|Image courtesy of CTV.ca|
Most stars are built from the ground up, not bought on the free agent market.
Despite what the New York Yankees might believe, paying top dollar for free agents doesn’t necessarily ensure an elite level player will continue to perform at an elite level. Just ask them about A.J. Burnett.
I read a very interesting post over at Some Thoughts on Baseball the other day which got me thinking about this topic. Peter had a great breakdown of finding out how baseball’s biggest stars were cultivated by their respective teams.
He calculated how the American League’s biggest stars were acquired, whether it was via the draft, a trade, free agency, or otherwise. I was surprised to find out that a minute percentage of the AL’s best players were signed as free agents.
Peter figured out that a mere 2 out of 37 position players from the AL that posted a WAR of 3.0 or better in 2011 were free agents, accounting for a mere 5% of the league’s best players.
The timing of this information could not have been better as some of the game’s biggest names are set to test free agency once the playoffs are over. Outside of CC Sabathia opting out of his contract, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are undoubtedly the two largest names out there.
I’ll admit I get a little googly-eyed when I think about the possibility of the Blue Jays signing Prince Fielder. He seems to be that one big piece Toronto really needs to make a run at contention, and it would take is a boatload of cash to sign him.
However, the more and more I think about it, going after Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols or otherwise does not seem like the right move for the Blue Jays. Paying top dollar for a free agent is basically the anti-Alex Anthopoulos move.
Let’s just speak hypothetically for a moment; if the Blue Jays did in fact lock up Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, I’m not saying their skills would immediately drop off once the ink was dry on the contract. But history dictates that paying the max amount of money based on past performance is not a wise move.
|Image courtesy of FanGraphs|
It’s a slight dip, but the WARGraph shows that Albert Pujols is already trending downwards as he enters his thirties. Prince Fielder has yet to get there, but his WAR by age isn’t going to continue to progress upwards either. And that level of performance is not sustainable for the entire duration of a long-term contract.
It’s a necessary evil for some General Managers to delve out big contracts, but it must drive them berserk that they’re paying this free agent X amount of dollars in hopes that they’ll continue that level of performance, when in fact it’s more than likely to come down.
So where does that leave the Blue Jays? They’re continuing to develop players the right way in the minor leagues, but as most executives will likely tell you, they’re not coming up fast enough. There needs to be another way to supplement talent until those young players are ready.
That’s where the trade comes in handy. It’s been the Silent Assassin’s primary weapon since taking over as GM of the Blue Jays, and it’s netted him Brandon Morrow, Yunel Escobar, and Colby Rasmus just to name a few. And one could argue those guys haven’t even hit their peak yet.
The Cincinnati Reds may be adamantly denying they’re shopping Joey Votto, but that is the exact kind of move that Alex Anthopoulos would make. The only issue is the Blue Jays would need to package elite prospects or a couple of established Major Leaguers to land Votto from the Reds.
Think the kind of haul the Blue Jays received in return for Roy Halladay, except double it because Joey Votto is under contract for two more years, where Halladay only had one remaining year when he was traded to Philadelphia.
The idea is to acquire somebody like Joey Votto in the midway point of the bell curve, so that the Blue Jays get maximum value from the player during their contract years. And then when that player hits free agency and becomes too expensive to retain, let him walk. It’s almost a miniature Moneyball model … sort of.
Of course, the only advantage to signing a big name free agent is all it takes to get them is money. Albeit hundreds of millions of dollars, but it’s something that’s replenishable. Elite talent however, that can be much more difficult to replace.
That’s why it seems like a bit of a counterproductive move to give away a boatload of prospects just to get Joey Votto for only two years. It feels like it might be a one-step forward two-step back scenario, and then after two years the Blue Jays are in the exact same position … except minus those blue chip prospects.
So if buying high on Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols isn’t the answer, and selling the farm to get Joey Votto isn’t a viable option for the Blue Jays, then what is the answer?
Considering Alex Anthopoulos’ reputation as the Silent Assassin, it’s probably something we haven’t even thought of yet.