We’ve all been there. We made a mistake. We must own up to it, but the mistake is so large, we’re not sure how or what will happen if we do admit it. Maybe it was in our personal lives, or maybe it was at work. No matter where the mistake took place, we’ve all had to swallow our pride and face the music. But for Major League Baseball teams, admitting mistakes is often something general managers refuse to do. Mistakes with contracts can cost clubs millions of dollars, but refusing to admit these mistakes can cost so much more. Orlando Hudson‘s contract is one such example.
In December of 2010, then-GM Jed Hoyer made the decision to bring in former All Star second baseman Orlando Hudson. At the time, the moved seemed to be genius. Hudson was talked about in baseball circles as a big time clubhouse leader. He had baseball prestige in his corner as a Gold Glove winner and a winner all around. With the departure of Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, the move seemed to be a perfect way to help the Padres stay competitive. Things did not quite work out.
In 2011, Hudson had his worst offensive season of his career. He reached base at just a .329 clip. That represented 9% lower than his previous career low. He quickly went from savior to villain as he alienated fans with his attitude and comments. Then, rumors started trickling out of the clubhouse. It would seem Hudson was far from the clubhouse leader San Diego thought they were getting. He was quick to leave the ball park, rarely spoke out in ways that united the team, and simply didn’t seem serious about the game.
There has rarely been a player in Padres history so vilified, and he was coming back for another season. Fans were looking forward to Hudson’s return as much as they were looking forward to another 90-loss season. But the Padres staggered Hudson’s contract and in 2012 he is due to receive $5.5 million. In 2013, he’s due $8 million. Jed Hoyer made a mistake. Now Josh Byrnes is saddled with that mistake and he is making a bigger one: Allowing Hudson to continue playing.
The Padres are definitely not the first team to make the mistake of keeping a player because of the money due to him. The Cubs have done so for the life of Alfonso Soriano‘s contract. Barry Zito is another example, but he will perform just enough to make the Giants think he still has something in the tank. The Nationals gave Jayson Werth way too much money last season, and he promptly batted .232. Granted, Werth has started 2012 much better, but should he slump again, you can bet the Nationals are going to just stick right with him and his $126 million contact.
The problem with teams paying these players AND keeping them on the roster is that they not only waste money, they cost the team wins. Orlando Hudson’s defense alone has cost the Padres an estimated eight runs between last year and this. His offense has created such an opportunity cost that San Diego is literally costing themselves games by not seeking a replacement second baseman.
Wins draw fans. San Diego will never be a place that sells out every game, but the Friar Faithful have proven that with wins comes attendance. The Padres saw an uptick in attendance after just about every winning season they’ve had. They’ve seen a drop after most of the losing seasons. By employing a player who so obviously contributes to losing baseball, the Padres are costing themselves fans. They are costing themselves money. While they owe money to Hudson regardless of whether he plays or not, they owe money to him and lose money on attendance.
Since 2000, the Padres have averaged approximately 124,000 lost fans after losing seasons. This excludes the
2004 season to open the new Petco Park. If we assume the average ticket price is about $15 dollars, the Padres lose out on $1.8 million in ticket revenue alone after losing seasons. Imagine how much more they lose on concessions and parking and merchandise. By keeping a player who contributes to losses simply because the contract is expensive makes little sense when you think of it in terms of opportunity cost.
This is not an indictment on Orlando Hudson. Let’s make that clear. This is an indictment on baseball contracts and the current way baseball executives operate. By allowing albatross contracts to sink teams, general managers are basically refusing to admit their mistakes. Imagine a multi-million dollar mistake in your own company. Imagine it being corrected and helping set the company back on the course to recovery. Now imagine the wrong-doers ignoring the problem and allowing the problem to fester. It makes no sense. It takes guts to admit a bad contract. It takes even more guts to cut a player who is due a lot of money and is not performing up to expectations. How long before Josh Byrnes can admit the mistakes of his predecessor? How long before he takes the steps necessary to correct said mistake?