December 9, 2013 Headline: Hunter Pence Signs With Pirates For 7 Years, $168M
Most major league baseball owners are billionaires or, at the very least, incredibly wealthy leaders of investor groups. And I'm pretty sure you have to be smart to become a billionaire (although I am admittedly very smart, and I regularly get excited when I have enough spare change to justify a trip to Randall's to use that machine that eats spare change and gives you cash back).
Rich people making baseball decisions
So if by that transitive property, most billionaire owners are so smart, then why do they do such stupid things?
Case in point -- the gold rush...um, okay, maybe silver rush....all right, copper rush...on free agent corner outfielders at the Major League Baseball winter meetings this week.
Ultra-lavish spending the last few years has been largely reserved to the upper portion of the eastern seaboard -- New York, Boston. When Washington decided to fire the first salvo of fiscal insanity this offseason by inking Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract this past weekend, it was a little like a new resident in a gated community trying to announce their presence to their Porsche- and Lamborghini-driving neighbors with authority by buying a car of their own.
Unfortunately, Washington is the neighbor that spent $126 million on a Toyota Camry.
To be clear, there's nothing wrong with a Camry. A Camry is a very reliable car, it's not a car you need to be embarrassed about driving (raising my hand and speaking from experience, R.I.P. my 1994 Camry), it gets you from place to place pretty efficiently. Not moving too slow, but not hitting top speed either.
In short, it is the Jayson Werth of automobiles.
To those trying to justify the money Washington spent on the former Philly (and as best I can tell, that group consists of the Nationals' front office and a bunch of people with the last name "Werth"), I understand he was coming off a career year, an OPS north of .900, a top ten finish in the National League MVP ballot (more a statement on the team he played for than his true "value").
However, when you add in the fact that this was one of two very good (NOT great) seasons that Werth has had in his career and add in the fact that both seasons occurred after Werth turned 30 (a "one hit wonder" red flag if there ever was one), then the sore thumb that these two seasons are on the back of Werth's baseball card should be a deterrent from signing him, not a justification.
You don't hear Jayson Werth questioning his new contract, do you?
Never mind that Werth's protection in the lineup just went from Howard/Utley/Rollins to Ryan Zimmerman and...well, Ryan Zimmerman. Never mind that Werth even with protection did not hit well with runners in scoring position (sub-.200 last season). You don't chase the Stephen Strasburg injury with a panic move. And as panic moves go, this makes the Suns' trading for Shaquille O'Neal look rational and well reasoned.
Put it this way, Astro Fan -- four years after the ink was dry, it took the Nationals signing Jayson Werth to finally make the Carlos Lee deal look even remotely sane.
Ever the upwardly mobile neighbor, the Red Sox chased Washington's insanity with a little zaniness of their own by signing outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal Wednesday night. To the Red Sox' credit, at least Crawford has (a) at one time, batted in a position in the lineup where you don't have to cite "protection" as a reason for his success, (b) is a "focus on power hitting" initiative away from having all five of the "five tools," and (c) is just entering his prime.
That said, the ninth highest total contract value in Major League history is now...Carl Crawford? Really? Whatever, Red Sox. It'll be fun watching the Yankees tack on a seventh year and pay almost $200 million for Cliff Lee just to show that they have a bigger package.
Most baseball fans have responded to the Corner Outfielder Bonanza of 2010 with a very logical question -- if Werth and Crawford are getting these deals then what is Albert Pujols worth? The answer? Start with the sun and the moon, and then see what else the Yankees will throw in.
I prefer to keep it local -- if average to very good corner outfielders are getting $18 million to $20 million per year, then what will Hunter Pence get when he gets to free agency in the off season before 2014?
Pence has been a nice, solid if a bit undisciplined right fielder. Having hit 25 home runs three straight years with an OPS in the high .700's to low .800's, he's at least at the "pencil him in" stage where you kind of know what to expect from him. He's a solid outfielder, and let's face it, the comedic value of his running style (arms straight down at his side moving a thousand miles an hour) is one of maybe two or three reasons to still buy tickets to watch this team after August 1.
He's 27 years old, which means when free agency rolls around (assuming the Astros don't lock him up sooner), he'll be north of 30 years old (a slight negative). If he shows even the slightest improvement over the next three years -- hell, even if he just keeps doing what he's doing and stays away from sliding glass doors during spring training -- isn't Hunter Pence worth more than Jayson Werth?
Will there be a Washington Nationals in December 2013 ready to scratch out a nine figure deal for Hunter Pence? Whoever owns the Astros in 2013? Pirates?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.