Sunday, July 26, 2009

The art of the salary dump

We here at Free Tank Carter are some of the most adamant supporters of the Neal Huntington regime. We take great umbrage to the charge that his maneuvers are nothing more than the work of a cheap, heartless bastard. Believe us, we know cheap, heartless bastards. We know this guy. And this guy. And this guy, this guy, and this guy. Neal Huntington is not a cheap, heartless bastard.

But sometimes he does have to trim some of the fat off the books, because the idiot before him overpaid for a bunch of bums. So yeah, the so called "salary dump" trade happens. And it's fine so long as several conditions are met:
(1) The money saved will be reallocated wisely
(2) The player being dumped won't come back to haunt you
(3) The player being dumped isn't beloved by your fanbase*

*condition (3): not that important; can be thoroughly bypassed if you go on to win a World Series (see: Nomar).

I think Spinmove has sufficiently skullfucked the "McLouth-trade-was-a-salary-dump" camp into submission. And the Morgan/Burnett for Lastings Milledge deal was potentially the biggest grift of this young century, so we're not thinking that was a dump. However, the Adam LaRoche for two minor leaguers was probably, definitely a lightening-of-our-load transaction, and let me tell you why that's okay:

Adam LaRoche is due to make $7,050,000 this season. The Red Sox will be absorbing the pro-rated remainder of that, so we'll be saving around $3 million. Adam LaRoche will be 30 next year, generally the age when batters level off their production and either rev up the roids or enter their decline. There were no plans to re-sign him on account of this fact of nature. We're probably not going to win the division race this year, so there's no reason to spend $3 million just for the sake of spending it.

Okay. All that is obvious. Totally sensible. But the problem is this: Pittsburgh has heard enough apologists and stooges like me, justifying the annual scrapping of talent. We get to late-July and start saying "why spend money if we're just going to keep losing this season??"

That's valid, Pittsburgh. I don't blame your cynicism and general fear of front office authority. Let me try to assuage these doubts by holding this "good" salary dump up to a "bad" salary dump.

The LaRoche deal happened on July 22, 2009-- almost the sixth year anniversary of the Aramis Ramirez deal (7/23/2003). Aramis Ramirez, as you may recall, was going to be our franchise third baseman, but he was making $3 million a year. We also had these guys on the books:
Reggie Sanders- $1,000,000
Kenny Lofton- $1,025,000
Randall Simon- $1,475,000
Brian Boehringer-$1,500,000
Scott Sauerbeck- $1,566,667
Pokey Reese- $2,500,000
Mike Williams- $3,500,000
Kris Benson- $4,300,000
Kevin Young- $6,625,000
Jason Kendall- $8,571,429
Brian Giles- $8,833,333

Naturally, it made sense to send our 25-year old third baseman to the division rival, Chicago Cubs, with Kenny Lofton AND a bag of cash covering their remaining salaries, for Jose Hernandez ($1,000,000) and two bum prospects.

In the previous two years, Jose Hernandez had set and broken his own record for single season strikeouts. Near as I can figure, he had been traded once earlier in 2003, and was still under another team's payroll, so neither the Cubs nor the Pirates had to pay anything for him. The money was entirely tied up in Ramirez and Lofton, and the Pirates were still paying it.

WHY!? you may ask. I think it had something to do with an escalating clause in Ramirez's contract, that we were willing to eat the $3 million if it meant getting him out of town before we'd have to cough up $6 million and then $9 million and then $12 million, etc. Sometimes that's how it has to work. However, we broke one of the cardinal rules of a salary dump: we put him in a position to haunt us.

Because Aramis Ramirez was sent to the Cubs, we've gotten to see him 19 games a year. Since being a Cub, he's hit 180 HRs, with a batting line of .303/.367/.555. Chicago has had no problem treating him as their franchise third baseman, and he's had no problem punishing us, sporting a .966 OPS when playing Pittsburgh.

I wasn't around and can't attest to whether he was a fan favorite or if this trade lost hearts and minds (I assume it did), but I do know the Buccos management broke rule number one, spending the saved money on really stupid shit instead of investing it.

Aramis Ramirez year-by-year salary:
2004 - $6,000,000
2005 - $8,950,000
2006 - $10,750,000
2007 - $9,000,000
2008 - $15,000,000

Some bums we paid, year-by-year salary:
2004 - $6,150,000 (Kris Benson)
2005 - $7,750,000 (Matt Lawton)
2006 - $6 million (Jeromy Burnitz) + $4 million (Joe Randa)
2007 - $10 million pro-rate (Matt FUCKING Morris)
2008 - $10 million (Matt FUCKING Morris)

We had the money. We had the choice. We chose poorly.

Now let's bring this back home.

Adam LaRoche is not going to haunt us. How do I know this? Because he's a late-20's pile of mediocrity that is striking out in the American League East right now, and will be striking out harmlessly somewhere else next year. Even if he comes back to the NL central, there is no chance in the world we'll some day be saying "Oh Big LaPoison...he was the one who got away."

Furthermore, I'm pretty confident that Neal Huntington is going to take the $3 million he's saving right now and invest it in the development side of things. That's been his M.O. these past two seasons, and it's the right one. I've heard it said that Dave Littlefield was going out signing bums to 1-year, multi-million dollar deals so it appeared like he was doing his job, so as to stave off being fired. I don't know if that's true. I don't know if we'll ever understand what was going through his head. The man was unreasonably terrible at things. All I know is that Neal doesn't dump overpaid players just so he can overpay some other guys. That's the trick to this working, that's what makes it exciting: because it's not just more of the same.

p.s. One of the bum prospects he got for LaRoche is this all-glove/no-bat shortstop, which is a thinly-veiled love letter to Jack Wilson's agent, that Neal would like to trim some fat from that contract.

No comments: