Hot Stove: Thus Far Indicative Of Sanity In Baseball

Updated: November 18, 2012

So far this offseason, Melky Cabrera, Miacer Iztures, and Bartolo Colon have gotten contracts while Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Zach Greinke, and Josh Hamilton have not. I’m going to argue that this is a very good thing and indicative of some welcome sanity on the collective part of baseball’s GMs. You see, Sanchez, Lohse, Greinke and Hamilton are considered the cream of the free agent crop and they each expect to sign massive deals this winter. Thing is, none of them are really worth anything near what they’re asking and in most other winters, where the selection of free agents is better, they wouldn’t get so much money. Typically when this situation crops up, the GMs bid themselves into a frenzy, and someone ends up over paying for mediocre talent simply because it’s all that’s there. It’s nice to see some reserve this year.

Let me explain: typically, the big dominoes in the free agent class don’t tend to fall until deeper into the offseason. This winter is still on track in that respect. However, it’s rare to see so many role player types sign small contract deals this early. It seems indicative that GMs are willing to forgo the “top of the line” players and make more sensible, cost effective signings.

Why is this something I like? Well, because I don’t think Anibal Sanchez is worth anything near $100 million. I wouldn’t even give him half that. By the numbers and the stuff, Sanchez is a pretty average major league average pitcher who would slot in nicely behind a solid ace and decent number two starter. Kind of like the exact situation in Detroit last season. Behind Verlander and Fister/Scherzer, Sanchez looked great. And he was. As a $100 million man, however, he’d be counted on to be The Guy in a starting rotation and he simply isn’t that. I’m telling you right now that no team is winning in the regular season or the postseason with Anibal Sanchez at the top of their rotation.

I think that Sanchez will probably get his money, if not the full hundred than at least 85% of it, but I’m happy to see that he doesn’t have a whole line of suitors at his window waving their check books. Instead, teams have recognized that they will be able to get most of Sanchez’s production elsewhere, for a fraction of the cost. 

Same deal for Lohse. Good pitcher; not worth anywhere near the nearly $80mil he’s going to get. Kyle was a beneficiary of the Adrain Beltre effect–an awesome season in a contract year fans the flames for a big money deal the following winter. Again, I think the veteran righty would do well as a solid two or very good three and that’s it. The best place for Lohse is where he is in St. Louis behind Carpenter and Wainwright. For some reason, though, doesn’t Kyle Lohse scream that “look at me! I spent money on pitching!” signing we all know the Royals are inevitably going to make–and then watch blow up in their faces?

That brings me to Zach Greinke who is actually the best talent available this winter. Greinke is a bonafide top of the rotation guy and you definitely could go far with him as your guy (provided you had four other guys). Thing is, Grienke is about to become the highest paid right handed pitcher ever and that just doesn’t sit well with me. He’s not that good. He’s not transcendentally good. Justin Verlander should be the highest paid righty, or Felix Hernandez. Greinke could be a comfortable 10th on that list.

Luckily for him, the teams that need him the most are also the ones with the biggest pockets.

Josh Hamilton is the biggest enigma on the market. He is obviously one of the best players on the planet but his off the field stuff is a legitimate concern. I totally empathize with the Rangers desire to not exceed 3 years in their offer to him. Yes, in a vacuum he’s worth the $25 million a year, but games aren’t played in a vacuum and I would genuinely worry about him, especially in the cities that can afford him. Now, I’m not saying I think he’s going to start drinking and doing drugs again, I think he’s a good guy with good intentions and I trust him. I’m just concerned that the years on drugs might continue to plague the body, if not the man. He’s a 30 year old in a 40 year old body.

I see the appeal of Hamilton for teams like Baltimore and Seattle. For them, I actually think he’s worth what he’s asking because of the immediate impact on the field and the marketing impact off the field. I’m rooting for him to go to one of those places.

The bottom line is this: just because you are the best player doesn’t necessarily mean you are good. I’m glad that GMs are recognizing this this winter and spending accordingly. It looks like they are giving a chance to the guys who can do almost as much as the top line players.

Every winter, teams are going to have money to spend and they are going to spend it regardless of who they have to spend it on. When the free agent class is crap, the mediocre players at the top of it are the beneficiaries. I’m not saying that this free agent class isn’t good, I actually think its pretty deep when you consider BJ Upton, Michael Bourn, Hiroki Huroda and the like. I am saying however, that the top of the pile, with the exception of Hamilton and Grienke, is quite overrated.  Sanchez and Lohse aren’t worth near what they are going to get and Hamilton and Grienke will likely be overpaid because there’s no competition for the dollars. The silver lining is that lower visibility guys who can do the job get the contracts that they deserve.

-Max Frankel

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