Big dollars for Matthews makes very little sense

November 24, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

I don't know about you, but I could have sworn that Major League Baseball introduced a new labor agreement at the World Series and forecasted a new era of economic sanity.

Now comes the news that Gary Matthews Jr., fresh off his first strong season as a full-time player, has agreed to a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels worth $50 million, and suddenly the baseball world seems to have spun out of its orbit once again.

Let's stipulate right here that Matthews is a fine young man with tremendous talent. If you were going to give somebody $50 million with barely a speck of statistical justification, he would be right at the top of my list, but I can't help wondering what this is going to do to the rest of the free-agent market.

Matthews batted .313 with 102 runs, 19 homers and 79 RBIs as the Rangers' leadoff man. He had a great all-around year, which featured one of the most spectacular catches ever to hit a highlight reel. But you used to need a track record to get an average of $10 million per year.

This deal almost certainly will push up the price of Carlos Lee, who recently was pondering a reported five-year, $72 million offer from the Houston Astros. If I averaged 34 home runs and 110 RBIs the past four years, I think I'd want a lot more than that if the going rate for a career .263 hitter with one big season is $50 million for five.

OK, the market doesn't exactly work that way, but with Alfonso Soriano getting $136 million from the Cubs and the Angels overpaying Matthews, Lee's agent (Adam Katz) has got to step back and see if the bidding takes off again.

One thing should be obvious in the wake of the quick labor agreement and the surge in free-agent prices: Major League Baseball is raking in the big bucks at an unprecedented rate and appears poised to spend them just as fast, which might spell big trouble down the road.

Peter's principles

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has long been critical of the way his competitors overspend for players, so it will be interesting to see if he allows his executives to continue to compete in this inflating free-agent environment.

The Orioles need Lee, but it looks like it might take $90 million over six years to fill that gaping run-production hole in the middle of the lineup. I can't imagine Angelos approving an offer of that size - and I'm not sure he should - but the Orioles have shown some early aggressiveness this offseason.

The club is at a decided disadvantage in its pursuit of Lee, who owns a home near Houston and would not be subject to a state income tax in Texas. That means that the Orioles would have to offer about 10 percent more just to stay even with the Astros, who also have a much better chance of reaching the playoffs next year.

More bang for buck

The Los Angeles Dodgers gave $44 million over five years to leadoff man Juan Pierre, which still seems like a lot of money, but makes a lot more sense than the Matthews deal.

Pierre is a career .303 hitter who has 325 career stolen bases and is second only to Ichiro Suzuki in total hits (1,182) over the past six seasons. If you don't have a calculator, that's an average of 199 hits a year.

Outside the box

Though I might have some reservations about acquiring Tim Hudson after his high-ERA performance with the Atlanta Braves this year, I think the Orioles' front office should be willing to take chances to improve the pitching staff.

The club needs a top-flight starter and it is going to have to do something creative to get one. If that means giving up Hayden Penn in a deal for a pitcher like Hudson or gambling some big dollars to sign injured Mark Mulder, then at least the Orioles would be making a good-faith attempt to get back in contention in the American League East.

No matter what happens on that front, however, they still need to finish Job One by acquiring or signing a couple more solid middle relievers.

Top phony headline

This week's funny headline comes from SportsPickle.com, the sports humor and satire site on the Web: NBA players announce one-month strike so they can enjoy their new PlayStation 3's.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturday.

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