5-time NBA All-Star
Join Date: Jul 2006
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You know about the winner's curse, right? Essentially the idea is that when the bidders in an auction have less than perfect knowledge of the item's value, the winning bidder will pay more than the item is actually worth. The winner's curse is not perfectly analogous to the free-agent market in baseball, because (among other reasons) a player might have wildly different values to different teams, depending on team needs and finances. That said, I think it's generally true that most of the free agents each offseason, and particularly in this offseason, sign contracts paying them more than they're worth, objectively. This offseason, we might call it the "winter's curse."
But you already know about Gil Meche and Alfonso Soriano. Today, I'd like to identify some possible bargains among this year's free-agent crop. Yes, they're out there. We know that. We can't identify them perfectly, of course. Maybe Meche will surprise. Well, not Meche. But maybe Jason Marquis! Well, not Marquis. But maybe Ted Lilly! Yeah. Maybe Lilly.
Probably not, though. Here are some better candidates, I think.
There's only one huge new contract that I admire: Aramis Ramirez's re-signing with the Cubs for five seasons and $73 million. Incredibly consistent since joining the Cubs a few years ago, Ramirez doesn't turn 29 until the middle of next season, and even if his defense at third base slips some, he's a good enough hitter to play first base. There's obviously significant risk associated with any long-term megadeal, but a cash-heavy franchise like the Cubs has to take exactly this sort of risk.
Mike Mussina looks to me like the steal of the offseason. Sure, he just turned 38. But when pitchers such as Woody Williams (40) and Kenny Rogers (42) still are regarded as valued contributors, a healthy 38-year-old starter like Mussina seems positively youthful. He's averaged 30 starts over the last three seasons, and last season was his best since 2003. And the Yankees have him for two years of Gil Meche money.
Four years is a lot of years for a setup man … but then, Justin Speier doesn't have to be a setup man. Over the last three seasons -- since leaving the Rockies, that is -- he has a 3.18 ERA while striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings. Like Brendan Donnelly, his predecessor in the Angels' bullpen, Speier is capable of closing games if anything happens to Francisco Rodriguez. And these days, $18 million for four years seems little but a trifle for a pitcher with Speier's talents.
Sometimes it helps to be a contender. Tom Glavine probably wouldn't have signed a one-year deal for $10.5 million -- Gil Meche money -- with many teams, but he knows the Mets well and he knows they have a legitimate shot at the World Series in 2007. At (almost) 41, Glavine obviously isn't the pitcher he once was. But you have to like a pitcher, no matter his age, whose ERAs the last three seasons were 3.60, 3.53 and 3.82. There's absolutely no reason to think he won't be good for 32 starts -- he hasn't started fewer than 32 games in a non-strike season since the 1980s -- and an ERA somewhat better than the league average. Great deal for the Mets, especially when you consider that the Yankees are paying Andy Pettitte $16 million for roughly the same (projected) performance.
Moises Alou is Tom Glavine, Part 2. Yes, $8.5 million might seem a bit much for a player who (1) turns 41 next July, and (2) missed much of last season with back and ankle injuries. But neither of those injuries was serious, and he was fantastic in September. It's not that Alou would be a good fit for every team; he wouldn't. But the Mets are rich, they're contenders, and in the short term they desperately need production from a corner outfield slot. At his age, Alou's a gamble. But he's exactly the right sort of gamble for a team such as the Mets.
Frank Catalanotto's career slugging percentage is .454. He's been in the majors for roughly nine full seasons. In seven of those nine seasons, his slugging percentage has been within 20 points of his career mark. That probably doesn't mean anything particularly important. It's just moderately interesting. Catalanotto also has a .362 career on-base percentage, which is more impressive than his slugging percentage. On balance, though, he's merely adequate as a corner outfielder, able to play only against right-handed pitchers.
Mark DeRosa got exactly the same money as Catalanotto, $13 million for three seasons, and it's easy to think of them as similar players. They're not, though. While Catalanotto once was a versatile defender, he hasn't played more than five games in the infield since 2002. DeRosa isn't the hitter that Catalanotto is, but he brings a great deal of versatility to the table, able to play just about anywhere but center field and behind the plate. He's not really good enough to play every day -- the Cubs have him slotted at second base -- but once they figure that out, he'll be one of the better utility men in the majors.
David Dellucci is the anti-Catalanotto. His career slugging percentage is .449, almost exactly the same as Catalanotto's. But he has a .352 (2003) and a .360 (2000) on his ledger, along with a .513 and a .530. Those latter two slugs came in 2005 and 2006, though, which obviously is a positive trend line. Dellucci was terribly underused by the Phillies last season -- he started only 59 games -- but figures to see a lot more action with Cleveland, which has him for three seasons at $11.5 million. The Indians are going to be one of the big stories of 2007, and Dellucci is going to play an important supporting role. Even in the winter of the curse, you can still find a bargain if you're not worried about making headlines.