Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Carlos v. Carlos

Tim Kurkjian, contributer to ESPN, pens a good article about how Carlos Beltran is more timely than great; he's a remarkable player and a valuable one, but not to the tune of 17 or so million dollars a year, which is the contract that he will probably command for seven years as a free agent in this free spending off-season.

17 million dollars a year is a lot of money. It is more than half the payroll of the lowest spending major league team. If you factor in luxury tax for a team like the Yankees (40% for the third time offenders), it might BE the payroll of a team like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Beltran is a great switch hitter, a stellar defensive center fielder, a savvy base-stealer, and even better, something that Kurkjian does not mention, is not a clubhouse cancer and is a great promotional tool especially for a team with a large Dominican (ethnic, not religious) demographic. He's entering what should be his best years as a major-league player (29-31) and might seriously threaten to hit 50 homers and steal 50 bases one of these days.

But 17 million . . . let's see who's comparable to Beltran right now. says it's Carlos Lee, and it's a telling comparison. Both players are of similar age (Beltran is less than a year younger), both are excellent outfielders (Lee had NO errors in left field last year), and their career slugging percentages are virtually identical (Beltran .490, Lee .488). Their 2004 on-base percentages were also virtually identical (.367, .366). Lee actually just got traded, to the Brewers for Luis Vizcaino and Scott Podsednik and a player to be named, and made 6.5 million in 2004 (and will make 8 million next year with an option for 2006 for 8.5 million that the Brewers would be daft not to pick up). No GM in their right mind would make a deal like that for Beltran. So what makes Beltran worth from 9-10 million dollars a year more?

It might be argued that Beltran has more upside since he's the better athlete. But then again, Lee is also a young player with his best years ahead of him. Lee doesn't have the basepath instincts or speed that Beltran does, but 30 steals a year is not worth 10 million dollars. If they were, Dave Roberts would be richer than Croesus. Admittedly, Beltran is a ridiculously smart basestealer, not getting caught once in 28 attempts with the Astros last year. But then again, Lee is no slouch either, with a career percentage slightly above 70, or roughly what Bill James says it takes to make a steal worthwhile.

Beltran is a switch hitter, but Lee is a right handed batter that mashes against both righties (.303) and lefties (.308).

So it boils down to "intangibles". Beltran (deservedly) got rookie of the year honors in 1999, but Lee had an impressive rookie year too. Beltran plays a more glorious position in center, and is the more marketable player, as a charismatic, clutch switch hitting center fielder. Lee's closest left field counterpart is probably Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, who is probably overall a little better and has a slightly better contract, but gets a whole lot more attention because of his team and his mystique as a transplanted Japanese baseball player (Godzilla). So Lee's steady play and good presence in left amounts to ten million a year less because he hasn't gotten the awards and plays for low profile teams like the White Sox and the Brewers.

Some team out there, possibly the Mets, will overpay for Beltran. They'll overpay a lot for him, because that's what agent Scott Boras is good at. They'll pay more than premium money for a premium outfielder, but then again, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. After all, it's not like Beltran will get a bloated contract like the one that Manny Ramirez possesses. However, it is because of his stellar playoff run and Boras' good marketing ability that Beltran will land a seven or eight year contract. Unless he hits 50 home runs next year, Carlos Lee will never get a seven year deal. Heck, no player should ever get a seven year deal; it's just bad business planning. For any player around 27 or 28, a seven year deal pretty much guarantees two or three good years, hopefully little to no decline after 32, and hopefully no injuries. There's a lot of risk that often does not pay off (see: Mike Hampton).


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