Apr 26, 2010, 6:00 PM EDT
It’s safe to say I’ve given up on my hopes of becoming a major league GM. But if a reader hits the lottery, buys a team and decides to give me a shot, know that there’s a couple of rules I’d live by:
1. Never give multiyear deals to bench players
2. Don’t re-sign veterans until it’s absolutely necessary
The Yankees already seem to follow both. No. 1 may be an accident, but No. 2 is team policy: the Bombers don’t negotiate with their free-agents-to-be until they actually become free agents.
Now I’m certainly not against giving long-term deals to youngsters. That strategy has saved major league teams tens of millions of dollars over the last decade, not only in avoiding arbitration hearings and early free agent years with the players that sign them but by holding down the arbitration awards of those that don’t.
But giving veterans long-term extensions when they still have one or two years left under team control is a losing proposition more often than not. The potential gain — saving money over what it would cost to sign the player closer to free agency — just isn’t worth it. More information leads to better decisions, and there’s a lot of information to be gained by waiting that extra year until the player nears free agency.
For one thing, the players getting these extensions are already in their prime and likely at the peak of their value when they sign them. After all, the player isn’t going to want to sell low on himself by signing after a bad year or a rough first half. Teams, on the other hand, have no problem buying high by signing players immediately after a career year.
Look at the Yankees. Obviously, they have a huge advantage in these circumstances, since they don’t have to worry about being outbid in free agency. But they made no attempt to re-sign Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera last winter. Their policy probably cost them some money when they had to re-sign Jorge Posada as a free agent after his career-year in 2007, but it’s worked out well overall and the team has fewer bad contracts now than probably at any point in the past 15 years.
It’s something the Phillies should have looked at very carefully before committing an additional $125 million to Ryan Howard on Monday. Howard was already signed through the end of next year, and it’s hard to imagine that the Phillies are saving any money over what it would have taken to sign him a year from now. Howard pretty clearly wanted to stay in Philadelphia. Was he really going to turn down $25 million per year next April? Or even next November for that matter?
Ponder that while looking at a few examples of bad deals signed by players under contract and still one to two years away from free agency. I won’t count arbitration-avoiding signings like Detroit’s Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson deals, since while I think they fit, they weren’t contract extensions.
Travis Hafner – Indians
Old deal – Four years, $11.5 million for 2005-08 (2008 was a club option)
New deal (Signed July 2007) – Four years, $57 million for (2009-12)
Hafner was maybe baseball’s biggest bargain for two years in 2005 and 2006. The Indians gave him his huge extension even though his play had fallen way off in the first half of 2007, and it’s proven to be a franchise killer since the moment it was signed.
Mark Kotsay – Athletics
Old deal – Three years, $16 million for 2004-06
New deal (signed July 2005) – Two years, $15 million for 2007-08
Hit .214/.279/.296 in 56 games during an injury-ruined 2007. The A’s paid $5 million to get the Braves to take him for 2008.
Eric Chavez – Athletics
Old deal – Five years, $17.65 million for 2001-05 (2005 was a club option)
New deal (signed March 2004) – Six years, $66 million (2005-10)
Seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, and Chavez went on to put up a career-best 898 OPS in 125 games in 2004, so he would have been at least as expensive to re-sign that winter. However, he lost 100 points of OPS in 2005.
Scot Shields – Angels
Old deal – One year, $3.4 million for 2007 (wouldn’t have been a free agent until after 2008)
New deal (Signed March 2007) – Three years, $14.6 million (2008-10)
Shields was worked about as hard as any reliever in baseball from 2004-06, so the Angels were either foolish or simply overly generous for committing to him when they still had him under control for two more years. He went on to have his worst season in 2007, and while he had a fine 2008, he’s contributed nothing since.
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