The Cleveland Indians have a reputation of being a tad frugal in terms of payroll.
The Tribe was in the lower third of all major league teams in terms of spending on the ballclub, which infuriates its fan base to no end. When they do spend money, they usually don’t spend wisely.
Take, for example, the $5 million given to Grady Sizemore, and another reported $3 million to Casey Kotchman, named in an article on Baseball Prospectus at the least valuable player in baseball.
Going back a few years, the front office made a colossal mistake when faced with the specter of having three front line players, C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner, and Jake Westbrook coming up on free agency, they decided to sign the lesser two players and traded Sabathia away.
We still believe if they would have offered the current Yankees’ ace less than what they paid the other two combined per year (an estimated $22 million), perhaps C.C. would still be wearing a Cleveland uniform.
You see, the best investment in baseball is signing your star young players to big cash, and staying away from older star free agents, and other free agents in general.
Do you think the Yankees would love to get rid of Alex Rodriguez’ bloated contract now, based on his production over the past couple of years? The bet here is that the Angels will regret the Albert Pujols deal as he heads into his late 30’s.
Yesterday, the Braves decided to give OF B. J. Upton $15 million per year for five years. Atlanta may regret this one before the last two years on the contract.
Why? Because Upton is nothing more than an average player. If an 800 OPS makes you a very good offensive player, then Upton certainly is lacking. He’s reached that figure just once in his career, and that was in 2007. His lifetime mark of 758 is just slightly higher than the American League average in 2012 (731).
If the going rate for a player like Upton is $15 mil a year, then by all means the Indians should wait for the bargains in free agency if they participate at all. If Upton is worth that amount, then what is Nick Swisher worth?
Not that the latter is a great player, but he has a OPS of 828. He’s a much more productive hitter than B.J. Upton.
It is ridiculous what the going rate is for average players on the open market. As they say, it only takes one crazy team.
That’s why the ability to draft well and develop your own talent is so important. It gives you the chance to have good talent at an affordable price.
Shin-Soo Choo is a better player than Upton, and Michael Brantley’s OPS is roughly the same (750). Both players combined will make far less than the new Braves’ outfielder.
So, do the Indians have a chance to get better right away?
They can make trades for players who have abilities from teams trying to shed some payroll and have maybe a year or two left on their contracts. That strategy buys you time until some young players develop.
You can also wait out the market a little bit and get good players for less money than Upton received. You just have to sign the right players.
For example, both Josh Willingham and Cody Ross were signed for relatively little money, but both had very productive seasons.
That’s the right way to play the free agency game.
Signing a player like Upton would hamstring the Indians for several years, just like Hafner’s hefty deal.
That’s the way the money game in baseball is played today.