By Mike Steffanos
I wrote yesterday that I've come to see the stunning market for starting pitching this offseason as something more than just a temporary phenomenon. I'm just acknowledging reality here; I'm not endorsing giving staggering long-term contracts to pitchers who haven't even really proven themselves. If there is one thing that I could predict with almost total confidence, it will be that one or more of these teams handing out these jaw-dropping contracts will come to regret doing so.
Still, I'm not going to fault a team like the Kansas City Royals for giving 5 years/$55 million to Gil Meche. Standing on the sidelines, it's easy to criticize this deal for a pitcher:
- Who has averaged 160 innings per season over the last four years after coming back from shoulder surgery that cost him most of 2 years.
- Whose 186.2 innings last season represent a career high.
- Whose 4.48 ERA last season is a career best in any season where he pitched 100+ innings.
Meche is one of those guys who can easily put it together and justify this contract, but it could easily go the other way where KC fans will have five long years to regret this signing. Personally, if I'm a Royals fan I'm grateful that they are finally making an effort to be competitive. I understand that they had to overpay drastically to get guys like Gil Meche and Octavio Dotel to come to Kansas City and at least give the team a chance to be able build something similar to what the Tigers accomplished. If I'm a KC fan, I don't care what you think about this deal, although I may be personally gulping over the potential for disaster. Then again, when you have rooted for a team that's been a non-entity for 15 years, disaster is a relative term.
Revenue sharing and the success of MLB.com have caused small market teams to have money to spend, and appears to have finally given them real incentive to try to build a winner. I'm sure the market will fluctuate year to year, but I'd be surprised if we see a real sustained downturn any time soon. Baseball has finally managed to overcome the labor problems that so severely hurt them in the 1990s. Now small market teams need to show their fans they mean business, and that means trying to sign the players -- particularly pitchers -- it takes to field a legit contender. Plain and simple, especially for the perennial cellar dwellers, that entails doing whatever it takes to attract some free agents.
When small market teams are able to sign some of their quality players long term and chase after some of the shrinking number of available free agents, you have a classic supply and demand situation. If some of these signings like Meche go horribly wrong quickly it could certainly have a dampening effect on the market, but as long as there is money to spend, teams that hope to have credibility with their fan base will still spend it. I'm not defending these signings, just understanding them.
To me the most obvious solution to this current market is to stay out of it as much as possible, and that entails continuing to improve the player development system. Produce more young talent, and spend your money wisely on the players who can make a difference. In a market where the contract that seemed horrible two years ago becomes this year's bargain, that's the only sensible approach.
Some quick observations:
The Mets not allowing Jose to play winter ball is a no-brainer that hardly merits comment here. It's only the paucity of Mets news that made this the story of the day. Reyes doesn't need to play winter ball for development purposes, so it's just too big of a risk.
Mazzilli on SNY
Former Met heartthrob Lee Mazzilli will be working as an in-studio analyst for SNY next season. I guess he couldn't get a coaching job. While I'm happy for Mazzilli, I also have to admit that after all of these years he feels as much like a Yankee as a Met to me.
Oliver Signs with the Angels
Glad to see that Darren Oliver leveraged his comeback season with the Mets into a good deal to play a lot closer to home.