As noted in these pages last week, I recently purchased A Baseball Winter: The Off-Season Life of the Summer Game, a day-by-day account — edited by Terry Pluto and Jeffrey Neuman — of the 1984-85 offseason of five clubs: the New York Mets, the California Angels, the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Cleveland Indians.
As also noted, the book is written in a very compact, diary-like* format, which makes for an urgency, a feeling of being present, that’s very pleasant.
*Diary-esque? Diary-y? Is there an adjectival form of diary?
Here are some note on what I’ve read.
Free agency was still a newish concept in 1984-85, and it’s clear from this text that a number of teams didn’t understand particularly well the level of risk associated with signing players — and particularly pitchers — to long-term contracts.
Consider some examples:
• Atlanta, led enthusiastically by owner Ted Turner, signed 32-year-old reliever Bruce Sutter to a six-year, $6.75 million deal — or, $1.125 million per year. A marginal win cost about $330 thousand in 1985, meaning $1 million ought to have bought ca. three wins above replacement. Sutter’s signing came after a precipitous drop in his strikeout rates, from the high-20% area in 1977-79 to about 16% in 1983-84. He would have had to produce roughly 20 wins to earn his contract. In fact, he produced 0.2 of them — wins, that is. His WPA over that same span was -3.79.
• Baltimore signed a 33-year-old Fred Lynn to a five-year, $6.8 million deal. He was worth about 10 wins after that — or, about half of what he was paid for.
• Baltimore also signed 30-year-old relief pitcher Don Aase to a four-year, $2.4 million deal — this, after he missed all of 1984 and about half of 1984.
• Almost every notable player on the California Angels had a no-trade clause.
Cleveland’s average home attendance in 1984 was miserable — about 9,000 per game.