Why can’t one of the leagues all-time great sluggers find a job, and have the Rockies pulled the string on a series of moves that will preclude the club from being a contender for the next decade?
The Plight of Jim Thome
Jim Thome is a masher of historic proportions. He has 589 homers, the 8th most in big league history, and though he hit “only” 25 homers last season that was in a mere 276 at-bats. Given that pace, if he had come to the plate for 500 at-bats he would have hit 45 homers. Clearly the old man, he’s 39, can still mash it. Thome was exceptionally effective against righties last season hitting .302 with 19 homers and a 1.154 OPS in just 189 at-bats, a pace of 50 homers per 500 at-bats. Honestly, he was every bit the equal of Albert Pujols and last season when facing righties.
So where does all that leave him for 2011? It leaves him unemployed. The Twins remain interested in bringing back the slugger, but Thome is looking for one last substantial paycheck after playing last season for $1.7 million. He won’t be giving the Twins a hometown discount to return. This has left the door open for someone to capitalize, and it looks like the Rangers have come out guns a blazin’. I have a hard time figuring out where the at-bats would come from though. Here is what I see.
The addition of Adrian Beltre to play third base moves Michael Young to DH. Young could find at-bats literally at every position on the infield (including first base), but for now Young is slotted as the primary DH. That leaves first base in the hands of Mitch Moreland, and with rumors floating around that the Rangers wouldn’t include him in a deal to get Matt Garza, I would be hard pressed to think they really want to platoon Moreland in 2011 even if he did struggle in limited work against lefties last year (.200 in 20 ABs). And you can forget about David Murphy getting 400 at-bats unless someone is hurt. The Rangers seemingly don’t have a spot in the every day lineup for Thome – though that doesn’t mean he couldn’t match last years total with the Twins of 276 at-bats. What I do know is that if he is added to the club, the Rangers would be forced to move people around a lot, and that isn’t an ideal situation for a team with championship aspirations. Having that flexibility with positions is wonderful, but players like to find their comfort zones and really don’t want to be in and out of the lineup, using a different glove, every day.
Have the Rockies Been Financially Wise?
I don’t often spend time talking about baseball and money, though I did last month in The End of Baseball? I’m not going to bash the Yankees and the Red Sox today (for a change). Instead, I want to touch on the business model that the Rockies are currently operating under.
The Rockies have signed the two cornerstone’s of their franchise to deals worth more than $214 million as Troy Tulowitzki signed a 7-year, $134.5 million contract extension while Carlos Gonzalez re-upped for 7-years and $80 million. That is a whopping amount of cash which raises the very real possibility that the Rockies may not be able to put forth a contender for the next decade.
Last year the Rockies spent $84 million on their payroll. Though it will take a few years for the massive dollars of Tulo and CarGo to really kick in, the duo will be paid about $30 million a year over the life of their contracts. That number rises even further as the deals reach the later years as they will make $36 million in 2015, $37 million in 2016 and $40 million in 2017. Even if the club raises the payroll to $100 million in three to five years as expected, their duo will be sucking up nearly 40 percent of the payroll. To draw a parallel, the Yankees would have had to of spent $83 million on Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia to have devoted 40 percent of their team salary to two guys in 2010 (they actually made about $57 million). The bottom line is that you simply cannot have 40 percent of your payroll invested in just two players – it just doesn’t work. If either player is injured, or fails to perform like they did in 2010, the Rockies will be sunk. The reason is that so much of their resources are tied up in two players that they will be unable to substantially increase their payroll if they have other holes to fill on the roster. Will they be able to sign that veteran backup for $4 million, or will they have to go with the $500,000 youngster with only 112 big league at-bats? Will they be able to bring in a setup man of note if they have only $900,000 to spend on a bullpen arm? Of course they wont.
I wish the Rockies all the luck in the world. Denver is a magnificent town, that ballpark is a jewel, and it seems like Tulo and Gonzalez both have a shot to be All-Star’s for the duration of their deals. Still, for a team that will never be able to financially compete with the big boys I think this was a move that they may end up regretting. Take it from a San Francisco Giants’ fan that watched his team, for years, be hamstring by the contract of superstar Barry Bonds – one major contract can be tough to overcome when you don’t have endless resources, let alone two.
By Ray Flowers