Arguing About The How To Build A Winning Team

With Matt Holliday signing a 7 year, $120 M contract with the Cardinals, there were a few disappointed Orioles fans out there. One of them was someone called GMC (and possibly someone else, unnamed) from WNST, and I think our conversation might be instructive to some people with similar feelings.

Several people told me that trying to talk sense into WNST was pointless. I had never tried before, and I’m willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt as long as they’re arguing in good faith and are reasonable. Initially there was some straw-manning done of my points – which obviously isn’t a good faith argument and wasn’t appreciated – but near the end we got down to brass tacks and it became pretty clear to me that he/they just didn’t understand that adding $50 M in salary to the team every year wasn’t a workable strategy for the Orioles. (That means it goes from $50 M to $100 M in year one; $100 M to $150 M in year two.) It’s likely that he/they don’t have  a good conception of how much a player actually adds to a team (Holliday might produce around 5 wins next year – I assume they would estimate something near twice that) and are unwilling to listen when stats are used to make those points. We didn’t quite get that far, but I don’t think I’m off-base there.

Many people complain about the Orioles not making this big move or that big move, but there’s not much forward thought. You give me a plan in which making that big move right now works – that is, it increases the team’s chances of contending in the next few years when things are considered in their totality (ie, not just saying “this guy adds 4 wins so the team is better by 4 wins” – who does he replace? what are the opportunity costs? etc.) – and I’ll be cool with it.

Sign Holliday? Well, he doesn’t make the O’s contenders in 2010, and maybe not 2011. By 2012 he’s likely around a win worse than he is now, while Reimold (for example) is entering his prime years. If the team has one hole, then they can fill it through free agency. With Holliday, Markakis, Roberts already on the books, though, at around $40 M total – add in filling out most of the rest of the roster, and raises that the young players will be getting, and they’re up to around $80 M – they can no longer sign multiple free agents who are still closer to their primes at a time when the added wins are most worthwhile to the team. If you sign a big-ticket free agent in ’10 or ’11 instead of now then you lose nothing at the time the team is best poised to contend (maybe even gaining a win since the player hasn’t aged from the time he signed) while gaining payroll flexibility, the ability to better judge the team’s needs, and the potential to spend more money on things like the draft and international prospects in ’10 and ’11. It wouldn’t just be overpaying; it would be vastly overpaying since the years in which Holliday would actually be worth his salary are the years in which it matter least what kind of production the Orioles would get from him. The Orioles don’t currently have a hole in the outfield, nor are they projected to anytime soon. What is the utility then?

Anyway, on to the discussion.

WNST – WHAT?!?! Matt #Holliday isn’t coming to play for #Orioles? (I couldn’t have guessed that!) #Angelos doesn’t do 7 yrs, $120million

CamdenCrazies – No way was it worth it to the Orioles to jump into the bidding at that level.

WNST – Those who say #Orioles shouldn’t have given that money to #Holliday might as well say O’s shouldn’t ever sign good players….

CamdenCrazies – Incorrect. There is a level at which they are worthwhile and outbidding 7/120 clearly crosses the line – especially at this time.

WNST – How much money did he get? That’s his market value. If the #Orioles ever want good players, they’ll have to compete with that

CamdenCrazies – He got 7 years and $120 M. That is the upperbound for how much he’s worth, and might be over. Beating that would have been bad… Wouldn’t you rather have $17 M in 2017 to give to Jones, Wieters, etc. instead of giving it to a 36 year-old Holliday? I would.

WNST – I’d rather have 34 million to give to all of them. Easy answer.

CamdenCrazies – Not easy answer. Even if the team increases their budget, they can’t afford to pay $17 M for an average at best OF at that time… If a team was willing to give Garrett Atkins $10 M, should the O’s have beaten that because it’s his “market value”? Of course not.

WNST -Then they just won’t compete. It’s that simple. If someone else IS paying, they have to compete with them. That’s baseball.

WNST – GMC: So they should just always sign the cheaper players? I see…..

CamdenCrazies – A bit far no? One player isn’t the difference for the team at this time. When they’re contending a win is worth more & so they can pay… I clearly didn’t say never spend for any good players ever*. I said that paying a ton for Holliday now wouldn’t have been a good move.

* “I don’t oppose all [signings of big-name free agents]. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of [O's fans], or of [sincerity]. What I am opposed to is a dumb [signing]… A rash [signing]. A [signing] based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics…. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in [applause] of our [intelligently run team], and pay the [actual market] wages of war (Wins Above Replacement).”

[Not to cheapen the original - infinitely more important - meaning, but it popped into my head and I thought the framework fit. I wish I had the ability to deliver it nearly as well though.]

WNST – GMC: AH! No need for a player like #Holliday because #Orioles have #Reimold! I can’t keep doing this….

CamdenCrazies – If he’s great now, by 2012 he’ll just be very good – but still being paid $17 M. Then in 2015 when he’s OK, he’s still getting $17 M… Holliday would have likely instantly become the O’s best player for 2010. But he’s going down, while the team’s going up.

WNST – You know what would be nice? Trying to have good players EVERY year. You know, like most of baseball does….

CamdenCrazies – There is a happy medium between overpaying while still not ready to contend and never dong anything. That is my position… I understand that longterm planning is difficult, but selling out the future for mild gratification now isn’t a good policy…. Very few teams can be perennial contenders, and the Orioles aren’t one of them. I’m willing to wait to do it right.

WNST – THAT’S THE PROBLEM! They CAN be perennial contenders. They DO make money. They choose to play “small market ball”

CamdenCrazies – Alright then. Let’s hear your plan for the O’s being perennial contenders. If it makes sense, I’ll gladly admit it.

WNST – GMC: The plan is simple. Have BOTH a talented group of young players AND an established group of high-priced players… You know, like the good teams in baseball do…..

CamdenCrazies – Right. But if you sign Holliday now, then he won’t be as good in ’11-’12 and the young players will start to get expensive… Please stop saying things like “like the good teams in baseball do…..”. Who? I want specific information, not general platitudes.

WNST – BRO-Look around baseball. What to the #Tigers do? How bout the #Angels? How bout the #Cardinals? The #Phillies?

CamdenCrazies – So you think $100+ M payrolls continuously – starting when the team is still not that good – is a reasonable plan?

WNST – The way to win CONSISTENTLY in Baseball is to mix talented young players with annual veteran additions. It’s the ONLY way…

CamdenCrazies – Very true*. My entire point is that you don’t start adding the veterans until they will make an impact. Holliday won’t help enough yet… Adding a top free agent next year might very well be reasonable.

* I didn’t see the “annual” before “veteran additions”. Adding a veteran annually just to do so is a dumb idea. You add when you have a hole to fill, and the player can do that for a reasonable price.

WNST – YES!!! Signing 2-3 TALENTED veteran players over the last 2-3 seasons might have made this #Orioles team competitive ALREADY.

CamdenCrazies – No it wouldn’t have. 2-3 players – on the highest end – would add maybe 15 wins*. That isn’t enough, when they win only 70 games… I wrote a post** on this earlier, that if you’d like I can dig out for you. It uses more serious stats though.

* We’re talking signing pretty much the top 2-3 guys on the market.

** The post: Turning The O’s Into Instant Contenders

WNST – 2-3 players for 2-3 seasons with your math would be worth 30-45 wins. That WOULD be enough.

CamdenCrazies – How is that 30-45 wins spread over 2-3 years enough? It never would have gotten them close to the finish line?… 70 + 15 = 85. 70, 70, 70 + 15, 15, 15 is still only 85, 85, 85. And that would have cost around $60 M a year extra to do.

WNST – GMC: Not interested in stats discussion. Part of reason I’ve fallen out of love with baseball*. Stats don’t tell stories…

* That’s sad. Though I guess people don’t like being confronted by their own ignorance.

CamdenCrazies – I assumed as much. Stats allow you to actually make smart decisions. I don’t want a story about the O’s winning – I want actual Wins.

WNSTGMC: I don’t like stats and I know that 70+15 (one season) is 85, 85+15 (in a 2nd season) is 100…

CamdenCrazies – You can’t do that. If you add 3 players in year 1, keep them and add 3 more in year 2 (and these are all All-Star 5 win players)… Then you’re payroll is over $150 M. Can’t do it.

WNST – I’d love to do this all night, but we have a show at 6am. You and I have fundamentally different ways of looking at things…

CamdenCrazies – I know you don’t like stats, but reality isn’t always easy and fun. I appreciate having the discussion though.