The TSD Best of 2010 Debate… Bad Contracts and Great Context

December 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

This was an easy year to love here at TSD. Not only do we enjoy providing entertaining and informative analysis of the current world of sports, we love giving historical context to modern events. In fact, it is the history surrounding a given event that provides the context necessary to understand, appreciate, disparage, or lament. Context and history gives fanaticism meaning. That’s our charge here at The Sports Debates, to give fandom meaning, a dose of reality, yet still keep it entertaining.

In the department of entertaining, there are a few people, organizations, and cities that we pick on routinely. We pick on these not because we are out for blood, but because they routinely showcase everything that should not be done in sports.

We pick on guys like Barry Zito who do everything they can to score a huge contract, and then refuse to hold up their end of the bargain (if you can call it a bargain) and play well. We also pick on the Toronto Blue Jays as we are all baffled by how that city still has an MLB team. We also pick on the Chicago Cubs, because few sports organizations in the history of the world do a worse job of getting out of its own way. It’s laughable and comical. I should know, since I’m a lifelong fan.

My favorite debate of the past year is the “The 2010 Worst Contract in Baseball Debate” as it combines these perpetual sports realities, coincidentally all in MLB, into one neat package that really showcases what this website is all about.

The debate revolved around Barry Zito – who still fails to live up to what he was supposed to be when he signed that huge contract with a San Francisco Giants team that managed to win a World Series without him – Vernon Wells, and Alfonso Soriano.

You, our loyal readers, voted for the winner in this debate and scored us a tie between Barry Zito and Alfonso Soriano. Though the debate still remains tied, it was full of some of the best historical context and most entertaining one liners in any debate all year. My personal favorite line is from Babe Ruthless’ article about Barry Zito where he writes:

Barry Zito was brought to the City by the Bay to be a franchise player, the face of the organization. As it turns out he became a face the organization would probably want to put a paper bag over.

Great line, something the Babe has become known for in his career here at TSD, a tenure that just cracked the one year mark.

My favorite breakdown of the year was the one on Soriano’s contract. What is interesting about is that reviewing the history of Soriano’s career before he came to the Cubs, there was really no good reason to sign him to a huge deal. He had never proven that he understood the game very well, or that any of his processes and abilities were repeatable. In fact, all he has done is prove that he’s a one pitch hitter, an below average outfielder, and a selfish guy who never seems willing to work hard enough to actually contribute to making a team better. Further, realizing that Soriano is the ninth highest paid player in all of MLB is staggering. Considering the actual talent that resides at positions 1-8, it is mind-blowing that Soriano has found his way on to this list.

It was a great debate concept, too. This is a debate that we can have annually in every major professional sport. Heck, maybe we will.

I am also thrilled that Optimist Prime joined our ranks this year. His eternal optimism provides some superb context and a reminder that it is easy for fans to get cynical, and when they do they lose touch with reality. Sports teams are forever doomed to failure. Optimist is important because he reminds us of that. He’s the type of fan that walks Bleacher Fan in off the ledge of Browns Stadium.

I hope you have all enjoyed your sports year as much as we’ve enjoyed writing about it for you. It’s been a strange year in many ways, and a routine year in many others. I look forward to 2011. I hope that we have both an NBA season and an NFL season. Regardless, we’ll have plenty of debates for you. Now that 2010 is history, it becomes part of the history we’ll draw on to keep bringing you what you’ve come to expect from TSD.

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The Most Hated MLB Team Debate… What’s So Lovable About the Cubs?

May 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

The Sports Debates recently came across an article that states that the Cleveland Indians are the most hated team in baseball. It shocked all of us. First and foremost, I didn’t realize enough people even cared about the Indians these days with Mr. James still in town wearing a Cavalier uniform. I also haven’t found too many people to say that they hate the Indians. They bring up no feelings of passion from casual fans in other parts of the country, and that’s always a measuring stick for me. Nonetheless, we decided to have a little mid-week fun today and discuss the most hated team in baseball.

I think almost every non-Yankee fan despises the Yankees as there is no middle ground there. I’m going to go off path a little today and write that people are getting sick and tired of those supposed lovable losers from the North side of Chicago. What exactly is so lovable about them? I write this realizing I am stepping on Sports Geek’s toes and risk alienating him (Editor’s Note: Don’t piss off the editor)!

I used to not dislike the Cubbies. I remember distinctly rushing home from school in the late 1980s and early 1990s just to see the Cubs on WGN. The Cubs have that 2:20p eastern time start, and it was always a treat to hear Harry Caray call a game. I would usually get home in time to see the start of the fourth inning. I became quite familiar with players like Ryan Sandberg, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, and Doug Dascenzo. I can still see it now. But somewhere along the line I got sick of the Cubs and their fans.

Maybe I can blame Steve Bartman for that, or perhaps I should say the reaction of the fans to him. Sure, Bartman interfered with the foul ball down the left field line. But did Bartman blow a 3-0 eighth inning lead that game? Did Bartman lose Game 7 the next night? If you were to hear some Cubs fans talk you would think Bartman is the root of all evil. Heck, maybe they are blaming Bartman for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Got to blame someone right? I’ve personally always thought the Jeffrey Maier incident in the Yankees-Orioles ALCS game back in 1996 had a bigger impact. But, no, that isn’t the belief in the Windy City.

Maybe it’s because I get sick and tired of hearing Cubs fans complain when I go to a game involving the Cubs. I’ve been to a few Cubs games in Atlanta over the years and they whine worse than Bleacher Fan’s boy Dwight Howard. They think they are entitled to something, and they think the baseball gods owe them a thing or two. That is incorrect. Poor Cubbie fans! Haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Heck, they haven’t even been to a World Series in what, 65 years? That’s not my fault. It’s not my fault the team couldn’t make it to the World Series with two aces like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in the rotation. It’s not my fault Dusty Baker likes toothpicks. It’s not my fault the White Sox, the cross-town rivals, won a World Series in 2005. And, please, enough with the Curse of the Billy Goat and trying to reverse the curse! The only way to reverse the so-called curse is to win on the field. So quit whining!

Maybe I get the wrath of some of our loyal Cub readers. If so bring it on. But with a show of fingers, how many World Series have the beloved Cubs have won in your lifetime? I’m waiting………….! This is why the Cubs should be the most hated team in baseball. They talk the talk, but haven’t walked the walk in our lifetime!

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The Firing an MLB GM Debate… Hendry’s Approach Makes Consistent Winning Elusive

April 19, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Okay, so this must be obvious to you loyal readers. “Of course Sports Geek wants to fire Jim Hendry,” you may be thinking. “He thinks the worst contract in baseball belongs to Alfonso Soriano, therefore the worst GM must be Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry.”

If you are thinking that, quit patting yourself on the back – you’re only partly right. While Soriano’s contract is DEFINITELY the worst in baseball, it is just one of the few gems Hendry has cobbled together during his tenure as general manager for the Cubs. But, before diving into another vitriolic catharsis for Sports Geek, allow me to first compliment Jim Hendry.

Part of the reason Hendry is most deserving of a pink slip is because he set expectations very high for himself when he first was named GM with the Cubs.

July 5, 2002. Cubs fans everywhere have assumed their normal levels of frustration as the season is already over. After that season Hendry made a few valuable, shrewd moves that made many fans into believers. First, he signed Dusty Baker as Cubs manager. At the time that seemed like a good move, given that Baker was coming off of a season where he managed the Giants to the World Series. Then he traded away rightfully unpopular Cubs catcher Todd Hundley in return for two players that would help the Cubs get to within a fistful of outs of the 2003 World Series – Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek. After a couple of seemingly solid moves Hendry upped the anty again by trading flamed out prospects Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez to the Pirates for Aramis Ramirez. Signing bench players Kenny Lofton and Randal Simon made a good season of moves a great one.

At this point, the first-time GM is riding an incredible high of success, even after the bitter loss to the Marlins in the Bartman-dominated NLCS. Then he traded for the one player that killed the Cubs in the NLCS – first baseman Derrek Lee. Now it seemed as though the Cubs would be unstoppable thanks to the savvy leadership of a strong GM.

Though the team failed to make the World Series, it appeared as though they were set up to win for a long time. Strong pitching, plenty of pop in the lineup, and enough relief pitchers to make the game manageable.

I think Hendry’s star began to fade with the Sammy Sosa trade in 2005, two years removed from his peak. Hendry waited too long to pull the trigger on that move, and got only Jerry Hairston, Jr., Mike Fontenot, and a dude named Dave Crouthers in return. More was on the table for Sosa if Hendry had the guts to jettison him sooner, knowing the type of negative clubhouse presence Sosa had established himself as.

After a series of small, meaningless moves Hendry agreed with Dusty Baker that the team needed a strong leadoff hitter. For some reason Hendry believed that hitter was Juan Pierre. To this day I do not understand how he could have traded for Juan Pierre, let alone let three talented young pitchers slip through the system. Hendry was never big on on-base percentage, either – which is odd since baseball leaders began being down with OBP long ago. Hendry should have realized that Pierre’s career .347 OBP was not going to help the club much. Not to mention the fact that Pierre was coming off a career worst OBP of .326. Better was needed.

After the Pierre head-scratcher, and a few more meaningless moves, Hendry traded away Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis. It’s true that Maddux had an expiring contract and was unsure of his status at season’s end, but the Cubs always needed strong starting pitching, especially when the playoffs rolled around. Hendry traded a viable, albeit aging, Hall-of-Famer for a one-time gold glover with a .259 career batting average. Look out, Neifi Perez, here comes your position battle.

Then came the under-the-radar but important decision to give up Josh Hamilton for cash after drafting him in the Rule 5 draft. Hendry admitted liking Hamilton but did not have the guts to stick to his guns about him.

The big free agent offseason, when Hendry signed Ted Lilly and Alfonso Soriano, again proved that Hendry’s nose for talent was stuffy. Lilly has been solid, not great, and Soriano has been a shell of his former self. Hendry cannot argue money was limiting his own ability, since he had a lot of money to work with that offseason and wasted it on yet another player in Soriano that would not know consistency if it hit him in the face over and over and over… well, you get the drift.

Some Cubs fans felt that Hendry had recaptured the magic when trading a handful of teetering prospects for A’s pitcher Rich Harden. Harden’s injury history, however, precluded him from having the type of dependable spot in the rotation any playoff team needs – and that was a known issue with Harden. While talented, Harden made the management process more complicated after eliminating the babying needs from the staff in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

Some Cubs fans also liked bringing in Lou Piniella as the new manager of the Cubs after finally firing Dusty Baker – at least one year too late. And, though Piniella is not immune to mistakes, a roster chalked full of bloated contracts and empty uniforms like the Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Geovany Soto create a very difficult situation. It is evident that Piniella still understands how to manage a team. But the talent he has to work with – which Hendry is responsible for – is preventing success.

The problems with Jim Hendry, other than questionable trades and managerial hirings, come down to philosophy. Hendry believes the Cubs should be built around pitchers who can get strike outs and hitters who can hit home runs. This is an unrealistic approach to GMing at Wrigley. Those homers seem great when the wind is blowing out. But it blows in a lot, too. The Cubs have never been able to create runs under Hendry with a lineup full of professional hitters who can hit and run or simply bunt a run over. The Cubs, under Hendry, have never been a team able to put constant pressure on opposing hitters. It is all or nothing with the Cubs’ lineup… with the latter usually winning out.

Constructing a team around strike outs and home runs is not the way to build consistent production that is necessary to win October. The Cubs no longer have the luxury of lovably losing. They must win a World Series, or else the only consistency Hendry has given the Cubs is a commitment to losing.

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The 2010 Best Rotation for the Money Debate… Marlins Rotation Delivers Greatest Pitching Value

April 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

Well, the Florida Marlins are up to their old tricks again. The not-so-lovable cheapskates have again stockpiled talent in a very under-the-radar manner. While the offensive talent is debatable (for another day), the pitching rotation talent is secure. In fact, for the money, the Marlins have the best rotation in baseball.

For proof of my seemingly bold statement take a moment and review the salaries of each pitching rotation in baseball. The Yankees… it is hard to argue with the money that organization has spent on pitching considering it did earn a World Series championship. Still, $63M-plus is a lot of money just for pitching. The Cubs are laughably overpaying for that mishmash of talent that includes Carlos Silva as one of the more highly paid members of the staff. The top ten are all over $30M, 11-18 on the list all surpass $20M, and 19-27 all exceed $10M for a five-man rotation. The most value is found in the sub-$10M range.

Now, I have written here at The Sports Debates about how great I believe Seattle’s rotation is this season. I have also sung the praises of the San Francisco Giants. For me, however, the Marlins provide the most value. They feature a lot of talent considering the measly price tag of $9.6M for an entire five man rotation.

Josh Johnson ($3.75M committed for 2010 season) – when healthy – may be one of the top pitchers in the National League. The 2009 season finally yielded health and consistency for Johnson, who was able to squeeze in over 200 innings. Johnson struck out nearly 200 (191 to be exact) and had an impressive 3.23 ERA. The 15-5 record – along with two complete games – solidifies both his role as the staff’s ace and the fact that Johnson is still part prospect.

Former Chicago Cubs farmhand Ricky Nolasco ($3.8M committed for 2010 season) will prove the rule – just wait. What rule? The rule that ex-Cubs become great. Former Cubs’ minor leaguers, once traded, always seem to have nice careers (can you tell I’m a Cubs fan??). Nolasco battled injuries and confidence dips last season but often showed flashes of potential. In 2008 Nolasco posted a 3.52 ERA and notched 15 wins, very reachable goals for the hefty right-hander. Nolasco showed in the final two weeks of the 2009 season that he has the ability to be a dominant pitcher. In his last three outings he struck out 33 batters and gave up just five earned runs.

Third in the rotation is Anibal Sanchez ($1.25M committed for 2010 season), a young right-hander who already has a no-hitter under his belt. Like Nolasco, Sanchez has battled injury problems, having made only 32 starts in the last three seasons. Sanchez did, however, manage to make 16 starts in 2009 and post a promising 3.87 ERA. In his last seven starts in 2009 Sanchez had only one start that was not a quality start (going 4.2 innings in a game the team still won 11-3). In those same seven starts Sanchez only gave up 12 earned runs.

Fourth is the mercurial Chris Volstad ($420,000 committed for 2010 season). Many of you may know him as the pitcher who had a 2.67 ERA in April last season, when you most-assuredly picked him up off of waivers in your fantasy league. No doubt you were not too pleased when his ERA ballooned to nearly five in May, then nearly seven in June. He averaged an ERA of over nine in the last two months of the season. Nevertheless, if Volstad can extend his magical April touch to the rest of the season he will be tough to face.

Newly acquired Nate Robertson (who is still getting the vast majority of his salary paid for by the Detroit Tigers) is not being counted on to be a major contributor. But, because most of his cash is coming from Detroit, anything Robertson gives the Marlins is gravy. He will have the time to regain his pitching form without the high(ish) pressure and expectations in Detroit. If Robertson can stay relatively healthy and pitch 110 innings, the Marlins are getting another value-oriented contributor to the rotation.

The Marlins have a pitcher-friendly ballpark and a fast and athletic defense, too. The actual talent of the pitchers is, of course, the most important reason why the Marlins’ rotation provides the most bang for the buck. But when the pitchers are not getting strike outs, a speedy defense has their collective backs. The combination of pitchers with great stuff – even no-hitter stuff – and the defense behind them gives the Florida Marlins the best rotation for the money in baseball this season.

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The Bad Team with an MVP Player Debate – Failure is NOT a Valuable Contribution!

October 1, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that a league MVP CAN come from a lousy team.

Every team in the league has an MVP. It does not matter if that team wins 90 games, or loses 90 games, there is one player who is the most valuable to the organization in any given year.

There are also league honors in place for recognition of that player’s accomplishments. Such honors are All-Star invitations, contract bonuses, team MVP awards, even Hall of Fame candidacy for the truly special. Each of those honors exists to recognize a player’s performance on the field, and each are completely blind to the condition of the team on which that player is a member.

There are 30 different Team-MVPs every year in Major League Baseball.

Each of those player’s individual contributions were most valuable, in the context of their teams performance, and each one is duly recognized for those contributions.

When you talk about a League MVP, though, you have to consider their contributions in the scope of LEAGUE performance, not just TEAM performance.

A League’s Most Valuable Player is not necessarily the best hitter… that is what the Silver Slugger award is for. He is also not the best pitcher… those guys get the Cy Young. As for the best fielders, the Gold Glove award is their recognition.

The League’s Most Valuable Player is the award that should be reserved for the one player whose contributions were so vital that their team would not have been able to attain success without him. Consider the most valuable player from each team. Which player had the single greatest contribution to the success of their team in comparison to the other teams? Sometimes that contribution is leading a team to a Division Championship, or a Wild Card berth. That contribution could ALSO simply mean that a player’s performance was so good that a team which would have otherwise been bad was able to remain competitive throughout the season. Maybe they did not reach the playoffs, but they finished at third in the standings instead of dead last, all thanks to the player’s performance.

Sports Geek brings up the example of the 1987 National League MVP award, which was given to Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs finished 1987 with a record of 76-85. I am curious to know what contribution Dawson made to the team that was SO great that he was named the Most Valuable Player of the entire National League that year, when his team only managed to win 76 games! Is it that the Cubs would have only won 40 games if Dawson had NOT played?!

When discussing the qualities of a LEAGUE MVP (league is the operative word, here), you have to consider the scope of their performance as it compares to the ENTIRE league!

The 1987 Cubs finished 18.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals that year. Do you know who played shortstop for the Cards’ in 1987? It was a guy by the name of Ozzie Smith… ever heard of him? That year, Smith hit with a .303 batting average, had 182 hits, batted in 75 runs, an on-base percentage of .392, and committed only 10 errors for a fielding percentage of .987! Smith also managed to draw 89 walks on the year, with only 36 strike-outs on the entire season. Oh, by the way, Smith also helped lead his team to a Division Championship in the NL East, and into the World Series.

How did Andre Dawson compare? Dawson finished the 1987 season with a batting average of .287 (that’s .016 BEHIND Smith), 178 hits (4 BEHIND Smith), and an on-base percentage of .328 (.064 BEHIND Smith). He also drew only 32 walks (57 BEHIND Smith) but struck out 103 times (67 MORE than Smith). In the field, Dawson committed 4 errors for a fielding percentage of .986 (which is close, but still .001 BEHIND Smith). The only thing that Dawson had that Smith did not was the long-ball, as he hit 49 home runs that year, compared to Smith, who did not hit any.

The MVP is not for the person with the most home runs!

In 1987, Ozzie Smith was a more consistent and reliable hitter, a better fielder, and led his team to a World Series appearance. Dawson did nothing more than hit a lot of home runs for a crappy team. If that is all it takes to win the League MVP award, then there have been many hitters who got robbed!

Criterion for voting on a League MVP should exceed rating the power behind a hitter’s swing. The criteria for this award should be to evaluate the player’s total contribution to the team, and the relative benefit that the team gained from that contribution. When comparing the contributions that Smith and Dawson made to their respective teams AND how that contribution translated into league competition, Smith comes out ahead by MILES! Dawson may have been the MVP of the Chicago Cubs in 1987, but he should NOT have been the National League MVP.

Moving forward once again to present day, the same principles still apply. The MVP of the league is NOT supposed to be the award for the person who hits the most home runs. It should be awarded to the one person in the league whose contributions were SO vital that the team would not have achieved the success they did without him. THAT is what the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER of the league provides… the MOST VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION of the league.

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The Stephen Strasburg Contract Debate – Strasburg is Making Out Like a Bandit!

August 27, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan that the Washington Nationals got the better end of the Stephen Strasburg contract.

What a college career this pitcher had. He notched 25 wins against just seven losses, had an ERA of just 2.56, tossed seven complete games (three of which were shutouts), racked up 345 strikes outs and had a teeny WHIP of just 1.06. Impressive. Not the type of talent that comes through the Major League Baseball draft every year. So, it makes sense for that player to receive a record contract. And, Mark Prior DID get that record contract, $10.5M back in 2001.

Prior’s contract from the Chicago Cubs set the precedent for Stephen Strasburg’s contract from the Washington Nationals. Sure Strasburg’s contract exceeds the totals in Prior’s, $15.1M for Strasburg to $10.5M for Prior. But, in 2001 it was a record. (It is a good thing the Cubs did not take that bum that fell to fifth in that draft – Mark Teixeira).

Strasburg actually has better stats than Prior, too – thus the better contract (here is a side by side comparison of their college statistics from The Baseball Cube… FYI – great site). While Prior had three more wins, Strasburg’s ERA was nearly one entire run less than Prior’s. He also surpassed Prior’s strikeout total with 375 and four complete game shutouts. Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, played hardball and won a record contract for his client, the number one overall pick on the Major League Baseball amateur draft. It makes sense that Strasburg is getting the better end of the deal than the Nationals because, for starters, he has the largest contract ever for an MLB draft pick.

Another important reason Strasburg is getting the better end of this deal? Injuries. Prior is the perfect comparison because injuries have completely ruined a once bright pitching future. Yet, Prior’s five year deal let him reach salary arbitration quickly – and option he exercised to his gain. In 2006 – just four years after his rookie contract took effect – Prior opted out of the $2M guaranteed money and won salary arbitration for $3.65M and a one-year deal. Despite injuries and rehab assignments and countless simulated games, Prior won that salary arbitration hearing. How does this impact Strasburg? The Nationals did not buy out the first two arbitration eligible years in the contract (something Boras likely fought tooth and nail against). Right now the tentative target is for Strasburg to make his debut in the Majors in 2011. He will be eligible for salary arbitration in 2013 – just two years after Major League service time. If he pitches up to the tremendous hype, he will command a substantial raise. The Nationals had the opportunity to take a hard line on this issue, but did not. Their decision skews Strasburg’s deal even more in his favor.

This contract, down to the dotted i’s and crossed t’s, are all tilted in favor Stephen Strasburg. Of course the Nationals are getting a great pitcher (barring injury… here come the Prior comparisons again…). But, unlike football where a single rookie player CAN make a significant impact on a team, baseball teams need more than one good starter to contend. The Nationals have tied up a good bit of money in a player that will likely not be ready for the Majors, despite the talent, until 2011. If they spend money to build a contending team around Strasburg, but the time his arbitration hearing comes up in 2013 – after just two years of potential MLB service time – they may not be able to afford the star player they added pieces around.

The Nationals have a history of dubious personnel decisions. Strasburg is definitely a good draft pick and a good player to have on the roster. But the contract is so tilted in Strasburg’s favor that it is possible the Nationals will develop him – and pay him a LOT of money – but not reap the benefits of their substantial investment.

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