April 15, 2004
The Anderson DealLet's get two things straight about the four-year, $48-million contract extension the Angels agreed to with Garret Anderson:
Moreno, a successful businessman who doesn't need my approval, has made it clear that he wants to be loved and that he's not shy about buying affection. Every move he's made, from lowering concession prices to channeling the spirit of Gene Autry in the free-agent market, has reeked of a Lomanesque need to be liked, a desire to win the approval of Angels fans in the short term without a ton of concern for repercussions extending past that.
(By the way, why is it that when a player and team agree to an extension, it's always reported that the team "gave" it to him? I hate that terminology, as it implies the extension is some kind of benevolence, rather than a business deal.)
From a baseball standpoint, the contract doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The market for second-tier outfielders would in no way warrant that kind of money for Anderson. Heck, it's not much less than what Vladimir Guerrero is getting for his age 28-32 seasons, and there's just no way that Anderson's decline phase will have that kind of value. Gary Sheffield got $13 million a year for three years from the Yankees, and Anderson has been within a win of Sheffield-by WARP, which covers Anderson's durability and defensive edges-just once in their careers.
Angel fans, finish the article before sending the cards and letters. This isn't some anti-Anderson rant. Yes, I've ridden him like a BP intern over the years, and quite frankly, he deserved it. The Garret Anderson who used up 1800 outs from 1996-99 was a violently overrated waste of space, a below-average left fielder who was a big reason why the Angels of that period never made the postseason. That player hurt the team.
Starting in 2000, however, Anderson added a lot of power to his game, pushing his offensive contribution into the "valuable" area. Anderson's four best years for isolated power have all come since 2000, and he was a championship-caliber player in 2002 and 2003. While he remains overrated due to high RBI totals and a misunderstanding of the importance of OBP-he's not an MVP candidate, in other words-Anderson has been a huge contributor over the past two years. Like Kirby Puckett and Nomar Garciaparra, he is as good a player as one can be while walking once a week. That's a compliment.
Moreover, I see that there's value in a team retaining its popular players. I disagree with the idea that Anderson is a fan favorite, though; he's certainly not as beloved as David Eckstein or Darin Erstad, despite being a much better player than both. Certainly there would have been disappointment had he left, but it's likely that the Angels could have saved a lot of money by allowing Anderson to test the market and still retained him by making the best offer. While the money may not seem to matter now, recent baseball history is just lousy with contracts that didn't look terrible at the time, but which became dead weights within two years. Even a slow decline by Anderson is going to render the contract an albatross. By 2007, he's likely to be a 35-year-old corner outfielder making $12 million while putting up a .270 EqA with average or below-average defense. In other words, the player who reaped scorn in the late '90s, but at six times the cost.
I'm reluctant to use PECOTA to further this case, because its projections for Anderson seem needlessly pessimistic (4.2 wins in '04, 4.4 in '05, and a collapse after that). Of his 10 best PECOTA comps, only Al Oliver and Andre Dawson did much of anything after age 33. Anderson is a fairly unique player, though, and with it established that the game's best players have been staying productive later into their careers, any projection for him based on historical comps has to be taken with a grain of salt. This signing reflects an optimistic projection for Anderson.
Optimism, it seems, is the key to appreciating not just this signing, but everything that Arte Moreno has done. He's attempting to create an atmosphere around the Angels in which they can and will do whatever it takes to win, and betting that success will follow that approach. As someone who has bemoaned the penny-wise, pound-foolish ownerships in a dozen other cities, it's hard for me to come down hard on a signing that reflects that enlightened view.
The Anderson signing, like the Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen ones, is the downside of that approach. Collectively, what Arte Moreno has done makes him the best new sports owner since Mark Cuban. In isolation, the Anderson contract is a bit too much money for a little too much time given to a player who's a bit less than he's perceived to be.