Does It Matter If They Overpaid Cabrera?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

All sports coverage is slowly becoming an analysis of contracts. Watch carefully sometime. Money gets mentioned all the time. We talk extensions, free agency, trades, etc almost as much as we talk about the actual competitions. It’s true in every sport. It’s odd, but it’s a thing we all do. We’re caught up in the culture of it.

There were a lot of comments about the size of the Cabrera deal on Thursday night. And rightfully so, it was big news when pretty much nothing else was happening. It’s a record deal, he’s a great player, you know, the whole nine yards. It’s worth talking about, and I was among the many who thought it was a bad move from a value standpoint. The cost to value ratio was all wrong and the timing was weird. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Cabrera, it just means I’d run a baseball team differently than Dombrowski.

So let’s ask the follow up question. The Tigers are paying Cabrera more than he’s likely to be worth objectively. So what? Does that matter?

It only really matters if it affects the team’s ability to put together its best possible roster. I don’t care if the Illitch family has a lower number of millions, but I do care if they are allocating money to Cabrera that should be going to another set of players in the future who would help the Tigers win more games.

I’ve made this point privately, and if Lewie Pollis is reading this, his hair is likely on fire, but it doesn’t really matter if a team is getting good value. Joe Nathan was probably the best reliever on the market this offseason. The Tigers needed some relievers. Would they rather have a 2 win reliever for $25 million or a 1 win reliever for $6 million? From an economic perspective, the second guy is a better return on investment. But the Tigers need that other win. It’s an expensive win but they need the win. You don’t get a trophy for having the best $/win ratio. You’re trying to maximize your win total. I’d rather have a 95 win team that costs $200 million than one that costs $95 million but wins 83 games. That’s a slightly controversial opinion in some circles.

The counter perspective is that the team that gets better value has resources to allocate elsewhere. But that isn’t really true. The Tigers couldn’t go out and sign a bunch of 1 win relievers and use them instead of Nathan. Those relievers didn’t exist and you only have so many roster spots. If you have five starters who are all 3.0 WAR pitchers, you can’t sign a 3 win starter, even for next to nothing and improve your team. Wins are fungible, but it’s not a perfect market.

This is a complicated way of saying that I only care if the Tigers waste money if it means they don’t spend money on stuff that it available and fits a need. If they need a 2B in three years and they can’t afford one, and the combination of 2B and DH is better and cheaper than Cabrera, then it’s a problem. If not, you live with it.

$352 million is an insane amount of money, but it’s not my money. If the Tigers want to spend $8 million/WAR, that’s cool with me as long as they keep buying their way into the playoffs. The goal is to build a team good enough to make the playoffs and then hope luck is on your side. Someday, the gravy train might dry up, but as long as Illitch is going to spend and spend, this really isn’t a problem.

I don’t know what the plan is overall, but as long as you don’t spend $10 million on Rajai Davis instead of spending that money on a player that helps you win more games, who cares if Davis is actually worth $8 million? Economists care, but very few of us are economists!

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3 responses

  1. Thanks to this deal, we’ll all have the opportunity to watch the Tigers retire Miggy’s number some day–a good, and increasingly rare thing. Other than Jeter, I can’t think of another current player who deserves the honor (but get back to me in a couple of years in regard to Verlander).

  2. Key line in Neil’s post : “I don’t know what the plan is overall…”. You are correct. As for “experts” like K. Law calling the contract “a disaster”, they need to check their math and their assumptions. Miggy is not Ryan Howard. Miggy is not Albert Pujols. He’ll be an offensive force at least til he’s 38. Chances are Miggy will still be playing after THEY are out of baseball.

  3. […] Cabrera long term might be smart, but signing him at the time they did was foolish. Second, I don’t care if the team wastes money as long as they are willing to throw more money at the team […]

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