The Pirates continue to astound us with their incompetence. This week, they
signed Scott Sauerbeck, the very definition of free talent (he was
taken from the Mets via the Rule 5 draft in December of 1998), to a
three-year, $2.4-million deal. Although that’s not a lot of money, and we
generally advocate locking good young players up through their arbitration
years and beyond, the problem here is that Sauerbeck is not young and not
good–and the Pirates don’t realize that.
"If you look at the numbers, he’s been very effective," said
General Manager Cam Bonifay.
Really, Cam? I looked at the numbers, and I wouldn’t call him effective. In
his second year around the league, Sauerbeck put 40% of the batters he
faced on base (opposing hitters had a .399 OBP against him). Right-handed
hitters torched him to the tune of .305/.458/.433. This is
"effective?" Indeed, if Sauerbeck is so effective, why did the
Pirates feel compelled to
spend millions more on another left-handed
reliever, Terry Mulholland?
It’s clear that the Pirates’ problem is twofold: They can’t manage their
budget, and they can’t tell an effective baseball player from
a blow-up doll.
Meanwhile, most of a continent away, a number of Arizona Diamondbacks made
news recently by agreeing to defer some of their compensation in a
misguided attempt to alleviate the team’s alleged financial difficulties.
There’s so much wrong with this picture that it’s hard to decide where to
First and foremost, there’s not a whole lot of evidence that the Snakes in
the Grass are actually losing money. Like nearly all major-league teams,
they have never had to open their books to any kind of outside inspection.
Banks don’t give out loans without doing an extensive credit analysis
first, so why would players give their employers loans without due diligence?
Second, it’s not clear that this does anything for the players. It’s
possible that they will defer the money long enough so that the income
doesn’t arrive until after they retire, at which point they’ll be in a
lower tax bracket, but the time value of the money may overwhelm the slight
tax benefit. They’d be better off taking the money now and investing it
than waiting ten years for their cash. If the players thought that the
deferral would mean that the Snakes would spend the money to improve the
team, well, they were wrong.
That’s because the Diamondbacks are already squandering the money. This is
the same team that ignored its surfeit of first basemen who can hit and
gave real money to
Mark Grace, whose career as a useful regular is
over and who clearly isn’t worth more than Erubiel Durazo right now.
Then they signed Greg Swindell,
a good but replaceable left-handed
reliever (see above), to a three-year deal that runs until he’s old enough
to cash in his IRA. Note that they didn’t hire back the 20 people they laid
off in a "cost-cutting" (read: PR) maneuver last fall.
Of course, the bottom line for Jerry Colangelo and his henchmen is that the
Diamondbacks have now more or less successfully painted themselves as a
franchise in trouble, which some members of the mainstream sports press
have dutifully reported without attempting to verify the claim. Maybe
someone should write a column suggesting that Colangelo stop blowing money
on expensive mediocrities if he wants to make money.
Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.