Maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't the team to be taking lessons from, but then again, why not? In a small market, they've got to make things work and work on the cheap, relatively speaking. I bring this up after reading a Pirates blog in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic follows up on the Pirates' non-tendering of closer Matt Capps:
What struck me were comments by Pirates GM Neal Huntington. Dejan reports: "Neal Huntington commissioned Dan Fox, the Pirates' statistical guy, to perform an analysis of the value of relief. Among other information it produced: If you take the top 50 relievers in the game, then take out all the closers, there tends to be a 60 percent turnover from year to year."
Huntington's "long-standing thinking" is summed up this way: "People have tried to pay the big bucks for relief, and it generally doesn't work."
Ring any bells?
How about Mike Remlinger at three years and $10.6 million? Or LaTroy Hawkins at three years and $11 million? Or Bob Howry for three years and $12 million. Or Scott Eyre at three years for $11 million?
Yep, those are all relievers signed by the Cubs in the era of Jim Hendry as GM. Just recently, Hendry re-signed lefty reliever John Grabow for two years and $7 million. We'll see how that works out. It may or it may not.
Hendry also has signed veterans such as Mark Guthrie and Scott Williamson, with less than stellar results. To paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, a few million here and a few million there, and pretty soon we're talking real money.
As most of you know, the return on almost all of these investments was not what the Cubs bargained for. Remlinger was a total disaster. Hawkins was miscast as a closer, and he did and said knuckleheaded things in his time with the Cubs before they traded him. Howry had his moments, but really, was he any better than our old pal Michael Wuertz (I had to bring that up again)? You know how Lou felt about Eyre, a.k.a., "Stevie Ire."
Huntington did not tender a contract to Capps, 26, who made $2.425 million this year and was seeking a reported $3.4 million in arbitration. The Pirates figured they could probably do better, or at least no worse, for a lot less. The real outcry in Pittsburgh is not over the Pirates losing Capps, but getting nothing for him. When the Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates might not tender Capps a 2010 contract, interest from potential trading partners allegedly dried up. Huntington at least blamed the leak in his own front office and not the paper for reporting that Capps might not be tendered.
The Cubs, as we reported yesterday on this blog, have some interest in Capps. However, they want to see what his market value is because they don't have much spare money lying around.
I'd love to hear what you think about the whole idea of paying middle relievers big bucks, but it will be interesting to watch the Pirates' approach and see if other teams, even bigger-market teams, follow suit.