Category Archives: Dumb Contracts

Has Ruben Amaro learned nothing from the Brad Lidge Extension?

By Eric Han

On November 7th, 2007, Brad Lidge, a lights out closer for the Houston Astros, was traded (along with Eric Bruntlett) to the Philadelphia Phillies for a 3 player package consisting of speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary, and 3B prospect Mike Costanzo.

8 months later, after an extremely successful debut with the Phillies, Lidge signed a three-year, $36M (plus $12.5M option) extension with his new team. The deal, which (according to ESPN) was orchestrated by then-Assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr., wasn’t viewed as an overpay; other closers at the time like Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero got similar money as free agents. Lidge also had a solid track record.
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Did A’s ownership play their hand in the pursuit of Beltre?

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’ Moneyball for the second time.  I did this to remind myself why I should have been in Toronto this past week for Dustin Parkes’ Getting Booked: The Getting Blanked Book Club.

As it was, I was unable to make it to Toronto and was stuck wasting away here in Windsor waiting impatiently for spring to come.

For those who don’t know, Dustin’s book club was a resounding success and he even got a feature in Toronto’s Eye Weekly.

My point in bringing this up is that I wanted to see if Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane still practices what he preached all those years ago.

The A’s still run on a tight budget although not quite as tight as during the “Moneyball Era.”  The latest ownership group headed by real estate developer Lewis Wolff appears to be significantly more willing to spend money on the team than the last ownership group headed by Steve Schott.

But has this changed Beane’s philosophies on team building?  Does he still look for the cheap player that no one else in baseball sees value in?

Certainly the rest of baseball has caught on to what the A’s were doing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and many teams have tried (some more successfully than others) to ape it; on the other hand, many teams seem completely oblivious to modern statistics and ways of running baseball teams and remain entrenched in the past.  Many of those teams lose on the regular *COUGH* Cubs *COUGH* despite having a significant amount of money to spend.

But then again, the A’s haven’t exactly been tearing it up in recent years either; not that I fault Beane for that entirely, after all every team has a cycle, why should Beane’s system be immune from that?

But something in this past offseason involving the A’s caught my interest.  They seemed very keen on attracting free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to come play for them.

Is it just me, or does Beltre strike you as exactly the type of player Beane and his disciples have striven to stay far, far away from?

I’ve made the case in the past that Beltre has had two extraordinary years and a bunch of good years.  Taking away those two extraordinary years (2004 with the Dodgers and last season with the Red Sox), where Beltre had a slash line of .328/.377/.591, Beltre’s line is a much more pedestrian .264/.318/.435.

Beane’s main premise is to value guys who walk (and therefore get on base) a lot.  He has also sought young controllable players or players who come cheaply later in their careers when their peripheral skills are all but ignored by other teams.  Beltre is none of these.

A .318 on-base percentage outside of his two good years is not a desirable stat for those who like players who get on base a lot.  Beltre’s walk-rate is routinely well below average and will likely not reach higher than 6.5% (the league average is around 9%, something Beltre has not done since 2000).

Beltre was also commanding top-dollar and many years for his services, something the A’s seemed very willing to give him.  For a soon-to-be 32-year-old this struck me as odd.

Was Beane really behind the decision to go after Beltre?  Was ownership looking for a big name to try and draw people to that poor excuse for a baseball stadium in Oakland?  Or is it that Beane is losing his edge and patience after a few sub-standard years?

One or both of the first two seems most likely.

The reason I say Beane has not changed philosophies is that he’s still getting players otherwise undervalued by non-adapting franchises.  Just within the past year Beane has acquired players like Conor Jackson and Josh Willingham, two slow-footed defensively inept players who can take a walk and get on base with the best of them.

Both players walk at a rate well above the league average and are fully capable of hitting for power; the essence of the Beanian player.  Meanwhile they will be paid just $9.2-million combined, or roughly half of what Alfonso Soriano will make for each of the next four seasons with the Cubs.

Willingham has a career walk-rate of 11.6% and Jackson comes in at 10.5%.

Then there’s David DeJesus who was acquired earlier this winter from, who else, but the Kansas City Royals.

DeJesus is a familiar acquisition by Beane who has twice in the past taken outfielders away from the Royals.  All three times he’s given up practically nothing in return.  The first two times are, of course, the acquisitions of Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon.

Given the calibre of player that DeJesus is both offensively and defensively, it will probably surprise you that he’ll be making only $6-million this season.  With the new, apparently looser, purse strings now in Oakland, this is a totally reasonable amount of money to spend on an outfielder that perfectly fits the mould of a Billy Beane type of player.

The acquisitions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour give the A’s the best bullpen in baseball on paper along with Andrew Bailey, Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow, and Jerry Blevins; another staple of a Billy Beane team.

The pursuit of Beltre is a confusing one for this team and I think ownership heavily player their hand in it.  Methinks Billy Beane breathed a massive sigh of relief when Beltre inked a 5yr/$80-million deal with the Rangers even though they are, in my opinion, the A’s chief rival in the 2011 season.

Is anyone else super-psyched for Brad Pitt to play Beane in the upcoming Moneyball movie?  I know I am.

When Divinity Interferes with Team Management

Have you ever heard of the Colorado Rockies?  They’re this team that sometimes plays well on the field, but has an overwhelming tendency to sign players to contracts that make no sense.

Carlos Gonzalez

They also pride themselves on retaining “good character” players, which means players who are devout Christians and are willing to openly pray before each and every game/practice/meal/breath.  Apparently those of us who don’t believe in the Christian God, or any God for that matter, cannot possibly be good people.  But I digress.

 

Reports are indicating that the Rockies are close to signing young superstar outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to a 7yr/$80-million contract extension.  CarGo is not eligible for arbitration for another year so this extension would carry him through all three arbitration years and his first three years of free agency.

Combining this deal with the Troy Tulowitzki meta-extension (oh yeah, I got all meta-theory on your asses) inked earlier this offseason means the Rockies have committed $237.75-million to two players who were under control of the team for four more seasons before their extensions were signed.

Now, I’m no mathematician, nor am I an economist, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to sign players to exorbitant contracts when contracts with much less risk and cash could be signed just as easily and effectively.

With one more year before being arbitration eligible, Gonzalez would not have qualified for free agency until 2014 and Tulowitzki was already signed to a deal that carried him through the same year with a flexible club option.  So what’s the point of paying well-over-market-value for both players?

I’m not saying that Gonzalez and Tulowitzki aren’t great players.  They

Troy Tulowitzki

certainly are.  It’s widely held that Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball and the year Gonzalez put up in 2010 would win him the MVP in most seasons.  But signing them so high above their value at a point when they didn’t have to seems pointless.

Yes, it’s possible that both of these players will be putting up consistent Hall-of-Fame-type numbers through 2014 which will mean the Rockies are getting them for several more years at potentially bargain rates, but is that likely?

What’s more likely is that one or both will experience significant injuries at some point in the next few years.  Tulowitzki’s injury history is worrisome at best.

In the case of CarGo, how often do long-term deals for players who’ve had one good year in the majors really work out?  Why wouldn’t the Rockies sign Gonzalez to a deal that takes him through his arbitration years, allowing them to make a more informed decision on his future between now and then and also allowing them to pay significantly less in the process?  Or does that make too much sense for the organization of Mike Hampton and Todd Helton extension infamy?

Gonzalez’s terrific 2010 will be very hard to replicate, especially when you consider how much better he was at Coors Field as opposed to on the road.  CarGo potsed a .380/.425/.737 line at home and a .289/.322/.453 everywhere else and his BABIP was very high (.384) which suggests that he took advantage of his hitter friendly ballpark and was also very lucky no matter where he played.  Those numbers will assuredly correct themselves at least a little in 2011 and beyond.

Colorado is not exactly a large-market team, so how does signing these two players along with a big contract for Jorge de la Rosa and deferred payments to Helton for eternity help the team long term?

I have a feeling the Rockies will be regretting one or both of these contracts in the future.  But will they learn their lesson this time?  Doubtful.

Statistical information from FanGraphs