The Mudflat Million

Here's a Monday morning question for you. Will five good free agent signings take place this off-season?

That is to say, "good" from the team's perspective.

And no, this isn't another screed in the vein of these damn ballplayers make too much money, firefighters should be the REAL millionaires. No, I'm just looking for something resembling a wise investment. Something that from a baseball standpoint, either in terms of money spent, team need, or some combination of both, stands out as a clearly smart deal. Considering how weak this year's FA crop is, as well as the fact that they're nearly all centerfielders or middle relievers, a smart deal that fits a need may be hard to find.

While it seems like nothing is happening, counting moves involving contract options, we've already had 35 "free agent signings" to date, which doesn't include the persistently news-worthy A-Rod deal with the Yankees. Still, as these things go, option moves aren't quite free agent signings, just as made-for-TV-movies aren't quite movies. As the news of the Toriiiiiii Hunter signing surfaced this weekend, I didn't  really know how to react to the news. Sure, it was so very Angels in many ways, but yet manifestly curious nevertheless. Again, my point here isn't to take on the old and familiar blogger/stathead pose of critique, at least, not exactly. Honestly, though, five years/90 million,  in that outfield, what the hell? Everyone knew that someone was going to overpay for Hunter this winter, sure. But at least the assumption was going to be that it was a team with a hole in center, at least in theory. Doubtlessly, the Sarge Jr. contract looks more awful each day, but its hard to find a recent example of any team -- even the Yankees or BoSox -- so obviously just saying, "ohh well, that was terrible, its a sunk cost, we'll move on" with a comparable cost/years scenario.

Maybe a defense will surface, and maybe $15 million per won't even be that much in two more years, when Hunter's an average corner outfielder with a good glove. Maybe thats all there is to it. But to return to the original rhetorical question raised by me, no, I don't think anyone would make the case that this is a "smart move". At best, maybe its like a $800 flight bought at the last minute: hideously expensive but justifiable because the alternatives are worse. To an extent, the cowardly three-year deal the Red Sox gave Mike Lowell seems to be a rather different animal of a somewhat different genus. Aside from defense, every single justification for that contract is of the magical pixie dust variety: an old guy's batting average holding up, clutchness and clubhouse leadership and status as the anti-Arod.  If anything, the Lowell and Varitek contracts are reminders that the Red Sox can afford to be sappy and stupid because they're smart enough and rich enough to make up for it in other areas. For Cleveland, who nearly knocked off Boston in the ALCS, the Lowell deal is precisely the kind of acknowledged over-pay that they can't really afford to make, even if they wanted to.

Just skimming the various sites tracking the free agent movement, the only really inspired signing I see so far, the kind of move I hope Dayton Moore makes this winter and beyond, is Cleveland's two-year deal with Kobayashi. Sure, the trans-Pacific crossover always involves a bit of risk, but considering the money and years Cordero and Romero have received, it looks like exactly the kind low-risk, high-reward signing that we've come to expect from Shapiro. The fact that there's also a cheap club option year ($3.25 M) tacked on, makes it look even better.

So there's one good signing. So now I turn it over to you. Do you think there will be four more good ones between now and Opening Day?

p.s.

Oh, right. I forgot. The Jason LaRue deal with the Cardinals, which is obviously an awesome move for the Redbirds. I was simply too emotionally scarred to mention it earlier.

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