Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Lightning 9.12.2010

  • Buyer beware:

With Johan Santana's season being cut short for the second year in a row and requiring surgery on a different part of his body for the third, how are these circumstances----with pitchers repeatedly falling short in delivering the expected durability and production----affect how much money and years Cliff Lee gets this winter?

When I say falling short, it's not only production I'm referring to, I'm also talking about money. How many pitchers actually end up being worth the $100 million total and $15 million annually that it costs to lure them to a certain venue? Looking at pitchers in recent years who've received an amount of money falling into one or both of those categories, the final tally is a stark reminder of what a mistake it is to commit so much cash to someone who is more than likely going to get hurt.

Off the top of my head and scanning the standings and current and past contracts, just about every team that is willing to spend that kind of cash has a pitcher for whom they'd like a do-over. Here's a brief list of teams and pitchers who received either $100 million total, $15 million annually or both:

Yankees--A.J. Burnett; C.C. Sabathia

Braves--Derek Lowe

Cardinals--Chris Carpenter

Cubs--Carlos Zambrano

Diamondbacks--Randy Johnson

Dodgers--Kevin Brown; Jason Schmidt

Giants--Barry Zito

Mariners--Felix Hernandez

Mets--Johan Santana; Pedro Martinez

Phillies--Roy Halladay

Red Sox--John Lackey; Josh Beckett

Rockies--Mike Hampton

Tigers--Justin Verlander

White Sox--Jake Peavy

Then there are the pitchers whose salaries come in under that $15 million annually/$100 million total cutoff, but whose career histories are far worse than the above listed names. Such pitchers are Carlos Silva, Ryan Dempster, Oliver Perez, Aaron Harang, Brad Lidge, Francisco Cordero, Gil Meche, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Carl Pavano, Joe Nathan, Mark Buehrle and Mariano Rivera.

How many of the above names have lived up to the paycheck? How many are expected to once the latter portions of the contract kick in?

Verlander, Sabathia, Rivera, Halladay, Johnson, Brown (yes, Kevin Brown; although his record doesn't show it, Brown was mostly brilliant for the Dodgers when he was healthy), and maybe Carpenter all fall into the category of, "yeah, it was worth it...for now". You can make the argument for Lidge because without him, the Phillies wouldn't have won their World Series in 2008, but he signed the contract as a direct result of that masterful season. Buehrle is durable and delivers exactly what the team is expecting.

Aside from that, most of the pitchers haven't even come close to doing what the teams have wanted from them. Ancillary factors do play a part; you can make the case that teams like the Giants had to make a splash with the departure of Barry Bonds by signing the biggest name on the market----Zito----but no one can claim that it was a worthwhile on-field signing now or ever.

Hernandez and Verlander are young and have been durable, but the $18-20 million paychecks don't begin until 2012 for both. Halladay has a lot of wear on his tires and despite his courage and work ethic, eventually age catches up to the most diligent----look at Steve Carlton.

With Santana, he's been mostly very good for the Mets, but nothing close to the dominant force that was expected when he was acquired. Never mind that the Mets gave up nothing in terms of players to get him; he's making a ton of money, has embarrassed the club with his off-field (and dismissed) allegation of having sexually assaulted a woman after last season; and he's owed over $75 million guaranteed through 2013; now he's having shoulder surgery and the best case scenario appears to have him pitching again by May----and no one knows how his already declining fastball will respond to this latest injury.

So how does this affect Cliff Lee?

The number of teams that will have the money to pay Lee is already limited. The Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Mets, Rangers and Angels could conceivably do it; but would it be smart? Lee is 32; has had injuries in his past including his current back woes; and wants a lot of money. Is it going to be worth it to give him 6-years and $140 million? Or more? The Yankees want him, but given their obvious regret with Burnett and that the limitless payroll days having ended with the Steinbrenner sons and Brian Cashman taking command, will they play hardball with Lee safe in the knowledge that they can meet or surpass any other offer he receives?

Lee has to be hoping and praying that the Red Sox make a move on him because the Yankees-Red Sox machinations always tends to raise a player's price, but what if they don't jump in? What then?

For every Mike Francesa-type who lays out the assertion of "just give 'im 'da money" (and it's not his money!!!) with no regard to the future or how such a massive contract is going to affect the rest of the club construction, there's clear evidence that these massive deals are self-defeating; that a team is paying essentially $40-50 million a year for what they're getting once the final bill is due and hindsight can cast an accurate eye on the value of the deal.

With the way pitchers have broken down physically or seen their expected results simply not be there, one has to wonder if Lee is going to achieve the riches he's banking on. There's always that one stupid owner who'll, well, do something stupid, but sanity could prevail; and that sanity may cost Cliff Lee the money he so desperately desires.

With the Stephen Strasburg injury and the players listed above, perhaps it's time to stop giving these long-term deals to pitchers who are in or entering their 30s; perhaps it's time to develop one's own pitchers, eschew the pitch counts/innings limits, use the pitchers normally without limitations; to exhibit no concern as to their production after they enter free agent years; decline to lock them up long-term and dispatch them when they've ceased to be of use.

It's a cold-blooded way of operating, but it might make the most business sense because signing such a fragile animal as a pitcher----who gets hurt regardless of any and all attempts to keep him healthy----may not be the smartest way to go.

  • If they love the Phillies so much...

The SNY broadcast crew----Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling----is widely regarded (rightfully) as one of the best in all of baseball. They're honest; they provide interesting and outside-the-box thinking; they're about as fair as a broadcasting crew can be when they're covering a team (obviously they want the Mets to win); and they're not boring.

That said, when the Mets are playing the Phillies, it's as if the trio is watching the bane of the Mets' existence with starstruck awe and continually gushing about everyone involved with the organization from top-to-bottom----and it's enough.

Supposedly the issue has been addressed with them by people involved with the Mets and the response was not positive, but I don't care. I present the facts as I see them and the facts are that the Mets broadcast crew goes over-the-top in their respect and admiration for a Phillies team that was just as much of a running joke from the years 1994-2006 as the Mets are now.

There's a difference between crediting a team for doing well and being smart and raining praise over them to the point of sickness for the mostly Mets-centered viewership. It's bad enough that the season has gone the way it has and the criticism is so rampant from everywhere that it's painful to listen to and have to take (some of it is accurate; some of the cheap shot variety); but do we have to hear the Mets broadcasters endlessly lust after the Phillies?

  • Viewer Mail 9.12.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the NL playoff race:

Very exciting if you're right and the NL East comes down to a one game playoff.

At the very least, I'd be able to have a cold detachment about it this year.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE the NL playoff race:

I like the Giants for the NL Pennant, a Giants-Reds NLCS would be awesome.

If the Giants get in, they have the pitching to turn out the lights; I doubt any team wants to see them make it and are quietly rooting for the Padres. Even though manipulating matchups is an exercise in futility (you never know what's going to happen), it's the teams with pitching that are scariest, especially in the playoffs when pitch counts and babying goes out the window.

Speaking of the Reds, during the game last night, the Reds broadcaster (not sure who it was) brought up an interesting comparison for Joey Votto----Don Mattingly.

I'd never thought of it before, but it really fits in their conduct. Mattingly rarely walked or struck out, Votto does both frequently; Mattingly was one of the best fielding first basemen ever, Votto's adequate; but it's their demeanor that rings true in comparing them and Votto's numbers are Mattingly-like when Donnie Baseball was in his heyday.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE the NL playoff race:

NL East ~ I think we are just going to bite at the same sandwich from different ends.. You say a playoff..I say I can't tell. Musical chairs; When they stop the music after game 162 someone is going to be without a chair. I can't tell who. I'll lean towards Philly though because of Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt.

Central ~ I predict a Reds slip and St.Lou wins division.

West ~ This is where I think you'll get the Division Playoff Game. This division has had an uncanny penchant to end in ties, more-so than any other division in last 20 years. You can even go way back to Joe Morgan's end of season HR as a Giant against the Dodgers. The Giants always seem to force these deadlocks in the division. You might be right about a Div Playoff...but I think it happens here.

In recent years, there has been a legitimate possibility of 3-4 teams in a load of complicated playoff games. It came really close a couple of times and it's going to happen one year where there are going to be playoff games on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to get everything straightened out. Maybe it's this year.

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She-Fan said...

I would think the Yankees and Red Sox will both be after Cliff Lee, driving up his price, unless either Lee gets hurt and/or is ineffective in the postseason, the Rangers come up with the money to keep him somehow, or the Red Sox have targeted some other expensive free agent.

Zelig Skykiller said...

How in the WORLD did Gil Meche get on that list!?!? Yikes!