Ryan deal sounds ridiculous, but Jays not first to overpay

Commmentary

November 27, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

I remember the reaction I had when Kevin Malone announced that the Los Angeles Dodgers had signed pitcher Kevin Brown to the first nine-figure contract in baseball history - a seven-year, $105 million deal that sent shock waves through the industry.

I also remember the reaction I had when agent Scott Boras persuaded the Texas Rangers to give Alex Rodriguez $252 million over 10 years, the gross value of that deal exactly doubling the previous record for a professional team sport (Kevin Garnett).

It was a combination of shock and awe: the awe reserved for Boras and his ability to find wet-behind-the-ears baseball owners who were willing to throw good sense - and quite a few unnecessary dollars - to the wind.

So, you'd think it would be hard to get too excited about the $47 million deal that reportedly has been agreed to by former Orioles closer B.J. Ryan, and you would be wrong.

If the reports are true and the Toronto Blue Jays have agreed to pay Ryan $9.4 million a year over five guaranteed years, then this contract is as ridiculous in its own way as the huge Brown and A-Rod deals that the Dodgers and Rangers would live to regret.

Of course, I've got the benefit of hindsight to chuckle at the Dodgers, who got about 12 victories a year (actually 11.6) from Brown before shipping him to the Yankees, where he won a total of 14 games over the last two years of the deal. So he averaged 10 wins a year over the course of the contract and was on the disabled list 10 times.

The Rodriguez deal was ridiculous for a different reason ... because it showed that Boras could hold a very successful businessman upside down by the ankles and shake an extra $100 million out of his pockets. But at least Rodriguez has delivered on his athletic promise, and you don't hear George Steinbrenner complaining about the price.

Perhaps we'll be saying the same thing about the Ryan deal in three or four years, but the willingness of the Blue Jays to spend $47 million on a pitcher who has just one year of experience as a closer defies reasonable explanation.

Ryan is a great pitcher who will likely anchor the Toronto bullpen for a long time, but it's going to be hard to convince me that he should be guaranteed way more than New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera - even if you account for the difference in age.

The Orioles definitely came in too low with their first offseason offer, which was reported to be three years at $6 million a year, but they figured to step up to about $26 million over four years if they had gotten the chance. Ryan was believed to be looking for $40 million over four years and I thought he was crazy. Turns out it was the Blue Jays who were a little soft in the head, but that's just my opinion.

Before you get all exorcised about the Orioles and their inability to sign Ryan to an extension last spring, consider that he had not yet debuted as a full-time closer and three years at $15 million (the Orioles' offer at the time) was pretty good money for a setup guy.

It was not unreasonable for the club to wait and see whether Ryan thrived in the closer role before ponying up closer money. If he was insulted, then he's got a much bigger ego than he would like anyone to believe, but it all worked out nicely for him, so good luck and Godspeed.

Ryan's new deal, provided it is eventually finalized, delivers a double-whammy to the Orioles, since it likely boosts the price of the other free-agent relievers on the market.

The Orioles likely will pursue veteran Tom Gordon as a stopgap until Chris Ray is ready to be the closer of the future, but Flash isn't going to come cheap if he's willing to come here at all.

Blue Jays officials stubbornly continued to insist that the deal was not done last night, but you have to figure that if the numbers were wrong, they would have said so by now.

One theory circulating in Toronto has the Jays waiting until later in the week for an official announcement so they don't have to compete with today's Grey Cup (Canadian Football League championship game) for publicity.

Here's a scary final thought. What if the Orioles come up empty in their search for a veteran closer? Would they then turn back to Jorge Julio and hope that new pitching coach Leo Mazzone can unlock his supposedly tremendous potential?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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