Jump to content

Good Boswell column on "how much is too much?" when it comes to free agents


Recommended Posts

Tom Boswell wrote a really good column this weekend, mostly focusing on Pujols' contract: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/in-mlb-free-agency-teams-face-the-albert-pujols-dilemma-how-much-is-too-much/2011/12/09/gIQAxANTlO_story.html Here are a few excerpts:

In baseball free agency, only one rule has emerged over the last 35 years: You overpay for quality because the rest is junk.

Even with quality, you often get burned. But at least you had a chance.

* * *

For a generation, the wisdom in baseball has been that if you find a player who fits your team?s need ? in the clubhouse, with young players and with your fan base ? then go for the proven star, even though he?ll always seem to cost too much.

Specifically, try to focus on those few players who will someday be in the Hall of Fame, such as Pujols, or who are virtually certain to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, an honor granted to players with long, distinguished careers, even if they aren?t really of Cooperstown caliber. With any normal baseball progression, Reyes and Buehrle (161 wins) will fit the latter description.

In fact, in 2010 the only monster-money star that didn?t pass the Hall-ballot litmus test was Jayson Werth. This year, Wilson, 31, is the exception.

The Angels? deal with Pujols shows just how deeply the ?pay up? mantra has sunk into the game. Before the ?08 season, Alex Rodriguez signed a $275 million, 10-year extension with the Yankees at the same age Pujols is now. This year, A-Rod had only 16 homers and 62 RBI in 97 games. His career slide seems irreversible ? with six seasons left on the deal.

Over and over we hear ?Pujols is unique.? But he isn?t quite. At the same age, Frank Thomas had a 1.013 career OPS, a hair behind Pujols now, and a career .320 batting average. But the Big Hurt faded fast. Before ?08, A-Rod had higher home run and RBI totals than Pujols does now.

Yet the Angels weren?t alone. The Marlins and Cards reportedly went to $220 million. It?s time for some historical perspective. Look at the accompanying chart of 15 of the greatest hitters ever: Babe Ruth and Ted Williams ?down to? Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. As a group, they had an OPS+ of 170 when they were Pujols?s current age (he will turn 32 in January). By a nice coincidence, Pujols also has a career OPS+ of 170.

As a group, what happened to our 15 icons? Over the remainder of their careers, their OPS dropped to 154, down about 10 percent. They stayed great ? when they played. But they averaged only 944 games apiece for the rest of their lives. Stan Musial played the most (1,502 games), Jimmie Foxx the least (483). Pujols could fall anywhere on the spectrum.

* * *

Here?s the proposition the Angels accepted: They?ll probably get (average case) 944 games from Pujols ? the equivalent of six full seasons, though probably broken up by injuries over more years. And he?ll hit about 90 percent as well as he has in the past. I think I just felt myself shudder.

In effect, the Angels are willing to pay $42 million a year ($252 million divided by six years of production) for a 90-percent version of the old Albert.

For me, this is pushing the ?pay-up-for-quality? maxim to the breaking point. But the Angels have as many extra factors in the picture as a team could. After 80- and 86-win seasons, Pujols plus Wilson will probably haul the Halos back above 90 wins and into the playoffs. Instant payback.

* * *

The Oswalt type is where you want to lay your bet. In happy moods, the Nats say, ?Jordan Zimmermann could become another Oswalt.? On stats through 33, Oswalt most resembles Roy Halladay, Jimmy Key, Jim Bunning, Bret Saberhagen, Tim Hudson, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, John Smoltz and David Cone. Nice company. Most aged well, some didn?t. Oswalt lost a foot off his fastball last year and threw more change-ups. Will the speed come back? With all his other stuff, how much does he need it?

Maybe the Nats should think back one year. Baseball overlooked Lance Berkman, after the first poor season of his life, in favor of first basemen with lesser careers: Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche. The assumption: Berkman, a sure Hall-ballot player, must be old or hurt. But he wasn?t.

The Cardinals signed Berkman for half the guaranteed money that LaRoche got from the Nats. The ?healthy? LaRoche got hurt. The ?injured? Big Puma, 35, after taking a 45-percent pay cut, moved to the outfield, hit 31 homers, eerily duplicated his career slash line and starred in the World Series.

Just because one ex-Astros star can bounce back doesn?t mean another one will. How?s Roy?s back? Ask a doctor. But if you want him, don?t insult him. Give him what you offered Buehrle. If that?s not enough, let him go.

Remember, in free agency, you pay up for quality because the rest is junk; that is, unless you find Roy Oswalt marked down by accident.

Hey, compared with $126 million for Werth, he looks like a bargain.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...