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.
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.