Those of us who had hoped that Major League Baseball had finally turned the corner toward some competitive balance over the last couple of years have to be dismayed by developments so far this offseason. After a couple of years of relative fiscal responsibility, owners are once again throwing money at free agents like it came from Rich Uncle Pennybags. Brewers fans got to witness this first-hand as the Yankees essentially bid against themselves in order to sign CC Sabathia against his reported wishes. I suppose it could be considered progress that the Yankees would actually break the bank (as if that were possible for New York) to sign a player away from the Brewers, but it could also harken a return to the not too distant past in which the big market clubs set an exorbitant market for the prime players, leaving their less well-heeled brethren to pick through the spoils.

Take, for example, the case of Angels slugger Mark Teixeira. Agent Scott Boras is reportedly seeking a 10 year contract for his client at a range of $160 to $200 million. Those are approaching A-Rod numbers. And like Alex Rodriguez, the question should be asked whether Teixeira’s impact on a team justifies such an expenditure. Yes, Teixeira is a consistent run producer still in his prime but does he really make his team that much better? Despite having Teixeira for only 54 games last season, the Angels finished 6 games better than they did in 2007. But it should be noted that their team ERA in 2008 was almost a quarter-run better than it was the previous season. In the 5 1/2 years that Teixeira played for the Texas Rangers, their cumulative record was 22 games below .500. At the time he was traded to the Braves in July 2007, the Rangers were the same 12 games below .500 that they finished the season at, meaning they actually played better after he left.

There’s an old axiom in baseball that position players should be paid more than pitchers because they play every day. But success in baseball almost always comes down to pitching. Even Hank Steinbrenner has figured this out, which is why the Yankees are spending more on Sabathia and fellow free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett than Brewers owner Mark Attanasio paid for his entire franchise. Considering Sabathia’s post season record and Burnett’s injury history, only time will tell whether those signings will pay off. But they make more sense than overpaying for a steady but unspectacular player such as Teixeira.

 

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  • Jon

    As Mark T’s former fantasy baseball manager, I found him to be a pretty gosh darn good player. His trade from the Braves to the Angels nearly spelled doom for The Grinders.

    • http://mike Mike

      Which helps underline the difference between fantasy and reality. I was not attempting to evaluate his fantasy impact. As a fantasy league “player”, Teixeira is well worth the $50 or so that most Roto participants will lay out for him. My description of him as ‘steady, but unspectacular’ was not so much an indictment of his abillity as much as a belief on my part that he is not the type of player to ‘carry a team’. Or that fans go to the ballpark specifically to see him play as they would, say, a Randy Johnson or Reggie Jackson back in the day. In fact, by that token it would have made more sense for CC Sabathia to remain in MKE. New York fans, being more accustomed to seeing marquee players, aren’t as likely to fill the ballpark to see CC pitch and are more likely to boo him if he doesn’t perform to their expectations.

  • Jon

    In terms of carrying a team, I don’t know if that is possible. Pujols , Bonds, and maybe Sosa in his good year are about as close to “carrying” a team as you might see over 162 games. In basketball, you could clear out for MJ over the last couple of minutes and let him win the game. In baseball, you have no control in the final couple of innings where your team is at in the batting order, whether or not anyone is on base when your star gets up, etc. If needed, you can just walk the opponent’s star anyway.

    • http://mike Mike

      By ‘carrying’, I meant making a team better than it would be otherwise. I believe Robin Yount did it in his second MVP season in 1989. During sporadic hot streaks throughout his career in MKE, I think Geoff Jenkins did. And I certainly think Sabathia did during the second half of last season. I’m not certain one can make the same case for Teixeira. My main point in the commentary remains that the market for players this offseason seems out of proportion to their contribution to winning. And I see that as a troubling development for a financial system in baseball that is already weighted too much in favor of the so-called large market clubs; a situation that will only be exacerbated in a shaky economy.