Big Mistakes Each Big MLB Buyer Must Avoid Making This Offseason
Having the perfect offseason is near impossible for an organization. Even Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, the Sporting News' Executive of the Year, wasn't quite flawless.
His trade of Mark Melancon and three minor leaguers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan, who was lost to a season-ending elbow injury after struggling badly in his nine relief appearances with Boston, was a clear loss on his end.
The move, which also added approximately $6 million to Boston's 2013 payroll, left the Sox thin in right-handed relief help late in the year while Melancon, a right-handed setup man, was having a terrific season with the Pirates.
Obviously, it's a mistake that can be overlooked because the team won the World Series. But Cherington is now in search of a right-handed setup man, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, when he could've penciled in Melancon, who is just entering his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Mistakes can often turn out to be much more costly, however. They can come back to haunt a team, even if it's not during the following season. And in some cases, a particular mistake or set of mistakes could set a franchise back for years.
Here are four common mistakes that the big buyers will want to avoid this offseason.
Being Too Patient
Some general managers are too cautious for their own good. Take Mets general manager Sandy Alderson (pictured), for example. I'm not saying he's been too patient. But if he fails to make a couple significant moves this winter, it very well may have reached that point.
He has been waiting out some pretty bad contracts (see Johan Santana, Jason Bay) that he inherited when he took on the job prior to the 2011 season. Now headed into his fourth season on the job and with some payroll space finally cleared, it's unclear whether he intends to make a splash this offseason.
Alderson insists that they want to do something notable, according to Marc Carig of Newsday, but with no specifics having been reported on next year's projected payroll other than Alderson saying it wouldn't be lower than last year's $87 million figure, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, there's no way of knowing which direction they'll go.
Wanting to avoid mistakes that can set the franchise back for a few more years, Alderson is going to be extremely cautious. Bay's career really wasn't that much different than Shin-Soo Choo when the Mets signed him before the 2010 season. He was one of the best players in the game, coming off of a great season and still in the prime of his career.
Of course, Alderson knows that giving over $100 million to Choo, or any player for that matter, is extremely risky. But passing on Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury and hoping to land the next Marlon Byrd on a minor league deal isn't going to get his team back to the top of the division with the Braves and Nationals.
At some point, he'll have to take a chance. A sixth consecutive losing season for the Mets can't be great for a fan base that was showing up in droves back in 2008 (51,165 per game, according to ESPN) and has continued to drop since. They were 21st in the majors in 2013 (26,695 per game, according to ESPN), which was the fifth consecutive season that home attendance has dropped.
That "some point" may be now.
Not Doing Five-Year Plans
As the Phillies were struggling early in the season and questions on whether they should tear it down and start all over began, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (pictured) boldly proclaimed, "I don't do five-year plans".
Ironically, this was one of the biggest reasons his team was in its current state. An aging team of veterans without much help on the way from the farm system is a recipe for disaster.
In the case of a big market team like the Phillies, they will continue to utilize their financial resources to try and win now. Instead of trading away players of value who were due to become eligible for free agency at the end of the season, the Phillies stood pat and even signed Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension with three vesting options that could keep him in Philadelphia through his age 39 season.
Veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz is also staying put after agreeing to a three-year deal that will pay him $26 million through his age 37 season. Marlon Byrd was signed to be the team's new right fielder. He'll get $16 million for his ages 37-38 seasons.
Amaro sure wasn't lying. These aren't the actions of a man with a long-term plan. And who could blame him. There's no guarantee he'll have a job five years from now. He's doing everything he can to ensure his team will compete next season.
But at some point, ownership is going to have to take the blame if the team continues to finish in third place or lower in the NL East.
When this team takes the field in 2015, the infield will consist of a 35-year-old Ryan Howard, who will be making $25 million, a 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins, who will earn $11 million as long as he logs 500 at-bats in 2014 to activate his vesting option, and a 36-year-old Utley, who will make either $10 or $15 million depending on his health in 2014.
Ruiz, at age 36, will make $8.5 million to lead a pitching staff with a 36-year-old Cliff Lee making $25 million and a youthful Cole Hamels, making $22.5 million in his age 31 season. Closing out games will be Jonathan Papelbon, who will be 34 years of age with a $13 million salary.
That's a lot of money due to guys that are likely to be well past their prime. And that's what happens when you don't do five-year plans.
It's vital that teams in "win-now" mode are aggressive on the free agent and trade markets. But if moves are made without any concern for how it affects the future of the organization, it's extremely difficult to put a competitive team on the field year after year. It's how a team with five consecutive division titles can all of a sudden lose 81 and 89 games in respective seasons with a good chance to continue that trend for at least another year or two.
Striking While the Iron Isn't Hot
While being too patient can be a mistake, an impatient approach could also be disastrous for a franchise.
Several teams with young talent on the way from the farm system have money to spend this offseason, including the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners. But would a $20-40 million boost to the 2014 payroll turn these 90-plus game losers into contenders? No, probably not and maybe.
While it would add excitement to the fan base and likely make these teams more competitive, why would a team like the Twins give Ervin Santana (pictured) or Matt Garza a $20 million salary in 2014 when they have so many other holes to fill before they can even become a .500 team?
In other words, a five-year, $100 million contract that Santana will likely command becomes a four-year, $100 million deal because his presence in 2014 really didn't help all that much. And it's quite possible that 2016 is the start of the team's "window of contention" after top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have gotten some big league time under their belt and are ready to make a big impact.
Is Shin-Soo Choo going to turn the 111-loss Astros into anything more than a 100-loss team? Not a chance. Will he get the fan base more excited about 2015? Sure. But at the cost of his likely $20 million salary in 2014, that might not be the smartest move to make. That's spending money just to spend money, which doesn't appear to the be the way general manager Jeff Luhnow operates.
Now how about those Mariners? With an average of 93.5 losses per season since 2010, the M's are in a similar boat to the Mets. The fan base has to be losing patience, so it's understandable if the team wants to make a big splash in free agency to bring some excitement for the upcoming season.
But they added several hitters last offseason, including Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibañez. All made an impact at the plate. It didn't matter. The team wasn't ready to compete, mostly because the core of young talent wasn't as good as most had thought. All three are free agents.
With a new wave of young talent arriving in Seattle, including top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, there is a renewed excitement that would be even greater if they were to land a Jacoby Ellsbury to play center field. It might not get them into the playoffs, but it could get them a step closer. Plus, Ellsbury is expected to command at least six years so it wouldn't be as big of a loss if the team is young and consistent during year one of his deal.
Underestimating the Importance of Depth
In this day and age, it's rare for a team to go through an entire season without using at least eight or nine starting pitchers over the course of a 162-game season. It's also not common for a team to keep its best six or seven position players healthy for an entire season.
So when a team that seemingly has plenty of depth at one particular position, it shouldn't be viewed as a mistake when they're unwilling to give up any of that depth in a trade. In fact, it's probably smart in most cases.
During the Giants' World Series run of 2012, five pitchers accounted for 176 starts out of 178 games played. This is not common! Teams with a strong starting five and no depth behind them will most likely end up in a position where that lack of depth comes back to haunt them.
Just ask the 2013 Giants, who lost Matt Cain (pictured) and Ryan Vogelsong to disabled list stints and forced to replace an ineffective Barry Zito in the rotation. Five pitchers other than the starting five combined to make 24 starts. While Chad Gaudin and Yusmeiro Petit, who accounted for 19 of those starts, were very effective, the other five starts were awful.
So just because the Dodgers have four starting outfielders and the Red Sox have six starting pitchers and the Rangers have three middle infielders for two spots, it doesn't necessarily mean a trade absolutely has to happen. It's likely that depth will come in handy at some point of a very long season.