Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Baseball, the Fiscal Cliff Is A Molehill

       By Ross Newhan

       Will Congress or the free spending major league baseball owners go over the fiscal cliff first?
       Trick question.
       With the industry's soaring TV revenue--collectively and individually--the clubs, for the most part, continue to make a molehill out of any potential cliff as they continue to dole out multi-year contracts of a head shaking nature. An average annual value of $13 million or more is now common-place. A player making less is second tier, perhaps utility. The average salary of $3.4 million at the end of the 2012 season could surpass $4 million by the start of the 2013 season.
      As Mike DiGiovanna, my former baseball writing colleague at the Los Angeles Times exclaimed in an e-mail this week: "What a country!"
      Mike had two former Angels in mind: Mike Napoli and Dan Haren.
     Napoli received a three year $39 million contract from the Boston Red Sox. He will catch and play first base, neither of which he does very well. His primary assignment will be to use the towering Citgo sign beyond the left field monster at Fenway Park for target practice. At $13 million a year he owes a thank you note if not a case of champagne to Angel manager Mike Sioscia, whose disbelief in his catching ability prompted the team to trade him in 2011, a haunting decision.
     Haren labored through 2012 at 12-13, battling physical issues at times. The Angels did not pick up his $15.5 million option, but the Washington Nationals didn't hesitate giving the 32 year right hander a $13 million contract. Haren, however, will actually receive $16.5 million since the Angels still owe him a holiday token of $3.5 million.
     What a country indeed.
     How about the Red Sox also giving Shane Victorino a three year, $39 million contract to play right field? Victorino's main job is to get on base and steal. He is still capable of that latter task, but getting on base has become increasingly difficult as exemplified by miserable on-base percentages of .324 and .316 with Philadelphia and the Dodgers last season.
    Consider, as well, Angel Pagan, always a utility outfielder before helping San Francisco win the World Series last season. The Giants initially wanted to retain Pagan for two years, but to get him for two years in a competitive market they had to give him four years for a numbing $40 million.
    Even the Pittsburgh Pirates have been at it, giving former Dodger and New York Yankee catcher Russell Martin a two year, $17 million contract coming off a season in which he hit .211, although he also hit 21 home runs.
     The beat goes on, and the two prizes of this year's free agent class, outfielder Josh Hamilton and pitcher Zach Greinke, haven't even signed yet, and a second tier of pitchers, including Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Dempster and Shaun Marcum, have their wallets eagerly out and ready, waiting for Greinke to set a bar of sorts.
      Over the years, I suppose, we have become immune to the numbers.
      Last year, with the Angels on the verge of a new TV deal, they gave $317.5 million to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and then the new owners of the Dodgers sent their payroll to $200 million with that blockbuster trade with Boston knowing, as well, a new TV contract (being estimated at $6 billion)  was around the corner.
     Now, both the Dodgers and Angels are battling over Greinke, while that fiscal cliff gets flattened by deals that make you wonder and others--for example David Wright agreeing to an eight year, $138 million extension with the New York Mets and conservative Tampa Bay giving Evan Longoria a six year extension at $100 million--that fit the ho hum category. I mean, by comparison, why not?  

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