Photo: Flickr/SD Dirk
In a recent ESPN podcast, Buster Olney and Bill Simmons discussed the danger of the “bridesmaid” contract.Bridesmaid contracts are those given to free agent players in the second-tier of baseball’s talent pyramid, just a step below obvious giants of the game like C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
The problem is that these players are nearly as expensive as the stars in the upper echelon, but don’t come close to the same return on investment.
Even worse, teams usually overpaid for their “bridesmaids” simply because they missed out on a bigger free agent — or got caught paying for the best guy in a bad year — and were desperate to sign someone (anyone!) to prove to fans that they were serious about winning.
In most cases, the club would have been better off forking over a little bit more money to get the top player or staying out of the market altogether. Instead, they crippled their payroll by giving millions to ineffective (or absent) players.
Bay is the class example of Simmons' and Olney's bridesmaid free agent. Some might claim the jury's still out on the Mets 2009 albatross, but we're positive the contract is doomed. While Matt Holliday was the most coveted outfielder in this class, the Mets went with the 'cheaper' alternative for 4-years and $66-million.
In 2010, Bay hit .259 with 6 homers, while Holliday hit .312 with 28 HRs for an extra million dollars (7 years, $120M).
Following the 1998, season the Orioles were looking for a big bat, and shelled out $65-million over five years to Albert Belle. Two years later, he was out of baseball. Had they been willing to spend $87.5M over seven years (less money per year), they would have been treated to Bernie Williams in his prime.
Vlad Guerrero was the star of the 2003 outfield free agent class, and he won an MVP his first season after signing a 5-year, $70M contract. The Yankees opted for the next best option -- Gary Sheffield at 3-years and $39M -- and got nearly equal production for two years, before Sheff couldn't stay healthy in the final season of the contract. Who knows what could have been with Vlad?
Like their crosstown rivals, the Mets were unwilling to throw a fortune at Vlad Guerrero, and signed outfielder Mike Cameron to a 3-year, $19.5M contract in 2003. One year later they realised their error and signed Carlos Beltran to a nine-figure deal.
Desperate for an arm, the Reds were unwilling to shell out the big bucks for future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez. Instead, they thought they found a cheaper alternative. What they got for 3-years and $25-million was a 16-27 pitcher with a 5.83 ERA.
It's hard to believe that A.J. Burnett was the crown jewel among the 2005 free agent pitchers, but for 5-years and $55-million, his 3.94 ERA with the Blue Jays (he terminated the deal after three years) was well worth the cost. The same can't be said for the next tier. Morris had a 5.19 ERA over the life of his 3-year, $27-million contract with the Giants, while Loaiza posted a 5.10 ERA during his 3-year, $21.4 million pact.
The Giants shopped in the high-end department this offseason, and took home a dud in Barry Zito's 7-year $126M contract. But the second tier was just as unimpressive. The Dodgers signed Jason Schmidt away from Zito's new team for 3-years and $47M only for him to throw 43-and-1/3 innings. The Brewers signed Suppan to a 4-year, $42-million contract, only to be rewarded with a 5.08 ERA in 97 starts (110 games).
Minnesota let go of the two most coveted pitchers in the 2007 free agent class. One of them (Johan Santana) signed for 6-years and $137.5M with the Mets. The other, Carlos Silva, signed with the Mariners for $48 million over four years. In his first season with the club he posted a 6.46 ERA and it actually got worse from there. What's an extra $10M per season when your first $12M gets you absolutely nothing?
In perhaps the best example of the bridesmaid phenomenon, the Yankees felt they had to respond to the Red Sox huge acquisition of Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka before the 2007 season. They also looked to the Far East and came away with Kei Igawa. The Yankees bid $26M+ for Igawa and paid him $20M over half-a-decade. By August, Igawa was in the minors where he's played ever since.
The Angels handed out $90M over five years to centerfielder Torii Hunter in 2008, but the Royals and Giants wanted to spend just a little bit less. For $12M per annum, the Royals signed Jose Guillen and the Giants signed Aaron Rowand, both of whom offered about as much production as a replacement player.
The Giants could have opted for Rafael Furcal, but instead turned to the slightly less expensive Edgar Renteria. Though Renteria captured the World Series MVP, over the last two seasons he's failed to live up to his 2-year, $18.5M contract.
Unwilling to dole out eight figures per year to a closer, the Angels let Frankie Rodriguez walk to the Mets for 3-years and $37M. They signed his replacement, Brian Fuentes, to a 2-year, $17.5M contract before the 2009 season. While Fuentes's numbers have been respectable, he has been very shaky at times -- much moreso than his predecessor -- and the Angles decided to trade him in 2010.
Bridesmaid contracts can sometimes happen when there isn't a marquee free agent available. Take the Red Sox signing of Lackey. Boston was desperate to acquire even more pitching and was determined to prove its willingness to sign free agents. So the team went out and signed the best pitcher on the market. Only problem: they paid him like the best pitcher in the world. And an ace is expected to do better than 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA.
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