One nice thing about working for Gannett is working alongside the guys from USA Today. This week, Bob Nightengale wrote about the danger of long-term contracts, not for the teams that give them but for the players who sign them. And of course the Yankees factor into the discussion. Here’s Bob’s column. Seems to fit well on this off day.
The New York Mets, ridiculed for signing Curtis Granderson for four years, are now considering releasing outfielder Chris Young.
The Texas Rangers, who invested $130 million for Shin-Soo Choo to kick-start their offense, can’t help but wonder where he went, batting just .248 with three stolen bases as their leadoff hitter, and hitting .136 with a .197 slugging percentage in June.
We have played nearly half the season, and after all of the good vibrations and hype from last winter’s free-agent signings, reality has hit clubs like another nebulous catcher’s interference call.
The only free agent to live up to his mega contract has been Masahiro Tanaka, who has been worth every penny of that $175 million it cost the Yankees to import him from Japan.
For every Nelson Cruz, who has 23 homers and 60 RBI while making $8 million for the Baltimore Orioles, there is Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez, 2-8 with a 4.63 ERA, after signing for $50 million over four years.
For every Michael Morse, who has 13 homers and 44 RBI while making $6 million for the first-place San Francisco Giants, there is a Ricky Nolasco, 4-5 with a 5.52 ERA, after signing a four-year, $49 million contract with the Minnesota Twins.
It’s not as if these are stupid signings, more the consequences of self-inflicted pressure in the first year of free-agent contracts.
“I think what we’re finding out is that the shorter-term deals,” St. Louis Cardinals general manager GM John Mozeliak says, “is better for everyone involved. It’s not just easier on the franchise. But you look around, it’s easier on the player, too.
Granderson, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Mets, hardly resembles the same guy that averaged 42 homers and 113 RBI in his last two full seasons with the Yankees. He’s hitting just .234 with nine homers and 32 RBI.
“I think it’s just the change of things,” Granderson tells USA TODAY Sports. “Everything is different, and there’s an adjustment period. But I don’t feel any different, I really don’t.
“Now, ask me in the off-season, and maybe I’ll tell you different.”
Go ahead and ask Chicago White Sox DH Adam Dunn, who signed a four-year, $60 million contract three years ago, and spent the 2011 season hitting .159 with a career-low 11 homers and 42 RBI.
Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton, who signed a five-year $75.5 million in 2013, hit just .184 with just nine homers and 26 RBI last year, after signing the most lucrative contract in franchise history.
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton also had the worst full season of his career last year, hitting .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBI as he started a five-year, $125 million deal.
They didn’t realize it at the time, but now that the first year is behind them, concede that they were psychologically buried by the burden.
“It sounds silly, because when you sign that free agent contract,” says Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd, “you suddenly have job security. You have financial security. So everything should be easy.
“But it actually becomes harder. I’ve been there, and you spend that whole time trying to justify that contract – especially that first year.”
Byrd, 36, on pace for perhaps his finest offensive season with 12 homers and 43 RBI, says he received the best piece of advice from Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez signed a seven-year, $154 million contract with the Boston Red Sox as a condition to be traded from the San Diego Padres, and responded by hitting a career-high .338 with 27 homers and 117 RBI in 2011.
“Adrian told me as you go into free agency, you’re always going to be overpaid,” Byrd told USA TODAY Sports. “Nobody can justify paying someone $20 million, $30 million, $40 million, $100 million $200 million, $240 million. You’re not going to hit .400 or hit 80 home runs.
“So just play your game, because you’re going to be overpaid, anyways.”
Mets manager Terry Collins has seen it over and over. No matter how much the organization tries to ease the transition, making them feel comfortable as possible, you can’t control that anxiety and burning desire of living up to the contract.
“They come in and they want to make a huge impact,” Collins says. “They read all of the stories. They’re the saviors. They want to show everybody they’re worth the deal they got.
“So they think they have to do more than what got them here, they struggle, starting taking the heat from the press, and the fans start getting on them.
“They always say that doesn’t bother them, but I don’t know if that’s ever the truth.”
Maybe, Mets third baseman David Wright had the right idea when he passed up free agency, signing an eight-year, $138 million extension in 2012. Sure, he’d get more money elsewhere. He might even be on a better team.
Yet, after seeing some of the free-agent horror stories, staying home sure has its advantages.
“You leave a place where you’re comfortable, and get thrown into a different environment,” Wright says, “it can be tough. You’re talking about starting all over. And then you want to prove to yyour fan base, your new organization, that you’re the right guy.
“You end up putting too much pressure on yourself. In baseball, it’s all about being comfortable. It means everything in this game.”
We’re certainly finding that out again.
Associated Press photos