The Yankees know: don't sign players until you have to

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It’s safe to say I’ve given up on my hopes of becoming a major league GM. But if a reader hits the lottery, buys a team and decides to give me a shot, know that there’s a couple of rules I’d live by:
1. Never give multiyear deals to bench players
2. Don’t re-sign veterans until it’s absolutely necessary

The Yankees already seem to follow both. No. 1 may be an accident, but No. 2 is team policy: the Bombers don’t negotiate with their free-agents-to-be until they actually become free agents.
Now I’m certainly not against giving long-term deals to youngsters. That strategy has saved major league teams tens of millions of dollars over the last decade, not only in avoiding arbitration hearings and early free agent years with the players that sign them but by holding down the arbitration awards of those that don’t.
But giving veterans long-term extensions when they still have one or two years left under team control is a losing proposition more often than not. The potential gain — saving money over what it would cost to sign the player closer to free agency — just isn’t worth it. More information leads to better decisions, and there’s a lot of information to be gained by waiting that extra year until the player nears free agency.
For one thing, the players getting these extensions are already in their prime and likely at the peak of their value when they sign them. After all, the player isn’t going to want to sell low on himself by signing after a bad year or a rough first half. Teams, on the other hand, have no problem buying high by signing players immediately after a career year.
Look at the Yankees. Obviously, they have a huge advantage in these circumstances, since they don’t have to worry about being outbid in free agency. But they made no attempt to re-sign Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera last winter. Their policy probably cost them some money when they had to re-sign Jorge Posada as a free agent after his career-year in 2007, but it’s worked out well overall and the team has fewer bad contracts now than probably at any point in the past 15 years.
It’s something the Phillies should have looked at very carefully before committing an additional $125 million to Ryan Howard on Monday. Howard was already signed through the end of next year, and it’s hard to imagine that the Phillies are saving any money over what it would have taken to sign him a year from now. Howard pretty clearly wanted to stay in Philadelphia. Was he really going to turn down $25 million per year next April? Or even next November for that matter?
Ponder that while looking at a few examples of bad deals signed by players under contract and still one to two years away from free agency. I won’t count arbitration-avoiding signings like Detroit’s Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson deals, since while I think they fit, they weren’t contract extensions.
Travis Hafner – Indians
Old deal – Four years, $11.5 million for 2005-08 (2008 was a club option)
New deal (Signed July 2007) – Four years, $57 million for (2009-12)

Hafner was maybe baseball’s biggest bargain for two years in 2005 and 2006. The Indians gave him his huge extension even though his play had fallen way off in the first half of 2007, and it’s proven to be a franchise killer since the moment it was signed.
Mark Kotsay – Athletics
Old deal – Three years, $16 million for 2004-06
New deal (signed July 2005) – Two years, $15 million for 2007-08

Hit .214/.279/.296 in 56 games during an injury-ruined 2007. The A’s paid $5 million to get the Braves to take him for 2008.
Eric Chavez – Athletics
Old deal – Five years, $17.65 million for 2001-05 (2005 was a club option)
New deal (signed March 2004) – Six years, $66 million (2005-10)

Seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, and Chavez went on to put up a career-best 898 OPS in 125 games in 2004, so he would have been at least as expensive to re-sign that winter. However, he lost 100 points of OPS in 2005.
Scot Shields – Angels
Old deal – One year, $3.4 million for 2007 (wouldn’t have been a free agent until after 2008)
New deal (Signed March 2007) – Three years, $14.6 million (2008-10)

Shields was worked about as hard as any reliever in baseball from 2004-06, so the Angels were either foolish or simply overly generous for committing to him when they still had him under control for two more years. He went on to have his worst season in 2007, and while he had a fine 2008, he’s contributed nothing since.

Video: Minor League Manager goes on epic rant

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Frisco RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik got his money’s worth last night. He was ejected after arguing an automatic double play on an enforcement of the slide rule, and he didn’t go gently into that goodnight.

Rather, he threw things, kicked things, threw things and then subsequently kicked those same things, gave overly-demonstrative slides and safe signs and basically went all Earl Weaver/Lou Piniella on everyone.

Double-A baseball is the best minor league because you tend to see more prospects there than you do at Triple-A. But it’s also the best because, when you’re a manager who is not quite a heartbeat away from getting your shot at the big leagues, you’re a little less uptight about things. Or at least Mikulik was. Or maybe he was more uptight. I don’t know. He just went with it, and going with it has its charms.

 

(h/t Big League Stew)

A must-read oral history of the 1998 home run chase

7 Jul 1998:   American Leaguer player Mark McGwire #25 of the St Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa #21 of  the Chicago Cubs answer questions during  the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Coors Field in Denver,  Colorado.The American  League defeated the
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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation with their epic chase of Roger Maris’ home run record. But it has been, and after years of reaction, counter-reaction and, of course, baseball’s reckoning with the performance-enhancing drugs which helped fuel the chase, it’s probably finally time to do our best to contextualize it historically.

Today one of my favorite news outlets does that with an oral history. All of the key figures weigh-in on it, from McGwire and Sosa to Bud Selig to Tony La Russa. Randy Johnson makes an appearance as well, reminding us that it wasn’t just the sluggers who had an amazing year in 1998. Indeed, his story, including his being traded to Houston and going on an amazing second-half run, has almost been lost to history.

This is bookmark material, my friends. For savoring later if you can’t read it now. And for revisiting at another time given the depths to the drama which justifies multiple readings. I’ll just warn you that there is some adult language in the story, but that’s to be expected given the passion the 1998 baseball season inspired.

Go check it out.

UPDATE: Asdrubal Cabrera leaves Mets-Nats game with back spasms

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the New York Mets throws to first from his knee after diving to catch a ground ball to get Joc Pederson #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second out of the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: Cabrera was removed from the game due to back spasms.

1:21PM: This is not good: Asdrubal Cabrera was removed from today’s game against the Nationals with an apparent injury.

It’s unclear what the injury was, as Cabrera had yet to even play in the game. Matt Reynolds came on to play shortstop in the bottom of the first inning, but Cabrera didn’t bat in the top of the first. It could be an illness. Or some freak occurrence.

We’ll update when we hear more.

There are apparently unwritten rules about manager replay challenges now

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Chicago Cubs shakes hands with manager Mike Matheny #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals before the Opening Night game at Wrigley Field on April 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last night’s Cardinals-Cubs game was a blowout, with the Cubs beating the Cards 12-3. Apparently, however, in the ninth inning of the game, Reynoldsburg, Ohio’s own Mike Matheny played the Cardinals infield in, which is a move you never see in a blowout. Why did he do that?

He hasn’t said yet, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon just spoke to the media before today’s game and he’s speculating that Matheny did it as a form of protest:

God, I hope that’s true. I hope that manager replay challenges, which are already dumb enough inasmuch as they turn what should be an officiating correction device into a strategic tool, are now turning into another front in the Great Unwritten Rules Wars. I hope that we now have a bunch of people talking about how there’s a right way and a wrong way to use the replay system and that one can disrespect the other side if they do it the wrong way. The way the replay system has been implemented often resembles tragedy. Why not make it farce?

Oh well, I guess it beats throwing at someone for doing that wrong. And I guess it’s just a reminder that no matter what we do, baseball is always gonna give us an opportunity for petty bits of silliness.