Tag: Vernon Wells

ryan howard getty

The Phillies are working to trade Ryan Howard. Good luck with that!


source: Getty Images

At times like these I’m always inspired to post one of my favorite tweets ever:

It seems so long ago. And it may as well be. Buster Olney reports today that the Phillies themselves are trying to make that history this winter:

Ryan Howard has had his last at-bat as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s what the Phillies hope, anyway. That’s their goal, according to rival executives . . . The mantra on Howard appears to be: He is priced to move.

Olney reports that the only possible targets are AL teams where he could DH and play occasional first base. I mean, get this line from an anonymous source in there: “He’s Adam Dunn, although Adam Dunn is probably a better defender at this point than he is.”


Howard is owed $50 million for 2015 and 2016 and either a $23 million 2017 option or a $10 million buyout. So let’s call it $6o million over three years. Of course, if we’ve learned one thing in the past few years it’s that no one is untradeable. Vernon Wells was dealt. Alex Rios. Dunn. There are bad contracts attached to washed up players that can and do get moved.

But it’s not like the Phillies aren’t going to be paying most of Howard’s deal. And it’s not like they can expect a lot in return for Howard. Mostly it’d be a page-turning deal. A signal to the team and the parts of the fan base that are still living in 2008 that the team is fully committed to rebuilding.

Money, money, money (and Bud Selig’s nirvana)

Bud Selig

You probably know that one of Bud Selig’s big objectives as commissioner of baseball was to even the playing field – that is, to give the small-market teams a chance to contend. A luxury tax was instituted. Wildcards were added to the playoffs. The amateur draft had numerous rules changed. Sure, many people thought it was all a ploy to take money from the players and give it to the owners – and let’s not be naïve, I’m sure some of it WAS a money grab – but I always thought that competitive balance really was an issue close to his heart. Selig had been a small-market owner. He had grown up a small-market baseball fan. He will talk passionately and often about how every fan should have hope on Opening Day – he borrowed that from me, by the way — and I feel sure he believes that.

Funny thing: Here at the end of his tenure, baseball is closer to Selig’s nirvana than perhaps ever before. As Brian McPherson writes in the Providence Journal, the correlation between money spent and winning is at its lowest point in a long, long time. McPherson writes that the correlation right now between wins and money is actually smaller than the correlation between wins and alphabetical order.

Why is this a funny thing?

Because, I believe the reason for whatever actual effect we are seeing is pretty directly tied to the steroid years that Selig has been running away from for more than a decade.

Before we get to that, let’s look quickly at the playoff picture. As it stands right now:

American League

East: Baltimore (15th in Opening Day payroll)

Central: Kansas City (19th)

West: Oakland (25th) and Los Angeles Angels (6th)

Wildcard No. 1: Oakland or LA

Wildcard No. 2: Seattle (18th)

National League

East: Washington (9th in Opening Day payroll)

Central: Milwaukee (16th)

West: Los Angeles Dodgers (1st)

Wildcard No. 1: St. Louis (13th)

Wildcard No. 2: San Francisco (7th)

So, as you can see, the game is not being dominated by the highest-payroll teams anymore – of the Top 5 payrolls, only the Dodgers are in the playoffs in the season ended today. This, however, is at least a bit deceiving. Detroit has a Top 5 payroll and is just 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City – I suspect most people suspect the Tigers will catch the Royals before it’s all done. And those vampire Yankees, the team Michael Schur will tell you cannot be killed, linger two-and-a-half games behind the Mariners for the second wildcard spot. If just those two things switch, suddenly six of the ten playoff teams will have Top 10 payrolls. So it’s possible to get carried away by the moment.

Still, something is happening. Philadelphia is in shambles with a huge payroll. The Red Sox are again in last place with a huge payroll. The vampire Yankees have been hot lately but I’m still not buying them and they have flashed a whole lot more mediocrity than promise this year. The Rangers have a huge payroll and are the worst team in baseball. The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks and Reds and even the Twins are trying to spend money but seem to be spinning their wheels or are in screaming descent.

So, why is this happening? I have a theory – one that directly relates to my belief that many baseball teams are doing something that is monumentally stupid. I’m referring to the huge, long-term deals that they are giving players – deals that last until the players are in their mid-to-late 30s, and sometimes even carries them into their 40s. These contracts are a death trap, a suicide rap, and while there are exceptions to every rule, there are never more than a few exceptions. Giving huge, long-term contracts to players in their late 20s or early 30s is self-destructive. Period.

Let’s look at those big payroll teams that are struggling.

No. 2 in payroll: Yankees. Even with Alex Rodriguez mostly off the books for a year, the Yankees have these suffocating long term deals with Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, heck, they just scooped up the next two years of Martin Prado for some reason.

No. 3 in payroll: Philadelphia. Covered this one. Almost 70% of their payroll is going to big deal guys — Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, A.J. Burnett and Jimmy Rollins. Throw another $16 million in the pot for Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd. What the heck could Ruben Amaro have been thinking?

No. 4 in payroll: Boston. The Red Sox salary structure is a bit different from the Yankees or Phillies… but they are still putting an old team on the field. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, all in their 30s. You can see them trying desperately to get younger now.

No. 8 in payroll: Texas. Lots of terrible contracts here – Prince Fielder for another six years, Shin Soo Choo for another six years, some big money about to kick in on Elvis Andrus. The Rangers have had terrible luck this year with health but this is a team staring into the barrels of some serious financial pain anyway.

So … what does this have to do with the Selig Era?

Well, there were two things that happened during the late 1990s and early 2000s that were unusual. One, of course, was the crazy proliferation of home runs. But the second was the way players aged. For a long time before the 1994 strike, players tended to age at more or less the same rate. There are countless ways to quantify this – I did a simple spreadsheet looking at players with 3.0 WAR or better. A player with 3.0 WAR is a good player (but not necessarily a great one) and there are usually 25 to 30 of them in any given season, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less.

For decades before the late 1990s, about 72% of those good 3.0 players were younger than 30. Almost all the rest were between 30 and 34. Very few were older than 35 –  from 1972-1997 only 16 of the 594 players with 3.0 WAR were 35 or older. This seemed the natural aging pattern of players.

Here, for your information, is an incomplete list of Hall of Famers and all-time greats who never had even a 3.0 WAR season after age 35: Rickey Henderson, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken, Johnny Bench, Robbie Alomar and Yogi Berra.

It changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1998, for instant, HALF the 3.0 WAR players were 30 or older. It was similar in the the surrounding years. If you include all the years from 1996 to 2004, more than 40% of all the 3.0 WAR players were at least 30 years old.

Beyond that, we suddenly started seeing 35-year olds performing at very high levels. People will immediately say that this was because of the popularization of PED use, and that was certainly a factor. It’s also possible there were other factors – smaller strike zones, smaller parks, better bats, many others. But whatever the reasons, there were a few years there where the idea of a player performing well until his mid-to-late 30s suddenly seemed reasonable.

My guess is that this seemingly reasonable conclusion that baseball players had started to beat the aging process was, in fact, quite unreasonable and it is probably the biggest factor in these massive, sprawling and utterly doomed long-term contracts. Teams started trying to lock up player’s last year for huge dough. Best I can tell, there are 22 players who are signed for big money for at least five seasons after this one. They are:

Atlanta: Freddie Freeman.

Boston: Dustin Pedroia.

Cincinnati: Shin-Soo Choo; Joey Votto.

Colorado: Troy Tulowitzki.

Detroit: Justin Verlander; Miguel Cabrera.

Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols; Mike Trout.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp; Clayton Kershaw.

Milwaukee: Ryan Braun.

New York Mets: David Wright.

New York Yankees: Jacoby Ellsbury; Masahiro Tanaka.

San Francisco: Buster Posey.

Seattle: Robinson Cano; Felix Hernandez.

Texas: Elvis Andrus; Prince Fielder.

Washington: Ryan Zimmerman.

How many of those contracts would you want? Before you answer, consider that these are mostly newer contracts – we don’t have any perspective on them yet. But we do have perspective on the LAST batch of big-money contracts – here are the big money contracts running out the next three years: Vernon Wells; Alfonso Soriano; Cliff Lee; C.C. Sabathia; Matt Holliday; Ryan Howard; Mark Teixeira; Josh Hamilton, Jayson Werth; Matt Cain; Carl Crawford; Alex Rodriguez; Jose Reyes.

How many of THOSE contracts would you want?

Baseball owners’ and GM’s madness for big money contracts to aging players has, in its own way, evened the game more than anything else Selig or any other commissioner has done. The Yankees stopped developing their own players and bought their way into a pit. The Red Sox had a couple of only moderate seasons, went on a shopping spree, and bought their way to their two worst seasons in the last half century or so. The Phillies spent a crazy fortune in a hopelessly misguided effort to keep a good team together well past its expiration date.

Even the high-spending teams that are doing well this year – the Angels and Dodgers in particular – are basically tiptoeing around some calamitous contracts.

There’s a great line in The Office where the HR representative Toby – who knows that the boss Michael despises him – finds himself stuck in the back with the impossibly annoying Kelly and Ryan, who spend all hours fighting and making up and fighting more. “I don’t think Michael meant to punish me by putting me here with them,” he said. “But if he did – genius.”

That’s what I see here too. I don’t think Bud Selig meant to even up the game by getting the big teams to wasted their huge money advantages on old and rapidly declining players. But hey, if he did – genius.

Yankees designate Vernon Wells for assignment

New York Yankees' Wells hits two-run home run against Kansas City Royals in their MLB American League baseball game in Kansas City

Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Yankees have designated Vernon Wells for assignment, dropping the veteran outfielder from the 40-man roster and exposing him to the waiver wire.

Wells got off to a great start in New York, but ended up hitting just .233 with 11 homers and a .631 OPS in 130 games overall. He hasn’t topped a .700 OPS since 2010 and the Yankees had even less use for him than before after signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.

He’ll almost surely pass through waivers unclaimed because in addition to Wells being horrible for three years in a row no team will want anything to do with his remaining contract (although most of it is being paid by one of his now three former teams).

Yankees Hot Tub Time Machine

hot tub time machine

It just gets better and better with the New York Yankees. They just signed Brian Roberts.

I wrote before (in my Ichiro Suzuki essay for the 100 greatest players) that this Yankees team would look awfully good … in 2006. But by essentially replacing Robinson Cano with Brian Roberts, they have — in a weird way — gotten even older. Roberts best year was probably 2005, which you will note is actually BEFORE 2006.

Here is the Yankees starting lineup … and what was probably each player’s best season:

C: Brian McCann (2006 with Atlanta): .333/.388/.572, 24 homers, 93 RBis.

1B: Mark Teixeira (2005 with Texas): .301/.379/.575, 43 homers, 144 RBIs, 112 runs, Gold Glove.

2B: Brian Roberts (2006 with Baltimore): .314/.387/.515, 45 doubles, 18 homers, 27 steals, 92 runs.

SS: Derek Jeter (1999 with Yankees): .349/.438/.552 with 24 homers, 102 RBIs, 134 runs, 219 hits.

3B: Alex Rodriguez: (2007 with Yankees): .314/.422/.645, 54 homers, 156 RBIs, 143 runs, 24 steals.

LF: Alfonso Soriano (2002 with Yankees): .300/.332/.547, 39 homers, 41 steals, 102 RBIs, 128 runs.

CF: Jacoby Ellsbury (2011 with Boston): .321/.376/.552, 32 homers, 105 RBis, 119 runs, 39 steals, Gold Glove.

RF: Ichiro Suzuki (2004 with Seattle): .372/.414/.455 with 262 hits, 101 runs, 36 steals, Gold Glove.

DH: Carlos Beltran 2006 with Mets): : ..275/.388/.594, 41 homers, 116 RBIs, 127 runs 18 steals, Gold Glove.

In case you’re wondering, that averages out to the year 2005. This team would have peaked in 2005, even if Ellsbury was playing for Lowell of the New York Penn League at the time.

And, don’t forget, this team still has Vernon Wells (best year probably 2003 — .317 with league leading 49 doubles, 215 hits and 373 total bases) and Brett Gardner (best year a more recent 2010 — .383 OBP, 97 runs).

Oh, if only the Yankees had a Hot Tub Time Machine — or the phone booth from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure — they could put together one of the greatest teams in baseball history. Heck, let’s say it, if they could have all nine of those players, in their prime, that would be the greatest team ever. You have (by performance) three SURE Hall of Famers (A-Rod, Jeter, Ichiro), a possible Hall of Famer (Beltran) and four All-Star superstars.

Instead, Tex is old and played just 15 games last year, Jeter is old and played in 17 games, A-Rod is old and with a pending suspension that would last more than a year, Ichiro is old and has not even managed a .300 average since 2010, Roberts is old and is hitting .231/.289/.344 the last three seasons. Soriano and Beltran are old too, though they still had something left last year. Even McCann and Ellsbury, who are like One Direction compared to this gang of Rolling Stones, will be 30 on Opening Day.

Michael Schur and I argue about the Yankees all the time. I believe this team is about to become an all-time fiasco … something that has been building for a few years now with these gigantic and back-loaded contracts that, sooner or later, come due. I look at this creaky team — and the fact the Yankees had to pay a huge luxury tax just to put it together — and see doom.

He does not. He believes that there is some sort of evil empire nectar that they give players when they arrive so that as bad as the Yankees may LOOK to outsiders, they will always find a way to win. Always. Ichiro will suddenly hit .350 again. Roberts will become a .300 hitter, Tex will win the Triple Crown. Whatever miracles have to happen, Michael believes, will happen. He has his points. Even last year, when just about every single thing that could go wrong for the Yankees did, the Yankees still won 85 games and were mild postseason contenders into September.

I guess we’ll find out. I don’t know, to me this team looks like one of those Steinbrenner specials when the aging corpses of Jesse Barfield and Claudell Washington and Jose Cruz and Steve Kemp and Mike Easler and Steve Sax and Andy Hawkins and Scott Sanderson and Pascual Perez were clanging around. But, hey, you know, some of those teams did win a bit. And when you put together a team of players who were, at least at one time, great players …

… you can’t tell me the Yankees aren’t looking into buying one of those hot tubs on Ebay.

When will the Yankees regret the Jacoby Ellsbury contract?


These huge, later-career deals never turn out great. The best you can hope for when you sign a 30-something baseball player to a hugely expensive long-term deal is that he will have a couple of good years on the front end to boost up his value, have a nice rebound year somewhere in the middle, and not be utterly useless and difficult to deal with at the end.

You can go down the list of players signed longterm after the age of 30 – Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, on and on — and you will find, over and over, deals that teams regretted t some point or other.

So the Yankees will inevitably regret signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal — the real question is when. If they don’t regret the deal until 2018 or 2019 — when Ellsbury is a 35-year old coming to the end of his deal, struggling to stay in center field, constantly battling some nagging injuries — then you would have to say that they should feel pretty good about things. The trouble with these deals is that the regret often happens much earlier than you expect. I’m sure the Angels KNEW they were going to regret the Josh Hamilton deal at some point. I just don’t think they expected it to be the first year.

Ellsbury, when healthy, is a fabulous baseball player. I’ve seen him compared pretty often with Carl Crawford, and Crawford was pretty great as a young player. But I think Ellsbury is an even better player than Crawford was in Tampa Bay. For one thing, he plays centerfield while Crawford played left. They were both superior defenders, but a superb center fielder is quite a bit more valuable than a superb left fielder. Ellsbury also gets on base more and might even be a more potent base stealer (last year, Ellsbury stole 52 bases and was caught just four times all year — Crawford led the league in steals annually but would get thrown out a bit more).

Also, Crawford never had a season like Ellsbury’s 2011, when he hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 homers, 105 runs scored, 119 RBIs and 39 stolen bases (though that year he was caught a lot — 15 times).

Then again Crawford was also much more durable than Ellsbury. From 2003 to 2010, Crawford played 140-plus games every year but one, and even in the year he was hampered by injuries he played 109 games. Ellsbury meanwhile has had two of the last four seasons destroyed by injuries — he played just 18 games in 2010, just 74 games in 2012. Nobody can say if those injuries project anything for the future but they are part of his history.

The Yankees have so much money — and so much money on the line — they figure he’s worth the risk. I can see their point. If the Royals or Mariners or Brewers or some team like that had given Jacoby Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million deal, you could say without any hesitation that they had lost their minds. That’s exactly the sort of deal that can paralyze a smaller franchise for a half-decade.

But the Yankees are a different category. The Yankees in that too-big-to-fail category — they have money on top of money, and they are constantly aware that if they put a losing and uninteresting team on the field, everything crashes. Nobody buys their absurdly high-priced tickets. Fewer people watch their cash cow Yes Network. The back page of the Post and Daily News looks elsewhere. The Yankees brand — the most lucrative in America — starts to devalue a little bit and then a little bit more and … they just can’t let that happen. Money, they have. Wins, they need.

And so the Yankees are playing a different game. If they get even one superstar year and maybe a couple of good years from Ellsbury, they will probably be pretty happy.

How good a bet is Ellsbury to have one more season like he did in 2011? I’m not sure. That was an unusual power surge from a player who has never hit double-digit homers any other year. Then again, that’s a very short porch in right field at New Yankee Stadium.

Truth is, we can spend a lot of time trying to compare Ellsbury to other players — his Baseball Reference comps of Phil Bradley, Tony Gonzalez and Roberto Kelly do not strike an encouraging note — but it’s hard to find many players like Ellsbury in baseball history. He stole 70 bases in a season. He hit 30 home runs in a season. There’s only one other player in baseball history who pulled off those two feats in a career, Eric Davis. And he had a rebirth in his mid-30s, even while battling colon cancer.

My gut instinct is that it will work out for the Yankees. But I say this in part because things always seem to work out for the Yankees.

I can say this with more confidence: If the Mariners sign Robinson Cano … that won’t work out.