Friday, January 5, 2018

The opposite of delayed gratification

I did some traveling during the past weekend and at one point found myself listening to the MLB channel on SirusXM in which the hosts were "interviewing" Coloraro general manager Jeff Bridich, who was obviously determined to reveal only his name, rank and serial number. I couldn't help but wonder why he agreed to go on the air.

Example: Bridich was asked about Carlos Gonzalez, free agent outfielder who has had some big years in Colorado and is now, somehow, 31 years old. (Time flies when you're not really paying attention to a player.) Are the Rockies considering bringing "CarGo" back, or have the two sides agreed that it's best to move on? Bridich laid a lukewarm filibuster on them in which he conceeded that Gonzalez is indeed a free agent. (Another aside -- I think it's a rule on that channel than Gonzalez can only be referred to as CarGo.)

But my absolute favorite "response" came when the hosts asked him what was really a pretty decent question about the contracts he's given Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee -- three quality veteran bullpen arms. They noted that the "industry standard" for bullpen guys is two years max, but that trio each got three-year deals from the Rockies. The question: Why did you go three?

The honest answer is pretty obvious: We're in Colorado, it's a difficult environment for pitchers, we have to overpay to get free agents to come, and we'd rather overpay in contract duration than in average annual value. 

Instead of saying that, Birdich described three years as disciplined because it's shorter than five or six. Which it is, but nobody's signing relievers to five- or six-year deals. Darn few free-agent starters get contracts of that duration, and teams that do generally wind up regretting them.

I've been thinking about this on-and-off for a few days, because it may be of relevance to the team I care about as it pursues Yu Darvish, a free-agent starter who should get a large contract from whoever lands him.

A few points:

  • Whoever wins this bidding war will, almost certainly, overpay in one form or another.
  • I think it better to overpay in AAV -- average annual value -- than in contract length.
  • There are structual forces that prompt front offices to prefer longer term deals, even though they are probably more likely to become problematic.

Darvish is 31. Let's say that a team can sign him for a total of $100 million. I would think it better to do that over three years than four, and over four years than five, because the older he gets the more likely he is to decline/get injured. It's a variation of the thought that (from the team perspective) there's no bad one-year contract; it if goes sour, you're out of it at the end of the year.

So why do GMs go longer? Because, at least in part, they may not be there at the end of that deal. They get a little more immediate flexibility by stretching the money out an extra year (or more), and if things sour, the backloaded money is somebody else's budgeting problem.

It's the opposite of delayed gratification.

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