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.