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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 31, 2009 at 3:35 PM

The meaning of Sheffield

sheffield.jpg

I was struck today by a quote from Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski after the Tigers made the decision to eat $14 million by releasing Gary Sheffield.

“You’re already going to pay him, one way or the other,” Dombrowski told the Detroit Free Press.

And that’s the key factor when it comes to what has to be an unbelievably frustrating decision by a team’s ownership to simply write off that much money. It happened, to a slightly smaller degree, in Philadelphia, where the Phillies on Tuesday released outfielder Geoff Jenkins. That decision will cost them a tidy $8 million (Jenkins’ $6.75 million salary for 2009, plus a $1.25 million buyout on his 2010 option).

But once you’re really sure a player isn’t going to help you, and that’s he’s a lost cause, and that no one else will take him off your hands, it actually makes more sense, in many instances, to cut the player loose. The mistake has been made. That fact is irrevocable. Why compound the matter by keeping around someone whom you feel is going to make the team worse? To justify the salary? As Dombrowski points out, you’re going to pay him either way. The replacement cost, in many instances, is merely the major-league minimum salary ($400,000, a relative drop in the bucket).

In June of 2006, the Diamondbacks set the standard for contract-eating by dumping pitcher Russ Ortiz barely a year after giving him a four-year, $33.5 million contract. Ortiz went 5-16 for Arizona and had only one victory in his last 19 starts when the D-Backs cut him loose, a decision that cost them $22.5 million.

Other notable salary dumps: Kevin Appier (owed $15.7 million by the Angels when they cut him in July of 2003), Damion Easley ($14.3 million by Detroit, 2003), Jay Gibbons ($11.9 million by Baltimore, 2008), Greg Vaughn ($9.25 by Tampa Bay, 2002), Frank Thomas ($7 million by Toronto, 2008), Matt Williams ($6.6 million by Arizona, 2003). The Mariners have taken varying degrees of financial baths on Jeff Cirillo, Carl Everett, Richie Sexson, Scott Spiezio, Rich Aurilia, Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro, among others, in recent years.

This year, the player most vulnerable is obviously Miguel Batista, who is 38, coming off a 4-14, 6.26 ERA season, with one year and $9 million left on his contract. (I can hear you some of you screaming “Carlos Silva,” but there’s absolutely no way they’re going to just give up on Silva and the $36 million — thank you, Bill Bavasi — remaining on his contract without seeing if he can turn things around. That would be just foolish, even as poorly as he pitched last season. Check back in a couple of months, however.)

As for Jarrod Washburn, owed $10.35 million in the final year of his deal, he could still elicit some trade value if he pitches decently this season. Despite his 23-43 record in three years with Seattle, Washburn is still well-regarded around the league, as witnessed by the interest he received last year from at least two contenders, the Yankees and Twins.

The Mariners, however, must decide whether Batista, no longer a member of the rotation and apparently not their choice as closer with Brandon Morrow’s switch to relief, has any role on this staff. He has had a decent spring, and my hunch is they will stick with him as a long man, but you never know. This management team isn’t the one that gave him a three-year, $25-million contract, so they have no emotional investment. It will be a solely a matter of their financial investment, and whether there’s any chance of getting a return on it. And whether his inclusion on the staff would be keeping a better arm from making it.

After all, they’re going to pay him either way.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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