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Friday, November 28, 2014

MLB teams with biggest offseasons are struggling the most

One month of the baseball season has passed. Albert Pujols has as many home runs on May 2nd as he did on December 2nd. The Dodgers are in first place, this time not just for being one of the Major Leagues’ most mismanaged teams. Who would have predicted this would be the case? Maybe it has something to do with Magic? Probably not, unless Mike Scioscia has achieved wizard status for making Bobby Abreu magically disappear.

On the other side of the country, a team taking a cue from the Angels experimented with a place-name change in addition to an increase in payroll spending but has found no less refuge from early season struggles. The Miami Marlins have been harpooned by the rest of the National League. Like the Angels, who spent hordes of money on Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and others in the offseason, Miami went fishing in the offseason and reeled in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. However, if it weren’t for the glare of the bright orange hue on their new duds (emphasis on duds), they might be forgotten altogether having been marooned in the basement of the NL East with an 8-14 record.

Baseball can oftentimes be a fickle game. Over the last two decades, payroll spending has increased dramatically, teams gobbling up high-priced, under-producing veterans at the rate that Mitt Romney acquires suits. The results have been mixed. The 1990s Atlanta Braves built talented teams from within, yet won only one title. The New York Yankees used a lot of homegrown players to capture four titles in five years. Yet, they found that trying to buy a championship with high-money castoffs resulted in the team handing over a giant novelty check’s-worth of payroll penalties to the Commissioner’s office with only one World Series win to show for their troubles since their once budget eclipsed $100 million after 2000. Meanwhile, the Marlins essentially won two titles on credit in 1997 and 2003 while the Angels, White Sox, Giants, and others found a way to win a title without necessarily breaking the bank.

Angels’ owner Arte Moreno has endeared himself to Southern Californians clad in red by improving the game-day experience (read: keeping beer prices low and keeping a somewhat competitive team on the field). Shrewd moves like acquiring Mark Teixeira and Dan Haren around the trade deadline in recent seasons have been lauded while the signings of players like Abreu and Gary Matthews, Jr. have Halos fans reaching for those moderately-priced stadium Heinekens.

Having missed the playoffs the last two years and drawing mounting criticism from a fanbase that has seen the team whiff on potential signees from Alex Rodriguez and Bell to Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in between, the Angels went out this offseason and spent money like a Hollywood mogul searching for the last chinchilla coat on the rack. About $330 million later, the Angels had Pujols and Wilson. Five months since, they have only one series win under their belt, and one of the worst records in the Big Leagues.

Calmer heads would suggest that a 162-game season necessitates not spending too much time focusing on the month of April. However, Larry Brown is the demanding type and I didn’t want to have to stall until October to send over my next column. Thus, I pile on. Truth is despite the fact he was 5th in the National League MVP voting, Pujols put up career lows last year in average (.299) and RBI (99), numbers that would qualify as career milestones for most other players in the Majors. Factor in he is exclusively facing American League pitching for the first time in his career, and there are signs for concerns, especially since he has yet to hit a home run this season and has only four more RBIs than a certain sportswriter who has not picked up a bat since being frightened by a menacing-looking spider a while back.

Add in the fact that the Angels have blown numerous leads, have one of the Majors’ worst bullpen ERAs, were the last team in the AL to record a save, have found timely hitting as hard to come by as I find thought-provoking discourse, and lost a game Sunday when 9-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter lost a pop fly in the sun. Off to one of the worst starts in team history, they have now staked their hopes on a fish called Trout.

Fishiness isn’t simply confined to the West. On the opposite side of the country, the team formerly known as the Florida Marlins has been looking like a fish out of water. Despite two World Series titles apparently bought with trinkets salvaged from an old pirate ship wreckage (well, it would explain Bobby Bonilla), the Marlins in 2010 were forced into spending money amid a grievance filed by the players’ union claiming that the team payroll was too small, the baseball tort-equivalent of getting one’s head shoved into the toilet. The team in turn spent money on re-signing the oft-injured Josh Johnson and free agent catcher John Buck, who last year hit about as well as Joe Buck, the broadcaster/Midnight Cowboy character.

Less than two years after their public spendthrift flogging, the team’s payroll is now just south of $100 million. Keep in mind The Fish had a payroll of only $15 million in 2006, about the cost of one of A-Rod’s towelettes. The signings suggest that the Marlins’ front office still needs to figure out to properly bait a hook. Reyes (6 years, $106 million) has hit in the low .200s, Mark Buehrle (4 years, $58 million) is 1-4, and Heath Bell (3 years, $27 million) is 0-3 with an ERA well north of his hat size.

To make matters worse, their new manager didn’t last a week before being suspended for making complimentary remarks about Fidel Castro, perhaps in a vain effort to recruit a new closer. Not all hope is lost, however, as long as Ozzie Guillen stays away from tweeting any positive asides about Leonid Brezhnev and the Marlins find a way to work their way up the NL East food chain, or, at the very least, convince the other four teams in the division that the rules have changed and last place is akin to beachfront property.

Some wise person once said that possessions are fleeting. If that were the case, then someone tell me why Andruw Jones will still be paid $3.2 million per year for the next three years despite not playing for the team the last four years. A song held “Money can’t buy me love”. The Beatles should check with the Minnesota Timberwolves about the accuracy of that one. A philosopher wrote “There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money”.

Sophocles obviously wasn’t a Cubs fan. It still stands to reason, though, that only one month has passed, and there are still over five to go. But, a cautionary note for baseball’s big spenders: There’s probably a good reason Ben Franklin isn’t smiling on the $100 note.



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