There was some serious hotstove craziness this morning, with a slew of signings, including the massive, shocking move of
J.P. Arencibia to the Rangers Robinson Cano out of the AL East, to the Seattle Mariners. I’d like to take a look at all of them, plus the implications on the markets for pitching and second base, but thanks to last night’s excellent holiday party for those of us at theScore, plus my sweating about Spain and Chile after today’s World Cup draw, I’m not quite capable of doing much beyond looking at the real earth-shaking one, and the one you’re most likely to hear Jays fans groan about– and for damn good reason.
Cano would have made a world of more sense for the Jays than he does the Mariners, and in the abstract there is absolutely no reason that Rogers shouldn’t have been able to pay this kind of money, and to ensure whoever is running the club that the deal wouldn’t hamstring them later on, when the contract becomes the giant flaming albatross that it’s destined to. Or maybe they wouldn’t have even had to– the contract is just not that bad.
Last month Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote about teams accepting dead money on a deal like this, and applied a standard aging curve to Cano to project his WAR for the next nine years. By that (obviously imperfect) measure, Cano would still likely be almost a three-win player in 2019, the sixth year of the deal. The projection suggests he’d have accumulated nearly 30 wins by the end of that season– not unrealistic– which would make the entire deal worth about $8-million per win right there. That’s fair enough value on this market, I’d say, to look at whatever production he could bring in the remaining four years– or whatever savings you could muster by eating some dollars and moving him elsewhere– as gravy.
As easy as it may be to rationalize if you want to think about it that way, though, it’s still a gigantic commitment, and you’re still staring at years of paying a guy $24-million when you know full well he’s not going to be nearly that productive. It’s an immense gamble, but one I’d have been more comfortable with the Jays betting on than Prince Fielder and his questionable body type, or Albert Pujols and his questionable age (not to mention his poor, by his old standards, final season in St. Louis).
The point, however, is moot. This year Mariners partnered with DirecTV on a $2-billion deal to start a regional sports network that will show the club’s games for the next 17 years, though there surely would have been interest from their current carrier, Root Sports Northwest, or from Portland-based Comcast SportsNet Northwest as well. The Jays, of course, don’t have the luxury of selling their rights to the highest bidder, or creating a new network for themselves, because they’re already someone else’s content– Rogers. And, as we well know (though occasionally fail, or try hard not to understand) that part of the appeal of owning the club is, for Rogers, precisely that they can get the content at below-market rates. Good for Sportsnet– it helps them save money for things that they do have to bid competitively on, like NHL rights– but bad for the Jays.
It goes both ways, though, too. There are huge incentives in ensuring the club maintains a strong brand with strong interest in it, which makes it all the more valuable as cheap content. Part of doing that is by investing in the club, and not to defend them too much, but that commitment can be seen in the jump from a $70-million payroll in 2011 to $150-million in 2015. Even factoring in the extra $26-million each team gets with MLB’s new national TV deals, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Apparently, though, the sorts of mega-deals we’re talking about with Cano just don’t fare well in the cost-benefit analysis.
It’s a shitty way to have to look at it when you know that the money just sitting there, and that the deal is not even necessarily terrible, that flags fly forever, and that ownership has just been spending lavishly on hockey, but it’s not like the recent $5.2-billion NHL rights deal, or last summer’s MLSE acquisition, weren’t subject to the exact same kind of considerations. So I get it. This is how the club is run. We can’t expect the Rogers corporation to operate like Mike Ilitch or for the Jays to be able to get their hands on the same kinds of funds or the same kinds of revenue streams as clubs who own their own RSN.
A business case needs to be made for everything, and while you can make a business-of-baseball case for Cano, I think, can you make the case that the $240-million is going to create at least that much additional revenue for the company over that span? I don’t know that you can. And it would be nice if we could separate this kind of stuff out from the skewering of Anthopoulos, Beeston, or even Rogers itself that is, if my radio is any indication, follow in the wake of this move. They are all operating within a framework. It is what it is.
And let’s be clear, that framework still allows for paths to success– and to major free agent signing– just not, apparently, ones like this. Let’s also be clear, it’s the framework, and not some silly pseudo-rule that limits the length of contracts they’ll sign, which is behind the Jays’ reluctance to be players for a game-changing player at one of their most glaring positions of need.
On the surface it seems obvious that they should have been, but in reality it should be obvious why they weren’t.
I wrote hopefully about Cano as a pipe dream back in October in a piece that I think works well as further reading on these matters.