Wednesday, December 01, 2004

So You Have the Dollars… Now How About Some Sense?

The calendar rolls over to December today, and as it is every winter, baseball information is at a premium. Fortunately for me, John is an extremely kind and generous person and allows me to use his ESPN Insider subscription (as long as I pay for the occasional month). I’m not super keen on paying for material that used to be free, but what can I do? I love the stuff.

Anyway, this all leads into the topic for today’s post. I read ESPN’s “Rumor Mill” section all the time, not because it’s particularly accurate (there are plenty of wild goose chases in there), but because it let’s me see what’s going on in the trenches of major league baseball. This winter, I must say that I’m rather disappointed with the way the battle is progressing.

The owners-players conflict in baseball is one that has existed for a very long time, and fans are usually pretty split as to where their allegiances lie. Some favor the players, saying that they should “take whatever they can get” from the owners. Some people think players are grossly overpaid and believe we should go back to the days of perpetual serfdom. Then there are those who think the whole system stinks and wash their hands of the whole greed-infested mess.

Personally, I am a cross between all three of those opinions. There is no doubt that baseball owners gypped the players out of their fair share for more than 80 years, but I also believe that the salary figures being handed out circa 2000-2001 (peaking with that insane $250 million Alex Rodriguez) were far too extreme. It was a welcome breath of fresh air when salaries began to spiral downward in 2002; last winter, we truly saw the return of sanity to the marketplace (or perhaps the return of collusion if you’re Scott Boras).

Things definitely have not gotten off on the right foot in 2004. It started innocently enough: the Giants screwed up and gave 37 year-old Omar Vizquel a three-year, $12.25 million deal. Yeah, that’s way too much, and yeah, Vizquel’s not the player he used to be, but he’s still a veteran who’s going to be a leader and play solid defense. But then things got even weirder: the former genius (and now infamous) Jim Bowden goes and gives a .266 career hitter whose weakness include (but are not limited to) breaking pitches and job security, a four-year, 16.8 million (!) dollar contract. For good measure, he decides to give a washed-up Vinny Castilla $6.2 million for two years. Those are two stupid moves, but someone could theoretically see an eensy tinsy-tiny bit of logic there in that Bowden wants to drum up ticket sales for next year. Not sure how many people are going to show up just because an unmotivated Guzy is manning shortstop (although that bionic sound is pretty cool) but that’s just me.

Lately, things have been getting really crazy. A mediocre Kris Benson for three years at $22.5 million? A running-on-fumes Troy Percival for $6 million a year? (Although keep in mind this is the Tigers we’re talking about.) Damian Miller got $8.5 million over three years from the Brewers. Yesterday, Armando Benitez signed a three-year deal for $21 million, and while he is one of the better closers in the game, that is not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

The potential deals, those just on the horizon, are even more mind-boggling. We’ve all heard about Carlos Beltran and how Lucifer—err, I mean Boras—wants a 10-year deal for $200 million. Now he’ll never get that contract in a million years (at least the owners have learned something from the A-Rod fiasco) but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yanks eventually give in and hand Beltran a deal in the $90 to $100 million range for five or six years. Boras initially demanded $55 million contract for a 33-year old catcher (Jason Varitek) and while the sides will probably agree on a $36 million deal in the next few days (Boras is being a complete idiot and demanding a no-trade clause also, which is stalling the negotiations). Carl Pavano will get $9 or $10 million a year after having only one really good season.

Here’s the real kicker: It was released yesterday that the Mets are prepared to give an aging Pedro Martinez $38 million over three years, possibly increasing that to $50 million over four years, which is absolutely asinine.

Remember “trickle-down economics”, that theory that you learned about in Econ 101? It seems to be taking effect right here in Minnesota. First off, Juan Castro gets two years and doesn’t have to take a pay cut from his $1 million salary in ’04 despite hitting .244 last year. Now it appears that Brad Radke won’t be taking much of a pay cut from his $10 million salary ($9 million a year sounds likely for his next contract) and there is no doubt that he could easily get a raise from the Yankees or Red Sox if he really wanted one.

So what’s going on, major league owners? Didn’t you learn ANYTHING during the last labor negotiations? Ever hear of a little thing called “fiscal responsibility”? Heck, I’d even settle for collusion if it will keep prices within reason! Hopefully the signings we’ve seen so far are nothing but an aberration, but that is looking less and less likely every day. Teams were just starting to emerge from the depths of the terrible contracts they doled out during the Boom Years, but now it seems like they’re beginning the deadly cycle anew. The last thing baseball needs is a repeat of the 2002 labor woes.

Owners, listen up! So what if you have the dollars to spend on these guys! Try using some common sense instead!