Friday, January 18, 2008

Contract Roundup

All three Cleveland teams were busy negotiating or finalizing contract extensions for key personnel this week, so I thought it would be useful to recap this week's transactions:

The Crooked Cap

Just so there's no confusion, Sabathia did not sign a contract extension this week. Negotiations are still ongoing between the Front Office and Sabathia's agent. Word on the street is that the Tribe has placed a four year contract with an option year on the table. No monetary values were provided, but a lot of fans have been pointing to the number of years as the potential snag for both parties up to this point.

The Diatriber countered with a comprehensive breakdown of pitchers awarded five year-plus contracts in the past and how those pitchers fared for their team(s). The article makes for a very interesting read; I hadn't realized just how spectacularly bad some of those hefty contracts were (my favorite one is Mike Hampton, I honestly don't know how the man can sleep peacefully). According to the article, only "[seventeen contracts] have been signed by starting pitchers for 5 years or more in the last 10 years, only six for 6 years or more, and merely three for 7 years or more." Most of those signings ended up as poor investments as the pitchers succumbed to age, chronic injury, or just plain stunk for the duration of the contract.

It's difficult to comprehend how Major League GM's continue to get sucked into this vortex of stupidity where 7-year contracts even enter the discussion. Actually, I'll just go ahead and say it: Brian Sabean, is a moron. The unfortunate part is that a ridiculous contract like Barry Zito's can cause a ripple effect in the pitching market, causing guys like Santana and Sabathia to expect no less than five years per contract.

Obviously, there isn't a single team that wouldn't like to have an ace of that caliber, but the team is paying more than just a salary. They're taking on a certain amount of risk as well and when the stakes (payroll flexibility, health, etc.) are so high, teams have to protect themselves. Taking on a player for a guaranteed four years is risky enough, but seven? How does an agent even ask for that kind of contract with a straight face?

I understand the pitcher is looking for the best job security possible and a long contract is their insurance against injury or a poor season. Before I go off on a tangent here, I guess the bottom line of any discussion about contracts is risk. Some team's can afford to take on more risk (read: years and money) and gain a competitive advantage when recruiting free agents. As long as some nutty GM thinks believes its worth rolling the dice on a potential stud pitcher, players will keep seeking them out. Fortunately these contracts do not have as much of a precedent as some agents would like you to believe; not yet anyway.

As far as Sabathia is concerned, I think he should take a long, hard look at the contracts Carlos Zambrano (5 years plus option, $91 mil) and Jake Peavy (4 years plus option, $14.5 mil) signed recently. Peavy's contract is a true hometown discount and I wouldn't expect Shapiro to low-ball C.C. with that kind of salary. Zambrano's may be close to Cleveland's ceiling for Sabathia. It's important to remember that Zambrano was in his walk year when he signed the contract mid-season and expressed interest in staying with Chicago.

If Cleveland offers Sabathia Zambrano's deal and he turns it down?

Trade him.

If it were up to me, I'd give Sabathia a deadline before Spring Training to get this extension done. If he truly wants to stay in Cleveland, he'll make some concessions (like Zambrano and Peavy did) to stay here, be it a little less money or one less guaranteed year. He'll get paid, no doubt about that, but if he wants to play games with this and wait until the last minute where the Tribe may get nothing in return if/when he walks then I'd ship him out for a cost-controlled replacement, like Phil Hughes, in a heartbeat.

Cleveland does have other options to take Sabathia's place, but once you start bringing Adam Miller and Fausto Carmona into the "ace" discussion, the future becomes a bit hazy. Miller has yet to throw a pitch in the Majors and has had a few injuries slow down his development already. Carmona may very well develop into an ace, but I doubt Shapiro and Wedge would want to place the burden of anchoring the rotation on either young pitcher just yet.

Coach Brown Gets a Raise

The Cavs inked head coach Mike Brown to a two year contract extension through the 2010-2011 season. Official numbers haven't been released yet, but according to Brian Windhorst, Brown will see his current $2 million salary jump to $4 million in addition to the two extra years being tacked onto his old contract.

I've always been a fan of Brown's defense-first philosophy and think he's done a great job keeping the team together this season despite all the contract B.S. and injuries. Brown's track record has been outstanding: two straight 50-win seasons, four playoff series wins in two appearances, and a franchise best .592 win percentage since 2005.

I was a little concerned Brown may take the fall if things turned ugly following the team's championship run last season. Apparently the Cavs' Front Office got something right this year as they reward Brown's solid work thus far.

In the meantime, Cleveland has won 8 of their last 10 games, including road wins in Dallas, New Orleans, Toronto, and San Antonio.

The Browns

Head Coach Romeo Crennel and starting QB Derek Anderson are in line for new contracts this off-season. No specifics have been released while preliminary negotiations take place. I don't have much of an opinion on Crennel, but I am glad to see a head coach for the Browns finally pan out. If the Front Office and players have faith in Crennel, then that's good enough for me. Stability often gets overlooked in pro sports, but the extension is a good move to take pressure off the coaching staff and their players.

Re-upping Anderson makes perfect sense to me, although I'm sure a lot of fans are itching to get those Brady Quinn jerseys out in the open. The success of Anderson last season allows the Browns to take a slow approach to breaking in Quinn and may leave them with a tough decision depending on how 2008 plays out. Look for either Quinn or Anderson to get shipped out of town by the end of next season. For now, the Browns can afford to bide their time and evaluate their options at QB.

Bringing back first-year offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski didn't make a big splash, but could prove to be just as important as Crennel's contract. Chudzinski maximized his resources in Anderson, Edwards, and Lewis and molded Cleveland into an elite offensive unit. It would have been a shame to see him leave for Baltimore's head coaching vacancy after just one year of running his offensive juggernaut. Cleveland was smart to get Chudzinski's extension wrapped up quick because Baltimore had been knocking on the door.

The Browns are also exploring an extension for running back Jamal Lewis and his 1,304 rushing yards this season.


Just in case you missed out on Tony Lastoria's Top 50 Prospects list for the Tribe, check out the link here. If you're like me and have always wanted to learn more about the Tribe's farm system, this is a great place to start. It's really an impressive piece of work and deserves all the praise it's received around the blog-o-sphere.

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