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Nolan Ryan: “we’re overpaying some free agents that probably shouldn’t be getting paid what they are”

Dec 28, 2010, 6:18 AM EDT

Nolan Ryan Rangers

Query: which free agents are we rightfully overpaying?  While you ponder that, here’s Nolan Ryan’s reaction to the Cliff Lee deal:

Well, you know, every year you think you’ve seen this thing take on a life of its own and you think it’s got to top out here pretty quick, and it just keeps escalating. Obviously, the premier free agents…they’re just so few of them, they just keep going up and so what you have is a high-ish amount of people getting an unbelievable amount of money and it impacts everything else and so we’re overpaying some free agents that probably shouldn’t be getting paid what they are.

That answer, combined with some others in the interview imply that Ryan is not at all displeased that the Rangers missed out on Lee.  He’d prefer to go 3-4 years with free agents. It seemed at the time that the push for Lee in Texas came from Chuck Greenberg, not Ryan and Jon Daniels.  This seems to bolster that notion.

By the way, the question that elicited that quote also asked Ryan what he thought he’d command if he had been a free agent pitcher in today’s market. Ryan dodged it, but Walt Davis, a commenter over at Baseball Think Factory attacked this question over in this comment thread (comment #10), and he knocked it out of the park.

The upshot: you figure that, under today’s setup, Ryan would have first hit free agency following th 1973 season. At that point, coming off his first two 300-strikeout seasons, he would have commanded a six or seven year deal in the $20 million+ range.  Based on what he did in 1974-80, however, most teams probably would have considered that an overpay. His walk rate was pretty bad, even by his standards. He had three sub-100 ERA+ seasons and a couple more average ones.

It would only be later in the 80s — and here is where Davis’ analysis really shines — that Ryan would have earned his keep. And depending on how ownership set up his age-40+ contracts (e.g. year-to-year? Roger Clemens-type incentive-laden deals?) he could have made out like a bandit.

  1. bigcatasroma - Dec 28, 2010 at 8:44 AM


    Why does nobody ever level the dreaded “st3ro!d” word at/about Nolan Ryan??? Good young years, dip in late 20s/ early 30s when his arm is falling off, best years (other than early 20s) in late 30s/ early 40s??? In the 1980s, when we *know* that PEDs were rife in football, track/field, etc.??? I mean, his career arc is so similar to all of those hitters/pitchers that people assume used PEDs in the 1990s/2000s. Why no accusation? Is it because 1) because it’s before the “steroid era” by maybe a decade, that nobody can his head around the fact that baseball players may have been using steroids more prevalently than before Jose Canseco in the late 1980s? — again, look at football players’ use during the 70s and early 80s; or 2) because he played (wrongfully assumed) before the steroid era, everyone that played before that era is above suspicion?

    I couldn’t care less whether he did or didn’t. I am not even accusing / assuming that he did or didn’t. But the fact is that there were greenies in the 60s/70s, and steroids were around by the time Nolan Ryan was pitching. A pitcher with a career arc like his, with all of the strikeouts and innings, that pitched today, would be under scrutiny. I am just wondering why, what with the Hall-of-Fame voting this week, do you think BBWAA or casual fans can’t get their heads around this notion?

    • Chipmaker - Dec 28, 2010 at 9:10 AM

      Probably for much the same reasons as why Griffey is considered saintly clean — no one wants to hear it.

      It’s easy enough to fit both their careers to the stereotyped “steroid profile”:

      Ryan — powerful player while young, tapered off in the 30s, resurgent in his 40s, Canseco as a late-career teammate, one last, injury-filled season. (The natterers will remind us that steroids make the body fragile and injury-prone.)

      Griffey — powerful player while young, had his peak seasons in the late 1990s (56 HR in 1997 and ’98), second half of his career rife with DL time due to being fragile and injury-prone.

      There’s more for either of them, but (a) it’s just a profile — no evidence, no fingering, barely any hearsay, and (b) no one wants to hear it.

      Meanwhile, we have to endure drivel like “welllllll, look at Bagwell’s arms — I dunno…” (and it’ll be even worse when Piazza reaches the ballot, though other names will give him cover).

      The entire BBWAA missed the steroid story in real time and are trying to save face (and duck culpability) ever since. They should all be ashamed, but they’re not.

      • poreef - Dec 28, 2010 at 12:42 PM

        Also, and I think we’re on the same page here, I would hardly call Griffey’s proneness to injury some kind of freak thing that obviously spells steroids. I recall the initial injuries (wrist and hamstring) both being on somewhat poorly advised aggressive defensive plays.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 28, 2010 at 2:22 PM

        Steroids don’t give you 7 no-hitters.

        He had pretty consistent ERA’s , WHIP’s and ERA+’s, and given that steroids destroy your body, pitching 5,386 innings while on enhancers would mean he’s Superman.

        I’m not saying he was absolutely clean. Who knows, and without overwhelming proof it’s not worth scrutinizing in any sense. But I won’t jump on any “Nolan Ryan Roided Up” bandwagon anytime soon.

      • Richard In Big D - Dec 28, 2010 at 6:17 PM

        When/where were Ryan and Canseco teammates?

      • Richard In Big D - Dec 28, 2010 at 6:24 PM


    • clydeserra - Dec 28, 2010 at 1:43 PM

      he used a lot of advil

  2. bigtrav425 - Dec 28, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    Salary cap is all i gotta say!

  3. madaozeki - Dec 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    BBTF has been redirecting to a different website for the past several days, including your link above to Walt Davis’s comment. Any idea what’s been going on there?

  4. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 28, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    That free agents are typically overpaid is news on the order of the sun rises in the east. Are there any bargins out there? Yes. Are most FA paid more than they are worth? Yes. It is the nature of the system. If two or more teams have interest in a FA there is more money to be made than if only one or zero teams have an interest.

  5. Dan in Katonah - Dec 28, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    If Ryan was a free agent on today’s market, I think he would probably get a similar deal to Webb, $3M base plus incentives.

    But keep in mind Ryan turns 64 this month and last pitched 17 years ago. So, you are not really sure how much he has left in the tank. But he does “know how to win” and often “pitched to the score”.

    • tigerprez - Dec 28, 2010 at 12:17 PM

      Best comment of the day.

  6. paperlions - Dec 28, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    Well then, now Ryan knows what all fans feel when they look at ticket prices. I loved going to the ballpark, the the experience is in no way comensurate with the price of a ticket, much the the price of the ticket, parking (which in itself often costs more than the ticket should), food, and beverages.

    It isn’t like any of these teams are spending their own money, they are spending the money of their fans….at least, some of it. They seem to keep a fair amount for themselves.

    • ramsbladdercup - Dec 28, 2010 at 12:20 PM

      HIgher salaries don’t cause higher ticket prices.


      • paperlions - Dec 29, 2010 at 12:21 AM

        I know they don’t. Did I intimate that they did? No, I did not. Indeed, I intimated that the two are not related.

        I simply pointed out that the owners aren’t the only one’s that feel like they are overpaying.

  7. poreef - Dec 28, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    This is why you don’t want old-school players in the front office of your team. The question we should be asking is whether Nolan thinks that your typical players are worth the median salary. I’m guessing not.

  8. clydeserra - Dec 28, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    Poor thing, Nolan. Wait a minute, remind me who was the first player to get a million dollar contract? I think the signature on the contract was Lynn.

    • Dan in Katonah - Dec 28, 2010 at 2:20 PM

      I’m sure Nolan will want to abandon the market economy when it comes time to negotiate television contracts on behalf of the Rangers with the local cable companies and just take what they deem to be fair. Now that he is ownership, it is clearly just the players who are greedy.

      There is more money out there than ever before with the television deals. When the supply of top free agents is particularly low the demand creates higher prices. Very simplistic view, but if there were not teams willing to pay it, then the FA’s would not get paid. Perhaps he would like to go back to the days of collusion to keep the prices down? Of course, that would not have been his position when a player, but opinions are allowed to evolve…

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