(Jayson Werth celebrates the 2009 pennant with Phillies’ teammate Pedro Martinez. Photo by Associated Press).
As you no doubt know by now, the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth over the weekend for the princely sum of $126 million over seven years.
That sound you’re hearing is the howls of protestation from executives around baseball, who believe the Nationals have thrown the pay scale out of whack.
In a tweet today from the winter meetings in Orlando, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote, “The degree to which baseball execs are incredulous and mocking of the Werth deal can’t be understated.” Our own Geoff Baker had the reaction of M’s president Chuck Armstrong, who called recent signings, particularly Werth’s, “kind of astounding.” Buster Olney said in his ESPN.com column that the contract “immediately drew anger from rival officials who were furious about the terms.”
To which I say, here we go again. This is one of the oldest and most predictable story-lines in baseball — dating back to the advent of free agency in the 1970s, when it was pitcher Wayne Garland’s 10-year, $2.3 million deal with the Cleveland Indians prior to the 1977 season that was going to the ruination of baseball as we know it.
It’s happened virtually every year since then. You’d think by now that management would be prepared for the latest escalation of the market through a rogue club that has decided to throw caution to the wind to get the player they feel they need. I was covering the San Francisco Giants in 1990 when their GM, Al Rosen, sent the baseball world in a tizzy by giving Bud Black, essentially a .500 pitcher, a four-year, $10-million contract during the winter meetings. That was big-time money back then, and baseball executives came to refer to the day that deal came down as “Black Friday.” Carl Barger, the Pirates’ president, said he felt physically ill when he heard the terms of the signing, and Rosen was excoriated by his peers.
But the game muddled forward, as it did after Dave Winfield signed with the Yankees for 10 years and $18 million in 1980; and after Bruce Sutter signed with the Braves for six years and $10.6 million in 1985; and after Barry Bonds signed with the Giants for six years and $43 million in 1993; and after Albert Belle signed with the White Sox for five year and $55 million in 1995; and after Jay Bell signed with the Diamondbacks for five years and $34 million in 1998.
It even survived after Kevin Malone, then GM of the Dodgers, inked Kevin Brown to a seven-year, $105 million contract in December of 1998. I’ll never forget the press conference announcing the deal during the winter meetings, with Malone and Brown’s agent, Scott Boras (shocker!) on the podium extolling the deal, while in the back a grim-faced Sandy Alderson, now the Mets’ GM but then working for the commissioner’s office, held court with reporters on the idiocy of the contract.
“This is an affront to baseball,” he said, among other things.
There was just as much of a hue and cry two years later, when Alex Rodriguez signed his 10-year, $253-million extravaganza with the Rangers. And each year since, there is some deal that incurs the wrath of owners, regular as clockwork.
A couple of observations: One, you’d think owners would look back at those mega-deals and realize the vast majority didn’t work out well for the signing team (Bonds being one of the notable exceptions). And two, at any point in time there will ALWAYS be a team that, for one reason or another, is going to disregard common sense, their better judgment, and the wrath they know will come from their peers, and make an outrageous signing. It might be the fact they are convinced they are that one player away from moving into contention, or moving from contention to being a postseason lock. They might feel the need to re-establish relevancy in their market place (I’d put the Nationals in that category). They might have a new owner just itching to make his mark. They might be the Yankees.
The owners will get over the Werth signing soon enough, and life will go on — until next winter, when another team commits the latest affront to baseball.