Matt Cain will now make at least $21.25 million on average over the next six years, possibly more if the one year option kicks in. $21.25 million is almost 40% of the Padres 2012 payroll. Joey Votto‘s new deal accounts for a even higher percentage. Votto’s reported 10-year, $225 million deal would put him at $22.5 million per year on average. In other words, 41% of the Padres 2012 payroll. These contracts send a clear message to teams like the Padres, and that message isn’t “you can’t compete.”
Not all teams can do it. Not all teams have the farm system talent to pull it off. Not all teams have savvy-enough GM’s to pull the trigger. But those that can do it a d have the talent must continue pulling said trigger. What’s the it we’re talking about? We’re talking about early, long-term contracts that buy-out arbitration and free agency years.
With Josh Byrnes at the helm, the Padres are proving they are one of those teams the ability to lock-up
potential stars to team-friendly deals before they get too expensive. The Matt Cain and Joey Votto deals mean the Padres will have to do so more and do so with players that turn into stars. San Diego will never be able to afford a $20 million-plus contract, but they may have players that could be worth that eventually on the open market. Players like Cameron Maybin, Nick Hundley, Cory Luebke, Chase Headley*, and Yonder Alonso* are the types that could develop into stars and end up costing the Padres too much money.
*Neither Chase Headley or Yonder Alonso has received a contract extension. It’s not clear the team’s intent with Headley, but Alonso will likely have to prove himself for at least a year before a long-term deal is offered.
Let’s look at Cory Luebke first as a example. Sure he could flame out, but he’s got two important things going for him. One, he’s a lefty. Two, he can pitch anywhere. Maybe the second reason is the most important one. Luebke has an even 10 starts at Petco and 10 on the road. His ERA at home is 3.84, but his ERA on the road is 2.87. Opposing teams realize this and will continue to monitor. As a fan, we’d like to see that home ERA drop (and I’m sure it will), but scouts around the league certainly may want Luebke on their team considering he’s shown Petco isn’t the reason for his numbers. It’s his own talent.
Should Luebke have success anywhere near Cain’s, which I will add is not out of the question for all the naysayers out there, he will be worth far more than the Padres can afford. At very least, the team should save a large chunk on the free agency year they bought and probably some on the arbitration years. They also get at least one extra year of service that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able afford. The Matt Cain deal just proves the Padres need to continue thinking and acting like they have with the Luebke contract.
Yonder Alonso, on the other hand, is a little more tricky. He’s only had 117 major league at-bats, and he has three seasons before he’s even arbitration eligible. However, he is a first baseman with power. If Adrian Gonzalez proved anything to the Padres, it’s that a superstar can come out of nowhere. Joey Votto’s contract with the Reds is enormous, and there is little reason to believe Alonso will be worth anywhere near that in his career. However. even a fraction of the Votto contract is more than the Padres can afford. His contract proves the Padres need to take risks on their long-term deals. While Alonso has those three years of team control with no concern of arbitration until 2015, the Padres may want to look at a long-term deal before Alonso hits his first arbitration eligible year.
Depending on Alonso’s performance this year, the Padres may be faced with a fork in the road. They can choose the path of long-term contract and risk any potential drop in numbers or injury. Or they can choose the path of waiting for a couple of arbitration eligible years to pass, then working on a deal. As we’ve discussed previously, arbitrators award power and average. Alonso figures to have both, so the Padres will run the risk of quickly being out priced just in the arbitration process.
The Matt Cain and Joey Votto deals do not eliminate competitive balance. Instead, they increase the pressure on GM’s to make business-savvy deals. It’s not about baseball. It is about winning and weighing the costs verse the benefits. Contract extensions like Maybin’s, Hundley’s, and Luebke’s will become even more paramount as massive long-term deals continue to be signed. The Padres cannot run the risk of playing with pre-arb eligible players as their only talent. They need to lock up long-term, proven players. That means taking risks up front. The Cain and Votto should not signal the end of small-market success. They should simply intensify the spotlight on small-market moves.