Don’t be alarmed … well, maybe be a little alarmed. I’m sorry. Prince Fielder brings out the mad scientist in me.
So, in case you’ve been hibernating, Tuesday Prince Fielder agreed to a nine-year deal with the Tigers, a deal that I feel strongly about.
It’s a bold move by the Tigers, especially considering the logjam it creates at first base/DH when Victor Martinez returns from injury.
Take Miguel Cabrera’s recent announcement that he’s moving to third base with a grain of salt. He can barely play first (his 13 errors were the second-most in MLB … ironically Fielder led MLB first basemen with 15 miscues), so what makes him think he’ll be any good at third?
Cabrera had five errors in 14 starts at third in 2008. You multiply that out to a full 162-game season and that’s 58 errors, the most by a position player since the 1940s. If he does move to the hot corner, the Tigers will have the worst defensive infield in the American League. But I digress. Clearly this move was not made to improve the Tigers’ defense: it was made to bulk up Detroit’s offense. And it does just that.
The Fielder signing is also an extremely expensive move for the out-of-nowhere rich Tigers (guess the Yankees and the Sox aren’t the only ones who spend big anymore). The chunky first baseman is commanding $23,777,777 a year (and 78 cents if my math is correct … that’s a lot of veggie burgers).
This whole thing got me thinking (never a good thing) … I bet you could put together a decent major league TEAM for the amount Prince is going to be making next season. So I put on my GM hat, watched inspiring YouTube clips from Moneyball (Jonah Hill better win the damn Oscar) and I went to work to create the best team I could with one rule: I could not exceed a payroll of $23,777,777 (and 78 cents). Remember, major league teams employ a 25-man roster (except for September call-ups when teams are allowed to have 40), usually with 13 position players and 12 pitchers (five starters and seven relievers). I think the results were pretty mind-blowing. Here’s what I came up with:
The 13 position players I selected for my roster:
And now the 12 pitchers:
Just a note, the ages are how old each player will be on April 4th, which is Opening Day for most major league teams (although the first game, Seattle versus Oakland, will actually be held March 28th in Tokyo).
Stanton hit twice as many homers as A-Rod in 2011. And he did it for a fraction of the price.
Not bad, right? This is better than not bad: this is an All-Star team. Okay, maybe there’s no Adrian Gonzalez or Jose Bautista here but this is still a pretty good-looking squad. The team I built here has 10 All-Stars, the last four rookies of the year (Neftali Feliz, Buster Posey, Jeremy Hellickson and Craig Kimbrel), last season’s NL wins leader (Ian Kennedy) and the 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP (David Freese).
Out of the 13 position players, six are righties, six are lefty and there’s one switch hitter (Danny Espinosa). The rotation and bullpen are dominated by right-handers (just two out of the 12 pitchers are left-handed).
Sixteen of the 25 players come from the National League while nine hail from the AL. Three of these 25 play for the Braves, the most of any team (the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Giants, Marlins, Nationals, Tigers, Rangers and Rays each contributed two players to the team). The team features 20 Americans, four Dominican players (Castro, Feliz, Ogando and Pineda) and one Canadian (John Axford).
To get a better feel for the team, here’s what my starting lineup and bench would look like.
1. Starlin Castro – SS
2. Andrew McCutchen – CF
3. Mike Stanton – RF
4. Buster Posey – DH
5. Eric Hosmer – 1B
6. David Freese – 3B
7. Alex Avila – C
8. Ryan Roberts – 2B
9. Matt Joyce – LF
Danny Espinosa, 2B
Freddie Freeman, 1B
Jon Jay, OF
Logan Morrison, OF
The combined average of the 13 players I selected is .275. That would have been good for fifth-best in the majors last year behind only Texas, Boston, Detroit and Kansas City. They also tallied a total of 869 RBI last season, which would have easily eclipsed Boston’s league-leading mark of 842.
Again, this team doesn’t have a Jacoby Ellsbury or Michael Bourne but they do have several guys who can swipe 20 bags a year. If you add it up, these 13 combined for 128 steals in 2011. That would have been good for 10th in the majors, right behind the New York Mets.
As good as this team looks from an offensive standpoint, pitching is definitely my team’s strength. Take a look at my starting rotation and bullpen:
1. Ian Kennedy
2. Doug Fister
3. Michael Pineda
4. Jeremy Hellickson
5. Madison Bumgarner
Craig Kimbrel (Closer)
If we go by last year’s stats, this team would have had an ERA of 2.94, even better than Philadelphia’s filthy 3.02 ERA from last season. This team combined for 105 wins in 181 decisions a year ago, a winning percentage of .580, which would have tied them with Arizona for sixth-best in MLB behind Philadelphia, New York (Yankees), Milwaukee, Texas and Detroit. The 85.4% success rate on saves (204 saves converted out of 239 chances) would have led the majors, as would the team’s combined 1,455 strikeouts. My team’s 484 walks would have been the 12th fewest out of 30 teams last year. The team’s strikeout to walk ratio was an impressive 3.01.
If McCutchen had played for a better team, who knows how many runs he could have driven in last season
These stats don’t even tell the whole story though. Buster Posey missed most of the season with a broken leg and was on pace for 14 homers and 76 RBI had he played the full 162-game schedule. Andrew McCutchen knocked in 89 runs despite playing for an anemic offense in Pittsburgh. If he had as many opportunities to knock runners in as a guy like Mark Teixeira or Josh Hamilton, McCutchen’s 89 RBIs could have easily been 100. Doug Fister and Pineda’s records were skewed by the terrible run support they received from the Mariners last season (although Fister was shipped to Detroit before the trade deadline). Both could have been reached 15 wins with a better offense.
Statistics aside, I think we can all agree that this is a team that would compete for a playoff spot in either league and would have a chance to go deep into the postseason if given the opportunity.
But here’s the kicker. Remember my goal was to use Prince’s $23.8 mil as the ceiling? This roster’s payroll is only $10,793,810! With an average salary of $431,752, this is a group of guys that could probably kick Boston and New York’s butts. That’s 25 very good players for about 45.4% of what Prince Fielder, a guy who batted .260 two years ago and can’t catch a baseball to save his life, will be making. That’s insane.
Try this on for size: I counted 58 players in the big leagues right now that are making more than $10,793,810 a year, the cost that it would take to put my proposed team together. Some of these players included Jason Bay (.251 with just 18 homers in his two years with the Mets), Adam Dunn (.159 batting average with 177 strikeouts last season for the White Sox), Barry Zito (43-61 since joining the Giants), Derek Lowe (5.05 ERA with 17 losses in 2011), Vernon Wells (.218 last year), Rafael Furcal (.231, 8 HR last season) and Carlos Zambrano (mental patient).
Kershaw, who is currently seeking arbitration, made only $500,000 last year
Keep in mind I didn’t include any players who were up for salary arbitration or got new deals this winter because I assumed they would all get more than a million dollars in 2012. David Robertson, Elvis Andrus, Ryan Vogelsong, Pablo Sandoval, Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, Andrew Bailey and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw all made under $600,000 last season before getting big paydays this winter. So if I had included those players, my team really would have been stacked.
If I had wanted to extend myself all the way to Prince’s annual salary I probably would have had room for a few more relatively inexpensive All-Stars like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Gordon, Mike Morse and Evan Longoria. All of these players were in the $1-million to $3-million dollar range last year. The possibilities are near endless.
So what can we make of this? Is Prince Fielder making too much? Are the players on my team making too little? And is anything I just did to make this team even faintly realistic?
There’s never a simple answer but I guess I’d say yes, probably and kind of. Yes, Prince is making way too much. So is Pujols. Anybody who’s ever read my baseball economy articles knows my stance on this. Star athletes are all way overpaid and giving a player an extra $10-million DOES NOT and never will give your team a better chance to win. Year after year the best teams on paper don’t make it to the championship and year after year, teams that don’t pay their stars as much as everybody else field good ball clubs. The Tampa Bay Rays are probably the best example of this.
Of course the other extreme exists too when you get a team like the Marlins who will win the World Series and then have a fire sale and have a crappy team for the next 10 years. Billy Beane kind of did that in Oakland too by letting Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson all go. The A’s haven’t been the same since.
I guess I’d favor an approach that combines the best of both worlds: the big market approach and the small market approach. First you have to build a good minor-league system and produce a handful of stars. When it’s contract time and it seems like your players are ready to leave the nest (like Fielder in Milwaukee), I’d let most of them walk. But what I would do is make sure to keep a couple of these guys so your team still has a chance to be competitive in the short-term.
Talented youngsters like Matt Moore have kept Tampa Bay competitive even after losing Crawford and Soriano to big market teams
Tampa Bay has taken this approach. They continue to breed good pitchers in the minor leagues and they’ve held onto their franchise player Evan Longoria. But at the same time, they’ve let guys like Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and Matt Garza walk out the door once they’ve become too expensive.
So is it fair that Ian Kennedy can win 21 games and still only get $423,000 a year while Johan Santana made almost $22 million last season without throwing a pitch?
Of course not. If Ian Kennedy was on the Yankees he’d probably be making $10-million a year (remember these were the same guys who gave Carl Pavano $40-million after he had one good year in Florida).
Let’s go back for a second though. Notice anything about my team? They’re babies. The average age on my team is 25. My three-hitter is 22 years old. Ryan Roberts is the oldest player on the team and he’s only 31.
While almost everything else in major league baseball (especially loyalty) has gone by the wayside, a pecking order still faintly exists when it comes to young guys like Castro and Posey, and I think it’s a good thing.
Castro's had a couple good years but at age 21, should the Cubs be ready to commit to him long-term?
If you’re a rookie you should get paid like a rookie. Enough with all the hype and players like Bryce Harper commanding $10-million before they’ve even seen a pitch in the majors. You’ve got to earn it, baby. You play like an All-Star for three or four years and then you’ll get your big payday.
Craig Kimbrel was a beast last year but does he deserve a huge contract? If I’m the GM, he’s got to prove to me that he can do this for another couple years before I’m giving him the big bucks. And that’s the way it should be.
This leads me to my last question: is the team I made realistic? Obviously these guys are all under contract so no GM can swoop up and grab them. This isn’t fantasy baseball. But sure you can build a team like this and many teams have. It’s called harvesting young talent.
Again, we have to remember the cycle that these young ball players and teams go through. We see it all the time. A guy gets drafted, goes through the minors, makes it big in the majors and then … it’s contract time. That’s when you see guys like Albert Pujols or Jonathan Papelbon say, “Hey it was nice playing for you guys. You gave me a great start, but now this team is giving me more years and more money. So … I’m out.”
Some guys are more loyal than that but this scenario is always the fear when you have a team with a lot of young talent. Do you let them go and keep your identity as a small market team (possibly risking a few years of really bad baseball)? Or do you ante up like the Twins did a couple years ago when they said, “Joe Mauer is staying with us, we’ll pay whatever price”?
It can work both ways. Joe Mauer could lead the league in hitting for five straight years or he could get injured and never be the same two years into an eight-year deal.
Mauer has seen mixed results since signing a huge contract extension with Minnesota back in 2010
So what do you do? It’s complicated and now that I’ve actually put together a team, even if it only took me a few hours and it’s not real, I see how challenging being a GM is. They really are like mad scientists.
I think if you’re going to keep a guy once he’s become a free agent and earned his big payday, my philosophy is sign him for four or five years (and sometimes as the Mets will tell you after signing Jason Bay, even that is too long). Nine and ten-year deals are too risky and there’s just never enough upside to commit to any one player for that long.
I talked about this in one of my past articles when I compared A-Rod’s deal to the one Albert Pujols just signed with the Angels. A-Rod is in his fifth year of a 10-year deal and he’s already a shell of the player he was at the start of the contract. And now the Yankees are probably stuck with him until the day that he retires. Asking a guy to be that good for that long just isn’t reasonable.
Sorry if I fried anybody’s brain. I told you, it’s dangerous when I start thinking. You’ve got to admit though, it’s pretty amazing what kind of team you can put together with only $11-million. Either that or I’m just really a good shopper. Have fun eating your veggie burgers, Prince.
All photos were taken from ESPN.com.
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