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January 5 - Deal Or No Deal

The free agent signing frenzy for Major League baseball is winding down and the
holidays are upon us.   Free agents’ money is nestled all snug in their bank
accounts.  Visions of mansions, boats and gold plated sugar plums are dancing
in their heads while team owners are forced to scavenge the Target sale racks for
holiday gifts with what funds they have left.  Did they make the right decision?  Will
spending frivolously guarantee certain success? Or will they be left with only a
hand imprint on their face from an angry wife left gift-less this year?  

Despite it being one of the weakest free agent pools in years, teams were still
willing to shell out big money for players that aren’t impact players.  Alfonso
Soriano, and Carlos Lee got big contracts as expected but they are players who
can reshape an entire lineup making their respective teams a contender.  The Giants overpaid for
recently signed Barry Zito, but proven left-handed starters are hard to find especially this off-season.  
Boston signing Japanese standout Daisuke Matsuzaka makes sense because it greatly improves
their pitching staff, however after watching him parade around Boston wearing a puffy jacket
complemented by animal fur neck lining I even question his value.   

I could make a case for other quality free agents but for the most part this year turned out to be a lot
like taking my ex-girlfriend out for a night on the town.  You know, waiting for hours for makeup to be
applied and outfits to change six times, buying overpriced dinners and drinks all to come to the
painful realization that it is a waste of money and never really produced any positive results.

The first non-bargain of 2006 was San Francisco’s signing of Barry Bonds for $16 million for one
season.  This year, the Giants threatened to play hardball with Bonds and not bow down to his every
command as usual. When it came time to negotiate Bonds was asking for $14 million.  The Giants
stayed strong though and would not give Bonds what he requested.  Instead they gave him $16
million with incentives.  What? Hello?  Are you kidding me?  

The second non-bargain brings us to the free-spending Texas Rangers. Vincent Padilla re-signed a
three-year deal with Texas guaranteeing him $11 million per year.  Padilla has a lifetime E.R.A.in the
mid-4’s and is only five games over .500 for his career.  This would be like my ex ordering a
vodka/cran on my tab with Grey Goose instead of well vodka only to end up passed out at the table
either way.  In other words, the Rangers could have had the same results with Jeff Suppan, Jeff
Weaver or others for less money.  

Our third non-bargain takes us to an unlikely spender: Kansas City.  The Royals have been content
for the past decade centering their marketing campaign around the likes of non-crowd pleasers such
as Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa only to end up in the same place every year : dead last.  So this
season Royals management decided to put their chips on the table and their heads together but still
managed to get nowhere.  They came up with the idea to give Gil Meche $11 million per year over five
years.  Meche will bring a lifetime E.R.A. of 4.65 to Kansas City next season.  

The fourth non-bargain of the off-season is left-handed relief pitcher Jamie Walker.  Walker signed
with Baltimore for $12 million over three years.  I hope Baltimore management is still losing sleep
over this signing because I am and I’m not even an Orioles fan.   Based on Walker’s 2006 stats he
will make $83,333 for every inning he pitches in 2007.  I know he can throw left-handed but so can
approximately 10% of the world’s population.  

The last non-bargain is new Yankee Andy Pettite who received $16 million for one season.  Granted
this is only a one-year deal, but it doubles what Matsuzaka will make per year and he was the top
rated free agent pitcher.  The Yankees have a recent history of signing old pitchers who don’t produce
and I don’t see any reason why Pettite won’t follow.

The Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers seem to be the biggest spenders so far this off-season.  Chicago
has $293 million already committed to Arasmis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and others while Boston
has $165 million committed.   

So by spending all this money teams are guaranteed to win, correct?  In baseball, this couldn’t be
farther from the truth.  Of the top ten teams in total salary in 2006 only three made it to the post-
season last year.  The World series paired St. Louis (ranked 11th) and Detroit (14th).  

The New York Yankees made the playoffs last year but with their league leading salary close to $200
million, spent $2.05 million for each win in 2006.  Their season ended at the hands of Detroit who
spent just $866,337 per win.  Boston spent $1.396 million and missed the playoffs.  The Chicago
Cubs also missed the post-season but managed to spend $1.437 million per win in the process.  Of
all eight playoff teams Minnesota spent the least per win at $664,688.  The A’s were close behind at
$670,129.

There is no correct equation.  Due to massive contracts only getting larger, we may see more teams
adopt a plan similar to the Oakland A’s.  As a small market, Oakland has shied away from signing big
free agents and instead has opted to build the farm system through drafts and trades.  They develop
their players, turn them into superstars and then trade them before they are eligible for free agency in
exchange for another young prospect.  Then, they start the process over again with the new players
stopping only rarely to re-sign them when they reach their free agent eligibility at the six-year mark.  
More teams may adopt this strategy now that spending money doesn’t necessarily win you a World
Series.  (Series champs St.Louis spent just $1.07 million per win last year).

On the other hand, of the top ten teams in attendance in 2006 only St. Louis wasn’t in the top ten in
salary.   So the equation is now clear.  If you spend money, people will watch but you probably won’t
win.  If you don’t spend money, you might still win but no one will come to watch.  In other words, fans
would rather watch big name players lose than small time players win.  Florida spent only $192,288
per win, the least in the league, and battled for a playoff spot most of the season.  Most of their fans
couldn’t name more than three players on opening day.  They were dead last in attendance.