Big contracts out of nowhere are dangerous, but they can work if carefully considered (and lucky)
If you can’t get enough of tanking talk, Jonah Keri weighed in on the topic, wondering aloud when a team can justify trying to bust loose.
The Phillies, now with Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, started the conversation. The Padres, now supposedly contemplating Eric Hosmer, are along for the ride.
Keri is skeptical of both, although the Padres more than the Phillies because they have fewer of their best prospects actually in place on the 25-man roster. He gives a number of examples of teams that made significant signings when it didn’t appear as though one large expenditure wouldn’t make a difference.
- Cubs: Edwin Jackson in 2013 (nope), Jon Lester in 2015 (yep).
- Astros: Scott Feldman in 2013 (nope)
- Nationals: Jayson Werth in 2011 (kinda worked)
- Royals: Gil Meche in 2006 (nope)
- Tigers: Ivan Rodriguez in 2003 (yep)
Werth’s seven-year, $126 million contract is the one I think causes the biggest philosophical divide. On the whole, he did not earn the money, because he was a replacement-level player over the last three years. But he did give the Nationals three productive years — one injury-shortened — as they rose to dominate the NL East, so one could argue that he earned his keep on the whole, and it wasn’t his fault Dusty Baker favored him over more promising options in the NLDS.
These contracts are effectively booster rockets — something to help generate escape velocity from perpetual loserdom, then negligible/sheddable afterward. I think calling Werth’s contract a flop misses the forest for the trees, but they’re easier said than done, especially with the White Sox’ lack of success in signing veterans.
In order for one to work, they basically can’t block anybody at the start, and the team has to generate enough depth internally so they have the flexibility to pursue or retain other desired players at market rates. Either that, or ownership has to be ready to ramp up spending (which is easier when it works, because of increased attendance and ratings). That part is a big difference between the Cubs with Jackson and the Cubs with Lester. The latter came with Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon.
The White Sox have committed hard enough to rebuilding that they’re too far afield to put one of these to good use now. They should have a far better idea of where they are as a franchise after first full seasons for Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, potential debuts for Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech, and, fingers crossed, a rebound for Tim Anderson. Perhaps the knowledge gained will be “still not there yet,” but they’ll also have a better sense of what parts of the depth chart definitely aren’t arriving in the next two waves.
The deal Welington Castillo signed is much more in line with the current ambitions. It adds professionalism where experience is sorely lacking, lest weak positions drag down others, and any flop will be forgettable, insofar as it won’t alter any future plans. It would help if Castillo succeeded, if only to inspire confidence about the White Sox accurately identifying outside players who can produce past age 30. That’s another unknown factor in the White Sox rebuild, and it’ll have to be tested eventually.
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