The Business of Baseball

It wasn't long ago when Joe Mauer was considered the premier catcher in the game. He is a St. Paul native and was the face of the franchise when the Twins rewarded him with a long term deal. Now they've put him on waivers to check out the landscape for dumping his salary. This happened less than a year after three other teams committed $200M+ to first basemen.

Joe Mauer is a native of St. Paul. He was drafted with the first overall pick by his hometown Twins. He shot through the minors and made a successful debut in the majors at the age of twenty-one. Two years later he captured the first of three AL batting titles. In 2008 he was recognized as the league's MVP when he hit .365 and belted 28 HR in the final season of the hitter-friendly Humphrey Dome. In his nine year career he's hit .327 while picking up three gold gloves at the oft offensively-deprived catching position. The Twins rewarded that performance with an eight year/$184M contract. He is a local boy who had gone on to be the face of the franchise. Yesterday the Twins put 29 year-old Mauer on waivers.

Mauer can still hit, he's batting over .300/.400 OB this season. However catching taken a toll on his health and around half of his appearances this year have been at first base and DH. When he's been behind the plate the former gold glove winner has thrown out only 11% of base-stealers. He doesn't turn 30 until after opening day of next season and one would figure that he still has several productive years left at the plate, though he probably won't ever match the power numbers he put up in the Homerdome. The rigors of catching do not figure to get easier as his age advances.

This happened less than one year after three franchises ponied up $200M+ contracts to lock in first basemen to long term deals. Albert Pujols responded with an awful start for the Angels, hitting his first home run in May. He's come back for a good season, hitting .285/.346 OB% with 29 HR and counting. Also the way his contract is structured the $12M he's making this season with the Angels is a couple of mill less than the Cardinals paid him last year. His stats say that his production hasn't fallen off noticeably and he could still match his 2011 season with a good finish. This is impressive since his home venue was changed to the pitcher-friendly Angles Stadium. Also, he seems to be a good deal next season at $16M at the age of 33. Still, don't let that fool you. The Angels are on the hook for another $228M to Phat Albert including $30M in 2021 when he's 42 years old. Also, the disadvantages hitting on his home field aren't going to change as long as he's wearing a halo.

Meanwhile in Detroit Prince Fielder is hitting over .300, has 23 home runs, and will break through 100 RBI's. What was a bit puzzling about that signing was that it moved Miguel Cabrera to third base which was the position the Tigers moved him out of a couple of weeks after they signed him long term before the 2008 season. Fielder's 5'11"/275# physique limits him to the either 1B or DH and the Tigers are 69-61 with the MLB's fifth highest payroll.

Of course the main concern to Reds fans is Joey Votto. He was neck-and-neck with Andrew McCutchen in the NL MVP race before he went on the DL soon after the all-star break. No question his performance this season has been vital to the Reds run which made them MLB's first eighty game winner. The timing of his contribution was crucial as his bat led a lackluster offense before it's resurgence after he left. Considering the sums of money in the previous signings, the Reds extended Votto at fair market value and have committed only a $7M buyout after he turns 39.

How well the body holds up has more influence on the success of long term deals than anything else. Unfortunately that is better predicted by experts in physiology than baseball evaluators and complexity of the human body severely limits their accuracy. One thing the trio has going for them is that their position is less demanding physically and first basemen often have more longevity, which was likely considered before the money got shoveled this offseason.

In comparison Votto looks like the safer bet, he's a few years younger than Pujols and his frame totes around 50# less than Fielder. Actually Fielder's listed ht/wt is 4" shorter and 40# heavier than his father's, leaving one to question the accuracy of the Cecil's listed weight. Anyway the elder Fielder never hit twenty HR in a season after the age of 33. Though Votto is Canadian, he's home-grown, coming through the Red's system after they drafted him in 2002. Often a good replacement bat can be found at first, but the Reds did not have much time because his previous contract expired next year. Besides, Reds fans did not want to hear: "We're letting our star go because we think we can find a cheap replacement." They will flip the turnstiles over 2M times this year and have a right to feel that way.

Physically Votto has been okay, but not totally without concern. He had the weird problem with dizziness in 09 after he lost his father, but evidently the Reds felt comfortable that wasn't going to return. He was a workhorse last year, appearing in 161 games. The knee injury this season does not seem serious and will soon be remembered as a bump in the road if it does not recur. He won't be a Cal Ripken (who else is?), but there's good evidence that the Reds can count on him for 150 games/season for the next several years which will be satisfactory.

Of course the real gamble is that when a highly paid player does go down small market teams have limited options for replacement. This year the Reds were very fortunate that Todd Frazier came up from Louisville to contribute a rookie-of-the-year season. Aging veteran Scott Rolen's comeback after a slow start had excellent timing when it released Frazier from the hot corner. No one can be certain how much Votto's departure did to jump-start the rest of the lineup, but in the end it could turn out to be a kind of unexpected blessing. The expansion of their lead druing his absence speaks for itself.

Even though life is not always fair, we like for it to be as much as possible. One consideration often overlooked is a young player's value to his team before he strikes paydirt. The Cardinals paid Pujols less than $1M in each of his first three years while he was a top-four MVP vote recipient each season. Mauer made $600k when he hit .347 in 2006. The Reds paid Votto 525k for his MVP season in 2010. Perhaps if you asked one of those stars if they're worth $20M/season late in their career they might respond with something like: "I already was early in my career." Maybe the Cards and Brewers had the right idea by letting someone else pay the stars their due after they benefitted from the low-cost service of their early years. Then again the Brewers are no longer playoff conenders and the Cardinals have a shaky half game lead on the final wild card spot.

Another thing which is uncertain is just how much of a burden a $25M salary will be in 2023. It will be significant for sure, especially in Cincinnati, but given the historical upward trend of MLB salaries it's a safe bet they won't be lower eleven years from now. It's rare for a baseball player to retain elite status at the age of 39, but then again by the time Votto reaches that age $20M/year probably will no longer be reserved for only the elite players.

At the time of the signing many Reds fans were quick to recall the onslaught of injuries to Ken Griffey Jr. after he came home to play in the Queen City in 2000. However, Votto is not Griffey and it's a safe bet that he will certainly be more durable in his 30's. As of today, everyone is happy in the Redlegsnation and given the ages of the players on their roster things are looking bright for the future. Given the small-market constraints that are a way of life for Cincinnati it puts a lot of pressure on their farm to continue to turn out enough talent to avoid some lean seasons over a ten-year run, but that was probably going to happen more frequently without Votto. The Reds' current front office seems savvier than its predecessors and their personnel decisions have been right often enough to build a legitimate championship contender just one year after they finished with a losing record. Baseball is big business and often big business demands management to take chances. The Reds rolled the dice on Joey Votto and given the opportunity to go back in time they probably would not change that decision.

News from the Farm:

Louisville was shut out in a 2-0 loss at Columbus. Didi Gregorius had two of the Bats' seven hits. Chad Reineke had a quality start, allowing two runs on nine hits/two walks in seven plus innings, but still took his eleventh loss.

Pensacola opened up their final series of the season with a 4-2 home loss to Tennessee. Brodie Greene had two doubles for the Wahoos and Donald Lutz contributed two more hits. Wirfin Obispo allowed three runs on three hits/five walks/five strikeouts in six innings which was a quality start, but it also qualified him for his first loss with the Wahoos.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

Hamilton failed to reach first in five plate appearances. He's still at 154 SB after 128 games.

Bakersfield shut out Visalia in a 4-0 win at Sam Lynn Field. Steve Selsky and Devin Lohman had two hits each for the Blaze and Stephen Hunt led off their four-run sixth inning with a solo home run. Jamie Walczak tossed six scoreless innings, allowing five hits/two walks while striking out five for the win.

Dayton took a lead on a three-run triple by Sammy Diaz in the sixth inning before losing 8-6 at home to Great Lakes. Juan Silva and Junior Arias had two hits each for the Dragons. The offense took Jacob Johnson off the hook after he allowed five runs on six hits/two walks in five plus innings. Jimmy Moran allowed two runs (one earned) in one plus innings for the loss.

Billings appeared to have their game in hand with a 6-0 lead until visiting Missoula pounded them for nine runs in the seventh inning to beat the Mustangs 9-6. Beau Amaral, Zachary Vincej, and Brandon Dailey had two hits each. Andrew Cisco had a nice outing by throwing five shutout innings, allowing only two hits and striking out five without a walk. Joseph Housey allowed three runs without retiring a batter for the loss.

The AZL Reds allowed a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth in a 3-1 loss at the AZL Dodgers. Brayan Arias had a couple of hits to raise his average to .295. Pedro Diaz started the game allowing two hits in three scoreless innings while fanning four. Abel De Los Santos then kept the Dodgers scoreless while striking out five in two hitless innings. Jackson Stephens allowed two runs when he threw the final inning and took the loss.

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