Sunday, December 11, 2011

Money on the Bench

In the mass panic and outrage surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays' obstinate refusal to improve their team by dropping a pallet of Robert Borden-emblazoned bills in Prince Fielder's backyard this past week, a few folks put their pitchforks and torches down long enough to pop over to the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts, where they discovered (or were reminded) that Mark Teahen remains the second-highest paid player in the organization. (He can be expected to fall behind Kelly Johnson once his compensation is settled either through arbitration or another contract.)

I was half-joking when I tweeted, "I always forget about that guy", but the fact is, for a player slated to make $5.5 million this year, he's not exactly top-of-mind.

Teahen's presence as a Jay, of course, is part of the price the team was willing to pay to acquire Colby Rasmus at last year's trade deadline, along with having to sit through a certain number of excruciating outings from the likes of Brian Tallet and Trever Miller. Teahen had been having an abysmal season with the Chicago White Sox, a team that faced no shortage of highly-paid underperformers. Teahen wasn't (and isn't) getting Adam Dunn or Alex Rios money, but he'd played himself out of a full-time job despite his contract. He didn't have a full time job awaiting him in Toronto either. This was a straight case of the Jays taking on a not-so-good contract to grease the skids in acquiring the player they really wanted.

Yet surprisingly, in some circles Teahen's salary was highlighted last week as an example of just how unwilling the Jays' ownership is to "spend to contend". How, the thinking goes, could a team with a true commitment to winning make such a cast-off its second-highest paid player? Surely the dollars are there if they're willing to spend so many of them on a glorified bench player like Teahen.

To me, though, this is yet another obvious illustration of an INCREASED willingness to spend in order to get the players that the team feels it needs to set a foundation for that Holy Grail of "sustained success". It jibes completely with sending extra money to Philadelphia to get premium prospects back in the Roy Halladay trade; being aggressive and spending big in the draft; beefing up the entire scouting department and going hard after international free agents.

I don't intend to get into an argument here about whether I'm right about the team's willingness to spend. That ground has been well covered by plenty of smart people.

Regardless of how much any team spends, it's never a good investment if the money doesn't see the field. Even Yankee and Red Sox fans get a little bent out of shape over big-money deals that don't produce on-field results, and if you don't believe me, ask a Sox fan what they think of the John Lackey contract, or a Yankee fan to chat over coffee about the AJ Burnett contract.

So what do the Jays do, now that they've got another ugly contract on their hands for Teahen? Well, on the plus side, it doesn't look much like the guy's been promised anything, and the contract runs out at the end of this year. He can play a few positions; he seems reasonably healthy; he's only 30 years old; he's had a decent amount of big league success. There are plenty of teams with far worse bench options than him.

Still, it would seem to be at odds with the Jays' broader modus operandi to have a rather bloated price tag attached to such a marginal player. But the saving grace is that were he on the roster at this time last year, there's a fair chance he would have been seen as an everyday player at some position -- which speaks very highly of the upgrades the team has made since.

Just trading the guy is easier said than done. The reasons he's not filling any gaping needs in Toronto are the same ones that make it hard to find a match elsewhere. Moreover, if the Jays were resigned to simply DFAing him and eating the rest of the contract, I have a feeling they would have done it already.

As fans, it might be best to shift gears from fretting about this depressed and overpriced asset, toward hoping he can rebuild some value. Andruw Jones, for instance, acquitted himself nicely as a part-time player in New York, to the point where bringing him back in a similar role seems more like a value play than a scrap-heap guessing game.

When those guys start eating into playing and development time for younger and more promising players (see Patterson, Corey), that's a problem. But maybe we shouldn't mind if the team keeps a veteran bat like Teahen around, even at $5.5 million, to spell the ultra-intense Brett Lawrie from time to time, or grab some DH at-bats. Maybe he embraces a new role and provides a certain spark in the action he gets. Maybe he becomes a useful throw-in for one of those mid-season trades that Alex Anthopoulos loves so much.

Why not find out? You're on the hook for the money anyway.


NorthYorkJays said...

There's no reason not to invite Mark Teahen to spring training, but if he makes the team it will signal to me this team isn't very serious about contention. A Mathis-Rajai-Teahen-Valbuena/McCoy bench is atrocious. If they actually cared about the 2012 season they'd acquire someone that pushes Encarnacion into Teahen's role on the bench.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with Teahan on the bench. The Jays for the last while haven't spent any money on bench bats. Teahan was terrible last year but at one time he was a hitter I liked. If he can get any of that spark back he will be better than almost anyone else on the bench at this time. A possible power bat would be nice for a change off the bench compared to a bunting McCoy! If he's done then he's off the books at the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

BlueJays08 Jason Marques
@ESPY_TEAHEN you still play for the #JAYS ?

Mark Teahen
@BlueJays08 Barely.

Steve said...

Teahen's contract was the price for Rasmus. No more no less.

I want the Jays to try and sign Prince. I would think they can do it for similar money to Teixeira and A. Gonzalez.

Spending money wisely is the key. A stud like Prince is much better value for $'s than taking on other teams bloated contracts, in my mind.

The Price of sluggers never seems to go down, if not now - when?

BTW - What is better value - Aaron Hill @ $11 mil for 2 years or Johnson at $7.5 mil for 1 season? I think AA was in such a mood because Johnson accepted Arb. Nothing to do with reporters or trading N. Molina as he let on.

Woodman663 said...

Why not? The Org Guy asks.

Well, I would say because Teahen is an awful defender and he's never been a promising enough hitter for DH. So let's see what David Cooper can do instead. Or Mike McCoy (at second and third). But not Teahen, please.

Tao of Stieb said...

Mark Teahen is actually two months younger than Mike McCoy, and has a career OPS of .736, versus .537 for Teahen.

I have no idea how someone makes the argument for McCoy, aside from his gritty scrappiness.

Scrappy said...

And Teahen's CanCon* status trumps McCoy's gritty scrappiness.

Bench support at 4 defensive positions works for me and gets a platoon advantage for Lawrie's days off.

He's no FP Santangelo, but who is really?

Tao of Stieb said...

Ooops, I transposed the OPSs of the McCoy and Teahen.

Teahen: A stupendous .736!
McCoy: A craptacular .537!

NorthYorkJays said...

McCoy functions as a backup SS on the bench so the comparison isn't all that relevant.

Alex said...

yeah and not just SS, in the last two years mccoy has played every position except 1b and catcher

Anonymous said...

If it's a backup shortstop you want, Valbuena fits the bill -- four years younger than McCoy but already has 482 more plate appearances, and a career OPS 93 points higher. Having a backup who can play EVERY position isn't necessary.

Paul said...

Yea, but McCoy has a better ERA.

rdillon99 said...

As recently as this past season, AA managed to package the likes of Corey Patterson - the consummate replacement level player - in a deal for Colby Rasmus... and he did this after many Blue Jays fans were calling for Patterson's outright release.

Rather than DFA'ing Teahen prior to the season, I don't see the harm of putting him on the bench in the hopes that he can regain the form that got him that $5.5M contract. Who knows - maybe AA can once again make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Ball Fan in a Hockey Nation said...

I don't mind Teahen as a bench player at all, and I refuse to believe that his $5.5 million salary is keeping the Blue Jays from making any moves they normally would have moving forward. If Beeston really did ask Anthopoulos two years ago if he needed money to chase Jason Bay or John Lackey, then I'm not buying this bullcrap their feeding us of payroll restrictions. Sure I believe that they are working within a budget, but I still think that there is money there if they wanted it.

The good news: With Teahen and McCoy on the bench, we shouldn't see Edwin anywhere near third base in 2012. Which is not only a good thing from an error perspective, but if you look at EE's offensive numbers last year at 1B/DH versus when he played at 3B, it's almost staggering. I'm interested to see what he does with a full season at DH.

Anonymous said...

Teahan will go for a sandwich pick at the deadline. Unless he turns into a total surprise.
Hope he gets to play some, stay healthy, valuable, and has fun with the Jays!