The Tenth Inning – Week 7 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
This past weekend presented one of the most interesting and dynamic dichotomies that have ever existed on a baseball diamond. Meeting for the first time this season, the Rangers and Angels entered their three game series in Arlington in completely different trajectories, mostly because of the play of each teamâs superstar. Josh Hamilton is playing at an otherworldly pace for Texas, batting .402 with 18 homeruns and 44 RBIâs so far this season. Meanwhile Los Angeles is still waiting for the emergence of Albert Pujols, whoâs numbers are .196, 1, and 12 in those same three categories. Even a return to the same ballpark where he hit three homeruns during one game in last yearâs World Series couldnât help shake Pujols out of the longest slump of his career. Angels fans â and now, probably, the Angels front office, too â are wondering just when theyâre going to get a return on their 10-year, $240 million investment.
But is the answer, perhaps, never? And what impact, if any, will that have on Josh Hamilton when the Texas slugger becomes a free agent after this offseason. Welcome to the “contract” edition of “The Tenth Inning.”
In order to determine just how valuable Hamilton is with regards to dollars and cents, the best bet is to look back on the other high-profile free agents that have hit the market recently. Here’s a look at the 20 highest paid players from 2011, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts:
There are a couple of things that immediately stand out about this list. First, seven of the 20 players on this list played in New York last year â four Yankees, three Mets. Secondly, just about half of this list (seven, to be exact) is comprised of pitchers, and for our purposes here they’re not going to be included. So the adjusted list now reads as follows:
Now, one interesting tidbit here is that NONE of these players were traded to their current teams during the contract that resulted in the dollar amount listed above. Yes, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera were both traded, but each signed their current deals during a free agent period when there were other teams bidding for their services. Thus, there are two key lists upon which to focus: those who resigned with their current teams as a free agent (or never hit the market at all, in the case of Ryan Howard) and those who changed teams as a result of signing the big, long-term deal. Here’s how that split looks:
And now we focus on the right side of that chart above. Of those seven players, it can be argued that not a single one of those players has lived up to his current mammoth contract, and that only Mark Teixeira came anywhere close to producing his career average numbers during the first year of that deal â and he’s been in a progressive decline ever since. The Angels signed two centerfielders in Hunter and Wells, and now have a rookie in Mike Trout manning the middle of the outfield and outplaying both of them, creating a massive logjam that saw the forced exodus of Bobby Abreu and declining offensive production in both corner outfield spots. Lee has been solid since signing with Houston, but the Astros haven’t made the playoffs since bringing him into the fold. Soriano’s struggles in Chicago have been well-documented, as were Beltran’s in New York â and look at how Carlos is playing this season in St. Louis without the pressure of living up to a nine-figure contract. And even the biggest Beltran hater (I will never forgive watching called strike three from now-teammate Adam Wainwright in the 2006 NLCS) would take Carlos in a heartbeat over the current leftfield travesty that is Jason Bay. In short, all seven of the highest paid position players who left one team to sign a massive new contract with another team completely underproduced right from the start and never really managed to fully recover.
It’s not just the superstars that struggle, either it’s the almost-superstars that get paid like superstars that also find it difficult to transition. The Nationals gave a truckload of money to Jayson Werth and got virtually nothing in return before his broke his wrist â and now the Nats are literally getting nothing in return. J.D. Drew was notorious for robbing teams of their money without really ever managing to earn it. Toss in the miserable Carl Crawford deal and a struggling start to the year for Jose Reyes, and we’re one Prince Fielder injury away from moving this from a “trend” to an “epidemic.”
Which brings us full circle to Sir Albert and Roy Hobbs Jr., aka Hamilton. When Pujols signed his contract with the Angels, virtually no one questioned whether he was worth an average of $24 million a year, just whether he should be getting that money for the next decade. But the Angels had to extend the deal to outbid other suitors, including the Cardinals, and thus pushed the contract about two or three years further than they probably wanted to or should have. Albert knew the situation he had in St. Louis, with two World Series rings and near-sainthood status in the city. He was comfortable there, and the Angels had to overpay in order to trump that.
Likewise, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Hamilton owes his life to the Texas Rangers organization. First, they took a chance on him and traded a highly-touted pitching prospect in Edinson Volquez to Cincinnati to get the rejuvenated outfielder. Then they provided the recovering addict with virtually every means necessary to remain clean, healthy, and on the field, even withstanding a couple small setbacks. Hamilton’s performance this season has catapulted the already rabid Rangers fanbase to another level, and if Texas can finally get over the hump and win a title this season, there’s a legitimate chance that Josh could supplant the great Nolan Ryan in celebrity status in the Dallas metro area â even as it’s Ryan who’s building this team and supporting Hamilton in the first place.
What does all this mean? In short, it means that as long as the Rangers make a fair and reasonable offer to their MVP, Hamilton should resign â if only for his own peace of mind. Living up to a massively huge new contract is tough enough without having to do it in a new city and in front of new fans that aren’t nearly as reverent as the old fans. Similarly, any team that decides to make a gamble and trump a fair and reasonable offer from the Rangers will likely get inferior production at the inflated cost from Hamilton over the life of the new contract, just as the teams above have gotten from their big-time free agent imports. Maybe it’s time for general managers across the league to close the checkbook, lock up the bank account, and let these “marquee free agents” leave their offices without the GDP of every Caribbean nation combined in their hands.
The teams, the players, and most especially the game, will be much better off.
Three series to watch this weekâ¦
If the season ended today, the playoff teams would beâ¦
Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday and the weekly “Power Rankings” every Friday, only at ultimatecapper.com
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