Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pavano Signing - A Symptom of a Greater Problem

The Indians made a solid moving in signing often injured Carl Pavano to a one-year $1.5 million incentive-laden contract (potentially reaching $5.3 million) early this week. And while I like adding Pavano from the low risk, high reward perspective, at the same time this move characterizes the type of team that the Indians have become.

As GM Mark Shapiro explained about the deal, "With our limited resources we were looking for a veteran with upside." The problem is, the Indians are always going to be a team with limited resources, which means the Pavano-type signings have become the norm during Tribe offseasons.

Since 2005, the Indians signed the following free agents who spent time in the majors:
  • Bob Wickman
  • Kevin Millword
  • Jason Bere
  • Billy Traber
  • Juan Gonzalez
  • Alex Cora
  • Paul Shuey
  • Paul Byrd
  • Lou Merloni
  • Tim Laker
  • Danny Graves
  • Steve Karsay
  • Einar Diaz
  • Jason Johnson
  • Todd Hollandsworth
  • Eduardo Perez
  • Felix Heredia
  • Mike Rose
  • Aaron Fultz
  • Roberto Hernandez
  • Joe Borowski
  • David Dellucci
  • Jeff Harris
  • Keith Ginter
  • Luis Rivas
  • Keith Foulke
  • Trot Nixon
  • Rich Rundles
  • Cliff Politte
  • Mike Koplove
  • Yamid Haad
  • Masa Kobayashi
  • Rick Bauer
  • Jeff Harris
  • Matt Ginter
  • Jorge Julio
  • Brendan Donnelly
  • Scott Elarton
  • Jason Tyner
  • Craig Breslow
  • Kerry Wood
  • Carl Pavano
If you examine this somewhat disgusting list, you'll know notice an obvious trend. Absent among these players is one bonafide star. Even the arguable "stars" on the list, players who were dominante at one point, Juan Gonzalez and Kevin Millwood, were signed with serious health concerns hanging over their heads. Sounds a little bit like the Wood and Pavano signings, right? In addition to these "injured stars" the list is populated by both has-beens (Trot Nixon, Roberto Hernandez) and never-weres (Rick Bauer, Mike Rose). These are players who should be filling out bench spots on rosters, not being counted on to produce significantly.

Let's face it, at this point it's clear that the Indians are never going to be in the hunt for a major all-star free agent, a Mark Teixeira, a Manny Ramirez or even an A.J. Burnett or Ben Sheets until Larry Dolan sells the team or the league implements some form of salary cap. Nor are the Indians ever going to be able to keep their own all-star talent for an extended period of time unless the player gives them a hometown discount, which almost never happens - just look at Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Ramirez C.C. Sabathia or Albert Belle. Does anyone really think it's possible that Grady will stay here when he becomes a free agent in a few years?

I have no problem with the Indians taking a chance on a guy - like the Kevin Millwood signing, a cheap one-year incentive ladden contract, which can benefit both sides if it works out - which is essentially this Carl Pavano deal. The problem remains though that almost anyone the Indians can afford to sign or pursue will always have some sort of significant downfall. And when you're relying on a team full of flawed players, the results aren't often pretty. In fact, it could certainly be argued that Indians were a "star" away from being in the World Series 2 of the past 4 years. Or even a decent player. Perhaps if we had opted for a Jose Guillen instead of a Jason Tyner?

Look, I hope at the end of this season, Carl Pavano has earned his full $5.3 million by pitching his 35 starts and at least his 235 innings. The more money Pavano makes, the better the Indians have done on the year. And let's be clear - I like this signing. I just wish that the Pavano-type signings that the Indians have been making that past few years weren't the only sort of deals that this team was making.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Biff said...

Good article. The only thing I disagree with is your contention that Dolan selling the team would make a difference. Unless he sold the team to Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or T. Boone Pickens, the payroll probably wouldn't increase. Baseball owners are business men. The only way the indians can generate a little more revenue is by boosting attendance and even then, the increase in revenue probably wouldn't be enough to offset the cost of a star. For example, if they spend $20 million a year on a guy like Sabbathia or Teixiera, they would probably need an extra 10,000 fans a game for 81 home games to justify the price. Could they reasonably expect that kind of boost? No way. First of all, we're in a recession without a new ballpark (unlike our high payroll years in the 90's) and stars in baseball generally don't equate to many additional wins.

The 2007 Indians won 96 games, had a Cy Young winner, and the best young pitcher in baseball and drew 28,000 a game.

Botton line: This is a Browns town in a massive recession that also just happens to have the best athlete in the world playing 41 home games a year in it. No matter who Dolan or anyone else signs, the town just isn't equipped to sell out 81 home games a year anymore. Signing a big name star makes little baseball sense and even less economic sense.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

I disagree Biff. While obviously baseball is the only sport that doesn't have the balancing aspect of a salary cap - could you honestly tell me that if George Steinbrenner had purchased this team back in the seventies that he wouldn't have spent the same money he spent in New York. Or even a Dan Gilbert - who is willfully paying money out of his own pocket towards the luxury tax in the NBA while trying to put the Cavs over the top.

Dolan doesn't have to sell the team to a billionaire for this team to be willing to spend money. I'm sure there are plenty general businessman who would be willing to do what it takes to bring in a high caliber player to help this team.

With Dolan, the bottom line is always going to matter. Winning isn't first - it's making a profit or at least breaking even. Dolan has spent money (Westbrook, Hafner), and I'm not even arguing that we should be offering C.C. anywhere near the deal which he got. But when players like Ben Sheets or Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell (who just signed a very reasonable deal with the Devil Rays) - I'd like for the Tribe to be able to make those sort of moves, and not consistently hanging their hopes on a Pavano being healthy for the first time in five years or a David Dellucci showing that he's anything more than a part-time player. Signing two part time players just doesn't work, when those are the only signings that you're making.

Art Brosef said...

Biff is right. When the tribe was selling out in the mid 90s, it was the perfect storm. The Browns were gone, the cavs were terrible, the Indians were good, exciting, and played in a brand new stadium. Oh yeah, and people had a little more discretionary income back then as well.

This is not an Indians problem, this is a baseball problem. Tribe signings cannot be judged against the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, etc. They play a different game. The Indians have to do the best they can with what they have, and all things considered, they do a pretty good job.

Biff said...

Dude, you're flat out wrong. Would Steinbrenner be spending the same money if he owned the Indians? Are you out of your god damn mind? The Yankees PRINT MONEY. He can buy all those guys and still make a profit. He spends money because he wants to win but he wouldn't be doing it if he had to take a bath on the revenue.

The same is true with Gilbert. Gilbert isn't just spending money right now to win. He's spending money because he has to protect his investment. If Lebron bolts, the value of the Franchise will be decimated. It makes good economic sense to blow past the luxury tax line for this Cavs team right now.

I'm not saying all owners are created equal. Some just try to suck every last penny out of their investment (See Sterling, Donald). But we're talking about a collection of very rich people who don't just invest in something for the fun of it. Owners universally hate losing money.

If Dolan could look at the numbers and justify bringing in a big name free agent, I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to do it. As much flack as he gets in this town, he wants to win. But Adam Dunn? Pat Burrell? Those guys might help you win a few extra games but 1) they're not championship calliber difference makers and 2) they aren't going to put extra asses in the seats.

Paying either of those guys millions of dollars to play bad defense, strike out a billion times, and hit 30 homers would make NO SENSE.

Sorry man. I respectfully disagree with you.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

I think the point is, is that there is the perception that Dolan won't spend the money it takes to bring in a key piece.

As a fan, who right now most likely has to choose between what sporting event to attend, it's hard to get behind a team that doesn't at least appear willing to spend the money necessary to put us over the top. Look at our big signing this offseason - Kerry Wood. No doubt an important signing in terms of filling a hole on this team - but what was the fan response - mild to semi-excited at best.

Indians fans have nothing to be excited about. You know and I know that this team has the potential to be good, but this is the same team that has failed to live up to expectations two of the past three years.

Do I think Dunn or Burrell would put fans in the seats? Yes I do. Dunn crushing homeruns would bring a level of interest to this team thats been lacking recently. When you watch an Indians' game right now - the only person who people will actually stop to watch at the plate is Grady.

The point is unless people believe Dolan will spend the money (and we keep being told he when spend when the moment is right - a reoccurring refrain)- they ask why they should bother spending the money themselves to support the team. It's a Catch-22 situation- Dolan wants money to build a winning team, whereas the fans want a winning team to spend money. When Dolan says - hey revenue is down because you're not attending the games - that only serves to discourage people from attending the games even more because Dolan has made the game about money - not about winning.

An owner like Steinbrenner - even if he was here without the Yankees Brinks trucks - is so obviously passionate about winning, that I think the fans can see that. When an owner makes it all about money, you can't blame the fans from getting turned off.

In the end, I think Dolan is probably bothered if the Indians don't do as well as he would have liked, but no so much as to do something drastic about it.

Biff said...

I see what you're saying but as an owner, you still have to make moves that make good economic sense.

Don't overestimate the baseball knowledge of the common fan. We're talking about a group comprised largely of corporate types and casual fans that know little about the players and even less about the game. I would bet that the majority of people who fill up Progressive field on any given night have no idea who Pat Burrell is let alone what he could bring to the Indians. They know maybe the top 50 players in the game and even if the Indians signed one of them, the impact on their decision to attend games would be marginal. The overall impact wouldn't be enough to justify the insane contracts handed out to top shelf players.

The best way for the Indians to win is through the farm system, the latin american program, and solid trades. Trying to pander to a largely ignorant fan base through shorsighted free-agent signings is a recipe for disaster.

Middle aged man keeping score at the ballpark said...

How Dare you denigrate us true Indians fans' knowledge of the game!!! We know Pat Burrell-- he is like a less dreamy Casey Blake (Casey Blake, now THERE's a terrific glue guy!), and Adam Dunn--he plays the game the RIGHT way (and reminds me of my ultimate hero Jim Thome)SIGH!! Wait. where was I?

crymeacuyahogariverblog.blogspot.com said...

Alvaro,

It seems you think that its impossible for an owner to put fans in the seats unless he brings in a home run hitter (chicks dig the long ball). Kerry Wood is still a huge name in baseball. And as a closer he theoretically could play several days in a row.

Clearly a big name starting pitcher doesn't bring in the fans or win championships because we had C.C. for years and couldn't get either.

You want to sign a 35 home run outfielder like Dunn or Burrell to bring in fans and win more games. I've got news for you, those guys are not going to bring in fans.

And we have lots of depth in the outfield in this organization at AAA waiting for the chance to get the call up that would be prevented by such a signing. You know what would bring in fans, Matt LaPorta in right field. Fans want to know if we got a superstar in exchange for C.C. There is at least a little bit of tie to the guy in this town as he was traded for, as opposed to some mercenary we hire for a year or two who strikes out way too often.

LaPorta may not be ready til midseason, or at all this season. But unless signing Dunn makes us a world series team, there is no point in bringing him in when he prevents us from getting our young studs a chance to play. It's those young studs that we will rely on to win the championship (hopefully sooner rather than later), and the ones fans care to come see.

Maybe Dunn or Burrell would make us a championship team. Maybe fans would come. No one knows for sure. This is just one man's opinion.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

Biff:

I'm not saying make a move for the sake of making a move. And I agree that it's important to build up the team the right way, through the minor leagues and trades- which is why the team is doing as well as has done - because we can identify talented players in other organizations.

The point remains however, if Dolan appears doesn't seem to care about investing in the team, than why should the average fan.

And Middle Age has a point - the average baseball fan probably knows more than you give them credit for. And if baseball fans are as ignorant as you seem to think - wouldn't Dunn be an ideal player to appease them- one who hits majestic homeruns? Defensive concerns wouldn't even register.

Biff said...

Alvaro:

Dolan can't win with the fans in this town. He bought the team at the end of an absolutely magical run in the 90's and there's nothing he can do to make things "as good" for the fans as it was then.

The 2007 Indians were every bit as good as some of the teams in the 90's. You could even argue that they came as close to winning a title as any Cleveland team in our generation other than the 97 Indians. They were up 3-1 with an absolute tomato can waiting for them in the World Series. Didn't matter. The second half of that season, Indians fans still didn't come out to the ballpark.

Dolan can't win. I repeat, Dolan can't win. There is no reason for him to spend more money to reinforce that point. The only thing he can do to help himself is keep building contenders. The way to do that, as was just pointed out, is by building the team around guys like LaPorta, Sizemore, Brantley, Carmona, Santana, etc. Pat Burell and Adam Dunn would be an absolute black hole in Cleveland. Everyone would lose.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

Cuyahoga,

Dunn, Burrell, they're just examples. I think it's quite possible to win and put fans in the seats with our current team, if the team performs well. However, as we saw with the playoff team of two seasons ago - fans won't become interested until late in the season.

What I want, is the owner to at least make the appearance of concern over winning. We get the LaPortas of the world because we can't keep the C.C.s. And if LaPorta is as great as expected - we will enjoy him for a few years until he leaves us for greener pastures. It wears on the fans, knowing that we're producing talent for the bigger teams, while ourselves in a perpetual state of rebuilding and taking shots on mediocre players, or firing one big shot at a player who has serious injury concerns, which Wood does.

Wood was injured for even part of last season - and I will make a large bet that he ends up on the DL for a chunk of this season.

I want, and I'm guessing, other fans want, something to get excited about. Wood isn't doing it for me. Pavano isn't doing it for me. Dunn, for example, would do it for.

Wood could potentially pitch multiple days - but a closer is only valuable if the team has given him a lead to protect.

Biff said...

Alvaro:

The Indians can't afford to make appeasement signings when they have holes to fill. You can't a token 7-10 million dollar a year guy just because you think the fans have heard of him and will get excited about him when you're trying to patch enough legitimate holes to put together a contender.

As for fans not buying in to young players, I disagree. The reserve system allows a smart team to hold on to its young players for a long time. Look at C.C. and Sizemore. The Indians use free-agency restrictions to their advantage and lock these guys up for the first decade of their careers. Would it be nice to have them in their 30's? Of course. But i'd rather try to win with them in their 20's. If you can't win a title with 10 years of Sabbathia and 10 years of Sizemore, you have a GM to blame, not a stingy owner.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

Biff:

Dolan can't win because he's clearly indicated that this is a business for him, which turns off the fans. Additionally, Dolan promised to spend money when the time was right. Other than Hafner and Westbrook, the fans are still waiting for the time to be right.

Dunn and Burrell are just example signings - not necessarily players who I think would have been wise to sign given our current roster and needs. However, I would have thoroughly explored signing Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets to perhaps a 3-year deal, in conjunction with, or instead of Pavano.

I don't need an appeasement signing. I just want to feel like Dolan is in it to win it, first and foremost, not to make a buck. Right now, he hasn't really shown the fans otherwise.

Biff said...

You're ignorning extensions for guys like Sizemore which, I would argue, should be far more meaningful to a knowledgeable fan than any free-agent signing.

You bring up guys like Sheets and Lowe. Think about how expensive those guys are... now think about how many years you'd have to give them...now think about the odds that one or both of them would get hurt...now think about the odds that one or both of them would be a bust...now think about how many more games those guys will win next year vs. a Pavano or Aaron Laffey type.

Do you think that's worth double-digit millions per year to any reasonable owner? Free-agency is the biggest sucker bet of all time. The only logical way to play the game is with cheap shor-term contracts that protect the team from financial ruin.

The Indians are doing it the right way. I'd rather them keep trying to get lucky with more guys like Millwood and Pavano then have them get stuck owing $30 or $40 million to a middle age pitcher that broke down or lost his stuff.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

"I'd rather them keep trying to get lucky with more guys like Millwood and Pavano..."

The problem is, the Indians cannot always rely on luck. It's fair more likely that Pavano will be a bust than Sheets (who has his own injury concerns) or Lowe. I suppose you'd rather pay a little money to take a large gamble - where I'd rather us spend more money for a safer bet. I'd be willing to sign a Lowe or a Sheets at a reasonable - 3 years 33 million type thing - if they could be had at that price. Betting on Pavano to be healthy for the first time in five years is a huge gamble. And, as we saw with Borowski or a Jorge Julio, the Indians feel obligated to run the guy out there to justify the signing - even when it becomes clear it's a waste of time. How many starts will we give Pavano if it's clear he's not performing - 5, 10?

Biff said...

The difference is, if a guy like Pavano busts, you try again next year or you give a younger guy a chance. If you're handing out big multi-year deals and you miss, well then you have to explain to your fanbase that you just pissed away all the free-agent money for the next few years.

You're better off as a small-market organization to retain your flexibility than to put all your eggs in one or two free-agent baskets.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

Biff - isn't that basically what we did with the Wood deal?

Biff said...

Kind of. The difference is in the position though. Closers, even a newer one like Wood are 1) harder to find than starting pitchers, 2) more consistent from year to year than starting pitchers, and 3) more difficult to find from within than outfielders.

Plus, they only gave him a two-year deal. Good luck signing Ben Sheets to a two year deal.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

I'd argue that it's harder to find a quality starting pitcher than a closer - and least we forget Wood has closed for exactly one season. Every year top closers fall off (Lidge, Fuentes),the position is actually very volatile, except for the best of the bunch. You can also look to homegrown closers like Soria, Chris Ray, two years ago, or even Huston Street, Bobby Jenks or Matt Capps. Jensen Lewis could have been that guy for us.

I think at this point Sheets is just as likely to sign a one year deal somewhere, like Kyle Lohse last year, and reenter the market next year, than he is to sign a multi-year deal.

Biff said...

A fair point on the closers. I would just say that I think Wood may be in that elite group after another season or two of closing. His stuff is certainly every bit as good as the elite closers.

I disagree with you on Sheets. I bet his agent will make sure he gets a multi-year deal so that he's still getting paid when his arm falls off.