Tim Lincecum

Let us not freak out about free agent salaries, OK?

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I feel like people freak out a little bit every fall and winter when the first couple of free agents sign. The dollars get announced and the reaction is some form of “wow, what an overpay!” and “if [Player X] gets that, [Player Y] is going to get insane dollars!” We’ve seen a little bit of that in the wake of last night’s Tim Lincecum signing, with people’s reactions ranging from merely raising an eyebrow to being fully gobsmacked.

I’m in more of the eyebrow-raised camp. It’s probably a bit of an overpay given Lincecum’s performance over the past couple of years (though it is a pay cut). It’s also a bit of a gamble inasmuch as, a decent strikeout rate notwithstanding, there is no guarantee that Lincecum will be a front line starter ever again. Or even an average one. We’re now more than two years past the last good Lincecum season and more than four years past the truly dominant Lincecum still stuck in our head. He could be Barry Zito redux in performance, if not in contract duration, for the rest of his career.

But we should probably limit our response to the dollars involved to raised eyebrows and wait a few months before truly committing to a reaction. Both to Lincecum’s deal and the deals of other free agents this winter. Because the changing financial structure of baseball is rendering the sorts of deals we once considered to be crazy fairly run-of-the-mill these days.

Yes, $35 million for two years is an awful lot of money. But you know what else is an awful lot of money? The $30-$40 million (estimated) each team will be getting each year from new national television deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS. That is, $30-$40 million for doing absolutely nothing. That’s before you add on increases in local deals many teams are experiencing and the overall trend of rising revenues across Major League Baseball. A trend that the San Francisco Giants and their nearly-full ballpark are taking pretty decent advantage of.

We’re not in the same financial world in which we found ourselves in 1992, 2004 or even just a couple of years ago. Teams have more money to spend and, thanks to restrictions on how much amateur talent can be paid, they have fewer places to spend it. It makes perfect sense, then, that the price of an average pitcher with some upside (or any number of other free agents who will soon sign) will be a lot higher than it used to be. As such, the dollars that used to only go to the best of the best will now be going to the middle of the pack. The superstar dollars will go way, way up too.

Despite this dynamic, I feel that fan and, in some cases, media reaction to these understandable increases is still stuck in 1992, 2004 or even just a couple of years ago. It sort of reminds me of my dad who, whenever gas prices go up, reacts as if it were still 1959 and, dadgummit, gas shouldn’t be more than twenty-five cents a gallon. As if the price of any commodity, be it gas, foodstuffs or elite baseball players shouldn’t be expected to rise in the face of scarcity and increased demand.

Anyway: it’s possible that the Lincecum deal will look bad in a few months or a year from now. It’s also possible that this deal is simply what a player of Lincecum’s caliber — adjusting for the short-length of the deal and his status as a fan favorite — can be expected to command. Whatever happens with him, though, we need to remember that player salaries are going up for rational reasons and that the definition of a massive deal in 2013-14 is not the same as it was even a few short years ago.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 16: Starting pitcher J.A. Happ #33 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Did you know J.A. Happ is in the thick of the American League Cy Young Award race? Of all the contenders, he may be the biggest surprise, even ahead of Drew Pomeranz. Happ leads the league with 17 wins and only has three losses to go with it. He’s holding a 3.05 ERA and a 133/44 K/BB ratio in 150 1/3 innings.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Happ was struggling to stay in a starting rotation. In 2011, his first full season with the Astros, he finished with a 5.35 ERA. In 2012, he put up a 4.79 ERA with the ‘stros and Blue Jays. The next year? 4.56 followed by 4.22, both with the Jays. Then, with the Mariners, he continued the mediocrity with a 4.64 ERA before he was traded to the Pirates.

Under the tutelage of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Happ turned his career around. In 11 starts in Pittsburgh, the lefty had a microscopic 1.85 ERA. That came with significant improvements in his strikeout and walk rates. Even the ERA retrodictors like FIP and xFIP, which had so often agreed with his uninspiring ERA’s, agreed that he had thrown like an elite hurler. So that’s how we arrived at J.A. Happ, Cy Young Award contender.

Among AL starters, Happ is fifth-best in ERA behind Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Aaron Sanchez, and Steven Wright. However, his 17-3 record is equaled only by Rick Porcello. As there are still a significant number of voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America who consider won-lost record, Happ is sitting in a good position and will be even better if he can cross the coveted 20-win threshold. He’ll get a bit of a boost as well if he can help the Jays return to the postseason for a second consecutive season.

Happ’s Jays will host the hapless — and Happ-less — Angels on Thursday evening. He’ll take on veteran Jered Weaver in a 7:07 PM EDT start.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 7:05 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 7:15 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo), 8:10 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray), 9:40 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 10:10 PM EDT

Let’s play the “how long has it been since the Cubs won the World Series?” game!

1908 Cubs
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It started with a no-good St. Louis Cardinals fan being a troublemaker. That no-good Cardinals fan was Drew Silva, who began things innocently enough, noting that, despite their dominance this season, any team can theoretically beat the Chicago Cubs in a short series because that’s just how baseball goes:

Cubs fans started giving him guff for that, so Drew gave some back:

And with that it was on like Donkey Kong (a super old video game which was not invented for another 73 years after the Cubs last won the World Series). I tweeted this:

And with that, my followers went crazy. Here’s a sampling of some of the best ones:

And, for that matter . . .

Too soon. Unlike the last Cubs World Series title.

Like I said, this was just a sampling. I’ve retweeted a ton more on my timeline and those I didn’t retweet can be seen in the replies here. My favorite one may have been “literally the invention of sliced bread,” which debuted in 1912, but I can’t find that tweet.

Please, Cubs fans, have a sense of humor about this. You have a wonderful ballpark that is not named after a third tier mortgage company, a grand history that is fantastic even if it hasn’t featured any championships and a future that is as bright or brighter than any other team out there. Maybe even come up with some of your own in the comments! History is fun! As is self-deprecation! What I’m saying is don’t be salty about this sort of thing. Salty is a bad look.

In other news, the Morton Salt Company was incorporated in 1910, two years after the Cubs last World Series victory.