In The Waiting, Tom Petty tells us that “the waiting is the hardest part.” And while normally I would never be one to question Tom Petty lyrics, I have to wonder how difficult delaying one’s gratification is when it’s abundantly clear that said gratification is of much more benefit to one’s baseball team than rushing into a reliever market that takes time to set.
It’s easy and somewhat obvious to point out the difference in Jonathan Papelbon signing a four year contract worth $50 million with the Philadelphia Phillies in November and Ryan Madson, a reliever of similar numbers, signing a one year contract worth only $8.25 million with the Cincinnati Reds twenty days into January. And, if you think the Phillies are kicking themselves for that, imagine how the Miami Marlins feel about their signing of Heath Bell, a far inferior reliever to Madson, to a three year contract worth $27 million in early December.
However, a laissez-faire approach to bolstering one’s bullpen goes beyond dealings with elite relievers. It’s also proven to be an effective strategy when dealing with relievers further down the rungs of rankings.
The Texas Rangers made a rare misstep when they signed Joe Nathan to a two year contract worth $14.75 million on November 21st. Compare the size of that commitment to what the Washington Nationals have just guaranteed to Brad Lidge, a reliever two years Nathan’s junior with similar numbers and similar injury risk, signing him to a $1 million contract for 2012.
You can even compare the Nathan signing to the Toronto Blue Jays landing former Cincinnati Reds closer Francisco Cordero this week for only $4.5 million. Picking up an ancient reliever at that price may not be the best use of money, but it’s certainly a better value add than what the Rangers spent on the former Minnesota Twins’ closer, with the added benefit of Cordero being less of an injury risk.
The list of late off season bargains continues with Dan Wheeler signing a Minor League contract with the Cleveland Indians just yesterday, and Kerry Wood agreeing to return to Chicago with the Cubs announcing a one year deal worth $3 million a little over a week ago. Compare those deals with the Minnesota Twins spending $4.75 million on Matt Capps on December 7th.
All of the bargain basement shopping going on at this time likely doesn’t bode well for list of remaining free agent relief pitchers which still include: Luis Ayala, Todd Coffey, Mike Gonzalez, Chad Qualls, Arthur Rhodes and Michael Wuertz. However, it does show us that when people describe baseball as being a game requiring patience, it certainly extends beyond just what happens on the field of play.