I love the Hot Stove season for a variety of reasons. It percolates the imaginative juices about what can be or what could have been. It allows me to discuss baseball in long johns and sweatshirts, and it generates water-cooler discussions about the minutia of baseball, which is what I love most. Debate is fun for me, even when it gets contentious.
When you get a few frosty beverages in a belly or a keyboard in front of a social media troll, you start to see some vigorous and animated "discussion" and never more so - except maybe in the hip hop world - than the baseball Hot Stove season and free agent signings.
One of the more popular discussions is player contracts and the "value of a signing." I love to discuss whether a player is over or under paid, as an academic exercise, but what I hate about this debate is it inevitably leads to fans deciding that they love the player, but don't want him because of the contract. Coming from fans of large market teams, this makes no sense to me.
There are a lot of big market fans that would rather see their team take on the risk of Cliff Lee than back up the money truck for David Price or Zach Greinke. Lee could prove to be a bargain while Price or Greinke are overpaid, and eventually, will be an albatross on the ledger. This line of thinking is absurd coming from a fan of large market sports franchises. Those same fans aren't content with being competitive and demand titles or bust, but somehow they are all right with that seemingly irreconcilable relationship.
Debating whether a player deserves the contract he signed is a distraction from the real discussion, which is whether a signing has an impact on future signings and an organizations ability to contend. The Red Sox are an organization that signed Carl Crawford and gave an expensive extension to Adrian Gonzalez. Both turned out to be colossal mistakes and neither prevented them from signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, which didn't stop them from paying David Price.
How can a fan complain, for financial reasons, about a signing that delivers one of the best pitchers in baseball to their rotation when it has absolutely no impact on future decisions? And yet, we hear it all the time. The Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to a monstrosity of a contract and re-signed CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez to even more onerous contracts after they opted out of gigantic ones and somehow, with all those dollars on the books, were able to pinch enough pennies to add Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. Fans of large market teams need to stop this line of thinking.
I am fully on board when fans of smaller market teams insert this aspect of a signing into the broader discussion, because it does have an impact on their ability to compete in the future. In 2010 when the St. Louis Cardinals re-signed Matt Holliday to the largest contract in team history, everyone knew that Albert Pujols' days in St. Louis were numbered. The Cardinals chose Matt Holliday and that contract over Albert Pujols and what he would eventually receive from the Angels. That is the perfect place to discuss a free agent signing focused on dollars. If the Cardinals had won the bidding for David Price then I would have been happy to spend the day debating in the twitterverse about the contract, but it is absurd to have that same discussion when the Red Sox sign him and it will be just as big a waste of time when the Yankees pay Bryce Harper $400 million dollars.
I live in Boston and as a sport loving community we want things exactly the way we want them and we are never fully satisfied. We love our cake, but we want it to be healthy for our hearts too. That applies to the way we analyze our Hot Stove free agent signings and as fans we need to stop.
Fans of large market teams are sensitive to accusations that they buy their titles. The way they combat that is by evaluating free agent signings based on whether their team over or under paid for a player rather than whether their team got better or worse on the field. Somehow these same fans are all right with the seemingly irreconcilable relationship of being against paying top dollar for top players and their demand that their teams win titles. It's an overreaction, but it is the way we are.
Big market fans, I beg you, PLEASE embrace the gluttony and stop trying to micro-manage an organizations money when it doesn't need to be. Yankees fans, look at your 2016 season ticket prices before you praise Brian Cashman for being thrifty when he trades a versatile pitcher like Adam Warren for Starlin Castro, rather than keep Warren and sign Ben Zobrist to fill the same need. Are the Yankees better with Castro or with Warren and Zobrist? The Yankees gained one additional year of control and saved $13 million dollars, and in exchange they lost Adam Warren and don't have Ben Zobrist. But we shouldn't even be discussing the money!!!! It’s a red herring.
My new big market mantra; "Embrace the Gluttony."