In his latest column, Jeff Passan discusses the differences between this year’s free agent class and that of a similarly weak class, 2006-2007. While he starts off with the small differences, the multiyear deals for marginal and backup players, like a good columnist he make the strongest point towards the middle:
Most striking is at the top end. Three years ago, Alfonso Soriano got $136 million, Barry Zito $126 million and Carlos Lee $100 million. The Red Sox shelled out $103.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka
Notice, too, that three of the four teams listed no longer have cash to spend. The Giants have spent their winter signing second-tier free agents, when what they really need is a middle of the order bat. The Cubs, with plenty of up the middle needs, have had to settle for Marlon Byrd in center while trading away Milton Bradley for a bad pitcher. The Astros have a left side of the infield that will probably get on base less in less than 30 percent of their at bats.
Even put in the context of the 2006-2007 market these weren’t good deals. The Cubs, Astros, and Giants didn’t receive much praise for these overpriced signings that year. Revenues were peaking, which caused the players to be temporarily overvalued. I’m not sure anyone had that kind of foresight back then, but even without that benefit most analysts thought that none of those three players warranted the deals they received. If the Yankees had signed CC Sabathia to the same seven-year, $161 million contact that off-season, I don’t think we’d look back at it with the same disapproval as we do the three actual signings from that off-season.
If baseball has benefitted in one good way from this recession, it’s a more proper valuation of players. Corner outfielders on the wrong side of 30 no longer get $100 million deals. Questionable pitchers don’t get six year contracts. There are exceptions, of course, but in general it seems baseball has been moving away from these big money deals. I think that’s a good trend, as long as it applies to the players on this year’s market. The right free agents — the ones not quite 30 who have a track record of durability and elite performance — should still get paid. I hope we see more movement towards this over the next few off-seasons.
So, after seeing zero comments on this thread for an hour, we’ll just leave it up as tonight’s open thread. Enjoy.