This Winter Is About to Get Out of Hand

For all of our complaining that the Dodgers aren’t in position to sign Prince Fielder when by all accounts it’s a perfect fit, maybe it’s better that they simply might not be able to jump into the free agent frenzy this year because of ownership uncertainty.

As I absolutely don’t need to remind you, the Juan Rivera signing wasn’t received well in these pages, not because he’s unworthy of a job, but because guaranteeing him $4.5m seemed far out of line with what similar players had received in the past. Earlier this week, I linked to a Baseball Prospectus article which laid out the details:

Last week, R.J. Anderson observed that Chien-Ming Wang’s $4 million deal (plus incentives) was way out of line with the make-good contracts awarded to injury-prone starters during the 2010-2011 offseason. Rivera’s contract appears to be inflated by a similar amount compared to last winter’s comparable corner outfielders, such as Reed Johnson ($900,000), Marcus Thames ($1 million, and from LA, no less), Andruw Jones ($1.5 million), Matt Diaz ($2.125 million), and Jeff Francoeur ($2.5 million).

As the piece noted, Wang had signed for a similar deal which also seemed to be on the high side for comparable injury-prone started pitchers:

Adding to the oddness is how a $4 million payout compares to the contracts given to injury-prone starters just last winter. Wang will make double or more than nine out of the 10 pitchers listed, with only Webb—who compares favorably to Wang in skill set—coming close to his payout. Even when considering inflation, Wang is making more money than pitchers with similar issues.

The madness continues. Yesterday, the Phillies came to terms on a 4/$44m extension for Ryan Madson, with an option for a fifth year at $13m (though it’s not final yet pending the approval of Phillies ownership). Madson has long been a solid and underrated pitcher who is coming off of a very good year, but the money is shocking, particularly coming just a year after the Phillies didn’t consider Madson to be a closer candidate. As you can imagine, the response has been one of wonderment, since Madson is very good but probably not one of the three or four best relievers in baseball, and we know all too well that long-term contracts for relievers not named Mariano Rivera just about never work out, ever.

It gets better. Willie Bloomquist – supposedly at the heart of a tug-of-war between the Giants and Diamondbacks – returned to Arizona for two years and $3.8m after he declined his half of a mutual option. Willie F’ing Bloomquist. The same guy who put up an OPS+ over 79 exactly twice in the last nine years. The same guy who has never had an OPS above .679 in any season with meaningful playing time. The same guy who’s put up 1.3 fWAR… over the entirety of his career. (And if you go by the FanGraphs version, that all came in his first two seasons, so he’s been at 0.0 over the last seven years.) In a fair and just world, Willie Bloomquist would have trouble finding at-bats for a Triple-A squad. Yet that’s the guy who just came down with a multi-year deal and, as Hardball Talk notes, received a nice raise to do so:

And ultimately Bloomquist was obviously smart to decline the $1.1 million option, because he got a 72 percent salary bump and an extra year of guaranteed money at age 34. Must of been the .657 OPS.

If you’re Jamey Carroll‘s agent, how can you not be seeing what Bloomquist got and think that Carroll is worth two or three times that much? If you’re Jonathan Papelbon, doesn’t Madson’s deal make you think you’re worth at least $50m?

Now you can argue that this is just due to the teams involved. On Rivera, “Colletti gonna Colletti”, sure. On Madson, well, it’s not like Ruben Amaro didn’t already give Ryan Howard a ludicrous $125m extension that looked bad at the time and seems even worse now. And in Arizona, Kevin Towers does have an odd predilection for terrible veteran backup infielders, since he did hire Melvin Mora, Sean Burroughs, and Geoff Blum (on another multi-year deal) last season, and already gave John McDonald a two-year commitment last week.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe when the sane teams get around to signing people, it’ll be for figures that make sense. Or maybe this is going to be an offseason like we haven’t seen in years, where the numbers tossed around are so insane that even the lower-tier guys are going to get lifted up. Personally, I’d rather take that money and put it into scouting and international development. But I suppose we’ll have to come back to that discussion after Aaron Miles and Mike MacDougal return on matching two-year, $14m commitments, won’t we?