Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Firstings and Lastings
2006-11-20 04:33
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Every baseball writer told us to expect silly digits on the contracts, once they started getting signed, but even though we were warned, the one-two punch of the Matsuzaka posting fee and the Alfonso Soriano deal still gets you in the gut. Fiscal prudence, hah! It's getting to the point where a pessimist can see things escalating to a NHL level. The hockey owners were so financially incontinent that they had to shoot themselves in the head (strike) to save their own lives, like Edward Norton at the end of Fight Club. Will baseball meet the same fate? The TV ratings are certainly trending in the same direction. And yet all you read is these stories about how every team in baseball is just flush with cash. Except the Rockies. If you believe the story ownership is presently shovelling, MLB debt rules compel the Rockies to keep their payroll at Royals/Rays/Pirates/Marlins level, heretofore to be known as the sub-Daisuke zone. (My parents used to have a Subdaisuke. Silver, manual transmission. Great gas mileage.)

Not to further cement my reputation as the Janus of the baseball blogsphere, but allow me to present yet another one of my famous "on the other hand..." paragraphs. Not having any money to spend means not having any money to waste. It means that the Rockies aren't going to be handing out any of those charming modern free agent contracts that immediately seem like bad ideas. Like, say, I dunno, 8 years/$136 million for Alfonso Soriano. Oh, sure, the Cubs have money to spend, and would have a really nasty situation developing if they hired Lou Piniella and didn't give him the players he wanted, and they might be for sale, and the White Sox are eating away at their market share, and a hundred other little things. Here's the big thing, though. If you're going to give a guy the fifth-biggest (by total dollar figure) free agent contract in history, shouldn't he be better than the 33rd best offensive player in the game? In a career year? Soriano wasn't the best hitter on his own team (Nick Johnson). He wasn't as good as two guys on the Rockies (Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday). He's 31. Oh, sure, as we've often connected to Colorado's own problems in team construction, it's hard to get up-the-middle players with game-changing bats. But Soriano isn't an up-the-middle player; the Cubs are going to be sorely disappointed if they try to play him in center and he's sure not going back to second base (where he was terrible) any time soon. The Cubs have been a hideous OBP team for many years running and Soriano has a career .325 OBP.

For us Subdaisuke drivers, there's not much more to root for in the offseason than signings like this one. When a bad rich team takes a player like Soriano away from a good rich team (like the Dodgers, for whom a reasonably priced Alfonso would have been useful), the Rockies benefit. Maybe that's grasping at straws a little bit.

As has been elsewhere discussed (here via here), the Rockies have been connected with the name of AAA Mets prospect Lastings Milledge, presumably in a Jason Jennings deal. Hard to get an early read on this. As I just said, centerfielders with sticks don't grow on trees. But neither do 200-inning starters. Milledge's luster is such that the Mets wouldn't deal him for Barry Zito at the deadline, but he also didn't do himself any favors with a series of rather unprofessional actions during his cameos with the big club last season. I'm not the sort of person who makes a big deal out of character issues, but the very fact that the Mets have allowed themselves to be affected by them is a dead giveaway that Milledge's production last year (in the minors and majors) wasn't quite good enough to lay them to rest. I would be ecstatic if Colorado had a player with Milledge's reputation starting in center next year, but not at the cost of their best starter.

Here is the deal with the Jennings thing. There is nothing wrong with building a team on a budget. You don't have to spend $200 million, or even $100 million, to win a World Series. But there is a certain baseline cost involved with doing business as a professional baseball team. Starting pitching is expensive. Very expensive. Gil Meche, a free agent with a career 4.65 ERA, is asking for $8 million a year. Jason Jennings is better than Gil Meche. And yet the Rockies are lowballing Jennings and his agent with a three-year, $21 million extension offer. Why do bad pitchers like Shawn Estes and Carl Pavano keep getting silly free agent contracts? Because everybody in baseball, save the joke teams, extends their pitchers. Milwaukee hangs on to Ben Sheets. Minnesota isn't going to let Johan Santana go any time soon. While the Diamondbacks seem to change their minds about whether they are a big-market or small-market team every year, you can bet they act like the former whenever they are talking to Brandon Webb's representative.

If the Rockies aren't willing to pay what big league teams pay for legitimate starting pitching, then they aren't a big league team. Jennings has never had a pitching-related injury, he likes playing in Denver, and he's been the MVP of the pitching staff if not the entire team four of the last five years. If the Monforts really, truly don't have the resources to pay him, they need to sell the team. That's all there is to it.

The other interesting winter meeting tidbit involving the Rockies is that not only did no GM take the opportunity to complain about the humidor, but there is even serious consideration being given to the possibility of every team in the league adopting the technology. If this development would drive Jeff Cirillo into retirement, we here at Bad Altitude support it to the utmost.

2006-11-20 05:43:50
1.   jakewoods
Who cares what teams spend on players? if they want to overpay thats fine. There are a million ways to build a team. You dont have to sign every high placed free agent to compete.

And if teams have the money, who are we to say the game isnt fiscally alright? These owners are all successful businessmen. You think they would run their business' into the ground? The game is as healthy as its ever been. Sometimes you have to overpay guys ie the Cubs when you're coming off a last place finish.

2006-11-20 06:37:54
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
I don't wish to be drawn into a huge philosophical argument about this, but, well, as a fan of a team that doesn't have a gigantic TV market or a huge installed season ticket base, I care what teams spend on players. A lot of people like to use the old axiom that a league is only as healthy as its poorest team, and by that measure MLB is way behind the NBA and NFL.

More specifically, as a Rockies fan, I have lived through the absolute worst-case scenario of profligate free agent spending. The Rockies signed Mike Hampton to what might be the single worst free agent contract ever, and as a direct result they have transformed from a top-third payroll team to one of the bottom five. They seem deathly intent on never, ever signing another premium free agent again. This gives them somewhat of a handicap when it comes to ever contending, and it gives me as a fan on the whole a rather dim view of the game's current economic state. Bring back collusion!

2006-11-20 10:29:58
3.   doppelganger
Every team using the humidor? Is that the Mariners' new plan for contention, pretending it's the dead ball era? Might be interesting :)
2006-11-21 17:10:07
4.   4444
Bring back collusion, indeed. I miss it.

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