Sparkle And Fade

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove
  • Prosper and fall:

The most interesting aspect of free agency, for me, isn’t where Cliff Lee and the other biggest names available wind up—the players whom everyone wants—it’s the players who are good and productive but, for one reason or another, fall through the cracks and don’t get the amount of money or years they were expecting.

Players in this category are still available and looking increasingly desperate right now. Rafael Soriano is one such player. He had a fantastic year; he is a marketable commodity as a strikeout reliever who can close; but he’s in fact be hindered by the great year he had and that his agent is Scott Boras and his demands are too great for a team to pay.

It winds up being a catch-22 for a Soriano—he should get a big contract for his performance and abilities, but won’t get the big contract because of the asking price, that the signing club is going to lose a draft pick and the market for relief pitchers has essentially crashed as building a bullpen has been put into greater statistical and practical context.

It doesn’t help Soriano that his reputation isn’t great. He gives up too many homers and gacks up big games; plus, as Bill Madden wrote in the NY Daily News yesterday, Soriano refused to pitch for more than one inning several times for the Rays in 2010. The combination is not a winning one for an iffy performer with an injury history and high financial demands.

You see it with other free agents who should probably be more in demand than they are.

Adam LaRoche just signed a 2-year, $16 million contract with an option for 2013. LaRoche is a consistent all-around player from whom you know what you’ll get: 25 homers, 60 extra base hits and adequate-to-good defense. The Nats probably could’ve gotten LaRoche for a little less money, but the contract’s not ridiculous considering they needed another bat and after the loony contract they gave Jayson Werth. Why run the risk of LaRoche going to Seattle or some other bat-hungry team?

Every year Orlando Hudson finds himself looking for work and taking a short-term contract. He’s touted by the stat zombies as a plus defender and productive hitter, but the statistical analysis and resulting financial valuations may actually be harming Hudson’s hopes for a long-term contract. Those that are signing him know his options are limited; that he’s injury-prone; and the numbers are such that a value is placed on his services; teams are unwilling to go beyond that because of his numbers and history of being on the outside looking in as January/February rolls around. Hudson got 2 years from the Padres with an option, but is only guaranteed $11.5 million.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from Werth’s $126 million insanity.

  • Speaking of the other end of the spectrum:

Of course there are players who take advantage of their impending free agency by having a career year and getting paid as a result of it. Adrian Beltre, A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano come to mind.

Beltre has had career years in two of his seasons prior to free agency and gotten paid. Like Hudson, Beltre is beloved in stat zombie circles for his defense and bat; after having an MVP-quality season for the Red Sox, Beltre just signed a 5-year, $80 million contract with the Rangers.

In 2008, Burnett won 18 games for the Blue Jays and, more importantly, stayed healthy knowing that he could opt out of his contract. He did and got a bigger deal from the Yankees.

Pavano won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004, signed with the Yankees and subsequently, rather than pitch, he went to the beach and the doctor. (He might’ve been better served to find a doctor on the beach, but that’s neither here nor there.) After rejuvenating his career with the Twins, Pavano won’t get the same money he did from the Yankees, but he’s going to get a multi-year contract in the $22-25 million range from someone. Considering his reputation after the Yankees debacle, that’s great for him.

For a long time, I’ve seen this type of behavior as a negative; now, I’m thinking it may not be as bad as it looks on the surface. While a player raising his game when money is on the line could be judged as untoward and self-serving, as long as the club knows what they’re getting, they can’t complain about it.

The Yankees didn’t know what they were unwrapping with the Pavano package and that’s why I’ve never given them a hard time about his signing. Had they not given Pavano the money, the Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners were prepared to do so. The Yankees did know what they were getting with Burnett and this is why the ripping into him is unfair. He is what he is and nothing more.

Would this type of seasonlong pressure play bode well for a post-season calmness that would result in success? Players have raised their games in the post-season. Orel Hershiser, Lenny Dykstra, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart—all have reputations as “money” players in the playoffs.

It might be the magnitude of the moment or the desire for fame and fortune that have spurred them. Will Beltre be a similar player? We don’t know because he’s only been in the playoffs once in his career—in 2004—and went 4 for 15 in the Dodgers 4 game NLDS loss to the Cardinals.

Pavano has been very good in the playoffs; Burnett’s been Burnett—up and down.

While the “big free agent year” followed by a lull can be seen as a profound negative, judging it from a different and more realistic angle, said success in a pressure year could be a portent of success in the playoffs. Finding something a player can do well and accepting him for that isn’t such a bad thing; in fact, it’s necessary and can help a club win a championship.

Unless something big happens, I’ll do the mail tomorrow.


2 thoughts on “Sparkle And Fade

  1. I wonder if we’re perhaps too hard on Pavano in regards to his hellish Yankeedom. I mean, did he really just mail it in and sit on the beach while being hurt with a smile on his face or was he genuinely upset that he couldn’t perform?

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