I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Doug Bird, who recently volunteered to start contributing Sunday articles here.
The hunt for a new manager has begun for several major league teams with some having signed their new field boss and others still going through the interview process. Those teams with a settled upon GM and manager and money to spend can now set their sights on the 2010 free agent class. Those who haven’t still have some work to do.
There are teams which need too many major league caliber players still to be contenders and would not be helped by signing either of the two big name free agents, Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth. There are self proclaimed we don’t spend money teams whose philosophy will keep them from any free agent pursuits other than spare parts. There are teams which will overpay by a ridiculous amount for players who had a great 2010 season but are unlikely to repeat such a performance.
As has been proven many times with lessons seldom learned, a sound and successful baseball organization begins with ownership that is committed to more than the bottom line and a GM who understands the game and recognizes what players his team needs to be and remain competitive. There are many GMs who don’t grasp this concept either because of their own incompetence, monetary restrictions imposed on them, or unknowledgeable owners who meddle in the day to day operations of the franchise. Any one of these three will prove disastrous to the franchise. A combination of these three factors will lead to a team which is uncompetitive year in and year out. Baseball should be more than a business and more than a hire a friend to run the team enterprise. GMs and managers are fired because the franchise is unsuccessful only to be hired by another organization hoping that those fired will have somehow become knowledgeable during their time on the unemployment line. Successful career minor leaguers are often overlooked or hired to run a franchise which is hopelessly untalented and then blamed for the inevitable failure to come.
Now comes the offseason and with it the free agent frenzy, especially for starting pitchers this year. How valuable is an ace starter? C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana, (not a free agent by the technical definition), proved that owners and GMs consider them to be priceless and will offer contracts of a length and amount which none could ever live up to. A starting pitcher, no matter his talent, plays only once every five games and won-lost records are highly team dependent, not solely a result of a starting pitchers ability. This, of course, can change dramatically if a team reaches the playoffs, (Cliff Lee), but getting there takes twenty five players as the Giants proved during the 2010 World Series. Sometimes a contract is offered to ensure that a division rival is unable to secure the services of a player, subtraction by addition.
Position players are often over valued based on rival players salaries, many who become underproductive. The reasoning for a high salary demand for mediocrity , at least with agents, uses the logic of if a certain player is paid $15 million per season and hit .250, my client who hit .260 must be worth even more money. Many teams seems to hold this underproduction as relevant and are willing to pay for mediocrity or a player who is solid but not franchise saving. Signing a free agent marquee position player makes sense only if you are close to being a legitimate contender or wish to keep that status. A Jayson Werth, Andre Beltre, or Victor Martinez won’t help a failing franchise reach the playoffs. For some franchises it seems to depend on the market and whether you, as an owner or GM want this years’ free agent marquee players as a showpiece to the casual fan or feel that they are the one missing piece. Baseball has long proven that one player seldom puts you over the top-unless that player is the one missing piece on an aging franchise, a player who can also handle the pressure which a big contract often brings. Or maybe a last grasp at the playoff straw.
Email Doug Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org