Michael Wilbon has a column up over at ESPN today in which he implores the Cubs to go after Albert Pujols in free agency.
It’s fine as far as it goes, but I tend not to like arguments that basically come down to “how big it would be!” for team X to sign player Y and about how players are “iconic.” I suspect that the idea of franchises “making statements” and adding “credibility” to the team is one that gets talked about by writers approximately 1000 times more than it does in real front offices.
One comment he makes, though, has me thinking:
Asking whether the Cubs really should go after Pujols is like asking whether a team should have taken Lou Gehrig at a similar stage of his career. The notion that Pujols would be overpaid in the final two or three years of a 10-year-contract ignores the fact that he’s been underpaid — not just the first few years, but over his entire career so far, even this coming season at $16 million. Every single at-bat of Pujols’ career suggests he has four to five Hall of Fame seasons left, by which time the Cubs could have won, at long last, a World Series.
Icon status aside, do you go 8-10 years for the Gehrig/Pujols player if you may only get five good years? I’m trying to think of examples in which someone has been burned on the tail end of a long term deal but the general assessment was “it was worth it anyway.” Maybe that will happen with A-Rod. I suppose it could happen with Todd Helton. Anyone else? Any candidates?
The risk stuff on a long term deal for Pujols is probably the more interesting to me than even the “where might he end up if not in St. Louis” question. I’m someone who is probably too risk averse in life. It’s just my disposition. But I also understand the argument which holds that avoiding risks often locks in the downside of something in a far more certain way than taking the risk ever would. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, you know.
Pujols might be the one guy I’d take five great years for even if there’s a great chance he gets old fast later and doesn’t earn his considerable keep. But it’s not an easy call. Which is why it’s probably a good think I’m not the GM of a baseball team.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.