Free Agent Catch-up
Spring training is a time of hope…and of fans scratching their heads saying, “We signed WHO??”, “Where is…?” and “I thought he was with…”.
So to remove a little of that confusion, here’s a team-by-team look at four of the biggest movers this off-season.
Terry Francona (Manager) – a great track record of success…with teams that are loaded with top-drawer talent. Just like the Indians aren’t…
Nick Swisher (4 years, $56m; previous club: New York Yankees) – I had to read the headline at least four times before I believed it. That many years and that much money for a guy over 30 who’s lifetime average is .256, hits for only reasonable power, and has been a disaster in the postseason.
Michael Bourn (4 years, $48m; previous club: Atlanta Braves) – this may wind up being the unthinkable: a decent-value contract negotiated with Scott Boras.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (petty cash, minor league contract; previous club: Boston Red Sox)
Say what? Last time I checked, the Indians recognized and were addressing themselves as a team in a rebuilding phase, but they’re looking to strike lightning in a bottle here with Japanese star and Major (League) disappointment, Dice-K.
OK…so building for the future became “win now with above-average 30-something free agents that took the best money they could find to play for a franchise with no hope of winning now”. Good luck to y’all.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Josh Hamilton (5 years, $125m; previous club: Texas Rangers) – astonishing natural talent, potential to die for, and an ageing body with a tendency to break down. As with $25m/year stablemate Albert Pujols, Hamilton will be a good signing when he plays to his potential, and a franchise millstone when he (predictably) gets injured or mentally checks out.
The Rangers wanted him back, but Hamilton followed the money out of town and the Angels better hope that they win the World Series in the next two years, because by the time Pujols and Hamilton hit their mid-30’s this team will be sinking $50m a year on a pair of frequently-injured, bit-part ex-superstars. Question is, do they have enough pitching to get them where they need to go?
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Zack Greinke (6 years, $144m; previous clubs: Los Angeles Angels)
Greinke can opt out after three years of this bloated deal…but he won’t, because he’ll never fetch anything like this much again. He has outrageously unhittable stuff…at times. But his career-long ERA of 3.77 speaks to a decent no.2 starter worth maybe $15-18m a year…certainly nowhere near the $24m he’s going to be receiving.
Brandon League (3 years, $22.5m…33.5m+; previous club: Seattle Mariners; resigned after acquiring him via trade last year)
League, a decent reliever with inflated success due to pitching in the Grand Canyon…I mean Seattle’s Safeco field, actually has a lower contract value in theory, but the incentives that take it to the higher figure are largely easy-to-reach appearance thresholds.
Put Greinke with last season’s pickups Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford give the Dodgers an MLB-leading $220m payroll, which is as unsustainable as a .500 batting average. Expectations are…HAVE to be…sky high, and every time the Dodgers lose a game it will be a scandal. Enjoy…
BOSTON RED SOX
Shane Victorino (3 years, $39m; previous club: Los Angeles Dodgers)
Victorino badly wanted to go back to the Phillies, but his plummeting batting average and high strikeout totals put them off. It even put off the more-money-than-sense Dodgers…but the Red Sox love him apparently.
Mike Napoli (3 years, $39m…oh no wait, he’s got a degenerative hip condition…1 year, $5-13m)
Because ageing, badly injured players are all the rage these days
Ryan Dempster (2 years, $26.5m; previous club: Texas Rangers)
Dempster, never an ace, went from a breakout year in his mid-30’s with the National League Chicago Cubs to horrible flameout after a trade to the American League Texas Rangers…to a sweet free agent deal with another American League team. He’s an “innings eater”, which basically means he pitches way more than you’d like because he’s not much good but you’ve got no-one better to replace him with. Alright then…
Big ticket free agency signings have paid dividends that justify the outlay roughly as often as you hear a member of the Steinbrenner family utter the words, “The Yankees are in a rebuilding phase so this year we’re more about developing players than getting results”.
So yes, there will be crying in Cleveland, Boston and LA this year.