Tuesday, January 06, 2004

A Changed Market: Alomar, Gonzo sign.
Boy, has the market changed. Tom Hicks' $252 million dollar mistake seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back. It was a back that withheld Kevin Brown's $105 million dollar contract, Jason Giambi's $120 million dollar contract, and Manny Ramirez's $160 million dollar contract, all guaranteed. It's clear based on this year's signings that those days are over and $100 million dollar contracts have gone the way of Tamagotchi's. Sure, Miguel Tejada got $72 million from Baltimore over the next 6 years, but that's a good $7-12 million/year shy of what the others garnered in their superdeals. The most telling cases of the changed market occured when Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez signed today.

Alomar, once the most dominant 2B in the game, fantasy or otherwise, inked a ghastly $1 million dollar, one-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 12-time All-Star has truly fallen off, much like his salary which took a $7 million dollar hit in 2004. Seven million dollar cut!! That's fine if you're going from $15 to $8 million, but from $8 to $1 million? Wow. A once-thought of shoe-in first ballot Hall of Famer, Alomar now has plenty of work ahead of him. His dominance of the game truly begins when he's traded to Toronto and peaked during his time there, in Baltimore and finally in Cleveland:

1991 Tor 161 88 41 9 69 53 0.295 0.354 0.436
1992 Tor 152 105 27 8 76 49 0.310 0.405 0.427
1993 Tor 153 109 35 17 93 55 0.326 0.408 0.492
1994 Tor 107 78 25 8 38 19 0.306 0.386 0.452
1995 Tor 130 71 24 13 66 30 0.300 0.354 0.449
1996 Bal 153 132 43 22 94 17 0.328 0.411 0.527
1997 Bal 112 64 23 14 60 9 0.333 0.390 0.500
1998 Bal 147 86 36 14 56 18 0.282 0.347 0.418
1999 Cle 159 138 40 24 120 37 0.323 0.422 0.533
2000 Cle 155 111 40 19 89 39 0.310 0.378 0.475
2001 Cle 157 113 34 20 100 30 0.336 0.415 0.541

It was that fateful day in December of 2001 that, unbeknownst to many, would mark the downslide and maybe the end of a great career. The Mets dealt outfielder Matt Lawton, super prospect Alex Escobar, pitcher Jerrod Riggan and two players to be named to Cleveland for Alomar, pitcher Mike Bacsik and Danny Peoples. Fresh off of one of only two 100-RBI seasons and a career high .336 batting average, it was clear at the time that the Mets were going for it all while the Indians were re-tooling.

Alomar's first year in New York was a colossal disappointment and gave strength to the argument that some players, not matter how great, can't handle the Big Apple. It was like he had started over. No really, it was eerily similar to his rookie year:

1988 SD 143 84 24 9 41 24 0.266 0.328 0.382
2002 NYM 149 73 24 11 53 16 0.266 0.331 0.376

It turns out that year one wasn't just an adjustment period. Year two brought more of the same and eventually led to his trade back to the American League. On the White Sox, he was once again expected to rejuvenate the career and return to excellence. It simply wasn't to be. His 2003 totals were a regression from that of 2002:

2003 CWS 67 42 11 3 17 6 0.253 0.330 0.340
2003 NYM 73 34 17 2 22 6 0.262 0.336 0.357
2003 -- 140 76 28 5 39 12 0.258 0.333 0.349

At 35, Alomar sits 321 hits away from the ever-precious 3,000 mark. Hardly unattainable, but had he not fallen off since leaving Cleveland and maintained his 162 game averages, he'd be closer to 2,780. Now, he's fighting time, pressure and a dimished skill set to reach the golden ticket into the Hall. Maybe playing around Carlos Baerga, his former roommate, will jump start his career. Maybe being around a group of veterans like Steve Finley, Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Steve Sparks, and Baerga will get him back on track. Look at what Arizona did for Finley:

1998 SD 159 92 40 14 67 12 0.249 0.301 0.401
1999 Ari 156 100 32 34 103 8 0.264 0.336 0.525
2000 Ari 152 100 27 35 96 12 0.28 0.361 0.544

Will Alomar meet the same fate? Regardless, had you told me in 2000, that in just 4 years Alomar would be signing a $1 million dollar contract, $350,000 of which is deferred without interest until 2009 and is void of performance incentives, and signed only after the dust settles on the real commodities available, I'd have had some choice words for you and your sanity. But alas we sit here today in a changed market.

K.C. signs Juan Gonzalez
Though a worhwhile example, Alomar's case doesn't thoroughly exemplify the changed market. He's not performing and as such, he's not making money. Two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez's signing shows the changed market, however. His one-year $4.5 million dollar contract comes after two injury plauged seasons, but the latest of which saw him on pace for 48 home runs. Being the me-first kind of guy Gonzalez is, one can't help but wonder how much he regrets not signing the $100+ million dollar extension the Detroit Tigers offered him after his one, miserable year in the Motor City. As a Tigers fan, I rely on the adage of some of the best moves are the ones not made, or in this case turned down. Thanks, Juan.

Though the contract is laden with incentives, Gonzalez stands to make nearly $8 million dollars less than he did last year, much like Alomar. At 34, a healthy Gonzalez is still a premier slugger in the league, but finally baseball owners have wised and stopped giving headaches like Gonzalez gobs of guaranteed money. You think you're worth more than $4.5 million over a year, prove it... on the field. Gonzalez has never played over 155 games and since becoming a starter in 1991 has played fewer than 135 games five times. Two of those were 40+ HR seasons, so imagine the possibilites of a healthy Gonzalez. For once, owners are simply imagining them instead of paying for potential and then hoping for a payoff.

At least the A.Rod contract taught owners something, the problem is that it's a lesson that was learned far too late. All hope shouldn't be lost, though. The market has tempered and when teams like Anaheim and Kansas City are heavy players in the free agent market and your last three World Series winners aren't from New York or Boston, but rather Anaheim, Miami and Phoenix, it's a sign that all of these owners have money and now they have to choose to spend it. Spend, but spend wisely. The crutch of "I can't afford a $100M dollar contract" is no longer available to you, I gave it to poor Tiny Tim so he wouldn't look so pathetic using just one all the time.