Monday, January 14, 2013
Five offseason moves that will backfire
By Jim Bowden
Angel Pagan has never shown the consistency to warrant the contract he earned this offseason.
Recall the saying "it seemed like a good idea at the time" and you'll be able to apply it to a number of baseball's 30 teams. Indeed, most general managers would love to call a mulligan or two during their careers. As such, the following five players are, in my opinion, the most likely to end up as someone's mulligan. Their contracts are simply more than they are worth, whether it be dollars or number of years, and thus could very easily backfire on the general manager.
Contract: Four years, $40 million | AAV: $10 million
Giants senior vice president/general manager Brian Sabean is one of the best in the business, with two world championships in the past three years. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make his fair share of mistakes on long-term contracts, such as Barry Zito’s seven-year, $126 million deal or Aaron Rowand’s five-year, $60 million albatross. Sabean’s history also includes being loyal to players (read: overpaying) who helped him win rings. After winning the World Series in 2010, he overpaid Aubrey Huff by re-signing him to a two-year, $20 million deal.
Likewise, fresh off winning the 2012 World Series, Sabean handsomely rewarded Pagan, who had a solid defensive year while serving as an effective table setter who got the job done on a consistent basis. It was easily the best year of his career. But this offseason was the first during which scouting reports on Pagan didn’t include phrases such as “loses focus,” “continuously gets bad jumps and leads” and “very inconsistent.”
The length of the deal is more troublesome than the dollars. Pagan has not been a consistent enough player to think he’ll be able to repeat what he did last season, let alone for four more. With financial security, I’m also not convinced he won’t revert back to the player who loses focus on occasion. His decline years are coming soon, and I think the last two years of this deal could end similarly to Rowand’s, which led to his unconditional release well before the contract ended.
Contract: Four years, $56 million | AAV: $14 million
Swisher was one of the most consistent performers to hit the open market this offseason, so the Indians can expect his normal production of 20-plus homers and an OBP above .350 even though he won’t have the same protection in the lineup he had with the Yankees. However, Swisher has never won a Gold Glove or a Silver Slugger and has made it to one All-Star game in nine years. Also, he's a mediocre defender and has an awful postseason track record, though it's unlikely he'll get a chance to correct that in Cleveland.
His high energy and enthusiasm will be a huge plus to the Indians' clubhouse, but $56 million for a player who will be playing in his decline years from age 32 to 36 is extremely risky, especially because he doesn’t profile as a legitimate 3-4-5 hitter. The deal will work for the first two years, but if he’s not traded by the end of 2014, it will come back to bite GM Chris Antonetti.
Contract: Three years, $25 million | AAV: $8.33 million
When the Royals acquired Guthrie from the Colorado Rockies on July 20, 2012, they were pleasantly surprised as Guthrie went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.132 WHIP in 14 starts after the trade. General manager Dayton Moore had seen enough, so he signed Guthrie to a deal during which Guthrie will pitch at ages 34 through 36. That makes it risky in itself.
He does bring the strength of being able to give 200 innings pitched a year, which has value. Outside of the 14 starts he made with the Royals, however, the rest of his career doesn’t paint a pretty picture. He led the American League in losses twice with 17 in both 2009 and 2011. Before being traded to the Royals in July, he was almost given his unconditional release by the Rockies after going 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA and 1.68 WHIP. Sure, you can blame some of that on Coors Field, bad defense, run support and bullpens. But after a while, the excuses run out.
The reality is Guthrie has had a total of one winning season in nine years and his numbers are well below the worth of his contract. This could end up being the worst free-agent signing for the Royals since Gil Meche in 2006. It is a deal I believe the Royals will eventually regret.
However, giving Blanton more than a one-year contract was simply unwarranted. As good as the Angels are, and as good as the AL West is, the Angels needed a better quality starter for the fifth spot.
Blanton’s ERAs of 4.82, 5.01 and 4.71 in the National League will translate to an ERA of well over 5.00 in the American League. To take a chance on Blanton with even a one-year deal would have been debatable itself, but the two-year deal and depending on him for rotation depth will end up being a mistake.
Contract: Three years, $20 million | AAV: $6.6 million
Scutaro is a solid player who knows how to play the game and is fundamentally sound. He can turn the double play, make the routine plays, hit and run when called upon and lay down a bunt when needed. And yet, he came to the Giants because of what his teams thought he couldn’t do. In 2011, the Red Sox decided to trade him to the Rockies because they thought he’d lost some range and bat speed. The Rockies traded him to the Giants after only 95 games when they decided his bat was slow and the adjustment back to second base wasn’t going as smoothly as planned. However, once Scutaro became a Giant he put it all together and ended up as the NLCS MVP.
So why not a three-year deal? Scutaro’s performance was only a snapshot of success, a period of time when he played at his optimum level but not a true reflection of the player he’ll be over the next three years. If he was showing signs of decline with both Boston and Colorado, what will he look like at age 39?
This contract is way too risky. They might get one solid year out of Scutaro, but I doubt he’ll be able to give them three years of the level they witnessed last season and in the postseason. Scutaro made about $20 million over the course his entire major league career from 2002-12. And now, at age 37, will make $20 million for the final three years of his career.