When a team wins the World Series, we look for lessons.
Well, here's today's lesson: A couple of bad contracts are no excuse for failure.
The Giants won, even though their two highest-paid players were virtually invisible in October. The Giants won, even though their third highest-paid player was virtually invisible until October.
|Despite little production from Aaron Rowand and his albatross contract, the Giants won it all. (Getty Images)|
This isn't a rip of the Giants. Not even close. Actually, general manager Brian Sabean and his staff deserve credit for the creativity they needed to put together a championship roster while carrying around $30-40 million in dead weight.
Remember that lesson a few years from now, when some of the free-agent contracts signed this winter look as bad as Rowand's five-year, $60 million deal (with two years and $27.2 million to run) does now. Or, worse yet, as bad as Zito's seven-year, $126 million contract (with three years and $57.5 to run) does now.
Remember that lesson, when Carl Pavano's new contract proves to be a bust (again?!), or when you're bemoaning all the dollars that will still be due to Jorge De La Rosa (sounded like a good idea at the time), or maybe even when one of this winter's expected Big 3 deals (Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth) turns into money completely misspent.
I'm not so sure which deal is going to be the Rowand or Zito of this winter. I am fairly sure there will be one, or two. Or 10.
Why, now that teams are just getting out from under so many bad deals (Jeff Suppan, Dontrelle Willis, Eric Chavez, among others), am I so sure that they're going to rush in and sign some more? Why, with an economy that has obviously started to affect attendance, is there even going to be enough money to sign all these free agents?
There is money, in part because so many bad deals just ran out (giving the Tigers, among other teams, some real money to spend). Some teams will be cutting payroll (notably the Rays), some teams definitely will not be spending (notably the Indians), but there are plenty of big-market teams motivated to find help on a free-agent marketplace that offers few sure-fire answers.
Angels owner Arte Moreno wasn't happy to miss out on the playoffs. His team covets Crawford (who is also said to have the Angels at the top of his wish list), and needs a closer, too (Rafael Soriano, anyone?).
The Red Sox missed out on the playoffs, and if they don't re-sign Adrian Beltre and/or Victor Martinez, they'll need to make up for the production they'd lose. They're considered the early favorites for Werth.
The Yankees have some money coming off the books, and they don't even try to hide their desire to sign Lee. And while they've suggested they don't need Crawford or Werth, it's worth remembering that two winters ago they were suggesting they didn't need Mark Teixeira. Maybe they really will pass this time (at least if they sign Lee), but rival teams know better than to count them out.
The Rangers, of course, want to keep Lee every bit as much as the Yankees want to take him away. They and the Cubs both have new ownership groups that, especially in the Rangers' case, want to prove to fans they'll spend to win.
The Tigers are unlikely to chase Lee, and by re-signing Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta, they've set the left side of the infield and won't pursue Beltre. But they could go after Crawford, are a real possibility for Martinez, and because of owner Mike Ilitch they could always be a late landing spot for a Scott Boras client.
That's six teams highly motivated to spend, and it doesn't even include the Orioles and Nationals, who would also like to be significant players.
"[Orioles owner] Peter Angelos brought Buck Showalter in, and he wouldn't have done that if he didn't want to compete now," one person familiar with the Orioles workings said.
Already, there's talk of huge prices, especially for the Big 3. There have been suggestions that Lee will try to match or top CC Sabathia's contract, at least in terms of annual value ($23 million a year). There has been talk that Boras would like to get Werth what he got Matt Holliday last winter from the Cardinals ($120 million for seven years).
At least Lee, Crawford and Werth can be seen as difference-makers. But the early word is that the high prices are trickling down (and in baseball, trickle-down economics sometimes works).
One American League executive said Monday that every significant middle reliever is seeking at least a two-year deal, and predicted that some will get three years (and we're not talking about closers).
The other market to watch closely is for starting pitchers. The drop-off after Lee is drastic, with either Pavano or De La Rosa generally considered the next-best option. It's easy to see some team making the type of mistake the Mets did two years ago, when they gave Oliver Perez $36 million for three years.
Perhaps it's possible that teams will look at all the bad options and just save their money for another day. Or maybe the economy really will hold teams back.
One executive said Monday that in his team's just-completed meetings, the word went out that because of the economy, they want to "look responsible" to their fans.
But tellingly, that same executive said he fully expects his team to spend big.
They will, and other teams will, too.
"History tells you that when general managers have money in their pockets, they spend it," another exec said.
They could save it for next year, when the free-agent market looks significantly better (although we won't know for sure until we know which players sign new contracts before hitting the market). They could save it to spend on a midseason trade.
Maybe some will. Most won't.
There will be more money chasing fewer good players, and the result will be some absolutely disastrous contracts.
And the only good news is that those terrible contracts don't necessarily keep you from winning it all.
The Giants proved it can be done.