Crazy Times – Crazy Contracts

I’m not saying we could save you. But we could put you in a place where you could save yourself.

The Hold Steady

Following the first prolonged in season work stoppage in 1981 the off-season was highlighted by a plethora of signings that shook the baseball world, these include Reggie Jackson and George Foster signing with the Angels and the Mets. Throughout the game mumblings of dismay were heard from executives.

“The ever-increasing salaries are like lava coming down a mountain at us, It’s the worst salary explosion we’ve had. At some point things have to blow apart.”

Dick Wagner

I see an instinct for constraint(amongst the owners) but, we seem incapable of executing it.

A’s owner Roy Eisenhardt

This past week (a full 26 years since 1982) the Cubs signed outfielder Alfonso Soriano, to a eight-year, $136 million contract. They’ve spent $230.5 million this off-season on six players. The Soriano contract was the 5th biggest contract in MLB history. Oddly enough it was the same Cubs franchise that made the first big money move in National League history when they sold King Kelly to the Boston Beaneaters on Valentines Day 1887 for $10,000, this figure so astounded the world that he was often refer to as $10,000 Kelly.

Ten Thousand bucks in 1887 was a lot of jack, more then most folks could even fathom, in today’s world, in 1887 10K would be worth $211,822.13 which can’t even by you a AAAA type outfielder. As the Reds recent Bubba Crosby more or less proves.
Also on the radar is Houston, who signed outfielder Carlos Lee, to a six-year, $100 million contract. It was the biggest contract in Astros history. Also floating out there, and ready for a beating that would make a PiƱata blush is the Dodgers inking of Juan Pierre to a 5 year 44 million dollar contract.

The fear that the game is spending crazy certainly is something that is not new by any means, as evidenced by the aforementioned Kelly incident as well as the quotes from the late Dick Wagner. So lets dig into some of these signings and see what type of players just got inked to contracts that might prove to be of value or perhaps the complete opposite.

Of course we have to start off with Soriano, an enigmatic player who posses speed, power and durability. Coming off a career season at the age of 30 Alphonso is poised to make 16 million dollars a year for the next 8 years, finishing up at the age of 39. To enrich the contract there is talk of moving Soriano to center field, stay tuned is all I can say regarding that subject. I think it’s best what Christina Kahrl wrote:

In the end, I think what you see is what you get-the problem is that even if you call him a center fielder and he eventually becomes one, is he going to hit well enough over eight years to justify the money, and there, the answer’s pretty much an automatic “not bloody likely.”

Why isn’t it likely? Some would say maybe he’s changed, others would retort, look at history. So lets look at where he stands with his peers historically. For his career Soriano has 3902 at bats and a batting line of .280/.325/.510/.836 with a RC/27 of 6.03.

Last season in 728 trips to the plate he had a line that looked like this: .277/.351/.560/.911 and a RC/27 of 7.06.

To see where he stands (and who he stands with) after inking an 8-year deal let’s look at the guys with similar rate numbers since 1900, we’ll filter out the guys over 30.

OBA <= .330 SLG <= .520

RUNS CREATED/GAME          RC/G      AVG      OBA      SLG
Alfonso Soriano            6.03     .280     .325     .510 
Andre Dawson               5.45     .279     .324     .476
George Bell                5.44     .286     .325     .486
Lee May                    5.25     .275     .323     .489
Bill Bradley               5.11     .283     .328     .394
Garry Maddox               5.01     .289     .325     .425
George Hendrick            5.00     .279     .329     .453
Mickey Rivers              4.87     .291     .327     .398
Les Mann                   4.78     .280     .329     .396
Willie McGee               4.74     .292     .325     .405
Brooks Robinson            4.69     .280     .330     .424
Chris Chambliss            4.67     .282     .328     .411
Claudell Washington        4.67     .279     .327     .420
Eric McNair                4.63     .281     .324     .402
Al Cowens                  4.55     .277     .328     .403
Hal Chase                  4.47     .284     .312     .364
Larry Herndon              4.41     .278     .323     .411
Rube Oldring               4.30     .276     .311     .371
Joe Dugan                  4.11     .280     .316     .371
Lee Magee                  4.10     .276     .325     .350

That’s the top twenty, one Hall of Famer, and his glove was a big part of that journey. Other notables are Dawson, Bell, Maddox, May and George Hendrix and a slew of other centerfielders (there’s that position mentioned again) One thing to note is that if I remember right Hendrix is the guy responsible for the low pants craze that owns the style of the major league game at this moment.

But back to the list, oddly enough both leagues 1987 MVP’s are on the list, right below Alphonso. Dawson came to the dish 10,769 times in his career, making an out 70.76% of the time and walking every 18.28 times he came to the plate. In 1987 he walked 32 times for a rate of 1 every 20.7 pa’s. He also had a on base percentage of .328, he however had 137 RBI’s and the adulation of the press and fans.

Meanwhile over in Toronto George Bell was walking every 17 time he came to the plate, lucky for him he was hitting .308 with a slugging percentage over .600. For his career he walked every 20 trips to the plate. Bell’s OPS would drop over 200 points in 1988 and Dawson’s 46.

Prior to becoming a NL player Soriano averaged a walk every 22 at bats, a rate worse then either Bells or Dawson’s. In 2006 r he averaged one every 11 trips to the plate, however 26% of these were intentional, pushing the rate for non intentional walks up to 1 every 16 trips to the plate, making Soriano more dependent on lifting his game with his batting average. For his career he now stands at a walk every 19 PA’s. For the next 8 years he’ll belong to the Cubs. If he produces just his career averages then he will be a member of this group. This will be with a minimum 3500 ab’s

AGE > 30
OBA < .330
SLG <= .520

RUNS CREATED/GAME          RC/G      AVG      OBA      SLG
Jimmy Collins              5.29     .285     .327     .396
Andre Dawson               5.25     .279     .322     .489
Willie Davis               4.81     .288     .316     .425
Felipe Alou                4.72     .288     .328     .412
Elston Howard              4.68     .272     .324     .422
Cal Ripken                 4.68     .271     .329     .424
Dave Parker                4.67     .274     .323     .442
Al Dark                    4.59     .285     .326     .402
Bill Buckner               4.47     .282     .317     .413
Steve Garvey               4.30     .282     .314     .420

If you narrow the search to only outfielders it will churn out only Parker, Davis and Andre. If Soriano continues with his norms can he capture the Cubs fans hearts like Dawson did? One thing is for sure the Cubs are paying for the match with the last Soriano season, not his career norms.

OBA < .355
SLG <= .570
RUNS CREATED/GAME          RC/G      AVG      OBA      SLG
Dave Winfield              5.78     .286     .354     .485
Andre Dawson               5.52     .283     .327     .498
Robin Yount                5.52     .283     .353     .430
Brian Jordan               5.38     .283     .336     .458
B.J. Surhoff               5.32     .287     .336     .442
Ben Oglivie                5.29     .272     .341     .446
Ken Griffey Sr.            5.16     .286     .344     .423
Devon White                5.16     .272     .331     .435
Dave Parker                4.94     .280     .330     .458
Bill Bruton                4.81     .274     .334     .402

What's the difference between hall of fame player Dave Winfield and on the cusper Andrea Dawson? Aside from good knees I'd bet it's the fact that Dave could coax a few more walks out of his career, his walk rate of 1 every 10 PA's pushed his lifetime on base average up above .350 while Dawson's lingered under .330. So for the next eight seasons I'll be keeping an eye out on Soriano and his walk rates, because they're the barometer to a big part of his success, and his 16 million bucks a year.

On to Juan Pierre, 5 years and 44 million bucks, that's a lot of cash in today's game for a player .57 below the league average in slugging percentage, especially if you are not Max Bishop. Pierre is an anomaly in today's game he's a clone of the Astro turf era center fielder, one built for speed only. He also comps out with very few players and his best comp is with a man who last played the game when whites only was the credo and getting any outright moronic payments for your services like the one just handed to Juan by Ned Colleti was deemed utterly impossible.

AGE <= 28 AVERAGE >= .290
STOLEN BASES >= 15 vs. the league average

RUNS CREATED/GAME          RC/G      AVG      OBA      SLG      SB
George Case                5.14     .290     .348     .370      233
Juan Pierre                4.97     .303     .350     .377      257
Darryl Hamilton            4.93     .297     .353     .384       63
Carson Bigbee              4.77     .292     .349     .377       70
Jigger Statz               4.72     .293     .347     .385       26
Nellie Fox                 4.72     .294     .350     .375       17

If you turn the age from below 28 to above you get a shorter list, one that is topped by a hall of fame player, a guy who got there because of his legs, despite some protests for just that.

RUNS CREATED/GAME         RC/G      AVG      OBA      SLG      AB
Lou Brock                  5.25     .298     .352     .394     6083
Bob Boyd                   4.97     .298     .354     .392     1697
Bip Roberts                4.92     .297     .351     .372     1764
Matty Alou                 4.82     .307     .345     .381     3098

So that's a total of 5 comps to his career so far and 4 in his future. One can look at the list and say that Juan Pierre could comp out with Lou Brock. I'd reply that Lou Brock had a slugging percentage above .400 from age 25 to 32, Juan has topped it twice, with a high of .413... in Colorado, Brock slugged .418 in 1968 which was his low in that span, and we all should know about hitting and 1968. An incredible amount of money is being thrown around this off-season, the Pierre contract confirms that many GM's are the types I don't want playing blackjack next to me in Vegas.

Now for the quick ones.

The Astros inked Carlos Lee a fielder of limited quality and only one year removed from an OPS of .811 to the richest contract in team history. This in the shadow of the recently ended Bagwell drama seems ill placed, especially when you consider that Lee Has some holes in his game, aside from the defense issues he might face in the quirky right field of whatever Houston calls that place now. He'll have to face questions about his weight and health. Simply put, Lee is in a very tight spot with his new expensive contract and his weight. At 6'2 Lee is listed at 235, if we were to a search for players older then 30 and possessed that makeup we'd find a very short list of guys who compiled a significant amount of at bats over the age of 30.

AT BATS                         AB       HT       WT
1    Bob Fothergill             1245   5'10"       230
2    Steve Bilko                 680   6'1"        230
3    Shanty Hogan                 66   6'1"        240

Fothergill was known as "Fatty' and was quite the hitter, unfortunately for him his health was affected by his thirst for both food and beer, he died of a heart attack at age 41.

So keep your eye out on that and look out for press generated by the Astros about Lee's workout regime.

Wayne Krivsky has a fetish, he can't help it, he likes left hand pitchers, ones with experience evidently. The Reds recent signing of Mike Stanton banks on Mike producing, he has an escalation clause that is triggered by game appearances and at the age of 39 he has a long row to hoe when it comes to game appearances. Below is the all time appearances by left handed relievers who made less then 1 start at the age of 39 and older.

ERA vs. the league average displayed only--not a sorting criteri

INNINGS PITCHED             IP       ERA     RSAA      GS
Jesse Orosco              218       0.49        6        0
Woodie Fryman             195.2     0.59       13        0
John Franco               148.2     -.10       -4        0
Rick Honeycutt            120       0.56        5        0
Diomedes Olivo            107       0.73        9        1
Al Brazle                  84       -.11        0        0

If you push the age down to 38 you get this list

INNINGS PITCHED              IP       ERA     RSAA      GS
Jesse Orosco              323.1     0.83       22        0
John Franco               245       0.50        8        0
Tom Burgmeier             221.1     1.55       40        0
Rick Honeycutt            200.2     0.70       12        0
Dan Plesac                155       1.00       18        0
Chris Hammond             141       0.42        5        0
Harvey Haddix             124       0.97       15        0
Tony Fossas               122.1     0.24        2        0
Mike Stanton              110.1     0.17        1        0
Diomedes Olivo            107       0.73        9        1
Bob McClure               100       -.56       -7        0
Mike Remlinger             98.2     -.50       -4        0
Rheal Cormier              95.1     0.21        6        0
Tug McGraw                 93.2     -.03        1        1
Buddy Groom                93.2     -.31       -1        0
Grant Jackson              82       -.73       -8        0
Bob Patterson              79.2     -.19        1        0
Dennis Cook                69.2     0.26        0        0
Joe Hoerner                62      -1.34       -8        0
Bobby Shantz               60.2     0.42        4        0

Stanton makes Cormier redundant, especially with Bray in the pen, unless of course Bray is going to be converted to starter. Otherwise something will have to shift or the Reds are going to be overtly left handed.

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