Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 5 Worst Offseason Signings

I've been desperately holding off on reading other people's lists like this because I wanted to write my own without any sort of bias.  Sadly, there's nothing as hilariously terrible as the Vernon Wells fiasco of yore... but it isn't like all of the GMs have suddenly become geniuses either.

5) Albert Pujols (Angels) - 10 years, $246 million
Make no mistake, Albert Pujols is still one of baseball's elite players.  This deal, though, is not one I would have made, because ten years is a long, long time.  The last two years have signaled that Pujols' decline may already have begun, and while I think the demise of  Prince Albert has been greatly overstated, it can't really be ignored.  Players age, and as they age, they get worse.  They get injured, and expecting Pujols to average the 155 games/season that he has thus far will become unrealistic soon.  Luckily, the Angels will have the luxury of putting Pujols at DH, and if they win a World Series or two, this might not matter one bit.  And who knows, maybe Albert Pujols really is a machine, and we'll look back at this contract in 10 years and see that he hasn't aged a day.

4) Heath Bell (Marlins) - 3 years, $27 million
10.21, 11.06, 7.32.  Those are Mr. Bell's K/9 rates for the last three seasons.  Just an outlier, you say?  Bell's best pitch, his fastball, didn't lose any velocity or effectiveness last season, but he threw it 15% less, replacing that 15% with a sinker that rated as below-average by PITCHf/x.  If that continues, there may be no reason to believe that he'll return to the pitcher he once was.  Leaving what is probably baseball's most pitcher-friendly park isn't going to help either.  The man is still an improvement over Leo Nunez/Juan Oviedo/no one, if whatever his name is doesn't get his visa problems sorted out, but the free-spending Marlins probably could have allocated this money better either way.

3) Michael Cuddyer (Rockies) - 3 years, $31 million
The thing is, Cuddyer just isn't a great player.  In the last four years, he's put up 0.0, 2.8, 0.8, and 3.1 WAR via below-average to dismal glovework and non-elite offense.  He's made appearances on many a fantasy team due to his positional flexibility, but the fact is that he can't play any of those positions very well, besides maybe 1B, where his bat doesn't really profile well.  He doesn't represent much of an upgrade for a Rockies team that, after the very weird offseason they had, may not end up contending at all.  Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez does not a contender make, and adding Cuddyer to the fold for $10 million per year doesn't make much of a dent.

2) Prince Fielder (Tigers) - 9 years, $214 million
These last two are, I think, on a different tier than the rest.  The only way this signing is defensible is if the Tigers actually win it all.  Some people thought Fielder put them over the top, and that they are now the prohibitive favorites... but that really isn't the case.  The Yankees were already great, and they went out and had a great offseason.  The Angels, Rangers, and Red Sox are still fantastic teams.  The AL is just really loaded with talent.  But this contract, man.  Prince Fielder, at this moment, is no Albert Pujols, and he probably doesn't deserve to be paid anything like one.
Year Albert Pujols' OPS Prince Fielder's OPS
2007 0.997 1.103
2008 1.114 0.879
2009 1.101 1.014
2010 1.011 0.871
2011 0.906 0.981
Fielder's performance at the plate has varied wildly from year to year.  Some years, he has been elite, and some years, he has been somewhat mortal.  In addition, his defense at first is definitely below average, and he runs... like he looks like he should run.  Which brings us to everyone's biggest concern about the contract: Prince Fielder is a large man.  Historically, the aging curve for heavy-set players is much steeper, and some say it's unlikely that Fielder will even be starting for the Tigers at the end of this contract.  I wouldn't be too shocked if those people were right.

1) Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies) - 4 years, $50 million
Ah, Ruben Amaro.  You just always have to have your man, don't you.  Charting the reliever market from beginning to end, you will note that Ryan Madson, the former Phillie who Amaro may or may not have planned to sign for 4 years, $44 million, landed with the Reds for a single year at $8.5 million.  Papelbon, however, was signed before any sort of market for relievers was established, and was grossly overpaid.  The issue is not even the fact that Papelbon will not produce the value of this contract, which depends on whether or not you think he is the second coming of Mariano Rivera, but the fact that if Amaro had just waited longer, he would have certainly gotten much better value for his money.  Not that I'm complaining, of course.  Between this and the Ryan Howard deal, the Phillies have a couple of the worst contracts in baseball.  (And, sadly, it may not even matter a bit.)


  1. The Prince Fielder signing can be justified by V-Mart's season-long injury and the fact that he too can move to DH when they feel he can't field properly at 1st base anymore. The Tigers now have the best 3-4 punch in the game and it isn't a stretch to say that they will for at least the next few years.

    Considering what they needed and what it took for ANYONE to be able to sign Fielder, I say it was a good deal. As for him being fat, we'll see if that changes anything. Personally, I feel that the Reyes deal was much worse than the Fielder deal because I can never justify paying that much money to a leadoff man who has an injury history and is already pretty old.

    1. If the Tigers really had $24 million/year to spend, they could have spent it much better than on Prince Fielder. Carlos Beltran was $13 million/year and would have represented a great upgrade over whoever Andy Dirks is. That would have left them with $11 million to go after a 3B or SS (and move Peralta to third) like Ramirez/Rollins, who signed for a little more, or Furcal or even Barmes. This kind of combination probably would have resulted in a bigger overall upgrade, wouldn't have necessitated the move of Cabrera to third (which I can't wait to see!), and wouldn't have handcuffed the team financially for years to come. The fact that it was a reaction to the Martinez injury was probably the worst part.

  2. The thing that makes the Prince signing so bad is the fact that they're paying him for 9 years. He's getting elite money when history suggests that a fall-off about by the end of the contract is more likely than not. It also seems like a very forced fit, since they'll have 3 players best suited for DH under contract once V-Mart is back from injury. I can't wait to see Cabrera play 3rd!

    The Tigers definitely had a void to fill when they lost V-Mart for the season, but someone like a Yoenis Cespedes or a one year contract to a DH (like Damon) would have sufficed. Cespedes would have value for them in center field (or left if they'd rather have Austin Jackson play there) after this season plus it's not like anyone but Jackson is anything special that they have now. It wouldn't have the same impact this season, but it wouldn't come back to haunt them down the line either.

  3. Prince Fielder is only 27. The contract will take him through 36. Players like Chipper are producing at a respectable level at 39, about to be 40. The market demanded that he get 9 years, and sure he will be overpaid near the end, but as long as he's not COMPLETELY worthless at that point then I don't see a problem with the deal. When you have loaded offenses in the AL like the Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, etc, you need to stock up on offense to compete, so I don't mind that it's a 'forced fit'. I am going to make the assumption that the errors that Cabrera makes at 3rd will be fully compensated for by the power production of the Cabrera/Fielder tandem.

    I heard V-Mart was out for the year, but if he's back then he can definitely take up catcher again. Now he's excellent trade bait for some pitching since they have Avila behind the plate, who's cheaper and really good.

    I understand what you're saying, Daniel, about splitting the available monies on multiple players, but what are the chances of that working out (besides Marlins ugh)? Just because you have the money doesn't mean you'll get who you want. Getting the next best thing to Albert Pujols more than compensated for Vmart's loss, more than Damon or Cespedes ever would have.

    1. Convincing a team to pick up the last two years of a 34 year old catcher coming off of an ACL tear and microfracture surgery's 4/50 contract plus getting to give up something of worth is going to be a tough sell, especially if they don't pick up the majority of the money. I don't think that constitutes "good trade bait" at all.

    2. If that's your only rebuttal to my argument, I'm not that worried. If Vmart can play and show that he's healthy, he will be great trade bait. When healthy he is one of the top catchers in the game.

      If I may offer an alternative, he can play DH, Fielder at 1st, Cabrera at 3rd. I should have said that at first but I stand by the fact that the Tigers should be able to get something of worth should they want to trade him. If anything, they can trade just for the financial flexibility.

    3. Furthermore, if you truly believe that it's still a 'forced fit', I invite you to look at the Marlins' signing of Reyes, a 28 year old shortstop with a significant injury history that forced the Marlins to move the face of their franchise to 3rd base. They paid big bucks for a leadoff hitter who will miss a good deal of time, initially caused team strife with Hanley's reaction, and addresses nothing more than an improved leadoff spot, more sold jerseys, and another reason for people to come to Marlins games (even though they had plenty already).

    4. I think Daniel does a great job contrasting the Reyes signing from the Fielder signing and discussing what Fielder needs to produce to be worth his contract, so I'll move onto talking about V-Mart's trade value. He's definitely out for the year and there's even questions about him being healthy for the start of next year. With that uncertainty, there's no chance a team would take his contract off their hands without it being a very lowball offer.

      Even if healthy, it isn't like V-Mart is a major trade asset. Going into next season, he'll be 35 and has durability issues. Coming off of microfracture surgery and a torn ACL, I doubt that he'll have much value as a catcher for the duration of his career and because most teams would be trading for his bat, putting him at a position that is probably the most physically taxing would be unwise. As a first baseman, he doesn't hit for near enough power that he would be a major asset to many teams at that position, especially since you believe that first base should be a position where power is produced. Considering you weren't happy with Freeman's 21 homers, I can't imagine you would be any happier with VMart's 12 (I am not arguing that Freeman is a better hitter than VMart, but instead just that he's a better power hitter, so please don't skew my argument to be that). The DH market is typically a very thin market and there most likely will not be a major differential between V-Mart's production and that of the DH of the clubs who would be willing to pay for him.

      The main source of VMart's value is the fact that he is a good hitting catcher, because catcher is a weak hitting position. If he manages to bounce back and have an equally successful season when he comes back like he did pre-injury, there may be a small market for him of teams with major 1B/DH issues that they need to resolve. But factoring in injury and age related regression and a not particularly team friendly contract, I can't imagine that his hitting would make him a "great trade asset" as you claim.

    5. Where did I EVER mention that Vmart would be a 1st baseman?

      All I said was to play him at catcher.

      You said he is a good hitting catcher.

      Catcher is a weak hitting position.

    6. *a good 1st baseman

      And yes, it is physically taxing. Tell that to Ivan Rodriguez.

    7. I mentioned it after rejecting the notion of him playing at catcher. Pudge fell off significantly in his later years, was a below average fielder and began to be a league average (or slightly below) hitting C instead. If you want to pay someone like that 10+ million per year to catch and be a liability in the field plus be an average bat at his position, be my guest.

    8. See: Chipper Jones. Fits the bill. So yes, I do want to do that.

    9. Also, I don't see evidence of regression in VMart. He had a fantastic year last year and he's really not on a huge contract. Your whole argument is based off 'he'll suck after surgery and even if he doesnt hes old' but I haven't seen any reason to believe that based on his performance presurgery.

  4. It's inaccurate to say that because Chipper is producing at 39, Fielder will be able to play for that long. One data point doesn't really tell you much of anything. If you're keen on reading something that examines many data points, specifically points that are similar to Fielder, feel free to head over here.

    It's inaccurate to be able to say that the market demanded he get 9 years, as he had a very limited number of suitors. He was getting one-year offers everywhere, and before the signing, reports were that the Nationals were the favorites and were reluctant to offer any longer than 7. (Sometimes, you're in a fantasy football league, and someone drops $60 on Philip Rivers even though it's substantially higher than the market demanded. That's what I believe the Tigers did here.) Overall, though, it doesn't really matter what the market demanded if it was a bad contract. Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Barry Zito aren't COMPLETELY worthless, but there are still way better things those teams wish they could be doing with that money.

    It's inaccurate to say that because other teams have loaded offenses, you need a loaded offense to win, as that isn't the only part of baseball. I'm hopeful that teams don't say "because a competitor has a better offense, I must improve my offense," but rather than "because a competitor has a better team, I must improve my team."

    I understand that you can't guarantee that other signing strategies will work out, but it would have been a different situation had they tried and failed. There was not a whisper of the Tigers being in on any free agent before the Martinez injury. Could they really have thought that they had the best possible team they could put on the field before the injury, or that there was no sense in going out and improving a weak position?

    1. Should be "rather that" rather than "rather than."

  5. 1. I'm not buying into the 'he's fat so he'll age faster' thing. He's missed what, 1 game in the past 2 or 3 years? His health has been exemplary and I don't see a downside to his being fat besides baserunning and some fielding. The data points are fine, but how many of those fat people were superstars? How many of them have nary an injury history? The Chipper comparison was merely to illustrate that players CAN be productive in their later years. People tend to assume that players just die after age 36.

    2. Just because he was getting 1 year offers everywhere does not mean the market set his contract at one year. It just shows that every team is entitled to a bid, and those were obviously not very serious attempts at acquiring a player of his caliber. The Nats set the bar at 7 and the Tigers added 2 years to that. No player is EVER going to sign a contract that guarantees them LESS money in the later years of the contract - call it what you want, but the standard has been set in the past decade in a half to pay bigtime players more than they deserve. That being said, you could call SO many contracts 'bad contracts' until you adjust to the era and face the reality that these contracts are the norm in this day and age.

    3. The AL is known for its offense. The teams that made the playoffs last year had loaded offenses in the AL. I agree that offense isn't the only part of baseball, but I believe that in the NL it's generally an arms race and in the AL it's generally a bats race.

    4. The fact that there was no whisper of the Tigers being in is just a hallmark of Scott Boras signings. He only lets leak what he wants to let leak. You can see that in many of his former signings when a 'dark horse' team just came in and got their man.

  6. I forgot to include a key point. If I did accept the fact that he'll regress like other fat guys, is it safe to assume he will still be producing at an above average level? Or do you think he'll regress to average or even below that?

  7. If you think Prince Fielder is the next Cal Ripken, that's fine, but I doubt his health will continue to be as spectacular as it has been. Players being productive in their later years is generally the exception rather than the rule, and it's very optimistic to assume that he's going to put up elite numbers late in his career.

    Does it matter how far he regresses? Fielder has produced at an elite level every other year for the past six. In order for him to be worth this contract, he has to produce at an elite level for nine of the next nine. If he regresses to a non-elite but above average level, he has been overpaid. Anything worse, and Scott Boras has committed highway robbery.

    Again, just because something has become the norm doesn't mean it makes it the optimal move. Just because bad contracts are handed out doesn't mean they aren't bad contracts. The biggest winners of the Prince Fielder signing were Prince Fielder, who never has to think about money again, and the 29 teams who didn't handcuff themselves to this "normal" contract.

    I actually just saw an article on this one, funnily enough. It appears that in 2011, the AL had a substantial advantage in pitching while the NL had a slight edge in offense. The AL is known for its offense because the pitchers don't hit, and that's about all.

    I think you misunderstood; there was no whisper of the Tigers being in on any free agent before Fielder. The majority of players are not represented by Scott Boras.

    The Reyes signing cannot be argued against from a forced fit standpoint. Miguel Cabrera was below average at third before he "bulked up," and it's impossible to believe he'll be any better now. Transitioning from 1B to 3B is from a easier to harder defensive position, while Hanley's move from SS to 3B should actually make fielding easier for him. If one week of "team strife" in the offseason affects the number of games the Marlins win, please let me know. Reyes' contract was for a low enough dollar amount that he can probably miss 20-30 games per season for the length of the contract and still be a good value.

    "Addresses nothing more than an improved leadoff spot" was probably my favorite part, though. If you can find me a player that takes up more than one spot in the lineup (Fielder isn't that large), let me know, and if you think the slot that gets the most ABs is unimportant, I'd like to hear an argument. Jose Reyes is an incredible player, and while there is a lot of risk in the contract, the potential reward is enough that I think it's a great signing.

    I hope to write more in the comments than in the original post in the future, keep it up, team.

  8. I could respond to all that, but in the interest of time, all I'll address is your final point.

    I firmly believe that the 3 spot is the most important in an offense. Yes, the leadoff guy is supposed to get on base, and yes, he gets the most AB, but I think that a team with a substantial middle of the order and a below average leadoff hitter will be more successful than a team with an average 3-4 punch and an elite leadoff hitter. It is also so interesting that Prince Fielder's durability is so often questioned when Reyes has missed substantially more time than him over the course of his career. Yes, Fielder does not take up more than 1 spot in the lineup. You seem to be very interested in how players digress in the future and tend to ignore Fielder's great history of solid health. If I may also add, he is also a vegetarian, and you can make what you will of that. But I think his spot in the lineup is the most important. Teams build their offenses starting at the core.

  9. Every time you buy a Little Ceasar's pizza, you're helping pay Prince Fielder's contract! Get to it, only $5!

  10. I think a team with an elite leadoff hitter and an average 3-4 will score less runs than a team with an average leadoff hitter and an elite 3-4. This is because the first only has one elite player while the second has two. Batting order doesn't make that much of a difference - it's on the order of 5-15 runs over the course of the season. If the Tigers decided to bat Fielder first, they'd probably score about the same number of runs as if they batted him third. The players in the slots matter much more than which slot is which. This is a pretty easy read on batting order optimization.

    Reyes has missed substantially more time, sure. He also got paid considerably less, to the point that he even has the potential to outperform his contract. Fielder's eventual regression means he'll never have that chance, even if he plays 162 games every year.

    Benefits of Fielder's vegetarianism... He hasn't gotten any fatter?

  11. How many teams actually go by the 'Book'? Every team is 'old school'. Until teams start shuffling their lineups to reflect those stats, there is absolutely no value in looking at those 'batting order optimization' numbers.

    And I would want those 5-15 extra runs over the course of a season by putting in the best guys possible. Fielder was the best guy possible.

  12. I'm pretty sure, given the argument you put out, that there's value in seeing that "because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn't nearly as important as we think." And I'm pretty sure that after teams start shuffling their lineups to reflect those stats, there will be no value in looking at the batting order optimization numbers. Right now, looking at it will debunk deep-seated ideas that "the two hole guy should be the man with the best bat control" and "the three spot is the most important in an offense."

    The 5-15 extra runs come from shuffling around a set of 9 guys, for clarity.

    Fielder may have been the best guy possible. At that point in the offseason, when the Tigers decided to jump in. But he wasn't the best value possible, which was the entire point of this "worst contracts" deal in the first place.

  13. I can see where you're coming from. However, 'debunking' these ideas, as you have put it, is not really working is it? Why not just stay with what you've got? If baseball turned into a big mathfest, how many people would actually enjoy it?

    Also, think about it from the players' perspective. Because of the perception that the 3 and 4 hole are for the best players, there's this psychological element of 'I really want to bat there'. When Chipper was put in the 6 hole last year, he said something to the effect of 'I'm okay with it, but I'd rather be back at 3'. Completely reshuffling the lineup won't do much good for the team unless they're ALL on the same page and they're ALL stat junkies and they ALL want to move on with that course of action. Otherwise, problems.

    Again, I want to bring up my point on the contracts. There will be no end to pointing out 'bad contracts' unless they're finally accepted as a reality of the era. Not everyone can pull off a Longoria-type deal. If you have the money, sometimes you've got to spend it. Don't you think there are people in the Tigers' front office that pointed out the things you did? Regardless, they wanted the guy and they got him, 'bad contract' and all. Compared to the contracts of the other men that you mentioned (Soriano, C. Lee etc.) I see this as a contract typical of current baseball spending habits and nothing out of the ordinary. Again, so many contracts can be called 'bad value', but does that mean the GMs are idiots? I don't think that's the case.