Mike Trout’s Contract and the Needless Uproar

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There’s been an absurd uproar and reaction of shock that the Angels chose to renew Mike Trout‘s contract for $510,000. This is strange considering that the constant storyline surrounding athletes is how overpaid they are. For the most part, it has little to do with their performance. Players who are at the top of the baseball pay scale like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto and Felix Hernandez are the examples given of players who are either not going to fulfill their paychecks with extended production into their late 30s or are considered anomalies and accused of PED use if they do perform.

In the realm of public perception, they can’t win. Of course they win in their bank account, but through no fault of their own, no matter what they do, it’s not going to be good enough.

Pujols’s contract is called a backend nightmare because he’s going to be paid $59 million two seasons after his 40th birthday.

A-Rod is breaking down physically, has $114 million due him with the very real possibility that the Yankees will eventually cut their losses of him and his constant sideshow of embarrassing drama, paying him to leave. They won’t even have the benefit of the extra income they thought they, as an organization, would accrue as A-Rod broke home run records. He probably won’t break the records at all and if he does, they’re sullied beyond all recognition due to his admitted PED use and recent allegations that their use has been ongoing.

Votto will be 30 in September and his 10-year, $225 million deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. He’ll be paid $25 million annually from age 35-39 and $20 million at 40. Plus Votto’s playing for a mid-market club, the Cincinnati Reds, for whom that contract might preclude them from putting commensurate talent around him.

Hernandez is a pitcher whose prematurely announced contract was put in jeopardy by red flags found in his elbow during his physical. By the time the contract news had been strategically leaked, neither he nor the Mariners could back out and protective language was inserted to shield the Mariners if he gets hurt.

Those who take down-the-line contracts to remain in their current venue are so rare that it’s a worldwide stunner when they make the decision that they don’t need to be the highest paid player in the world and that $85 million can buy just as much stuff as $200 million. Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria are players who have made that choice. They’re a rarity.

No matter where you stand on the issue of athletes’ pay, the way baseball functions can be manipulated to advantage the player, the club, or they can come to an agreement to share the risk with a preemptive, long-term deal. Once a player has exhausted his amateur eligibility, he’s at the mercy of the organization that drafts him. For the first three years of their major league careers, they’re paid at the whim of the team. The next three years they’re eligible for arbitration. Then they can become free agents. If they choose to do as Longoria did and sign a contract to give up their opportunity at arbitration and have their first couple of years at free agency bought out with guaranteed years and options, they can have a nice nest egg of $10-20 million regardless of whether if they flame out as players or become stars. It’s a gamble they take. It’s a gamble the team makes. It applies to everyone from Trout to the last player taken in the draft who manages to make it to the big leagues for a cup of coffee or is a late-bloomer and has a 20-year career.

You wouldn’t know that, though, from the indignant reaction to the Angels deciding to renew Trout’s contract for $510,000. Does Trout’s near-MVP season in 2012 have any bearing on the Angels’ decision to raise his salary by $28,000 from what he made as a rookie? Should it?

The Players Association makes the rules for all the players and it’s the players who instituted these rules. It allowed MLB to implement draconian constraints on newly drafted players because of the proffered reason to cut down on the huge signing bonuses amateurs receive. But the real, primordial reason is a “screw those guys” attitude that permeates established players and would, in a financial form of plausible deniable hazing, let the drafted players work their way up to making big money. It’s long been a point of contention for veteran major leaguers to see some kid taken at number 5 in the draft being handed an automatic $8 million bonus for nothing other than being a good amateur or having great tools. They dealt with it the best way they knew how. Of course it blew up in some of their faces as solid pitcher Kyle Lohse is sitting out because no one wants to give up the draft pick to sign him.

Eventually it affects everyone. These are the rules. The Angels aren’t beholden to an abstract code of right and wrong. They don’t have to give Trout a long-term contract extension if they don’t want to and they renewed his contract for an amount determined on their own volition. They don’t have to apologize or explain.

If Trout plays even 75% as well as he did in 2012, he’s going to get a $200 million contract from the Angels or someone else. He’ll have his freedom in five years. For now, he’s tied to the club that drafted him and that club can pay him whatever they choose to pay him under the parameters of the basic agreement. They decided on $510,000 and that’s what he’ll be paid. Or maybe they’re already planning a long-term contract to pay him for the next 6-8 years and buy out his arbitration years and free agency. Until that happens, his salary is what it is.

Is it fair?

Is it unfair?

It’s neither. These are the rules. It’s not slave wages and there’s no reason for the explosion of public ridicule for the Angels operating within the pay structure in Major League Baseball.

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American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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We can tick Edwin Encarnacion off the board of potentially available players as the Blue Jays signed him to a 3-year, $29 million extension. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post. Now let’s have a look at the AL West and which teams should buy, sell or stand pat and what they should be looking for.

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

I’m not discussing any Cole Hamels rumors from now on. He’s going to be the hot topic and used as an easy “news” story designed to garner webhits. But the Rangers are absolutely going to pursue him and will make the decisive move to get a starting pitcher from somewhere. Roy Oswalt’s had two bad starts and two good starts; Neftali Feliz is on the 60-day disabled list. It’s no wonder they’re pursuing Hamels, Zack Greinke and will undoubtedly be in on Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and anyone else who’s available or not available like Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

They’ll also try to bolster their bullpen with an extra arm or two like Grant Balfour, Jose Mijares or Joe Thatcher.

Los Angeles Angels

Talk of another starting pitcher, on the surface, sounds like overkill. But it was put logically recently (I’m not sure where I read it) that since Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options at the end of the season and neither have pitched very well, they’ll have the money free to go after Hamels or Greinke. The Angels like pitching.

If I had to guess now what they’re going to do at the end of the season, they’ll decline Santana’s option and exercise Haren’s if he’s healthy.

Since they’re 8th in the American League in runs scored, the on-the-surface suggestion would be that they’ll need a bat. But the early season horrible hitting cost coach Mickey Hatcher his job and they began to score once Mike Trout was recalled and Vernon Wells got hurt. The Wells situation will have to be resolved when he returns from the disabled list. I would think the last and possibly only resort is to eat the $42+ million remaining on his contract and dump him.

They could use a lefty specialist like Mijares or Thatcher and if the Brewers make Francisco Rodriguez available, a reunion with his former team would be a positive for both sides.

Oakland Athletics

Who would’ve thought the A’s could legitimately consider being buyers at mid-season? Certainly not me. Credit goes to Billy Beane for getting solid youngsters from the Diamondbacks and Nationals in off-season trades. Yoenis Cespedes is another matter since he’s supremely talented and injury-prone.

They’re not going to buy and they’re not going to clear the decks of everything from the roster to the light fixtures to the sinks.

Balfour will be in demand; perhaps they can get a couple of minor leaguers for a team that needs a back-end starter in Bartolo Colon (how about the Mets?). I’d probably find a taker for Daric Barton. It’s not going to happen for him with the A’s and he does have some attributes.

Seattle Mariners

According to Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, “…the Mariners do not appear to be gearing any efforts towards contention before 2015.”

Jeez.

Baker’s column was in reference to the suggestion that they pursue Justin Upton, but if they have no intention of contending until 2015 they not only shouldn’t buy, but they should look to trade Hernandez. What good is going to do them if they’re not going to contend for another two years?

Whether it’s ownership interfering with GM Jack Zduriencik or not, it can’t be ignored that the Mariners’ offense is historically awful with four regular players batting .203 or below and all four—Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins—were brought in by Zduriencik.

2015? The Mariners have a loyal fanbase, money to spend, a horse at the top of the rotation and young pitching on the way.

If this is true, then they should sell any player making significant money and that includes King Felix. As it is, they’ll look to move Brandon League and listen on Jason Vargas. Anyone want Figgins? I thought not.

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Trade Felix Hernandez!

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At least that’s what Ken Rosenthal suggests in his latest posting on Fox Sports.

On the surface, it makes sense.

In that same vein, while it was self-serving, Yankee-centric and gutsy-when-it’s-not-his-neck-on-the-line, the proposed trades of Cliff Lee and Carlos Gonzalez from Joel Sherman (that I discussed in my prior posting) weren’t pure idiocy in theory—someone other than Sherman could make a coherent case for them if they weren’t wearing their Yankees footed pajamas while writing it anyway. They’re not going to happen and Sherman, in spite of his puffed out chest of what “he’d” do if he were a GM, wouldn’t have the nerve nor the intelligence to run a team, let alone run it correctly with the fearlessness he openly says he’d have.

But if a team was operating in a vacuum and if there weren’t other concerns like fan reaction; attendance; media response; and player perception, the Mariners would be better-served in the long-run to trade Felix Hernandez for 4 prospects including a big league-ready, blue chip bat.

The inherent problem being that a team isn’t run in a vacuum and the Mariners have been self-destructively cognizant of outside forces.

GM Jack Zduriencik has made some mistakes in his tenure; his reputation took a beating when the Yankees accused him of reneging on an agreed-upon trade for Lee in the summer of 2010; and he was clearly dishonest in his recollection of the circumstances surrounding the Mariners’ acquisition of the accused sex offender Josh Lueke from the Rangers. But he’s not to blame for Ichiro Suzuki still being on the club. He wasn’t at fault for the ignominious career closure of Ken Griffey Jr. And I’m starting to believe that the decried and silly re-acquisition of Russell Branyan in 2010 was more a byproduct of upper management telling him to “do something and I don’t care what it is” than an actual baseball maneuver.

I’m sure that Zduriencik would consider dealing Hernandez; that Hernandez would welcome a trade to a contender. It takes a toll on a great pitcher to constantly have to pitch shutouts to have a prayer of winning a few games. Hernandez’s record in 2012 is 4-5; in 2010-2011 he went 27-26. He won the Cy Young Award in 2010 with a 13-12 record when, if he were with a good team and pitched similarly, he would’ve won 25 games.

This season he should have around 8-9 victories.

As much as stat people try to diminish the importance of wins in the grand scheme, it matters to players to have a gaudy record. For every Brandon McCarthy who understands and tries to implement advanced stats, there will 10 players who think like Jeff Francoeur and say that on base percentage isn’t important because it’s not up on the scoreboard when hitters come up to the plate.

If available Hernandez would set off a feeding frenzy that would make a school of sharks stop and stare with stricken awe. He’s got a limited no-trade clause (10 teams) and is signed through 2014 with $18.5 million in 2012; $19.5 million in 2013; and $20 million in 2014. He’d want an extension if the Mariners try to trade him to a team on his no-trade list, but what would the Yankees give up for him? The Mets? The Dodgers? The Red Sox?

The Phillies’ problem with Cole Hamels’s pending free agency would be solved right there and then. Get Hernandez for the rest of this season and beyond; let Hamels walk.

Any team would want Felix Hernandez and the Mariners could get a ton for him.

But many times players’ desires and team on-field needs are far down on the list as to whether a trade is considered and consummated.

By those parameters and that the Mariners will lose one of their longtime gate attractions in Ichiro after this season makes it a practical impossibility that they trade Hernandez.

The only variable is if Hernandez asks for it. That would change the landscape just as Roy Halladay‘s trade request did for the Blue Jays. If it happens, it won’t be until the winter. It’s not a mid-season deal and the Mariners would need to start a press blitz to explain that it was Hernandez’s decision and not theirs.

It’s not just about baseball. It’s about PR as well.

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Who Won’t Be Traded At The Deadline?

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Everyone’s coming up with their lists of players who are going to be available or traded at the upcoming MLB trading deadline. I’ve been doing it too and will continue up to the big day, but there are also names floating around that come from anonymous (possibly nonexistent) sources; have reasons to possibly be on the block but actually aren’t; or are pulled out of the air by rumormongers because they can’t think of anything else to write or talk about.

Here are some of the players that are implied to be available, but aren’t and won’t be traded.

Josh Willingham, Twins

The Twins are ready to deal but they’re not going to get rid of every big league player on the roster. They just signed Willingham this past winter, he’s paid reasonably and they wouldn’t get much for him if they did decide to trade him. The days of teams taking on big contracts and giving up significant prospects are over and the Twins aren’t going to pay any of Willingham’s salary.

He’s 33 and is signed through 2014 at $7 million per year. He’s either more valuable for the Twins to keep or to look to trade as the contract winds down.

The Twins aren’t going to have the stomach to rebuild the team completely in an expansion-franchise sense. Willingham can help them in the next two seasons and he’s a good influence on the younger players.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

I understand the thinking that the Diamondbacks might listen. Managing general partner Ken Kendrick called Upton out for his mediocre play and GM Kevin Towers listened to offers on Upton shortly after taking over. There’s a logic to doing something drastic when a team with high expectations is struggling, but Upton is only 24 (25 in August); is signed at a reasonable rate ($38.5 million from 2013-2015); and the Diamondbacks still have a good shot at the playoffs despite their poor start.

Upton has a no-trade clause to four teams: the Tigers, A’s, Indians and Royals.

Other teams will call and ask; as he should, Towers might listen to what the offers are; but Upton’s not getting moved.

Alex Gordon, Royals

He’s finally found a defensive home in left field; he’s signed through 2015; is hitting better after a bad luck-infused start; and the Royals aren’t doing the “we’re rebuilding” thing and dumping any and all veterans.

The Royals have something positive building in spite of their stimulus response critics. Gordon is a part of that.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners

They’re not trading him. Forget it.

It’s partially because the Mariners have a load of pitching on the roster and on the way up and need a veteran leader to front the rotation when they’re ready to move from terrible to mediocre to (someday) pretty good, but if they’re letting Ichiro Suzuki go after this season, they don’t want to alienate the fanbase entirely by dumping two fan favorites within months of one another.

Tim Lincecum, Giants

There’s a logic to the idea. He’s been bad this season, somewhat unlucky and his velocity is down. Lincecum is a free agent after the 2013 season and has shown no inclination to sign a long-term deal for one penny less than market value.

One thing that flashed through my head was Cole Hamels and one of the Phillies’ minor league arms (Phillippe Aumont, Trevor May) for Lincecum. The Giants would get an ace (pitching like an ace) for the rest of the season and a young pitcher; the Phillies would have Lincecum for this year and next.

But the Giants aren’t going to trade their most popular and marketable player regardless of how poor he’s going.

David Wright, Mets

Wright is having an MVP-quality season and is back to the player he was until the Mets moved into Citi Field and turned Wright into a nervous wreck who altered his swing and approach to account for the stadium’s dimensions. The Mets are hovering around contention and aren’t drawing well. Trading Wright would throw the white flag up on the season. That’s not going to happen.

He’s signed for 2013 at $16 million and the Mets are going to give him an extension comparable to Ryan Zimmerman’s with the Nationals. He’s going nowhere.

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Viewer Mail 4.25.2011

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Mike Luna in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Dodgers being moved back to New York:

Oh, no, there’s no shot of this happening. Riper’s logic seems to be that the Mets are a fake New York team and the Brooklyn Dodgers never should have left anyway. Somehow moving one and destroying the other would make everyone (30 or so very old Brooklyn fans) happy.

Never mind that the LA Dodgers have plenty more fans than their Brooklyn counterpart.

These sorts of articles always rub me the wrong way, as they tend to make assumptions like that everyone in NY is a Yankees fan anyway and no one would miss the Mets.

Maybe we should move all of the old teams back to where they started. The A’s could move to KC and then Philly. The Rangers & Twins to DC. The Brewers to Seattle. LA & SF back to NY. Nationals to Montreal. The Yankees to Baltimore.

Mike is referring to this piece in Forbes by Tom Riper suggesting the Dodgers be moved back to Brooklyn.

It’s hard to tell if Riper is serious about this, but if he is, it’s absurd. The Dodgers still draw 3 million fans; the Mets are an institution (insert joke here) by now; and this is a half-fantasy disguised as a solution.

On another note, I’m all in favor of the Yankees going back to Baltimore. I’ll help them pack if they agree to transport a large chunk of their fan base, Mike Francesa and Michael Kay.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Felix Hernandez:

I’d like to see Felix get dealt, even if it is to the Yankees. It pains me to see his efforts squandered with no supporting cast. He looks like he could use a hug.

His efforts being squandered is an important point; plus he’s signed through 2014 and trading him could yield the foundation to rebuild the Mariners faster than they might if they keep him.

The two biggest factors are: Will he ask out because he’s tired of the losing and wasted effort? And who’s making the call for the Mariners?

VB27 writes RE the Mariners:

Joba Chamberlain has very little value. The Mariners could do a lot better than than “Joba Chamberlain; Brett Gardner; Jesus Montero; either Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances” if they decided to put King Felix on the market. And there is really no reason for them to do so for AT LEAST the next year and a half. He is the only real draw they have and Seattle can afford to pay him. Plus, with Smoak looking like he’ll stick at first for a long while, they’d have to put Montero at DH, lessening his value to them. It just not going to happen.

VB is referring to my proposed trade the other day and conveniently leaving out the fact that I said the deal as presented is contingent on the Yankees taking the full contract of Chone Figgins.

Montero is 21-years-old; I find it laughable that it’s automatically assumed that he’s not going to improve enough defensively to be able to catch in the big leagues. Judging by his caught stealing percentages in the minors, he’s got the arm to catch; the other stuff—blocking balls; calling a game—can be taught.

The concept that Chamberlain has “very little value” is propaganda on the opposite end of the spectrum of that which created the Joba Legend to begin with. Part of it is the fault of the Yankees; the rest stems from the media expectations of such a hyped prospect. He still throws a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and if he can’t start, he could be a good closer; he does have value given his age and low cost.

There’s validity to what Buster Olney wrote last week concerning the possibility that Hernandez might force his way out of Seattle. You do have to consider the source as Olney occasionally conjures things out of mid-air, but Hernandez is pitching with no margin for error on a start-by-start basis; because the Mariners can’t score, he’s never at liberty to let it fly, fire his blazing fastball and dare the hitters to touch him with it in mind that if he gives up a homer, so what? It’s always a one-run game where he doesn’t have the luxury of making a single mistake.

Would it be worth it for the Mariners to trade their one ultra-marketable commodity and get rid of that idiotic Figgins contract while bringing in a closer, a 27-year-old outfielder who can fly; a star pitching prospect; and a power bat who can catch?

The Mariners are going to be out from under the Milton Bradley contract after this year and Ichiro Suzuki‘s contract after next year. They’ll have a lot of money to spend to sign free agents and make bold trades to get better quickly.

It’s not something to dismiss out-of-hand.

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