It could be something spooky and
nefarious like collusion, or perhaps that general managers have become more savvy about how they spend their team’s money (Jim Hendry
excluded, of course), but Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports notices that there’s a striking difference between this offseason and 2006-07:
Thus far, more than halfway through the 2009-10 free agent signing
period, teams have given only seven players contracts of three years or
longer. In 2006-07, 31 players received deals of three or more years.
They handed out 29 multi-year contracts that averaged more than $5
million per season. This offseason, owners have given out a dozen
multiyear, $5 million-a-season deals.
The most significant difference? The
big-bank free agents. Teams coughed up over $100 million for Alfonso
Soriano, Barry Zito, Carlos Lee and Daisuke Matsuzaka that winter. On the heels of
a recession, this offseason is a different animal, with less premium
players seemingly entering their prime seasons, like the ones mentioned above. It’s possible that
Jason Bay could have found a $100 million contract in the past, but
that doesn’t mean it would have been wise. Matt Holliday, who turns 30 this month, is the only one
worthy of the threshold in the current marketplace, and there’s
increasing indications that he’ll get there.
Obviously something has changed between then and now, but perhaps the biggest casualty is someone like me. Granted it’s January 2nd, but I’m sitting here recapping someone else’s article about the lack of activity in the free agent marketplace. It’s a sad state of affairs. Someone please rescue us from this current state of Hot Stove boredom.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.