Evaluating Deals vs. Players

After reading a wide array of comments either on recent threads here, regarding evaluating free agent signings, or on the forums that chose to link to the same articles, I felt compelled to briefly discuss a certain point of contention. A difference exists between signing a good player and signing a player to a good deal. As simple as that sounds, it is an aspect of analysis all too often forgotten amongst many types of fans and writers. What this means is that it is very possible to sign a bad player to a good deal or a good player to a bad deal.

Likewise, when discussing trades and returns on these trades, it is possible to obtain a good player even though the trade is deemed poor on your part. I don’t want to discuss Gil Meche any more than we have recently, but he seems like the perfect guinea pig on which to illustrate the point. When people discuss Meche and his contract, there are two camps: those who feel it was a great deal and those who still think it was a poor decision on the part of the Royals. Though both camps differ on the signing from the standpoint of a GM or franchise insider, each side is in agreement that he has performed quite well.

It is not as if those who feel the signing was poor derive their opinions from thinking Meche has been a bad pitcher in 2007 and 2008. Rather, their opinions are based on a plethora of off-the-field issues, such as the opportunity cost of his salary, or how his performance has done nothing to increase attendance or television ratings. Now, I do not want to start up another Gil-debate, but it is important to understand that when we evaluate free agent signings, we are looking at much more than simply the quality of the player being signed.

With trades, not only do salaries come into play, but also the return. I was not a big fan of the Joe Blanton deal earlier this year, even though they acquired a pitcher pretty superior to Adam Eaton or Kyle Kendrick. Add in that Blanton does not cost much, is durable, and is under control for another few years, and it seems like a solid move. What they gave up, however, I estimated to be worth more. Who knows exactly how that one will turn out, but the point is that I never felt that Blanton was a bad pitcher.

Nobody is going to debate that Alex Rodriguez is a phenomenal player, one of the best ever, and a clear first ballot hall of famer. However, his deal with the Rangers was largely considered a bad deal, because it hamstrung the team and vastly limited the number of teams to whom they could deal Madonna’s new beau. Along similar lines, Dave took a look at the Mike Hampton signing yesterday, and astutely showed that even though Mike has injury problems, is not durable, and is not worth much over replacement level, the small fee and commitment of $2 mil for just 1-yr is a pretty solid deal. This would be an example of a “bad” player signed to a good deal.

Again, I don’t want to start debates about certain players, but I see this mistake too often in comment threads and felt it needed a bit of clearing up.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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