Sunday, November 19, 2006

From A Certain Perpsective

It looks like the final price tag for Alfonso Soriano is 8 years, $136 million, $17 million a year. That's a huge, huge price, and if money does buy happiness -- not that I'd know -- he's going to flashing that winning smile that Bowden raved about so much, for a looooong time.

Good deal? Bad deal? Horrible, stinktastic deal? It all depends on who you are and how you view it.

Alfonso Soriano: Great deal, pendejo!

Diego Bentz: Great deal, pendejo!!1!!

The Tribune Company: They're definitely not getting a bargain, but the rumor is that they're on the way out. They'll get a year or two of production, plus all the sundry ticket sales and ratings increases while whichever sap buys the team from them gets all the risk of a 72-year old Soriano hobbling around the outfield.

The Lerner Family: Ka-ching! That's $15 million of pure profit right there. I'm sure the martinis they make from the tears of DC schoolchildren tasted extra salty and delicious tonight. (You don't really think they're going to bump that savings back into the payroll, do you? HA!)

Stan Kasten: Woohoo! He doesn't have to take the PR hit of not signing Soriano. They supposedly offered a 5/$75 million offer, which the average Nats fan thinks is fair -- why would anyone need more than that to live, right? uh, yeah -- so there's no PR hit for losing Soriano. That's Bugs Bunny money, man!

Jim Bowden: Crap! Here come the second guessers. Baseball Prospectus has made a cottage industry out of ripping Bowden over the last three months for not trading Soriano at the deadline -- all based on a discredited Will Carroll report. Bowden was holding out for an A+ package at the deadline and likely didn't get much more than some Bs. (Nobody really knows though). Getting two first rounders was the fallback position, but because of the Cubs ineptitude, we'll only be getting a yummy sandwich -- on rye, please -- pick and the Cubs' second rounder. Better than nuttin', but it's a drop of about 10-15 draft places. Draft well, Mr. Rizzo. Draft well.

Nats Fans: @#$##$ Soriano was about the only thing worth watching last year. Watching Kory Casto grow -- even as he doesn't have a really high upside -- will be an interesting diversion, but Soriano's loss creates a chasm of excitement.

Cubs Fans: !!! Some are kvetching about the money, but the object is to win games, not have the most wins per marginal dollar. The Cubs needed an outfielder, and they got the best on the market. They likely went a year or two too long. And they're paying a million or two too much. But who the feck cares? They play in Chicago, not Peoria. Winning -- and Soriano's worth what? 5-7 wins over Juan Pierre? -- brings in a lot of dough. Meanwhile, they get an exciting player. Soriano's a lot of things, and he has flaws, but he's always exciting. Whether it's the moonshots that'll break glass across the street, or his base stealing, he's a fun player.

The Hack Blogger Who's Typing This Entry: I'm sorry to see Soriano go. But at that price, it's the right move. Still, I don't think this is a bad deal for the Cubs. Sure, they overpaid, but he's clearly going to improve the team, and the Cubs can certainly afford to overpay. The Cubs, last year, were done in by injuries to Lee, a manager who insisted on playing the worst possible lineups, and a weakass outfield. You've gotta believe that all three will be improved this year. If they can get anything out of Prior/Wood, plus with Rich Hill and a likely free agent pitcher or two, they've got as good a chance as any team as breaking out of that woeful division. Remember that St. Louis' entire rotation, practically, is going to leave via Free Agency, and Pettite and Clemens are likely abandoning Houston. The signing makes sense for the Cubs in a way that it wouldn't make sense for us.

That being said, it's time to put up or shut up for Kasten and Lerner. There's some misinformation in the Post account, and there're some questions that need answering.

Sez Bowden: "We just did not feel it was in the best interest of the team to go that many years and that many dollars. We felt those dollars were better utilized in other ways."

What ways are those dollars better utilized? Is the team going to invest the $14 million or so they had budgeted for Soriano (based on the reports of their contract offer) in other free agents? Will they go after the second tier of pitchers? Or are they going to go trawling through the twofer bin at the dollar store?

If the money is going to be reprogrammed as minor league money, where is it going to be spent? Are they really capable of spending that much, or even a portion of it, on the minor leagues?

Kasten, from the time he took over his position in July, wondered openly about whether spending a large portion of the team's payroll on one player made sense when the team wasn't very good with that player on the roster.

Kasten's certainly a master. As a businessman, he knows that this line is pure BS, but that it's one that certainly plays well in the press. If a $25 million player provides $25 million worth of value, it doesn't matter a damn bit whether your payroll is $50 million or of its $250 million. You're still getting value for your money. The question isn't about what percentage of a team's payroll a player takes up, it's one of what the true value of a player is. In Soriano's case, he was a bargain at $10 million, even if that's 20% of the Nats' payroll. At $17 million, of course, he's not.

But somehow Kasten (and he's hardly the only one guilty of this) has managed to spin the debate from what's real to a handy talking point that obfuscates the issue. Hey, I guess he really does know how DC works!

Going in the other direction leads towards Oriolism, where it's better to give 4 mediocrities like Kevin Millar and Jamie Walker $4 million contracts than it is to give one valuable player a $16 million one. The $16 million guy is likely a better buy.

The Nationals have made their strategy clear: Grow the team through player development, save money this offseason and be ready to spend beginning in 2008, when the club is scheduled to move into a new stadium in which it should generate millions more dollars of revenue.

Save money this offseason? Save implies that they're putting it into a bank, ready to use it in the coming years. It doesn't usually work that way. With MLB teams, a penny saved is a penny earned. That money doesn't flow from year-to-year. Unless they have a dramatically different accounting system -- which is highly unlikely -- from any other major league team, today's profit is pocketed. They'll look to the new stadium's revenues for their budgeting in 2008, not how much they banked this year.
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I'll be sad to see Soriano go. After hearing Guillen and Vidro kvetch about how it was impossible to hit homers at RFK, it was nice seeing him disprove them both. All you've gotta do is pull the freakin' ball down the line. Oh, and having world class power helps! In a lost season on the field, he was one of the few bright spots. Electricity didn't fill the stands much this year, and certainly not even close to the way it was in '05. But on the few times it did, chances are it was because of him.

My lasting memory of him is going to be of watching a rocket land in the bullpen in left, only to look down and see him rounding second in his trot with his head down while the crowd roared. I'll miss that a lot.

  • Update: Federal Baseball makes a good point. To properly evaluate the value of Soriano, one has to factor in that it effectively moves up, by a year, the compensation they'd have received had Brad Wilkerson walked via free agency. He's eligible at the end of the year. And, more importantly, because of the tightening of the classifications, there's a good chance that Wilk wouldn't have been a Type A anyway -- he's only a B this year, which would net just one ol' sandwich pick.

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