Simply Baseball Notebook: Perspectives

Buyer Beware!

'PERSPECTIVE': December 2002 - January 2003


I have never understood the large market teams that seem to shell out tens of millions yearly for aging free agents in an attempt to buy a pennant. Every year some team like the Mets or Rangers make a big splash in the free agent market. It works great initially - they receive positive PR in the local paper, get hyped up on Sportscenter, and the prognosticators and pundits drool. Once the season begins, however, those same players either to break down or have sub par years because they finally got the fat contract and their best days are behind them.

Last year the New York Mets were the undisputed hot stove league champions and finished in the cellar of the putrid NL East. Roberto Alomar disappeared, Jeromy Burnitz became Rob Deer, and the Statue of Liberty showed better lateral movement than Mo Vaughn. Now the Mets are stuck with three aging players with contracts so large that they couldn't package them for a box of baseballs and Billy the Marlin.

This is not to say that penny pinching is the way to go. If you can sign a superstar in the prime of his career like Alex Rodriguez or Jason Giambi and it isn't at the expense of the rest of the team - go for it. But, if you are looking at a player that has put up big numbers over the years, but is in his mid to late 30s, you may want to think twice. Just ask Peter Angelos in Baltimore or Tom Hicks in Texas.

Take a look at the teams in the post season this past year: the Anaheim Angels had a lineup built around homegrown talent and pitching staff of castoffs, mid-level free agents, and more homegrown players. The Minnesota Twins haven't signed a notable free agent since Dave Winfield in 1993. The Oakland Athletics lost their best player from 2001, Jason Giambi, to free agency. Everybody knows the Yankees spend truckloads of cash, but homegrown players like Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, etc. form the core of their team.

In the National League, the San Francisco Giants, of course, signed Barry Bonds way back in 1993, but the rest of the team was built through shrewd trades and the signing of veteran castoffs. The Atlanta Braves, like the Yankees, open up the vault, but they too have a core of homegrown players (Glavine, the Jonses, etc.). The St. Louis Cardinals have been willing to spend freely, but much of their team has been built through trades (Edmonds, Rolen, Rentaria) and their marquee player, Albert Puljos, is a product of their farm system. There was one team that has spent its way to the post season, the mercenary laden Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Philadelphia Phillies look to be this years' favorite to capture the increasingly coveted hot stove title. After a disappointing 2002, the Phils are desaparate for some positive PR to reinvigorate their often surly fanbase. They, along with the Mets (who may never learn), are in hot pursuit of Tom Glavine. Glavine, who will be 37 on Opening Day, wants a four year deal in excess of $25 million. What are the odds he'll be a productive pitcher at 41?

The big prize of the off season is slugging 1B Jim Thome. Thome, 32, stands to get a 7 year deal at more than $10 million per year. The Phillies want him desperately. Thome, however, has a back condition that could to be chronic, and his ability to play in the field in the future is in doubt. This could be a problem for a National League team.

Who knows, maybe the Phillies will land both players and win the World Series, stranger things have happened. But if you want to build a contender with staying power, the best way to do it is from within. You may not win every year, but would which is better: losing with young players with potential or floundering with overpriced veterans that will turn into expensive, untrade-able malcontents?

-David Zingler

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