Burnett to Blue Jays, other good stuff
The Mariners, from this short piece, appear to now be headed after Millwood or pursuing trade offers (which, really, is wise: if you can’t get Millwood, even at a premium, you’re better off not getting involved with the remaining second-tier free agent pitchers).
With the recent signings and all the noise about the market, I want to share a couple of thoughts Jeff and I were tossing around.
First, there is more money in the market right now. Shared media revenue is up in particular, so teams have more money to spend. So in turn, when teams evaluate how much they can afford to spend, there are a couple of factors that go into it (how well they think the player will perform, how that’s worth to them, how close they are to the playoffs, and so on).
Then there’s the knapsack problem. Sayyyy you’re the Mariners, and you have one position to fill and $15m to do it. You have four choices:
A: Random minor league free agent, $350,000, baseline
B: Modestly coveted cast-off, $1,000,000, +1 win
C: Good undervalued free agent, $5,000,000, +3 wins
D: Highly coveted free agent, $11,000,000, +5 wins
You pick D if you’re trying to win then, even though that’s clearly not the most efficient choice (and may limit your ability to make roster moves in the future, and so on).
Beyond the market rising, though, there are several things worth noting:
– Don’t chase a market. There’s a difference between understanding that a commodity is more valuable and buying tulip bulbs in 1636. If a win is now worth $2 million instead of $1.5, that doesn’t make B.J. Ryan’s contract defensible as a value purchase.
– (related) This is cyclical. A few years ago, an average left-fielder got a 1 or 2 year deal for a couple million a year and the players were investigating whether owners were colluding. It looked like teams were doing a much better job valuing players, particularly the concept of scarcity. But it turned out not to be a long-term trend: this year, that’s out the window. It’ll be back.
– Be flexible. If the free agent market would suck up your payroll budget and force you into long-term deals that hurt the team, look elsewhere. This, more than anything else, is the lesson of “Moneyball” (not “OBP is awesome!!!”): look for undervalued commodities. In this case, for instance, you could look to free agents towards the end of their fat contracts, picking up a shorter deal for one of those guys. You could, if your organization is sufficently flexible, buy every Cuban defector and phenom from Latin America for a year. Or, as Dave’s argued, you shop for what other teams overlook: defense, for instance, or players who might succeed with your team that struggled elsewhere.