Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1 comments Bill Madden Says the Detroit Tigers Should Know Their Place and Not Act Like a Large Market Team

I realize I have set a personal record for "longest title for a post." It is a momentous occasion and cake will be served immediately after the conclusion of this post. As anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis can attest, brevity is not my strongest suit. (brilliant segway ahead) Scott Boras' strongest suit is getting his clients a lot of money in free agency. Bill Madden is a little perturbed the Tigers signed Prince Fielder. He believes the only dumb owners that are allowed to fall for Scott Boras clients and give them a ton of money are large market teams. Now that a medium-market team has signed Fielder, well this is pretty much the beginning of the end for small market teams as well. Madden believes this sent shockwaves through baseball and the Pirates now may believe they can't afford to keep Andrew McCutchen around when he becomes a free agent. I'm guessing Madden believed the Pirates were confident they could keep McCutchen.

Now that the Tigers have gone and spent a lot of money on Fielder, they've screwed the whole system up and probably ruined baseball. See, the problem with the financial gap in small market teams and large market teams isn't revenue disparity. No way. Revenue disparity isn't as large of a problem in baseball as middle market teams having the guts to sign big name free agents. How dare the "sort of haves" pretend to be "haves!" You are ruining Bill Madden's illusion of small market teams keeping their star players when it comes time for these players to enter free agency.

Well, you have to give the devil his due.

Scott Boras isn't the devil. No one likes him when he reps your team's best players, but if you are a baseball player and need an agent aren't you looking at hiring Scott Boras? He does his job well and gets his clients a lot of money in a free market. That isn't evil.

Once again, Scott Boras has left us mouths agape, in a state of disbelief. Just when it looked as if the Avenging Agent had finally overplayed his hand and left himself without the “One Dumb Owner” to fork over an Albert Pujols-like contract for Prince Fielder, in the Detroit Tigers’ Mike Ilitch, Boras managed to pluck an old familiar one out of his hat to save him with a mind-blowing nine-year, $214 million deal for his rotund client.

Is this a great long-term contract to give to Prince Fielder? Perhaps not. Is it as bad as some other long-term contracts handed out over the last few years? I don't think so. Fielder probably won't age well, but he is also only 28 years old right now. He probably has four years before he starts getting too lazy to search out food and begins gnawing on his own body (Fat jokes! Do they ever get old?) to the point he dies from engorging himself.

Also, Bill Madden has already called Arte Moreno the "one dumb owner" for this offseason. Maybe Bill Madden goes by the calendar year when talking about dumb owners. If so, he can't call another owner the "one dumb owner" during next year's free agency free-for-all.

That, combined with cleanup hitter Victor Martinez going down for the season with a blown-out knee, got Ilitch all the more antsy.

The least you could if you write an article about a team is do research on that team. Miguel Cabrera was the cleanup hitter last year and Martinez batted fifth mostly.

This, of course, is not the first time a major injury played right into Boras’ hands — for if it had not been for Aaron Boone breaking his ankle playing basketball that winter of 2004, Alex Rodriguez might never have been liberated from his purgatory in Texas where Boras’ first “One Dumb Owner,” Tom Hicks, was choking on his $252 million contract.

Actually, if the union had agreed to allow Alex Rodriguez restructure his contract then he would have been liberated from Texas to play for the Boston Red Sox. So the injury to Aaron Boone gave Boras another option for where to send A-Rod, but I doubt A-Rod never would have left Texas if the deal never got done. The Yankees were the second option for Boras and A-Rod and If the Yankees had never stepped in I would imagine another team would have traded for A-Rod.

Now comes the fallout.

Actually, the fallout won't be experienced for a few more seasons when Prince Fielder ages a little bit more. I think Fielder can play first base for at least four more seasons and not completely embarrass himself. That will be at the end of the 2015 season. Victor Martinez's contract runs out in three more seasons and Miguel Cabrera's contract runs out after 2016. So Martinez will be gone and Cabrera will have one more year on his contract. Basically I am saying I don't know if there is going to be a logjam at designated hitter for the Tigers like some many people are predicting.

This all depends on Miguel Cabrera's ability to play third base of course. I can see the Tigers making this work because it isn't like Cabrera and Fielder are 30 years old yet and have 2-3 players in their early 30's that may have to play extended time at DH at the same time...like some other teams. So I'm an optimist and think this can work. If Miguel Cabrera looks stupid at third base, then I will look stupid as well for having faith in him.

With equally girthy and immobile Miguel Cabrera slated to move to third base (where he hasn’t played since 2007) to make room for Fielder (whose 15 errors were the most of any first baseman in baseball last year) the Tiger infield — which also includes range-challenged Jhonny Peralta at short — has the potential to be one of the most porous in the history of baseball,
Miguel Cabrera isn't exactly skinny, but before the fat jokes start, this is what he supposedly looks like right now. He still doesn't look skinny, but he also doesn't look girthy and out of shape.

Then there’s the matter of the leadoff spot where Austin Jackson struck out 181 times last year, dropped 44 points off his batting average from the year before and had an on-base percentage of just .317.

Of course there is no way Austin Jackson can turn this around since he is of the ripe, old age of 24. He'll never be a leadoff hitter!

You could make the case that, even with the Martinez injury, a leadoff hitter was a bigger need for the Tigers,

And as we all know quality leadoff hitters were readily available on the free agent market this offseason. There was Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, Rafael Furcal, and Juan Pierre. What do three of those guys have in common? They play shortstop, which is the same position Jhonny Peralta plays. That leaves Coco Crisp and Juan Pierre. Sound appetizing to you?

My point is the Tigers probably need a leadoff hitter, but trying Austin Jackson in that spot for another year is probably their best option. The Tigers could have made a trade for a leadoff hitter, but I would imagine the price would be fairly high in terms of prospects/players a team would want in return.

In the meantime, in Fielder, Cabrera and Martinez, the Tigers now have $177 million allocated to first basemen/designated hitters over the next three years.

Martinez is out for the entire year, so the Tigers really only have this issue over the next two seasons. I also believe Prince Fielder can play first base for another three seasons after this season since he is only 28 years old. I don't see this as being as huge of an issue for the Tigers, unless Miguel Cabrera absolutely stinks at third base. In that case, the Tigers have an issue for two seasons on which player to use as the designated hitter. I really believe Fielder will be able to play first base for the entire length of Martinez's contract (three more years), so this problem of too many first basemen/designated hitters will end up being overblown.

Anyone who knows Dombrowski, knows he would never construct a team like that.

I feel like I know Dave Dombrowski's history and he has signed Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Victor Martinez to large contracts with the Tigers. He was also the GM of the 1997 Florida Marlins who won the World Series with a group of free agents like Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, and Alex Fernandez that were eventually all sold off to rebuild the team. So Dombrowski isn't afraid to build a team with players he considers to be key free agents and he has also shown he will build through the draft as well. The 2003 Marlins were built around players Dombrowski had traded for as prospects.

So I think Dombrowski would construct a team with a few big free agent signings if he felt they were necessary and he would construct a team like he has done with the Tigers.

As for the repercussions around baseball, it’s no surprise the small- and middle-market teams are crying the blues to commissioner Bud Selig.

As they have been doing for quite a few years now. It isn't because the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder that small market teams are all of a sudden beginning to worry they won't be able to sign their own players prior to hitting free agency. The Tigers were 10th in payroll last year. To a small market team like the Pirates or Royals who have 33%-50% of the Tigers payroll, the Tigers ARE a large market team. Even the Brewers, Fielder's old team, are 17th in payroll. I have a feeling the Brewers could have afforded to sign Fielder, but it would have negatively affected their long-term payroll goals.

I think it is interesting that Bob Madden believes small market teams are fretting over the signing of Prince Fielder any more than they were concerned when any other big name free agent is signed by a large market team. Apparently, it is all well and good when the Yankees or Mets sign a big name free agent, but once the Tigers start doing this, it means small market teams should really be concerned.

Kansas City Royals fans: Enjoy Eric Hosmer (another Boras client) while you can because he’s out of there in five years.

Even if Fielder had signed with the Brewers, Hosmer would still possibly be gone. Prince Fielder's signing with the Tigers isn't a sign small market teams can't retain their own players any more than any other big name free agent signing means a small market team can't retain their own players. Let's not forget the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals both lost key free agents this offseason and they aren't exactly small market teams. The Angels lost John Lackey to the Red Sox a few seasons ago and the Tigers had to trade Curtis Granderson in order to open up further payroll flexibility. Every team has some sort of payroll restrictions. Small market teams suffer the most in free agency, but the Tigers signing of Fielder isn't a death knoll for small market teams any more than it is another brick in the wall.

And where does this now put the Cincinnati Reds with Joey Votto, who comes up for free agency after 2013?

The same place they were prior to Fielder signing with the Reds. Does Bill Madden really believe Votto was going to accept less money and decide not to become a free agent if Prince Fielder never signed with the Tigers? Fielder helps to set the market for first basemen, but the market was already being partially set prior to Fielder's signing. I feel like Bill Madden believes it is fine for large market teams to sign big name free agents, but middle market teams aren't allowed to do this without some sort of unnecessary gnashing of teeth.

Then there’s the penny-pinching Pittsburgh Pirates, who continue to ignore the inevitability of Andrew McCutchen coming into his own as a real superstar, leaving them no choice but to trade him — as is their custom — when he approaches free agency in two years.

McCutchen was leaving Pittsburgh either way. It's not like he suddenly has bright ideas to leave Pittsburgh now that he has seen Prince Fielder make a ton of money on the free agent market. McCutchen leaving Pittsburgh when he hits free agency isn't old news.

You’d think these teams would learn something from the Tampa Bay Rays who, despite their limited revenue base, have locked up the heart of their team, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, James Shields, Wade Davis and now rookie sensation Matt Moore through 2014 and beyond.

This is very mentally limited thinking. There are two major problems with simply locking up young players.

1. It is much easier for the Rays to convince players like Davis, Zobrist, and Moore to sign on and avoid free agency when the Rays have shown they can consistently compete. Why would the young players on the Pirates, Royals, Padres roster sign a long-term deal to skip free agency? These players want to get paid and also win games and the teams they are with haven't shown they can consistently win games. The Rays have learned how to keep payroll at a low level and win games. It is easier to get these guys to sign on from 2014 and beyond when those players see a winning team.

2. You can't just sign a player to a contract extension unilaterally. The player has to be willing to sign that contract. So the Reds can't hold a gun to Votto's head and make him sign an extension. These players have to be willing to bypass a couple of years of free agency and because the Rays were competitive these players are willing to do that.

But as one baseball executive, noting that the Tigers are actually revenue-sharing recipients, said the other day: “There’s no way to stop an old owner like Ilitch from digging into his own pocket and breaking the bank in an all-out effort to win, other than a hard salary cap.”

No way! You mean an owner would dip into his own pocket and spending his own money in order to make his team better? Shouldn't this be against the rules in some fashion? If this starts a trend, next thing we know owners will be spending their own money on players to field a competitive team. Baseball as we know it will be ruined!

If David Glass dipped into his own pocket to sign players then the Royals may end up being able to compete financially with larger market teams. Bill Madden wants economic parity in baseball, but not if it means the New York teams he covers can't just try to outspend other teams to stay competitive.

I really like how this baseball executive is quoted as saying Ilitch could dig in his own pocket and break the bank to win, while commenting the only thing stopping him is a hard salary cap. Because now we need a hard salary cap when middle market teams can afford expensive free agents. It is so interesting how the team with the 10th highest payroll has all of a sudden become the example of financial inequality in baseball. It is as if there aren't 4-5 teams in MLB outspending other teams for nearly a decade now. I'm not criticizing this spending. I think teams should spend their money as they see fit. A hard salary cap isn't needed to stop teams like the Tigers from spending large amounts of money any more than one was needed over the last decade to stop 4-5 other teams from spending a lot of money on free agents.

Indeed, this wasn’t the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or Phillies wreaking havoc on the salary structure for the small- and middle-market clubs, this was one of their own, and there was nothing Selig or his labor chief, Rob Manfred, could have done to prevent Boras from bamboozling another owner into a ridiculous contract.

So it is fine if those teams spend ridiculous amounts of money, but the Tigers aren't allowed to do this because it upsets the status quo about which teams are supposed to go after big name free agents and which teams aren't?

And those same teams who would be willing to go to war again for a hard salary cap have adamently opposed minimum payrolls (as is the case in the NBA, NFL and NHL with their hard caps).

This is a completely different argument for another day. Let's not confuse the issue. One minute Bill Madden is blaming baseball's economic structure on the Tigers spending money and the next minute he is blaming the small market teams for not spending enough money.

Sooner or later, the long-suffering fans in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Oakland and San Diego, grown accustomed to watching their best players move on just as they reach their primes, will soon wish it was they who had that “One Dumb Owner” once in a while.

This sentence could have been written several years ago and really has very little to do with Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers. I feel like Bill Madden is relating the struggles of small market teams to the Tigers making a big free agent signing a little too much. We all agree these small market teams will struggle to keep their best players once free agency hits, but it isn't the fault of teams like the Tigers who dare to venture into the free agent market to improve their team.


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