This diary will take a look at Goldstein and the increasing popular notion that the Cubs are filled with HORRIBLE CONTRACTS! that will cripple the team for the next 1,000 years.
I was crusin' through the internets yesterday when I happened to come across your article on BP. Now this isn't the first time you have criticised all things Cub, the last few months have seen you snort at Starlin Castro and generally take every possible contrarian /debbie downer position available on the team. However, yesterday's piece of "journalism" was perhaps the sorriest yet. The themes found in your arguments are ones that have sadly become more popular after the soul crushing season that was 2008. So I figured I would take a look at some of your arguments and see if we can shed a bit more truth on the state of our payroll & whether or not some of our larger contracts are truly bad ones.
My first beef with this article is the sensational line of "Do the Cubs have the worst contract situation in MLB History?". This is so effin absurd that it deserves its own article but I know there are a few (albeit LOUD) posters here who seem to believe this. They can think what they want but I intend to use fact and math instead of hyperbole and hubris to show how full of it those people are. Unlike Goldstein who uses BP's VORP to valuate players (or in the case of Soriano just a slash line) I will use fangraphs WAR stat because it provides a monetary valuation to a players performance. Goldstein lists 8 contracts that to him are the reason we have the worst payroll situation in MLB history. Lets take a look at them
# 8 Carlos Silva-
Current Contract- 2010 salary:* $11.5 million
*Further commitment:* $11.5 million in 2011, $2 million buyout in 2012
Well, this one is a decent point- Silva sucks but keep in mind we didn't give this guy a bucket of money, the former Seattle GM did. Now, Hendry critics have a good point in saying that Silva is the consequence of signing Bradley to a 3 yr 30 million dollar deal. Problem with that argument is that Bradley is worth 30 million over 3 years based on production. Even in a down year like last year Bradley was worth 1 WAR or 4.7 million. But Hendry signed Bradley after a 2008 season that saw him post a 4.5 WAR season worth 20 million dollars. The year before that Bradley was worth 10 million, the year before that you guessed it- 10 million. So even if Milton never hit like he did in 2008 he still would have been worth his deal or just under it. Unfortunately the off field issues forced the Cubs to dump him for Silva and a 6 million dollar discount on his remaining contract. Silva and the $ owed to him isn't ideal but it isn't a franchise killer considering the Cubs got money for something they would have had to cut and used that money to sign Marlon Byrd.
# 7- Ted Lilly-
Current Contract- 2010 contract:* $12 million *Further commitment:* None
This is a head scratcher considering that the Ted Lilly deal is one of the greatest FA pitcher contracts signed in the last 10 years. Back in 2006 when Hendry inked Ted everyone and I mean everyone roasted him for it. 10 million a year for a middling talent was the battle cry and Ted Lilly and his contract became a symbol of the bloated excess of baseball. 3 years later in into the Ted Lilly deal I believe it should considered a shining example to the Hendry haters that Momma Hendry's boy is no fool. Hendry has collected 43.5 millon dollars of value and paid out 28 million dollars. 24 of that was in salary and 4 the signing bonus Lilly received. Think about this for a moment, Hendry has already had that deal pay for itself and Lilly still has a year of basically bonus value. Plus Lilly gave us almost 200 inning's every year and was a fantastic pitcher during 2 division title teams. PLUS this was a free agent pitcher. Those contracts are always deals that come back to haunt GM's. For comparison sake the amazing St. Louis organization and its pitching Archmage Dave Duncan signed off on Kyle Lohse getting almost the exact same deal after the 2008 season. Last year they paid Lohse 7.125 million dollars and got back 3.7 million in value. That isn't a good start and they still owe the guy over 30 million dollars. This just goes to show that free agent contacts to pitchers are the ones that kill GM's and Hendry gave us an absolute gem of a deal with Lilly. Just goes to show that not all big money contacts hurt teams, sometimes you pay big money for big value.
# 6- Derrek Lee-
Current Contract- *2010 salary:* $13 million *Further commitment:* None
Another weird way for Goldstein to make his worst contract situation ever case considering Lee provides great value and this contact like Lilly's comes off the books next year giving Ricketts an additional 25 million to spend. Goldstein even admits that Lee has been "Worth every penny". Ladies and Gentlemen, the new Baseball Prospectus- Where they make crazy statements and then disprove themselves in their own article. FWIW a quick glance at Fangraphs shows that Lee has outperformed his contact every year other than the one he was injured. So another win for Hendry.
# 5- Ryan Dempster-
Current Contract- 2010 salary:* $12.5 million *Further commitment:* $13.5 million in 2011, $14 million player option for 2012
There seems to be some weird animosity towards the deal that Dempster got after the 2008 season. "He won't repeat his 08 season again!" was the general gripe to which I counter- He isn't getting paid to pitch like he did in 2008. He is getting paid to pitch like an above average starter and that's exactly what he has done. Dempster was worth 22.7 million dollars in 2008 and we signed him to a deal averaging 13 million a year. Last year he indeed wasn't as good as 2008 but he was still a very good pitcher worth 16.4 millon dollars. We paid him 8. So even as the back loaded contact increases in the next few years as long as Dempster is the in neighborhood of last season or even slightly worse the deal isn't a bad one. This is the 2nd FA pitcher contract that Hendry has extracted excellent value from so far and I can't stress enough how hard that is to do. So when hacks like Goldstein rant about how the Cubs "can't move these big contracts" ask yourself this- Why? Ryan Dempster is worth more than that contract and other GM's with a lot more resources than "Cal Calender" know that. So it would figure that a GM looking to trade for a good pitcher would probably not be scared off by Ryan Dempster. Baseball is like anything else in life, if you want value you pay for it and teams wanting Dempster would pay for his valuable pitching.
# 4 - Kosuke Fukudome-
Current Contract- OF* *2010 salary:* $13 million *Further commitment:* $13.5 million for 2011
Kosuke is another guy who gets an unfair rap. One of the major problems is that the media & the Cubs hyped him as being a "middle of the order bat" and people got visions of 25 HR's and 100 RBI's and all that. Well he isn't that kind of player but that doesn't mean he is without value. He is a LH bat that posts a solid OBP and at least in RF was a very good defender. So far he has been worth 18.4 million and been paid 17.5 million. Last year he was worth just under what we paid him and this year and next year we will be increasing his salary by 2 million. So we can expect that Fukudome will be not be worth the monetary value of his deal but it won't be off by a major amount. Despite what you hear Fukudome isn't a worthless player, he may not be the kind of player we thought we were getting but he provides value in other ways. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Cubs were in a major bidding war with San Diego and the White Sox so they weren't alone in seeing a ML starter in Fukudome.
# 3- Aramis Ramirez
2010: salary:* $15.75 million
*Further commitment:* $14.6 million player option for 2011, $16 million team option for 2012
Now this one just pisses me off. Goldstein justifies this by saying "Ramirez is worth every penny when he is healthy, yet he's averaged less than 130 games a year over the past five seasons, including just 82 last year." Using last year as some kind of example of Ramirez's fragility is to be frank bullshit. The guy injured his non throwing shoulder in a freak accident. It happens. From 2004-2008 Aramis had appeared in 87 % of possible games as a Cub. He isn't made of glass and never has been. Plus even playing 87 % of the time the guy provided more value than what we are paying him him. Starting to see a pattern here? Another huge problem with Goldstein's line of reason is this- Aramis Ramirez is going to opt out of his contract after this season. So like Lee and Lilly his salary is not going to be on the books after this year. The Cubs are going to have a boatload of money to spend people unless Ricketts gets stingy.
# 2- Big Z
Current Contract- *2010 salary:* $17.875 million *Further commitment:* $35.875 million for 2011-12 with a vesting option for 2013 that will be difficult to reach.
Here is Goldstein's take on Z- Zambrano is paid like an ace, but hasn't pitched like one for the past two years, as he is usually beset by minor dings here and there, with the annual emotional blowup now becoming downright predictable. Like Soriano, he is good, but that doesn't mean he's not overpaid. I take issue with the following-
Zambrano is paid like an ace, but hasn't pitched like one for the past two years -
A- One man's definition of an "ace" and what they should be paid is different than somebody else's. This is a moving goalpost type of argument and a lazy one at that. Worf and others have long used the "Z isn't a shut down ace" argument against him but the bottom line is that the guy is a very good pitcher every single year and was worth over 16 million last year. So we overpaid by a million bucks. Folks, we are a large market team we can afford to do that. F%#K labels like "ace" or people who keep saying Z won't "figure it out" the bottom line is Carlos Zambrano is what he is, a good pitcher. He isn't going to magically turn into a Zen like control master, he may never win 20 games or a Cy Young. He doesn't need to. All he needs to do is keep turning out season like last year's to be worth it to the Cubs. Also, keep in mind that the value I showed above was only his pitching value. It doesn't take into account the production he provides at the plate compared with other pitchers. He is the exact kind of pitcher larger market teams pay to have. You pay a value to secure reliable above average starting pitching.
# 1 - Soriano
Current Contract- 2010 salary:* $18 million 2011-2014 18 mill annually
Well to be frank this isn't a good contract and my defense won't be based on production. Last year Soriano was a sunk cost at 17 million dollars. He was insanely valuable to us in 2007 and was only slightly overpaid in 2008 but if 2009 is the Soriano we have from here on out then this is a very very bad contract. Now, I don't think Soriano will be as bad as he was last year at least in the near future but it's doubtful he will ever be worth what we pay him for going forward. So the anti Hendry camp have a point when they use Soriano as an example of Jim's mistakes. However, nothing happens in a vacuum and you have to remember the situation the club was in after 06. Take the anger and general discontent that is here now and multiply it. 2006 was a travesty and fans were staying away from the park towards the end of the year. Ownership woke up to the fact that even Cub fans weren't going to tolerate a 2nd tier team anymore and they made a huge statement by signing the biggest FA available for the first time since I have been a Cub fan. Everyone knew this contract would eventually be a bad deal for the team but after a year like 06 we were willing to go for the short term and Soriano helped us. He was perhaps the most valuable Cub in 2007 and a major contributor in 08. He helped give us back to back titles for the first time in a long time and we shouldn't throw that away simply because we didn't get it done int he postseason, because without him there never would have been a postseason. Not only did he help on on the field but by the Cubs landing Soriano right away in the 2006 off season we made a statement to other players that the team was going to try and win right now. Getting Soriano probably helped land Lilly and get Aramis to re-sign. As I have show both of those contracts have provided major value to the team as well. Injuries have already started to ravage him and the next 5 seasons could be hard to watch but 1 bad contract doesn't mean Hendry is a bad GM. In fact by my count of the 8 guys listed here 2 are poor contracts (Soriano, Silva) 2 are providing the production that we pay for (Z and Fukudome) and 4 are fantastic deals for the Cubs (Lilly, Aramis, Lee and Dempster).
So to recap Goldstein's assertion that this might be the worst contract situation in history is probably the stupidest thing ever written about baseball in history ; ) especially when you consider that 3 of the guys mentioned have deals the end after this year and only Soriano can be expected to regularity under perform in the future.
PS- If anyone is wondering how Fangraphs assign's the dollar figure to production you can find it in the Tom Tango thread I posted here a few weeks back or at his site.