By my rough estimate, the 6 teams in the NL Central are going to start the 2011 season with a combined $544M committed to team payrolls. Yikes. Check out the breakdown:
- Cubs ~ $133M
- Cardinals ~ $109M
- Astros ~ $91M
- Brewers ~ $84M
- Reds ~ $76M
- Pirates ~ $51M
If you split teams 1-3 and 4-6 into two groups, would you be willing to bet dishwashing chores for a week that 1-3 ($333M) would have a better collective record than 4-6 ($211M)? Yeah, me neither.
That says a lot about what the Brewers and Reds are doing right, especially since they are carrying the Pirates with them. More importantly, it says even more about what the Cubs, Cardinals, and Astros are doing differently.
Quick, name the biggest contracts in the NL Central. Now name the biggest contract busts in recent memory in the NL Central. Compile a master list (or just wait for me to make one for you, slackers).
- Alfonso Soriano – 8 yrs / $136M => He’s getting paid $18M for each of the next 4 seasons. This wouldn’t be all that bad, if he wasn’t becoming a defensive liability. For those keeping score at home, Soriano made $17M for a -0.9 WAR in 2009 and $19M for 1.4 WAR in 2010.
- Carlos Lee – 6 yrs / $100M => How about $19M for 0.3 WAR in 2009 backed up by a $19M for -1.6 WAR in 2010. The only reason Lee takes 2nd is that his deal expires after 2012.
- Carlos Zambrano – 5 yrs / $91.5M => This could be far worse, and it’s really overblown in some ways. The “Big Z” is actually 34-19 since signing the contract which is great, except for the fact that his workfload has dropped each of the past 3 seasons.
- Kyle Lohse – 4 yrs / $41M => Injuries have limited Lohse to 40 starts over the past 2 seasons, so he gets a partial pass on this, but that still doesn’t take away all the sting from the contract.
- Aramis Ramirez – 5 yrs / $75M => The first two years worked out pretty well for the Cubs, but the last two years haven’t been so great (1.4 and -0.7 WAR respectively). Ramirez is still young enough to put it together for another couple seasons, but I can’t imagine the Cubs picking up that $16M option for 2012.
- Matt Holliday – 7 yrs / $120M => The first season was great, but not many of these long-term deals don’t work out that great for the teams that offer them. This is one worth watching.
- Wandy Rodriguez – 3 yrs / $34M => Career 62-64 record and 4.18 ERA. Yep, that’s good enough for $34M.
- Albert Pujols – 8 yrs / $111M => Seems like a pretty good deal now, but it was the largest ever given to a player with 3 years of experience at the time.
The order is obviously up for debate, and there may be one or two worth adding. If you really only take away one thing from this post, I hope you notice that the Brewers and Reds aren’t tossing around $100M contracts. That’s primarily a function of financial constraint, but it’s also a function of philosophical approach. The Brewers appear to be “all-in” for 2011, and the Pirates seem to have “folded” for the decade already.
Alright, name the best return on investment involving someone not named Albert Pujols. It’s fairly easy to look at a player with 2-3 years experience who has produced well while playing for the major league minimum. Try finding someone who has produced with a multi-million dollar deal. My winner here is Ryan Braun of the Brewers ( 8 yrs / $45M ). He’s still got 5 years to go in this deal, but he’s produced awfully well so far. For someone who can consistently give a team 30 hr and 100+ rbi each season, he’s a bargain. Look at what he’s done in the first 3 seasons of that contract.
- .285/.335/.553/.888 with 37 hr, 106 rbi, and 92 runs => $455,000
- .320/.386/.551/.937 with 32 hr, 114 rbi, and 113 runs => $1,032,500
- .304/.365/.501/.866 with 25 hr, 103 rbi, and 101 runs => $1,287,500
He’s so money. He just turned 27, and he’s signed through his age 31 season. He just might be a poor man’s Matt Holliday, and that’s not especially good news for the rest of the NL Central.
Go back to that comparison of the two groups of teams. The Cubs and Cardinals have gotten into the habit of signing players in their late 20’s and early 30’s to long-term deals. The Reds and Brewers haven’t done that very much lately. The difference really shows right now. That’s not to say that one approach is better than the other, but one certainly seems to be paying off right now. The Cubs seem to have figured out that it’s a bad idea to try and spend their way out of bad deals. What about the Cardinals? Do they have the patience to wait for their talent pipeline to develop? Will they ever allow the word “rebuild” to enter the Cardinal lexicon?
Like it? Believe you have a better bargain or bigger albatross that deserves inclusion? Follow gr33nazn on Twitter, and we’ll debate the existence of a “bargain albatross”!