Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth and Contract Stratification

Mike Silva: The free agent spending explosion has come as a surprise to me. The last two years the hot stove churned until Valentine’s Day as players such as Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, and Bobby Abreu had to settle for short term deals. There was talk of collusion, as well as the possibility that owners would hold down salaries due to the upcoming collective bargaining. I couldn’t be more wrong as we have seen spending at pre economic collapse levels.

Forget the ridiculous contract to Jayson Werth (7 years/$126 million), but rather look at players such as Ted Lilly, Joaquin Benoit, John Buck, and Jorge de la Rosa all signing long term deals. Even more surprising a player like Rod Barajas, who waited till Spring Training to sign a non guaranteed deal with the Mets last year, was awarded a 1 year/$3.25 million dollar deal. I thought some of the low end players would suffer, but D.J. Carrasco, a non tender, received a two year deal from the Mets. Imagine that, Johnny Damon could only muster one year in 2009, but Carrasco gets a multiyear deal in 2010? Ironically the big fish, Cliff Lee, hasn’t taken offers till just recently. Would it surprise anyone if he scored 7 years and $180 million?

Why this offseason has produced this kind of spending is anyone’s guess. My belief has been the economic uncertainty in the country has been vastly overstated, mostly due to confidence issues more than lack of cash flow. Attendance may be down, but not everywhere, and certainly not to the point where owners couldn’t spend to improve their product. I am guessing, but perhaps some of the pennies saved the last couple of years are coming in handy now.

My main issue with this behavior is how it always seems to be feast or famine with the owners. They have seasons where ten year contracts are in vogue, and then next year cry poverty and asks everyone to “sing for their supper.” It makes you wonder how these guys got so wealthy with what appears to be a schizophrenic approach to asset allocation. Of course, we do know who will eventually pay: You, the loyal baseball fan. I guess if it results in a playoff team it’s worth it. Somehow I don’t know if John Buck will have that impact in South Florida.

<b>CHRIS PUMMER:</b> The last two will probably go down in the books as the real anomalies. The year owners kept their wallets in their back pockets.

But even though there was less money going around, the same pattern unfolded of some teams overpaying for some players — usually with a mind toward the modest upgrade helping out with a playoff push — while other teams executed a frugal strategy.

Last year the Astros jumped right in for an oversized deal for Brandon Lyon, while the Brewers were the team that stepped forward to overpay Randy Wolf.

Two years ago, the Yankees stepped up with a huge, risky contract for CC Sabathia. That deal has worked out so far, but there’s still a lot of money left up in the air there. And the Phillies far overpaid for the services of Raul Ibanez that offseason.

The last two years, there have been a number of players left standing in the game of musical chairs. Dunn was one such player after the 2008 season, who became boxed into a modest deal with the Nationals. Orlando Hudson the same last year with the Twins.

The moral to the story is that it’s more likely in the players’ best interest to strike early, rather than a team’s. If a team didn’t have alternatives to fill a roster spot, it likely wouldn’t have waited around long enough to find that bargain.

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