Follow The Money

by on March 2, 2011 · 2 comments

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:

  1. Cubs ~ $133M
  2. Cardinals ~ $109M
  3. Astros ~ $91M
  4. Brewers ~ $84M
  5. Reds ~ $76M
  6. 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. 

Huge contracts.

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).

  1. Alfonso Soriano8 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.
  2. Carlos Lee6 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.
  3. Carlos Zambrano5 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. 
  4. Kyle Lohse4 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. 
  5. Aramis Ramirez5 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. 
  6. Matt Holliday7 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.
  7. Wandy Rodriguez3 yrs / $34M => Career 62-64 record and 4.18 ERA.  Yep, that’s good enough for $34M
  8. Albert Pujols8 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”!

Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
View all posts by Dennis
Follow Dennis on Twitter


E.E. RIPPER March 2, 2011

Dennis, Again you’ve done a good job. And again you have proceeded to depress me with the inclusion of 3 Cubs in 8 selections LOL! As if I needed reminding.. Oh well, such is the suffering that Cubs’ fans seem to relish.
To start on a positive note, let’s look at the more recent good signings:
1) Cards: Lance Berkman; The Cards took a flier on him for only 1/8M. Almost every team could use a good lefty bat. This is how a veteran contract should look, much like…
…2) The Cubs: Carols Pena; An example from the Cubs, gasp, of a good veteran contract at 1/10M. Like Berkman, a chance for a veteran to play for bigger money next year, preferably elsewhere.
3) Cubs: Carols Marmol; 3/20M for a 28 yr/old potential real stud closer. This is how it should be. We have reasonable length & reasonable dollars.
4) Reds: Joey Votto: 3/38M for 27 yr/old stud. This is quite possibly the smartest deal I’ve ever seen. (Excepting Pujols, Longoria & Braun)
NOTE: Imagine if the Reds hadn’t traded Josh Hamilton. YIKES! ALSO the CUBS got him in the Rule 5 draft, but let him go…WT#??
5) Cubs: Marlon Byrd; Yes he was 32, but 5/15M is very reasonable for a solid center fielder & good guy.
6) Cubs: Ted Lilly; Yeah I know he’s gone but he was actually very good for 4/40M. A kind of Anti- Wandy Rodriquez.
7) Reds: Brandon Phillips: I don’t like him either, but his 4/27M is a very good deal.
8) Reds: Jay Bruce; This 6/51M deal is either sheer genius or pure folly. And I have absolutely no idea which it is..
9) Astros: Michael Bourn; If Matt Damon’s butt-kickin’ skills were morphed into center field defense…I mean 1/4.4M That’s little more than the MLB average.
10) Brewers: Yovani Gallardo; His 5/31.5M deal looks like a good hedge against asinine arbitration possibilities.. 6M per for a number two of the one-two punch of he & Greinke. Not bad. Speaking of….
11) Brewers: Zack Greinke; Got him in trade & are on the hook for 2/27M for a legit 27 year/old ace. 13.5M per ain’t bad for such enormous upside.
12) Cards: Yadier Molina; His 4/15.5M got the Cards through arbitration & a a free agent year. Nice deal. The 2012 team option is especially nice.
13) Cards: Adam Wainwright; Even with the health issues, the 4/38.5M at 26 was a great, just before prime time, deal.
14) Cards: Dennys Reyes; A solid lefty reliever at 1.5M per.. many, many teams do much, much worse.
And now for the dark side of baseball economics!
1) Kyle Lohse had exactly one good year prior to his deal. The rest ranged from mediocre to bad. Ouch!! In my opinion, the second worst signing among those you’ve listed.
2) Carlos Zambrano’s deal’s only redeeming quality is the length. One more liquid lunch & Hendry would have made it 7 years. Compare AAV of 18.3M for Big Z versus AAV of 9.5M for Greinke. See what I mean?
3) Soriano’s deal is the worst of them all.This guy was never even within sniffing distance of a top 3-5 WAR. in any season. Mama Mia!
4) Fukudome’s 4/48M deal is sneaky bad. I mean an AAV of 12M, as a right fielder, for the following line: .259/.368/.410/.778 His OBP is good but he never scores many runs. Plus his SB % is atrocious.
5) Jonny Gnomes, oh I mean Gomes, is an emotional pick. He’s an [ insert your favorite vulgarity here] and has, as a corner outfielder, the following: .247/.330/.461/.790 & bad defense. Any money spent on this guy is sinful.
6) Johnny Cueto has a 4/27M deal is his back pocket for a career winning % of .500, a career ERA of 4.27 & a career of being a [insert your most colorful adjective here]. Is it me or do the Reds have more grown men with little boys names? Joey, Jonny, Johnny, Homer….Maybe it’s just me.
7) Brian Moehler gets 2/4.6M to be absolutely awful. Get a AAA guy for the league minimum. I know It’s not that much but with a limited payroll, you don’t need this sort of thing.
8) Pedro Feliz was rewarded with a 1/4.5M deal last year after coming off a .266/.308/.368/.694 campaign. No wonder the Astros stink.
9) Randy Wolf is in the second year of a 3/~30M deal. He has a career ERA of 4.13. I know the Brewers need pitching but.. at least he’s a lefty.
10) David Bush received a 1/4+M deal last year after coming off a 5-9 6.38 year?
11) Paul Maholm is in the last year of a 3/14.5M deal. He has a career winning % of .433 & ERA of 4.48.
And that’s just the NL central. You should consider a MLB wide survey of the 20 best & 20 worst contracts. That would be fun!
Sorry I took up so much space, but bad contracts are, for a Cubs fan, a way of life!

Dennis March 2, 2011

Thanks for reading and firing off a good response. Yeah, 3/8 are stinkers for the Cubs, but they aren’t there forever. I like most of the good ones you listed, especially Marmol, Lilly, Bourn, Gallardo, Molina, and Wainwright. I’m not totally in agreement on the Votto deal, though. He has to almost match his 2010 season repeatedly for that deal to really pay off, and they didn’t get any of his free agent years at all. Removing the personal part bias from the Phillips deal is tough, but I don’t know that 4/$27M is good when the guy 1.0, 2.0, and 2.3 WAR for the first 3 seasons of the deal. Seems like a slight overpay to me, but he does play full seasons. I’m still shaking my head over the Jay Bruce deal, though. The only positive spin I can give this one is that it sets a bar for Colby Rasmus to hit at some point, so it might force the Cardinals to top it. That’s as much as I can spin it. Beyond that, the Reds are giving Bruce $51M based on 1 really good season out of 3.

I didn’t put Fukudome on the list for a reason, and I may be a little weak in defending this one. Fukudome has a career .368 OBP. He was already past 30 when the Cubs got him, so I don’t know how many bases anybody expected him to steal, but you can’t ask much more of the guy than to set the table. They just haven’t been able to push him across the plate. I can see that changing this year.

I’m not completely on board with the Randy Wolf deal being on the bad list, either. It’s not great, but the guy eats innings and keeps it close a lot of nights. With an offense like they have, that’s all you can hope for from a 4th or 5th starter. The problem is that they just couldn’t keep him slotted that way.

I don’t disagree about Cueto, although he’s making what seems to be the going rate for a middle-of-the-rotation guy now with some experience. The Maholm deal only makes sense, because they HAVE to spend some money at some point.

As for doing a 20 best/worst in MLB, I gave something like that some thought, but I’d rather stick to offending people in the NL Central for now. I’ll branch out once the season starts, though.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: