First Pitch: Are MLB Teams Getting Smarter With Certain Financial Decisions?

Buster Olney wrote an interesting article earlier today, talking about Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, and mentioning Vin Mazzaro clearing waivers. Mazzaro could have been had for just the cost of his $950,000 salary on waivers, but ended up clearing waivers and getting outrighted to Triple-A. Olney had the following quote from one GM to explain the situation.

“Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend,” said one GM. “There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around.”

I’m not one who believes that MLB teams have infinite money to spend. However, I can’t believe teams have zero dollars to spend, especially teams that are in desperate need of bullpen help. That makes me wonder whether MLB teams are getting smarter about spending the money they do have available.

Mazzaro had a 2.81 ERA last year in 73.2 innings. ERA isn’t a good stat to judge a reliever’s true skill level. But that doesn’t mean teams haven’t used that stat to judge relievers in the past. The better stat to use is xFIP, which showed Mazzaro with a 4.00 last year. That’s not bad, but it amounted to an 0.4 WAR on the season. Out of 135 qualified relievers in the majors last year, Mazzaro’s 4.00 FIP tied for 109th. The fact that Mazzaro has never been better than a 4.55 xFIP in his career might raise some doubt that he can repeat his 2013 success.

If I’m running a team, and I need pitching, I’m not saying I wouldn’t pick up Mazzaro for free on waivers. I think he’s definitely worth his salary. But the upside is limited here. The best case scenario is that you’re getting a guy who pitches like a strong middle reliever. His ERA was better than that last year, but his advanced numbers don’t suggest he will repeat that going forward. It’s not like you’re adding someone like Mark Melancon, who has the potential to be a late inning reliever or a closer.

So are teams getting smarter about spending their limited resources? Or is this just a case specific to Mazzaro?

Olney also talked about the situations surrounding Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew. Morales is a guy who has a good bat, but no defensive value. Drew is a guy who has a pretty poor injury history. It looks like a huge mistake that they both turned down their qualifying offers. Now they’re in a situation where teams don’t want to pay them AND part with a draft pick.

It’s not that I think these teams are wrong. It’s just that I’m not used to teams passing on spending money on guys like Morales and Drew, and doing so in large part due to the value of draft picks. I’m also not used to teams passing on a guy like Vin Mazzaro, who has good traditional numbers, but advanced metrics which don’t make him seem like a massive value. This may just be a small sample size of three cases. Or it could be evidence that MLB teams as a whole are starting to get smarter about some of their financial decisions.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases onthe products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Prospect Watch: Sadler With Another Strong Start; McGuire Picks Up Three Hits

**Jeff Locke Dominates With His Fastball in a Rehab Start

**Minor League Schedule: Brandon Cumpton Gets Second Start

**Prospect Highlights: Willy Garcia’s Walk Off Homer; Cody Dickson Strikes Out 7

**An Early Look at the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Rotation

**What Do You Want to See on Pirates Prospects? I’ve received a lot of responses on this. To address two of the common suggestions/comments:

1. The podcast will eventually be back once I finish getting other things set up for the season on the site.

2. A lot of people have asked about a Q&A or a chat. I thought a weekly Q&A would be a good addition. Feel free to e-mail any questions to tim@piratesprospects.com.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • Andrew

    I think teams are getting smarter in locking up their young talent and understanding that free agents who sign with a new team usually under-perform projections.

    Never understood the idea that Mazzaro held a lot of trade value, middle relievers are the worst pitchers in the game, I do not think you need advanced metrics to tell you that Mazzaro has a hittable fastball and one average breaking pitch, any scouting report would show that. The guy was 127/135 in K/9 among relievers, baseball is in the highest strikeout era ever and Mazzaro was not exactly mowing batter down.

  • Lino Donoso

    I hope some of Boras’ other clients are paying attention. Not that I wouldn’t expect lots of demand for Pedro and Cole, but if Boras thinks the market is one thing and 30 major league GMs think it’s another, well. . .

    Iknow, I know, it only takes one. . .

    • Y2JGQ2

      Scott Boras blamed the system, but he is PAID by his clients to navigate whatever the system is, and provide them with the largest payout AND security. He failed big time, and if i was one of those clients, i’d be looking for new representation

      • stickyweb

        It pains me to no end to defend Boras, but I believe no player has ever accepted the QO, so it was probably going to take a case or two where a player doesn’t get signed for the players to actually consider the QO in the future. We’re just lucky as hell it turned out to be 2 Boras clients left hanging in the wind and him looking like the jackass.

  • stickyweb

    As a contrarian, I loved this quote from a GM:
    “Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend,” said one GM. “There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around.”
    We all know NH has some money lying around, so I like seeing him zig when everyone else is zagging. Now if he can use that extra money to pull off an in season trade, all the better.

  • sweetleb

    gm’s are smarter? homer bailley 100 mill.for the reds #3 starter and choo 144 million for a guy who can’t hit lefties and than gets moved to the corner outfield. and don’t forget albert and wiggy and josh’s long contracts.

    • IC Bob

      Great article Tim very thought provoking. I agree there are still some crazy contracts Sticky being handed out. In defense of the Angels GM, if you have an endless bucket of money and cost is not an issue. why not spend it on the best available (Pujois, Hamilton). Giving Choo and Bailey the money they got when neither has had sustained success due to injury or just inconsistent play makes no sense. I do wish the Bucs could afford a crazy contract. I would like to see Pedro around for many many years but you just get the feeling he is destined to be a Yankee.

    • wkkortas

      Stars–or guys who are perceived as stars–are going to get paid, because it only takes a man-crush by one GM or one owner who wants to make a splash to do something stupid. Myabe it would be more accurate to say that clubs are getting smarter about spending for second-tier guys like Morales and fringe players like Mazzaro.

  • ecbucs

    well the Pirates were willing to pay him almost a million and would have if Bryan Morris or Jenmar Gomez had had poor springs. So it could be more than a matter of timing. Who was looking for a middle reliever right now and had somebody on 40 man roster they were willing to replace?

    I think the Bucs made right decision in keeping Morris over Mazzaro, not yet sure on whether Gomez is better (at least he is capable of starting).

    Wonder if Gomez would have made it thru waivers too?

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    The only problem with both Pedro and Cole is by the time they hit free agency, that will be superstars. Boras has no problem getting superstars contract over the last couple of seasons: Ellsbury, Felder, Werth, and Shin-Soo Choo.

    Where Boras seems to over value the market is in the non superstars. Those 3-5 starters in a rotation, a potential role player or platoon player, is where Boras thinks the market will come to his demands, trying to
    bully the market. Last year he didn’t have Lohse, Bourne and Refael Soniaro signed until the very last days. Now
    this year with both Drew and Morales both are sitting at home two weeks into the season. You know they cannot be
    happy with that. You also know that Boras never sold them on this strategy on waiting out the market this
    long.

    You have to think the deal Cruz signed which was about 10% of what he was looking for, had to send a
    message to Boras. The best chance for Morales and Drew now is to sign after the June draft where the compensation pick is no longer tied to them.

    You have to think that the early and easy signing of Ellsbury and Choo played a factor in the strategy
    of how he handled Drew and Morales.

    You also wonder if the impact of the qualifying offers will change Boras strategy of not negotiating extensions
    of his clients contracts.

  • mam995

    Yes Tim, as I so inarticulately opined in the previous piece about Mazzaro, teams have ALWAYS wanted to bend the cost curve. It’s just that Marvin Miller was such a tremendous union leader, probably one of the greatest ever. He out-smarted the owners time and time again. There is a new breed of owners who want to run the game like a true business. What are the biggest variable costs to baseball? Labor costs.. Calvin Griffith wanted to run baseball like a busines, but was essentially forced out of the game. Bob Nutting is GOING to run baseball as a business.”Donut Hole” contracts are basically budget forcast contracts that allow a team to control future costs. With steroids out of the game, these Donut Hole contracts realistically take a player past his prime years. The average male loses 20% of his testosterone around age 30. There will still be free agency, but if you sign an older player, you’re basically over-paying for a lesser player. Not a good business decision for most teams. I mentioned in my previous letter, the term “Comparison Contracts”. Teams now are looking at what other pre-free agency players are getting that have similiar skill sets. For example, if Neal Walker does a pre-free agent deal, it will be comparable to what Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis got. This has the effect of restricting the market almost like a salary cap. Of course, Scott Boras is fighting this trend. He approached the Tigers about an extention contract 2 years ago for Matt Scherzer, but he wanted to break the bank. Detroit said , “no”. Scherzer had just come back from a minor league demotion. He hadn’t even established himself yet. He also approached the Pirates about an extention for Pedro Alvarez too. When he was still struggIing. I am sure that’s now off the table as well. Of course, the marginal, fringe player is simply chattel in the baseball Monopoly system. It’s terrible for them…living with such uncertainty. Talk to Bob Walk and let him tell you how bad it was living in the minors with a family. But they all have a dream. The only problem is what do you do…when your dream lets go of you?

  • CalipariFan506

    Certain is the key word. The Mets signed Granderson to a ridiculous contract and forfeited a draft pick. But they’ll save 450k on Mazzaro?

    • mam995

      Well, CalipariFan506, the money for Curtis Granderson isn’t too much ($60 million for 4 years), the contract is too long. They gave up a second round pick. Granderson was born in 1981. That means that he’ll be 37 when his contract expires. He’s already showing signs of slowing down and being injury prone. He’s not going to be able to play out to that contract unless he can get his hands on a designer steroid that can’t be traced by the current science yet (like Miggy and Pujols) lol. Major League Baseball tests for about 50 anabolic steriods when there are about 400 that exist. By the way, Fox Baseball is reporting that Pujol’s decline is “stunning”. No kidding? He’s over 30. Without steroids even the greatest players experience a precipitous decline. I saw Willie Mays, one of the greatest players who ever lived, not even be able to catch a pop fly at first base. He was THAT done at age 36,but I digress. The Met’s payroll is “only” $89 million. That’s not much for a team in the number one market. Their attendance is also down by 32%. Ouch! So, they’re obviously being mismanaged by the Wilpons. The Mets need relievers, especially after the Parnell injury. They need a shortstop too. Stephen Drew is out there, but he would cost them a third round pick. They have 3 first basemen on their 25 man roster. That should tell you everything that you need to know about them. Their organization is in disarray.-CalipariFan, I personally know John Calipari from his days at Pitt as an assistant coach. I used to talk him all the time. He’s a good guy. I once told him that he was going to be a great head coach. He said, “thank you”.