Earlier this week, Jonah Keri wrote a column about baseball’s worst contracts. He ranked the 15 worst, with six more dishonorable mentions. I’ve got exactly zero quibbles with Jonah’s list, except for this: I probably would have placed his 14th- and 15th-worst contracts quite a bit closer to the top of the list.
OK, maybe not too much closer to the top; those five contracts are pretty awful. Still, those 14th- and 15th-worst contracts – Prince Fielder for seven more years and $168 million, Adrian Gonzalez for five years and $106 million – seem pretty awful, largely because of the time frames. Are those lengthy commitments really less onerous than (say) Jonathan Broxton’s and Brandon League’s two-year, $17 million boondoggles?
Granted, there are mitigating factors. Of the $168 million Fielder’s going to earn over these next seven years, the Tigers are picking up $30 million, leaving “only” $138 million for the Rangers. Meanwhile, Gonzalez’s $106 million is also referred to as “walking-around money” at Dodger Stadium. If you’re the Dodgers, does money even matter? Last winter, Jonah wrote about the Dodgers and “the Curse of Plenty” …
Of course it wound up being the Giants looking up at the Dodgers. Not to pick on Jonah or anything; it could have worked out the other way, as these things so often do. I believe in the Curse of Plenty, too. Every team with massive financial resources eventually makes massive financial mistakes that lead to competition issues.
In this particular case, there’s no danger of the Dodgers running out of money. The danger, of course, is that they’ll continue to run Gonzalez out there every day, year after year, even while his production doesn’t merit such playing time. This mistake has been made many times before, and will be made many times again. It’s not that teams don’t understand the idea of sunk cost, intellectually. It’s that they often can’t handle the ramifications of that idea, emotionally.
That, in a nutshell, is The Curse of Plenty. The Dodgers have more money to spend than anyone, without enough top players to go after. They’ve clogged their roster with merely decent talent at multiple positions because their general manager is impulsive and overeager to spend that money without properly gauging the market for the few elite talents out there. One great way to find those top players is to develop them yourself, but the Dodgers have shipped away several strong prospects to make reactionary trades, such as the Gonzalez deal.
This is still likely to be a good team, one that’s in the hunt for a playoff spot. But because of a few shortsighted moves and a market that can’t provide the great players they crave, the Dodgers may well find themselves back in familiar territory next fall: looking up at the Giants, and wondering where it all went wrong.
But the Dodgers, along with the Yankees and the Phillies and the other haves, are now in a unique position to embrace sunk costs with nary a thought. If Gonzalez isn’t good enough in a few years, is it really so hard to imagine the Dodgers simply eating the $43 million (i.e. walking-around money) they owe him in 2017 and ’18?
It’s not hard for me to imagine. The Blessing of Plenty has, throughout the era of free agency, indeed been accompanied by a curse. But if regional sports networks kill the curse, it’s going to be a rough few years for the have-nots.