are the main ones that I would like to see changes in:
- Members of the BBWAA select players that are eligible to be on the ballot from a list of all players that have been retired for 5 years. This is done via a “special screening committee”.
I can’t explain how these writers could put Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, Brian Giles, Tony Clark or Darin Erstad on the ballot with a straight face but they did. No disrespect intended as these players had nice baseball careers but in no way shape or form should they even be considered Hall of Famers. This process needs to be a little more transparent to the public so the fans know how these players are being justified to appear on the ballot.
- Members of the BBWAA that have been a member for 10 years and covering baseball then have a ballot that they can cast. They are permitted to vote for up to 10 players each year.
Some of these members have not been covering baseball for a very long time but once you become a voter it is basically a lifetime job. This makes little to no sense to me. If a writer is no longer actively writing about baseball I think his credentials should be reviewed each year to ensure that the guy voting is qualified to do so. Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege not a right. The 2015 voting results revealed that Troy Percival, Tom Gordon, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad all had support. Each received 2 votes except for Erstad who only received 1. I don’t know if it was 7 different writers that cast these ballots but whoever it was he should no longer have the ability to vote in my mind.
- The board of directors at the Hall of Fame decide how players are elected. Currently and since 1936 they have relied on the BBWAA to vote on players.
It is not 1936 anymore so I think with all the media outlets in our lives today it makes more sense to open up the voting to others. Broadcasters and website writers come to mind. Although there has been some progress on allowing certain website writers gain eligibility to vote I do think more is needed. My real issue here is the broadcasters. Vin Scully has been broadcasting the Dodger games since the 1950’s. The man has met Babe Ruth for crying out loud. He has probably watched more games live and in person then any member of the BBWAA. Scully is a good example of a guy that I feel should have a vote. Others that come to mind here in New York where I live would be Michael Kaye or Howie Rose. Kaye is a Yankees broadcaster and Rose is a Mets broadcaster. I would trust that these gentlemen would take the vote serious and do the due diligence before casting a ballot. It is time for new voices to enter into the process.
- Players stay on the ballot for 15 years and must get at least 5% of the votes each year to remain on the ballot during the 15 years. After that time has passed the only way a player can get in is via the “veterans committee”.
This committee is all living Hall of Fame players and they vote every two years on players that are no longer on the ballot. This is how players such as Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto got inducted. They both had decent careers but in neither case are they Hall of Fame worthy. Rizzuto should be in as a broadcaster but not as a player. I think it is a dangerous thing when players start to vote on other players. The players and the voters get older and start to get more and more nostalgic about a player’s career which can start to cloud good judgment. I would eliminate this committee. 10 years should be the max amount of time that a player should be on the ballot.
These are just a few of the changes that I would make. The board of directors of the Hall of Fame have to decide what kind of hall of fame they want as well as who should be voting on the inductees. I have visited the baseball Hall of Fame numerous times over the years and it is a great place to recall some of the great players and moments in the history of the game. It is just time to review the entire process to ensure that only the best and most deserving players are being honored.
Jason Heyward after signing an 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Cubs. Photo by Yahoo Sports.
The mysterious stat known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR as it is more commonly referred to. You hear about it more and more every day in baseball circles as another way of determining a player’s value or impact to the teams win total. MLB sabermetric supporters, writers and analyst are using this stat to judge players more so it seems then using the traditional statistics that have been around since the first pitch was thrown in the 1800’s. I have been trying to understand the relevancy of this “new” statistic for quite some time now and I still have a hard time judging a player using this method. First let’s all get on the same page with a short and not so simple definition of what WAR is.
WAR – “A single number that represents the number of wins a player added to a team above what a replacement player would add.” I will use Jayson Heyward as my example since he was my inspiration for writing this article. Heyward had a WAR of 6.5 in 2015. He was 10th in MLB and Bryce Harper was 1st with a 9.9 WAR. Keep in mind that Kevin Kiermaier had a 7.3 WAR ( good for 7th in the majors ) in 2015 and he hit .260 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. The caveat here is that the replacement player would be a minor leaguer not a free agent that hit 40 homers or won 20 games last year. It is a player that would replace the player “at minimal cost or effort.” A more detailed explanation of WAR can be found by going to the Baseball-Reference.com website www.baseballreference.com/about/war_explained.shtml
The calculation of WAR is where the fuzzy math starts to kick in for me. I am a firm believer in a player having more value than what his traditional stats are. Some players provide significant contributions in many areas where we, the fans, just can’t go on line and look at a stat for it. The best that I can figure out about WAR is that the stat revolves around runs produced on offense by a position player and runs prevented on defense for the same player combined. More emphasis is placed on defensive play at key defensive positions such as catcher vs. first basemen. In the case of a pitcher it would be more about runs prevented obviously. Sounds great, the problem is that the calculation methods look more like rocket science to me. You or I would not be able to take out our IPhone and use the calculator to figure out a player’s WAR while sitting at the ballpark on a Sunday afternoon. We can figure out a players batting average pretty quickly and sometimes without a calculator. If you want some mind numbing formulas to look at then here is the link to the Wikipedia page where they “clearly” show you how some of the calculations are arrived at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_Above_Replacement
How does all this relate to Jayson Heyward? Heyward recently signed an astounding 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. While I was watching the analyst on MLB Network break down the contract one of them indicated that Heyward’s WAR stat may have played a role in the Cubs being so high on him. Let me just say I have no issue with Jayson Heyward’s career or play thus far in baseball. He is a nice player but his stats are not exactly eye popping. He has played 6 seasons in the majors and has averaged .268 with 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. He has never driven in over 90 runs in a season. He has only hit over 20 homers in a season one time. He does not score a lot of runs and has only exceeded 90 runs scored once. He does have a .350 career on base percentage and steals around 20 bases a year while playing good defense. His WAR average is 5.18 over the 6 seasons which puts him in the “All-Star” category for the WAR statistic. The WAR status categories are as follows: 8+ is “MVP”, 5+ is “All-Star” and 2+ is “Starter” and 0-2 is “Sub”. Freddie Freeman came up in Atlanta about 1 year behind Heyward and both players will turn 26 in 2016. Freeman averages .285 with 21 HR’s and 85 RBI’s per season with an On Base % of .366 while playing a good first base. He signed an 8 yr. / $135 million contract prior to the 2014 season. His WAR average per season is 3.14. Hmmm, that is only “Starter” status. Could this be the difference in the $50 million gap between the two players? I tell you what I think. I think I would rather have signed the Freddie Freeman deal. He is a better contributor in the key categories and it is far less risk and a lot less money. Keep your wins above replacement I will take the additional HR’s and RBI’s at a big discount thank you so much.
Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent and has yet to sign with a club. The Cuban defector is 29 and has played 4 seasons in the majors. His average seasons look like this: .271 with 26 HR’s and 92 RBI’s. He has driven in 100 runs two times and is widely considered a major force in any lineup. He single handedly changed the Mets offense this past summer. He has an incredible arm in the outfield as well so he contributes on defense also. However, his WAR is only 3.95 which is “Starter” status and not the “All-Star” status that Heyward has. It looks like Cespedes will sign a deal for much less than Heyward did age notwithstanding. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. Which player do you think would have more of an impact in your lineup between Heyward and Cespedes? Which player has the ability to carry a team for a few weeks? Which player changes the way the others are pitched to around him? For me this is a no brainer. I will take the big bat of Cespedes and the traditional stats he produces over the Wins Above Replacement that Heyward produces every time. So what is WAR good for? Absolutely nothing in my mind.
Yesterday the Boston Red Sox signed free agent pitcher David Price to a $217 million contract over 7 years. That is a mighty big splash in the free agent signing world. Another player was signed yesterday as well. The announcement of that signing was more like a ripple than a splash. The Minnesota Twins signed Korean Baseball League star Byung Ho Park to a 4 year / $12 million contract. Dollar for dollar when it is all said and done I suspect that the Twins will be very happy with what they paid and the production that they receive. The only way the Red Sox will be satisfied with the contract that they signed Price for is if they get lucky. Hope is not a business plan as we all know. I outlined the dangers of large contracts like the one Price signed and talk about smarter moves like the Twins made in a previous article titled Money Haul.
First let’s look at the Red Sox signing. $31 million a year is a lot of cabbage and a pitcher entering his 30’s is a lot of risk. I believe that Price has some good seasons left in that arm but the likelihood of him fulfilling this contract to full expectations is nearly impossible. I will give the Red Sox credit for one thing though. They are not afraid to climb back on that horse when they get thrown off of it. This time last year the Red sox were announcing the signing of free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to a combined $183 million. Sandoval was a complete bust in 2015 and it is likely he won’t be around for long in Boston if he flops early in 2016. Ramirez continued his decline as a baseball player in 2015 to the point where The Red Sox would love a “do over” on this contract as well. Those two disastrous contracts coupled with the $95 million they gave below average pitcher Rick Porcello and the $72 million thrown at their very disappointing Cuban player Rusney Castillo are enough to make anybody a little hesitant. The Red Sox are all in with the Price signing even though history tells us that this deal will bite them on the fanny eventually.
The Twins on the other hand have done what I think is the more prudent move and the one that has a much higher probability of being successful even if Park does not hit as well as expected. Imagine that a scenario could be deemed a success even if the player does not fulfill expectations. That is a novel concept indeed if I do say so myself. Park hit .343 with 53 HR’s and 146 RBI’s last year in the Korean League. He just had back to back 50 homerun seasons. I think it is safe to assume that half of that production is what the Twins would be looking for. A .280 hitter with 25 HR’s and 75 RBI’s for $3 million a year is a pretty good deal. If he hits .250 with 15 and 60 it is still a good deal. If he hits .240 with 10 and 40 then you got what you paid for and you are not crippled financially. What happens if he hits 40 HR’s and drives in 100 runs? I will tell you what happens. It softens the blow a bit of paying Joe Mauer $23 million a year to play 1B and hit 10 homers and drive in 66 runs. These are the types of business decisions that small market teams like Minnesota have to make to compete. If the transition of Jung Ho Kang to the major leagues last year from Korea is any indication, then I think the Twins will be in good shape. Kang was signed by the Pirates last year to a deal similar to Park’s and he also was a slugger in Korea. He was hitting 40 homers in the Korean League and finished last year with a .287 BA with 15 HR’s and 58 RBI’s in 467 at bats before he injured his knee and missed the remainder of the season.
The strategies and navigation of a major league payroll are ever changing. The big contract signing will never go away. The GM’s and owners just can’t help themselves. The TV contracts, the luxury boxes and the ridiculous ticket prices need to be justified especially in places like Boston, NY, L.A. etc. However there is always more than one way to get the job done. The Price was right for Park and now only time will tell which team made a better business decision.
That is until the player that steals bases signs the big contract! That’s when the base stealing drops off dramatically. This is a trend that I have noticed over the last several years in Major League Baseball. It appears to me that once a player signs his first large deal for tens of millions of dollars you can bet the farm that the stolen base part of that player’s game is only going in one direction, down. Generally speaking the player received that contract, in part at least, because of his ability to steal bases as demonstrated in previous seasons. It is part of the player’s offensive game and surely used by agents as a positive stat during negotiations for that big contract. My research shows that most of the time the player’s stolen base production drops off before the ink is even dry on that deal. Some of them stop running for no known reason such as the case of Mike Trout. Then there are other players that appear to be concerned about injury risks so they reduce the attempted steals. Then there are players such as Bryce Harper who should be stealing 25+ bases a year given his age and speed but simply choose not to run. Harper is still a couple years away from his first big contract. Perhaps he will start running in 2016 as he starts his contract / arbitration drive. Harper is arbitration eligible in 2017. Usually there is a 3 to 5 year window of when players will rack up some pretty good stolen base numbers. After that it is likely the steals will start to go down.
Stolen bases are the one category that a player chooses to either be all in or all out or somewhere in between. Players don’t stop trying to get hits, they don’t stop trying to hit homeruns and they surely don’t stop trying to drive in runs. However, they do eventually stop trying to steal bases at the rate they did before. Maybe the players are afraid to get hurt after signing the big contract and can you blame them? Bryce Harper has already missed significant playing time in his career from injuries sustained while running the bases. Is it possible that the team has asked the player not to steal bases for fear of injury to their big investment? That possibility does exist. I looked at some players that were signed to large contracts and what the trend was with their stolen base production before and after the new contract started. The results of my findings might surprise you.
The most recent example of a player with dramatic stolen base drop off after signing the big contract is Mike Trout. In the two seasons prior to 2014 he averaged 41 stolen bases. Trout signed a 6 year / $144 million dollar deal prior to the start of the 2014 season. In 2014 he stole 16 bases and in 2015 he was down to 11. Trout has not even turned 25 years old yet. He is a little young to be wasting of one of his strongest talents. Trout has played every day throughout his career and has proven to be very durable. Some other examples of base stealers that stop running from recent years that comes to mind:
Melvin Upton – Padres
In the 5 years prior to signing a 5 year / $73 million deal before 2013 Upton averaged 39 stolen bases a season. In the three seasons after signing the deal Upton now is averaging 13 stolen bases a season.
Matt Kemp – Padres
In the 4 years prior to signing his big contract Kemp averaged 32 stolen bases per year. Before the start of the 2012 season Kemp signed an 8 year / $160 million dollar contract. He stole 9 bases in 2012, 9 in 2013, 8 in 2014 and 12 in 2015. You can safely say that he will never reach 20 SB’s again let alone 30 SB’s a season.
Andrew McCutchen – Pirates
In the 4 years prior and including his MVP season of 2013 McCutchen was averaging 25 steals a season. He signed his first big contract prior to the 2012 season. But in the last two seasons McCutchen is now averaging 14 steals a season. McCutchen is 28 years old.
Starlin Castro – Cubs
In 2011 and 2012 Castro averaged 23 stolen bases as an emerging star in the league. Toward the end of the 2012 season he signed a 7 year / $60 million dollar deal. The following year in 2013 he stole 9 bases. He stole 4 bases in 2014 and 5 in 2015. I think Castro is done running at age 25.
Carl Crawford – Dodgers
In the 8 seasons prior to signing his 7 year / $142 million dollar contract with the Red Sox before the 2011 season Crawford averaged 50 steals per year. He dropped off to 18 in the first year of the deal and has averaged 14 in the 5 seasons since the deal started. He is the poster child for a team never again paying a player for stolen bases. Injuries played a big part in this drop off but the facts remain what they are. He signed the deal and stopped stealing bases.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Yankees
In the season prior to his signing of a 7 year and $153 million deal in 2014 Ellsbury stole 52 bases. He dropped off to 39 in 2014 and then 21 this past season. He might not be done stealing bases yet but it looks like he may be getting close to it.
Michael Bourn – Braves
In the 4 years prior to signing his 4 year / $48 million dollar deal Bourn averaged 54 steals per year. In the first year ( 2013 ) of his first big contract he stole 23 bases. In 2014 he stole 17 and then only 10 bases in 2015. One of the biggest reasons the Indians signed Bourn was his speed. He has already been traded away to the Braves as the Indians certainly did not get the sort of production in steals that they signed up for.
Carlos Beltran – Yankees
This is example goes back a little ways but another example nonetheless. In the 2 years prior to his big free agent signing with the Mets he averaged 41 stolen bases a season. Prior to the 2005 season he signed his 7 year / $119 million dollar deal. His steals dropped off to only 17 that first season of the new contract. He has only reached 20 steals twice since then and has now aged out of the running game. He ran very hard for the money and when he got the money he stopped running.
In all of these cases the drop off in steals in the first year after the big contract is signed is 50% or more. There are many other examples as well. Whether the reasons are injuries, bad offensive season, different lineup etc. the facts still remains that stolen bases should not be counted on by a team when evaluating a player’s contract. The players and agents have no problem running off with the money. It’s the stolen bases they seemed to stop running for.
I originally wrote this article near the end of the 2014 season. 2015 is now over and we are now officially entering into the off season free agency feeding frenzy. I figured it might be a good time to re-visit the state of the “big contract” in Major League Baseball. Fans want the big players and along with that comes some big risks. I identified 19 out of the top 30 highest paid players in 2014 that were a flop as compared to what they were being paid. Many of those players will never regain the form that earned them the contract in the first place. Be careful what you wish for folks. You just might get it!
Originally written in August 2014:
The numbers are staggering when you start to break them down by the player, years; annual salary etc. $100 to $150 million contracts are becoming common in baseball. However, what is not common is for those contracts to yield productive results from the players throughout the duration of the deal. There is no shortage of contracts in the $150 to $200 million range as well. There are very few over $200 million but some none the less. Every which way you look at the highest paid players in baseball and the seasons that they are having in 2014 you can’t help but scratch your head. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, and his “Moneyball” philosophy looks smarter and smarter every day. Moneyball was a book published in 2003, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane. Its focus is the team’s analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite Oakland’s disadvantaged revenue situation. A film based on the book starring Brad Pitt was released in 2011.
I took a close look at the top 30 highest paid players in MLB for 2014. I was surprised but not shocked at what I found. Keep in mind that in 2014 Mike Trout is making $1,000,000. His big contract of 6 years / $144 million contract starts in 2015. Clayton Kershaw is only making a salary of $4,000,000 in 2014. He appears on the list because he had a huge signing bonus in 2014. His 7 year / $215 million contract starts in 2015. Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million contract kicks in for the 2015 season. The outcome of those deals will remain to be seen.
|RANK||NAME||TEAM||POS||SALARY||YEARS||TOTAL VALUE||AVG ANNUAL|
|1||Zack Greinke||LAD||P||$ 28,000,000||6 (2013-18)||$ 147,000,000||$ 24,500,000|
|2*||Ryan Howard||PHI||1B||$ 25,000,000||5 (2012-16)||$ 125,000,000||$ 25,000,000|
|3*||Cliff Lee||PHI||P||$ 25,000,000||5 (2011-15)||$ 120,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|4||Robinson Cano||SEA||2B||$ 24,000,000||10 (2014-23)||$ 240,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|5*||Prince Fielder||TEX||1B||$ 24,000,000||9 (2012-20)||$ 214,000,000||$ 23,777,777|
|6*||Cole Hamels||PHI||P||$ 23,500,000||6 (2013-18)||$ 144,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|7*||Mark Teixeira||NYY||1B||$ 23,125,000||8 (2009-16)||$ 180,000,000||$ 22,500,000|
|8||Albert Pujols||LAA||1B||$ 23,000,000||10 (2012-21)||$ 240,000,000||$ 24,000,000|
|9*||Joe Mauer||MIN||1B||$ 23,000,000||8 (2011-18)||$ 184,000,000||$ 23,000,000|
|10*||CC Sabathia||NYY||P||$ 23,000,000||5 (2012-16)||$ 122,000,000||$ 24,400,000|
|11||Felix Hernandez||SEA||P||$ 22,857,142||7 (2013-19)||$ 175,000,000||$ 25,000,000|
|12*||Masahiro Tanaka||NYY||P||$ 22,000,000||7 (2014-20)||$ 155,000,000||$ 22,142,857|
|13||Miguel Cabrera||DET||1B||$ 21,943,026||10 (2014-23)||$ 292,000,000||$ 29,200,000|
|14||Adrian Gonzalez||LAD||1B||$ 21,857,142||7 (2012-18)||$ 154,000,000||$ 22,000,000|
|15*||Matt Kemp||LAD||OF||$ 21,250,000||8 (2012-19)||$ 160,000,000||$ 20,000,000|
|16||Jacoby Ellsbury||NYY||OF||$ 21,142,857||7 (2014-20)||$ 153,000,000||$ 21,857,142|
|17*||Carl Crawford||LAD||OF||$ 21,107,142||7 (2011-17)||$ 142,000,000||$ 20,285,714|
|18*||Matt Cain||SF||P||$ 20,833,333||6 (2012-17)||$ 127,500,000||$ 21,250,000|
|19*||Jayson Werth||WSH||OF||$ 20,571,428||7 (2011-17)||$ 126,000,000||$ 18,000,000|
|20*||Justin Verlander||DET||P||$ 20,000,000||7 (2013-19)||$ 180,000,000||$ 25,714,285|
|21||Adam Wainwright||STL||P||$ 19,500,000||5 (2014-18)||$ 97,500,000||$ 19,500,000|
|22*||David Wright||NYM||3B||$ 19,329,646||8 (2013-20)||$ 138,000,000||$ 17,250,000|
|23||Mark Buehrle||TOR||P||$ 19,000,000||4 (2012-15)||$ 58,000,000||$ 14,500,000|
|24||Clayton Kershaw||LAD||P||$ 19,000,000||7 (2014-20)||$ 215,000,000||$ 30,714,285|
|25*||Alfonso Soriano||NYY||DH||$ 19,000,000||8 (2007-14)||$ 136,000,000||$ 17,000,000|
|26*||Brian McCann||NYY||C||$ 17,000,000||5 (2014-18)||$ 85,000,000||$ 17,000,000|
|27||Adrian Beltre||TEX||3B||$ 17,000,000||5 (2011-15)||$ 80,000,000||$ 16,000,000|
|28*||Josh Beckett||LAD||P||$ 17,000,000||4 (2011-14)||$ 68,000,000||$ 17,000,000|
|29*||Tim Lincecum||SF||P||$ 17,000,000||2 (2014-15)||$ 35,000,000||$ 17,500,000|
|30*||Josh Hamilton||LAA||OF||$ 17,000,000||5 (2013-17)||$ 125,000,000||$ 25,000,000|
The average annual salary for the top 30 highest paid players in baseball for 2014 is $21.1 million. 19 of those top 30 (* next to the 19 players) highest paid players have either been injured for part or most of the season or are having a very unproductive year or both scenario’s combined. Several of them are out for the year. In the case of Alphonso Soriano he is not even playing anymore, just mail him the $19 million and thank you so much. Soriano was released by the New York Yankees earlier this year. The Cubs paid $14 million of that bill and the Yankees are only responsible for $5 million of Soriano’s 2014 salary, a mere bag of shells for the Bronx Bombers. Also keep in mind that the Yankees Alex Rodriguez is not even part of the top 30 because he was suspended for the year for violating the league drug policy. Arod was due to earn $25 million in 2014 which would have put him in the top 5 but due to the suspension the Yankees are only responsible to pay him $3.8 million for this season. Below I have listed a few of the most egregious contracts the way that I see it. My assessment of the worst contracts listed below is based on a combination of salary, age of player, production, team financial health etc. The players are in no particular order. Bad is bad.
Joe Mauer C Minnesota Twins: Contract Status-Mauer is in the middle of an 8 year 184 million contract. He will make $23 million this year. I like Joe Mauer. Everybody likes Joe Mauer. Mauer’s contract? Nobody likes that, least of all the Twins. I think if the Twinkies could have a do over on this one they would never have signed Mauer to this kind of deal. It made very little sense at the time and makes even less sense today. Small market teams like Minnesota have much less margin for error. The contract is an anchor that they are now saddled with. Mauer is often injured and no longer is a catcher. He has been moved to first base in an attempt to keep him healthy. He has never hit 30 homers in a season and never driven in 100 runs. Don’t look now folks but Mauer has been in the league for 10 years. That kind of money at the very least should be reserved for major run producers. Mauer has averaged .313 with 8 homers and 54 rbi’s in the first three full seasons of this deal prior to 2014. That kind of production can be had by many players in the league for about $5 to $7 million a year. Case in point is James Loney in Tampa Bay. He will probably put up the same or better numbers than Mauer in 2014 and he is only making $6 million this year. Loney has a salary of only 1 million but has a signing bonus for $5 million for this year. A difference of $17 million from what Mauer is making.
Ryan Howard 1B Philadalphia Phillies: Contract Status – In the middle of a 5 year $125 million contract that expires after the 2016 season. He will make $25 million this year. In the first 2 years of his contract he was injured and averaged 75 games played with 12 homers and 49 RBI’s. This year in the third year he is hitting .220 with 18 homers and 77 RBI’s. Howard has at least been healthy and producing something. However, he is 34 years old and he simply looks lost against left handed pitching. He will struggle to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line going forward. The Phillies would love to unload him but alas there will be no takers unless the Phillies pay the bulk of the salary.
Jayson Werth OF Washington Nationals: Contract Status – In the 4th year of a 7 year $126 million contract. In the two full seasons of the deal that Werth was not injured he averaged .270 with 22 homeruns and 70 RBI’s. This season he projects to hit about .280 with 17 homeruns and 83 RBI’s. This is hardly the production worthy of over $20,000,000 a year. Werth never drove in 100 runs prior to the Nats signing him to this deal and he still has not done it till this day. This is a good example of an ill-advised signing that made no sense.
David Wright 3B New York Mets: Contract Status – In the second year of an 8 year $138 million deal. This one is off to a shaky start to say the least. Wright has not hit 30 homers in a season since 2008 and has not driven in 100 runs since 2010. He won’t drive in 100 this year either. With 6 years to go and what seems like a cavernous pitchers park in Citi Field I think the only way this one works out is if the Mets move the fences in and hope.
I think you all get the idea. You can do the math on other players like CC Sabathia, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Josh Beckett, Josh Hamilton,Tim Lincecum etc. It is worthy of noting that the Dodgers and Yankees each have 5 players on the list. The Phillies are next with 3 players. In 2001 the Yankees signed Derek Jeter to a 10 year $189 million dollar deal. They got 10 years of all-star play from Jeter for their money. Jeter played every day and produced and was an outstanding post season player. That example is not the norm. 10 years is a long time to guarantee anything in this world let alone athletic performance.
The bottom line for me if I was a General Manager of a major league baseball team is simple. You have two choices to field a competitive team without taking huge monetary risks:
- Teams can try to sign players to deals for a lot less money when the team has control of the player’s future in the first 6 years of their career. If you believe in a player instead of paying him the major league minimum of $500,000 a year you could offer him more money up front to keep him happy and show good faith. However your real goal should be to buy out those arbitration years where the player is more likely to get more money if he has performed well. If you could buy out a year or two of free agency then you are really on to something. The Indians did something like this with Manny Ramirez in the late 90’s. Ramirez was paid the major league minimum in 1994 and 1995. Then he signed a 4 year / $10.1 million deal which was a lot more than minimum and much less than what he might have earned through arbitration. Ramirez out produced that contract by far and away. His next deal was for $160 million. The Astros attempted to do something like this with George Springer but Springer turned it down. The Mets, Cubs and Astros will all be faced with tough challenges going forward trying to keep good young talent.
- Teams can spend more money on scouting and player development for international players that don’t go through the amateur draft like a Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers or Jose Abreu from the White Sox for example. Abreu signed a 6 year $68 million contract with an interesting twist. He has the ability to “opt back in” to the arbitration process when eligible after completing his third season. He is due to make $10.5 million in 2017. If his performance warrants it then he may go to arbitration and get a raise. Puig signed a 7 yr / $42 million contract with the “opt back in” clause as well. Abreu is already out producing his contract as Puig has yet to fully develop. It will be interesting to see how it turns out when they are arbitration eligible.
I think it makes more sense to take risks with smaller amounts of money with multiple players very early in their careers then it does to drop $150 million on one player for 6 or 7 years and hope for the best. Chances are you would be signing that deal with the player after he has already been in the league for at least 6 years so who is to say when his performance will start to go down. Most players by then will be in their late 20’s and you would be signing them to deals taking them into their early to mid 30’s. Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners will be 40 years old when he plays the last year of his 10 year $240 million contract. Sounds like a ton of risk on the back end of that deal to me. Teams like the Mets, Cubs and the Astros will be interesting to watch over the next few years. Let’s see how they handle and keep all their young talent. They could be shaping the future economics of major league baseball payroll philosophy. The current philosophy leaves a lot to be desired and is unsustainable going forward.
There was a sweet Odor circulating in the air at the Rogers Centre in Toronto last night as the Texas Rangers defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 in the first game of this ALDS matchup. Ranger’s second baseman Rougned Odor only had 1 hit in the game but he had a big outcome on the final score. He was hit twice (both pitches were curveballs) by Toronto starting pitcher David Price. Both times Odor came around to score. He later added a solo homerun in the 7th inning off the tough lefty Price to provide the Rangers with an insurance run and the 5-3 lead. Odor also made two outstanding plays on defense in the 5th inning. Not too shabby for a 21 year old left handed hitter in his first ever playoff game who was sent to the minors earlier in the year after a miserable start to the season.
Rougned Odor enjoyed a fine rookie campaign in 2014 as a 20 year old trying to make his way in the majors. He hit .259 with 9 HR’s and 48 RBI’s last year in 114 games and the needle was pointing up with great expectations for 2015. Odor had a very rough start to his season this year. He batted .144 in the first 29 games and left the Rangers no choice but to send the kid to the minors to get his swing straightened out. He made his Triple A debut on May 12th at Round Rock. Odor skipped Triple A while climbing to the majors last season. To his credit he seized the opportunity and caught fire. At Round Rock he hit .352 with 5 HR’s and 19 RBI’s in 108 at bats. A performance worthy of promoting him back to the majors on June 15th and he promptly went 3 for 3. Odor batted .299 with 15 HR’s from the day he returned to the Rangers lineup through the end of the season.
If you can’t get enough of Rougned Odor after reading this article then please let me introduce you to his younger brother Rougned Odor. The 17 year old with the same name was signed by the Rangers earlier this year and spent his first season playing minor league baseball in the Dominican Summer League. It could just be a matter of time before the Odor brothers from Venezuela are both playing for the Rangers.
The series matchup continues today at 12:30 as Long Island’s own Marcus Stroman will take the mound for the Blue Jays vs. Cole Hamels of the Rangers. Odor bats 8th in the Rangers lineup but he is a key part of this team right now. History has shown that playoff hero’s very often are the players that you least expect it from. On May 11th I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Odor would be in that category.
Photo Credit – USA Today