So you want to be a GM? Get real, and consider these bargains
Kyle Lohse ($4.25M from the Cards) was one of last winter's best signings
Andruw Jones ($36M for two years from the Dodgers) was one of the worst
Randy Wolf and Juan Cruz are among the potential bargains on this year's market
These days everybody's a general manager. Everybody has an idea to pitch, a trade to consummate, a free agent to sign. We all have our own beliefs about how to build a winning team, about who's worth what for how long. I saw a blog a couple of weeks ago that suggested that the Mets sign CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez this winter. Give Sabathia $130 million over six years. Offer Manny $60 million for four years. The Mets are instantly better.
Hard to disagree with that logic. Though Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent, might object. And the Mets' owners would probably have something to say.
The thing about this time of the year, though, is that you don't have to spend a lot of money on a big-name free agent, or take a completely wild shot in the dark, to be a good GM. Here, for example, are five cost-efficient, productive free-agent signings from last winter.
1.) Randy Wolf. The lefty signed a one-year, $4.75 million deal with the Padres last offseason, and while he struggled in San Diego (6-10, 4.74 ERA), he pitched much better after he was traded to the Astros (6-2, 3.57 ERA) in July. Overall, 33 starts, a 12-12 record and a 4.30 ERA for that price is a relative bargain.
2.) Kerry Wood. He was, and is, an injury risk, but the Cubs took that chance and ended up with a closer who saved 34 games. And he cost only $4.2 million for the year.
3.) Cliff Floyd. The Rays wanted a veteran presence, a lefty bat and, being the Rays, they couldn't pay much. Floyd gave them 11 homers in 80 games as a DH for $3 million. Priceless.
4.) Chad Durbin. For less than a million ($900K), the World Series champion Phillies got a reliable and rubber-armed reliever who gave up only 81 hits in 87 2/3 innings with a 2.87 ERA.
5.) Kyle Lohse. He wanted a lot more, but no one would give it, so he practically landed in St. Louis' lap on a one-year, $4.25 million contract. He went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA, leading to a four-year, $41 million deal he signed with the Cards late in September.
GMs are far from infallible, of course. After all, these are the same guys who gave Andruw Jones more than $18 million last year (and $18 million more for '09) and decided that throwing $126 million at Barry Zito was a good idea.
Paying big money to free agents is easy. The real GMing is in finding the bargains, like the ones listed above. These are five free-agent pitchers who could make a team better next year for not a lot of money:
1.) Odalis Perez. He started 30 games last season and had a better-than-average ERA+. And, because he pitched for the Nationals, he can be had for a song ($850K in '08). He might even come cheaper in '09.
2.) Wolf. He worked on the cheap last season, so he's going to try to make that back this year. He might want a two-year deal, maybe three. But he's only 32 so he'd be worth the relatively small risk.
3.) Juan Cruz. He's due for a raise from the slightly less than $2 million that the D'backs coughed up in '08. But a strikeout arm (71 in 51 innings) who's only 30? Every team needs that in the bullpen.
4.) Paul Byrd. He'll drive you nuts sometimes, as soft-tossers do, and he is 38. But he'll take the ball, keep you in games and won't cost much more than $14M over two years.
5.) Braden Looper. At these prices you're not getting Cy Youngs. But this former reliever put in 33 starts and 199 innings for the Cards. He'll want three years at $5M per, at least, but he's worth it.
Easy, huh? Even if they don't work out -- and Perez, let's face it, is a long shot -- you're not out of a lot of money. Relatively speaking, of course.
Anybody can do it. In fact, everybody does it.
Boras is a GM this week. He knows exactly what teams need to do to get better. "I look at it as an extraordinary opportunity for franchises," he said in discussing some of his clients the other day at the GM meetings in Dana Point, Calif., where he's trying to make a bunch of franchises better while earning a little coin for himself and the players he represents.
David Wright, the Mets' third baseman, is a GM these days. "I don't think there needs to be a shakeup," Wright said to reporters last week regarding his team. "I think that we need to be better as a core both on the field and as leadership figures in the clubhouse. I don't think there's any necessity to trade the core players."
So if those guys have their GMing ideas, why can't everyone? Here are five good free-agent position players who will come a lot cheaper than Mark Teixeira or Ramirez this winter:
1.) Felipe Lopez. He cost about $5M last year and wasn't worth it for the Nats, but when they traded him to the Cards the versatile IF/OF hit .385 in 43 games. He's worth a chance at that price.
2.) Joe Crede. He made $5.1M last year with the ChiSox, and he'll want more, but a bad back will keep his price down. When healthy he's an outstanding third baseman with a lot of pop in his bat.
3.) Mark Kotsay. Another injury-prone guy, he showed in Boston that he's adept at first as well as in center. Good contact, little power, but at 33 years old, and only about $8M per he's a good risk.
4.) Orlando Hudson. A lot of teams want this great-glove, good-bat second baseman. And, at $10M per over four years, at least, he'll cost. In 2012, though, it'll look like a steal for someone.
5.) Adam Dunn. His rep is way worse than his stats, so the good-OBP, power-swinging outfielder will get around $11M per for three years, somewhere. Which means someone will get a bargain.
Every one of those guys could work out. A couple probably will. And if they don't ... well, again, it's hard to do worse than those Jones and Zito signings.
Former Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta, now a special assistant in baseball operations for the Padres, recounted a story the other day in his blog about his first offseason in the business. It was 1996, and he was an intern working for the Indians. The day after the Tribe was unceremoniously ousted by the Orioles in the first round of the playoffs, Cleveland GM John Hart called a bunch of people into his office. "Today starts our season," Hart told his staff.
Yeah, it's a great time of the year to be a GM, or to pretend to be one. It's the best time, in fact. Because, when the real season starts, when the dog days hit and everything starts to fall apart, being a real GM can be no fun at all.