Featured MLB — 05 January 2012

Overpaid, underperforming, and here to stay. Those words can be best used to describe the Chicago Cubs roster over the last 5 years. Carlos Zambrano’s game has been as consistent as his temper. Alfonso Soriano’s career has taken him from Superstar 2nd Baseman to cancerous Left Fielder. Outside of 2010, Aramis Ramirez has been a stud, when healthy. However, “outside of 2010,” and “when healthy,” are quite the qualifiers. Marlon Byrd has been solid, but before him there was Milton Bradley. And Milton Bradley was replaced by Carlos Silva. That’s right; Milton Bradley and Carlos Silva are the honorable mentions. That’s how bad things have been for the Cubs.

But alas, new ownership will bring a deep-rooted, philosophical change to an organization that has been putting the pedal to the floor and spinning its wheels for far too long. The Cubs are starting over, and in time, they’ll be back on top. In their wake, they will leave a vacancy for the title of King Albatross. But which team will take their place? Who will be the heir to their overpriced throne? This off-season may have provided some clues.

The Washington Nationals

Early in the offseason, the Nationals had been rumored to be have made Prince Fielder an offer. Since then, the Nationals have vehemently denied interest in Fielder. However, some reports continue to link Fielder to Washington. If the Nationals sign Fielder, they will have one of the best teams in the NL. They will also have one of the most expensive future payrolls in all of MLB.

Fielder would mark the second top client of Scott Boras that the Nationals have signed in as many years, as they signed Jayson Werth to an enormous contract last season. After years of cellar-dwelling, and top-5 draft picks, the Nationals have a tremendous amount of young talent. Ryan Zimmerman is arguably the league’s best 3rd Baseman. Stephan Strasburg is arguably the league’s scariest Starting Pitcher. Drew Storen is the closer of the future. Bryce Harper has the potential to be an all-time great power hitter, while Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, and Michael Morse fill out a solid lineup. Jordan Zimmerman has shown promise, and the Nationals have just bolstered their starting staff by trading for Gio Gonzalez.

The Nationals would love to sign Ryan Zimmerman to a contract extension, and if they want to remain competitive, they absolutely must keep Strasburg around by paying him sooner than later. But with Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, and Jayson Werth making $10-$20 Million for the next 6 years, the Nationals payroll could be on the verge of ballooning.

A Prince Fielder mega-deal will not just hinder Washington’s efforts to extend Zimmerman or Strasburg, but it could prevent them from retaining players like Ramos, Espinosa, Morse, and Harper further down the road. Combine the idea that their mega deals could prevent them from retaining their younger players with the possibility that a player gets hurtor has a decrease in production, and the Nationals could quickly become a future-day version of the Chicago Cubs.

The Los Angeles Angels

In a day, the Angels added the best free agent hitter and the best free agent pitcher on the market. In a day, the Angels became better on paper than the 2-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers. What was the cost, though? Pujols is going to make a lot of money over the next 10 years. But for the next two years, he’ll only make $12 and $16 million. That’s an incredible value for the Angels, as those should be the two most productive years of his contract. The Angels were able to get such good value in those first two years by severely back-loading his deal. In 2014, his salary will jump from $16 to $23 million, and will increase by $1 million each year until he is making $30 million in 2021.

Obviously it’s impossible to project the makeup of the Angels ’21 squad, but we do know one thing: A 42 year old Albert Pujols will be earning $30 million. So, while the Angels are getting Pujols’ best years for cheap, they’ll be paying a premium for his worst years.
As if a $250 million contract wasn’t enough, the Angels also signed left-handed pitcher, CJ Wilson to a 5 year, $77.5 million back-loaded deal that will pay him $10 million in 2012, and incrementally rise to $20 million in 2016. That means that in 2016, Pujols and Wilson will be able to pay the 2010 Marlins.

The good news for the Angels’ future, despite carrying several other large contracts (Vernon Wells, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Jared Weaver), is that they just negotiated a new TV deal with Fox that will be worth $3 billion. $3,000,000,000! That’s like a century’s worth of Marlins teams!

The new TV deal means that the Angels should have no problem paying their players. However, when you backload long-term deals like this, you run the risk of having a team full of aging players that are either injured or underperforming. The Angels are going to look great for the next 2-3 years, but things could change very swiftly after that.

The Miami Marlins

Those Marlins jokes you just read aren’t exactly applicable anymore. I had to get them in while I could because the Marlins are no longer a joke. Or, at least they’re not the same kind of joke. The Marlins were so notoriously cheap that MLB had to intervene last season, forcing them to spend more of the revenue sharing money that they receive each year.

As the Marlins open a new stadium in Miami, they’ve decided to open their pocketbooks. They overpaid Jose Reyes and signed Mark Beurhle to a 4-year contract. They even made a far-too-serious offer to Pujols. Miami has been spending like there’s a Mayan calendar hanging on Jeffrey Loria’s wall.

The Marlins are already paying a lot of money to Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez. They will soon need to pay a lot of money to Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, and Anibal Sanchez. The money can’t continue to come out of nowhere, can it?

Obviously, the Marlins are putting a lot of stock into the new stadium’s ability to create revenue. The days of 7,000 fans per night are over. The new stadium is in a much better location, it’s actually a baseball stadium, and there will be a competitive product on the field. It will certainly create revenue, especially in its inaugural season.

The problem becomes whether or not the stadium can create a sustainable amount of revenue. Florida fans have been historically apathetic, so even if there is a huge influx of fans in 2012, it seems foolish to bet as much money as the Marlins bet this offseason on attendance remaining high in a city like Miami. At least when the Angels decided to increase payroll, they had an actual contract stating that revenue was going to increase for the next 20 years. The only guarantee that the Marlins have is that there are plenty of other things to do in Miami.

Despite spending all sorts of money that they’ve never spent before, the Marlins managed to maintain one sliver of sanity. The Marlins still refuse to offer no-trade clauses. Just like the little red button that we all like to imagine the President has, the Marlins have the ability to blow it all up if things get out of hand.

Are the Marlins the most likely team to become the newest version of the Cubs? That remains to be seen, but the odds might not be in their favor. The Angels have worse contracts, but at least we know they can afford them. The Nationals could be on the verge of doubling their payroll, but their owners are incredibly wealthy, and they have plenty of young talent to back it up. The Marlins, on the other hand, just have a whole lot of question marks.

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Tim Young is a Civil Engineer away from MLBSoup, but at the site he heads the pre-season fantasy baseball draft guide and reviews each week in the big leagues with his weekly round-up report. His heavily math-based background shows up in his writing, as he likes to keep a focus on numbers, and dig deeper than the usual surface scratching.

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