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Those Crazy Contracts

Mike SteffanosMonday, December 11, 2006
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.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (8)

This Matsuzaka deal, it is suggested the bidding could fall to the next in the bidding, and that would be the Mets. It reminded me of how a twist of faith we got Seaver. Not that this guy is a Seaver, but maybe another twist of faith could get us another pitcher?

Rev - the only way Matsuzaka's rights would go to the Mets is if the Red Sox didn't deal with him in good faith. That's not the case, so if they don't make a deal he pitches in Japan next season.

Understand what you say about Mazzilli not carrying that Lifetime Met aura. Then again, Willie suddenly does. (There was a time Mazzilli was Mazz and Willie was Randolph, but times change.)

You got my attention within seven seconds and I decided to read you. Good job.

Greg - I'm sorry, did you say something? I was scratching my genitals and got distracted...

Hi Mike... One and Two.. I think Zito... Three and Four... Will be signed by...Five and Six.. Christmas... Seven Seconds. I made it.

Rev - take the rest of the afternoon off. You've earned it.

I may have to start posting as Mike's dark side: Kinda like Shari and Kevin who NEVER agree.

My take is that sometimes the contract is a forerunner to the industry. Just as the Kris Benson Contract became a norm, so to will the Meche contract. IE....a .450-.500 pitcher has gone from being worth an $8M/yr-4yr deal to an $11M per/5yrdeal. Factoring age and league.

Metsblog has two inputs on VZ. Interesting in light of the comparison to Joel pinero...both of whom should be non tendered. (I think Castro is non tendered too). I like both pitchers. I belive that (as Pedro) alluded VZ was pitching without his best health...and was damaged goods. Ala Mulder I am not adverse to letting VZ win his pride back and that he can be a top rotation pitcher. Age is against him, but I think he will be back.

This is the 'catalyst' that gave us Bradford. I am looking for a reliver and a solid catcher to be coughed up. Maybe a Yorvit Torrealba.

Ed - When the market is hot like it is right now you see a lot less players non-tendered. I'd be shocked if Castro isn't re-signed, and I'm not sure that you will find much worthwhile out there.

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