Marlins, Angels serve as cautionary tale for Cubs when it comes to spending

Marlins, Angels serve as cautionary tale for Cubs when it comes to spending
A bad idea the Cubs wisely ignored

Other than the Cubs, there were two teams I was curious to watch this season.  One was the Miami Marlins and the other was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Granted, the Marlins promised to be entertaining with both Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano in the fold, but that's not what interested me.  It was about taking a 90 loss team and building it with free agents and veteran acquisitions such as Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle.

The other team, the Angels, was more about looking a couple of years down the road.  The Angels had already experienced success, winning 86 games in 2011.  They added CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols, and later, Zach Greinke to the mix and everyone, including myself, considered them one of the favorites going into the season.

Neither team appears as if it will be playing in the postseason this year.

It's not as if Reyes and  Buehrle have been busts for the Marlins.  Bell has been a bust, but Buehrle has been Buehrle with 11 wins and a 3.69 ERA so far and Jose Reyes has been their best position player (3.3 WAR) other than homegrown talent Giancarlo Stanton (4.4 WAR).  Two out of three doesn't seem bad, yet Miami finds itself exactly where it was last year -- in last place in the NL East.

Most of our readers didn't want to build that way anyway, but there were many Cubs fans who did, despite the recent failure of the Cubs 2006-2008 shopping frenzy, an enormous investment that didn't buy them a single playoff win.

Even more curious have been the Angels, who have acquired two front line pitchers and arguably the best hitter of our generation in Albert Pujols.   They added these pieces to an 86 win team, yet the team is actually worse this season in terms of winning percentage so far this season.  This test case was more curious to me because it's widely assumed that the Cubs will spend big once they get close, much as the Angels were close last season.  It has backfired and the Angels suddenly find themselves with some highly paid veterans and a .500 team.  Again, Wilson (2.4 WAR) and Pujols (3.1 WAR) haven't been terrible, both have been productive, though not nearly as much as last season -- but that shouldn't have mattered too much because the Angels didn't lose anything except money by acquiring them.   One wonders where they would have been without the emergence of homegrown talents Mike Trout (7.5 WAR) and Mark Trumbo (2.9 WAR), who have added more than 10 wins between them.

The Cubs, thankfully, didn't take the Marlins path to rebuilding and perhaps should think twice about the way the Angels tried to spend to add those "final pieces".  I'm not saying they shouldn't spend, just that they should do it carefully, with pieces that fit the organization rather than going all out for the biggest names on the market, especially those already past their peak performance years.

So, for those losing patience with the rebuilding process, take heart.  The teams who made the biggest splashes in the offseason are now struggling to stay above water.  Perhaps the team the Cubs should look to is the team that has passed the Angels in the standings -- the Oakland A's.  The A's traded two good starting pitchers, replenished their farm system with talent.  Some of that talent,  including young starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker and Tom Milone,  are making nice contributions already.  The A's made one free agent signing that didn't cripple them financially in Yoenis Cespedes.  The mega-hyped Cuban free agent hasn't been a star, but he's been productive in his very first season and figures to improve.  The A's also traded a relief pitcher (Andrew Bailey) for a talented, but underperforming and oft-injured OF in Josh Reddick, who has hit 25 HRs, leads Oakland in every major offensive category, and has played superb defense in RF.  Smaller value signings such as OFs Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes have also helped.

Again, not saying that the Cubs should build completely on the cheap, but until they build a solid foundation as Oakland has, there's no sense breaking out Tom Ricketts' credit card and painting the town red.  When the time comes, hopefully the Cubs will be more sober about their spending than the Angels and Marlins were this past offseason, and perhaps a good fraction of that money should be used to either retain or acquire young talent that isn't past it's prime.

Filed under: Analysis, Free Agency


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  • I don't disagree with the premise of the article, but it is a little misleading. Most of the big acquisitions mentioned are not the reason why the Angels and Marlins are struggling. I think it's reasonable that if the Cubs had a solid young core after next year, and could supplement that core with high-level FA players, I would want the Cubs to do so. Just because it didn't work this year for some teams doesn't mean that I wouldn't want the Cubs to do it.

    Clearly I would prefer to build a great young base of players. But I also think that as a big market team, the Cubs need to be in the FA world heavily, checking in on players. At the very least, they can drive prices up for other teams.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    No, they're not the reason those teams are bad at all. I tried to say that but perhaps I should make it more clear. The point was more to the effect that these FAs aren't necessarily the answer and that the Cubs shouldn't be signing players past their peaks to huge,, long-term contracts.

    And again not saying they shouldn't sign good free agents, but just be careful when the Pujols of the world hit the open market. Sometimes you're paying for name value. And no way the Cubs should be giving out those kinds of long term contracts.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, thanks for the clarification. I think the issue is that baseball will be moving towards paying more for name value. Without being able to spend in the draft or internationally, teams will be forced to pay for FA if they want to use their money to get better. Even looking at this upcoming offseason, the contracts will be out of hand. Hamilton, Greinke, and Bourne are probably the best 3 FA, and I wouldn't touch any of them given what they will be paid.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    No problem. I think our opinions aren't that different on this, so maybe I should edit article to clarify stance better.

    Paying for Bourne would be crazy to me. A speed, non OBP guy on the wrong side of 30, no thanks. And there are obviously big risks with both Hamilton and Greinke too. I don't see the Cubs pursuing any of them.

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    "Marlins, Angels serve as cautionary tale for Cubs when it comes to spending"

    I think the Cubs need to serve as their own cautionary tale. They've already seen what the wrong contracts can do. I also think it's a bit premature to judge the Angels on what they've tried to do. It's not like these are one-year contracts. These contracts have time to pay off.

  • In reply to Scott Alleman:

    Yes, and if you read the article I did mention those Cubs -- could have also mention Theo's late years with Boston too.

    As for the Angels, plenty of time to work, but with Pujols and Wilson on the wrong side of 30, plenty of time for it to get worse too.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I read the article the first time John. What I saw was a line dedicated to the Cubs of recent years, and the rest of the post dedicated to ones that haven't played out in full. You could be correct that they fail, but I don't think the Angels have yet and think that the Marlins aren't going to let it play out before getting rid of even more pieces.

  • In reply to Scott Alleman:

    I simply chose the most recent examples. There was a lot of disappointment from some fans that the Cubs didn't pursue FAs such as Pujols, Fielder, and Wilson in Theo's first year.

    The Cubs past free agent follies have already been well-documented here and in other places. Didn't feel the need to go into detail what every Cubs fan already knows.

    As for the Angels, it could well be that they improve in the next season or two, those guys aren't over the hill yet, but performances typically decline at their ages, not improve and it's likely that even if the Angels win, that it will be in large part due to other players such as Trout, Weaver, Trumbo, etc.

    The point, though, isn't that the Angels foray into free agency is a doomed failure. It is that instant success isn't easy to buy, even when they started the year as a good team. And that the Cubs, when they are ready to spend, should be more cautious about how they do it. The Angels may succeed, but if you think they were looking long term and not instant gratification, then I couldn't disagree more.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think the article is pretty clear as it stands, John. You followed your lead paragraph with developed and pertinent thoughts. No need for nitpicking.
    The contrasting paths of the Angels and A's in the AL West is fascinating. Who would have expected either story?
    I think that the Angels will hang in but never be dominant in Pujols years. They have holes in their lineup that two or three meganames can't fix, and some clubhouse issues as well.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I'm not nitpicking. I'm stating that I don't think the comparison was apples to apples. That's all. It's my opinion.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Thanks Hubbs!

    It completely caught me off guard too. I expected the Angels to at least make the playoffs and right now that's a long shot. I also thought the A's would be right there with the Cubs and Astros. Wrong again!

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    In reply to Scott Alleman:

    There is an extent to which you can judge the Angels, though. They gave up good, cost controlled young players for Greinke, so they're clearly pushing hard for this season. With the minors barren, Pujols and Wilson already on big deals, and Trout due for one relatively soon (they *cannot* lose that guy), the real question of where the money to put together the rest of their team is inevitable. They simply don't have the money to spend, on average, 15 million a year on every other position but center field, first base, and #1 starter. (That's what it will cost to get impact guys and above average performers around the diamond to have a chance.)

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I get it Mike, and I do agree to some extent. My problem is that I have a hard time writing off a team that's 4 games back of a wild card slot. Their plan could still materialize this year or next.

    I don't necessarily think they need to spend $15 mil a pop on impact guys. They have a couple of those already.

  • As a Season Ticket Holder I was one of the people who was hoping for bigger moves last offseason after two years of losing money. It gets harder and harder to justify shelling out $20K knowing a lot of that isn't coming back. But this season has gotten more interested in following the minors and the draft which has been a lot of fun, so I am all for this approach if it gets the Cubs back to sustained success.

    I was in the camp that wanted to sign Fielder this offseason because he was still young enough to be part of the foundation in 2015, although he would have about 130 IBBs this season. I wouldn't want any part of the 9 year contract he ended up getting from Detroit, but when he was sitting out there in mid-January, there was talk he could sign for 5 or 6 years and $20ishM and I would've been OK with that.

    I wanted no part of Pujols other than to annoy my wife's family of Cardinals fans. But this offseason also highlighted the inequity of the two leagues playing under different rules. The ability to slide Pujols or Fielder over to DH gave the AL teams the ability to offer contracts that weren't options for the NL. I think both teams will be regretting it by the time the deals are over, but it just illustrates how ridiculous it is to have two leagues with different rules.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    I would have been okay with a 4-5 year deal on Fielder but part of me wonders if it would have made them just good enough to slow up the long-term process. And I'm much more happy they have Rizzo instead considering his age and that he will not just be around, but should be in his prime when the Cubs are contending.

    And I do have to agree with the part of getting Pujols just to annoy Cards fans ;) -- but with that contract, they probably would have had the last laugh!

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    John. Great article and I agree but I have an off topic question. Keith Law said that the Cubs have fired a bunch of scouts. Have you heard anything about this?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Thanks Demarrer. I have heard they fired 6, but I don't have any more info than that yet. I'm a little worried about who they may be.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    More info trickling in: 1 crosschecker, 4 pro scouts, one amateur scout.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    List just came out...
    amateur scouts fired: Charlie Aliano and Rick Schroeder.
    Pro: Richie Zisk, Joe Housey, Tom Shafer, Tom Bourque

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, please give us your take on what this means. It means more work for you, but I think it merits a separate article. Thanks for all your good work.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I wrote a short article. Theyre obviously more disappointed with the pro scouts. The fact that they kept most of their amateur scouts and all their international guys means they must think they're headed in the right direction in those areas. Curious that it was Florida guys though, where top picks Baez and Almora came from!

  • I think going after low key FA's for 1-2 year contracts is the way to go for a least 1 more year. If a good young FA wants to sign for
    3-4 years then go for it. Except for our young core players no long
    term high price contracts for FA's.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Agreed. I think that's the ideal scenario.

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    I think the example of the Angels is a good one, especially when compared to their division rivials, the Rangers.

    Granted, the Rangers spent money on Darvish and they've been rumored to have offered mucho dinero to other free agents but they seem to be a team that values young player scouting and development very highly. They also seem to want to promote from within and offer attractive contracts to young players...


    Last I checked, the Rangers were doing markedly better than the Angels, too. Oh, and the Angels have C.J. Wilson...

    ...from the Rangers.

    Just sayin', is all.

  • Thanks!

    That was the good thing about the Rangers, they did make bids but they didn't overbid when the price got to high. I hope the Cubs will be similar in that they won't pursue FAs at any cost.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The other good thing to emulate about the Rangers is that they had the organizational depth to deal for Dempster without harming their immediate roster. I look forward to the day when we can deal our 3rd- or 4th-best middle-infield prospect and an AA pitcher for a difference-making FA.

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    You touched on something I've been wondering about, Theo's most recent statements on free agents, i.e., "paying for past performance, not future performance," would seem to argue against moves like Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. That seems to suggest one of three things:

    1) He's intentionally overselling in order to keep Cub fans from expecting Fielder and Pujols signings in the near future.
    2) Those deals were forced on him by Luciano and he never wanted to make them because they violate his philosophy.
    3) He was burned badly by those signings and changed his tune on the worth of big free agent dollars.

    If either 2 or 3 is true (I tend to think it's a combination of 2 and 3, with an emphasis on 3), it seems like the Cubs will never challenge the Angels for big names and will be far more of the Texas model: the majority of the team homegrown (Young, Andrus, Olt, Feliz), flyers on down players (Hamilton), or international guys (Darvish). And if you need a player, NEVER overpay (Dempster instead of Greinke).

    I have to say, I'm just fine with that. Though, I fully admit I'm not spending 20-50k on season tickets every season, which might change my thinking some.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mike, well put. I also wonder if the reason Theo's tune changed with his move from Boston to Chicago is because he knows that his payroll is going to have to be smaller in Chicago, even once they're ready to compete. Maybe gambles like Crawford make more sense in Boston when you're guaranteed to have the second highest payroll in all of baseball. You can eat the cost if you lose your bet.
    But if he knows that the Cubs won't be a top five payroll, even in competing years, then it makes sense to go manage expectations by disparaging big money contracts to players 30 and over.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Agreed here Mike from top to bottom. Nice post.

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    I'm confident that the FO will not deviate from the plan and jump at big name FA's unless their prime years are ahead. When Theo first came on board, I think the natural reaction of Cub fans was to expect big signings. That's how we've been raised.
    As we read and heard more of his philosophy, I think we came to understand this is the right way to go. I would be shocked if Theo/jed ever laid out more than 3 or 4 years for anyone other than their own guys, and even then it will be to "buy low" and secure arb. & FA years.

  • In reply to AdolphoPhillips66:

    I think this will be true. They might spend a bit on an an exceptional free agent. That is one you fits their philosophy and is still under 30, but I see 5 or more years being the exception rather than the rule.

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    On the A's comparison, I will add that I now live in the Bay Area and follow the A's somewhat. Billy Bean's MO has never wavered. He has a plan and sticks to it even though the fan base sometimes reacts negatively.
    The impact of his philosophy is greatest on the rank & file in the org.
    The prospects are not hyped by design and these kids know their path to the show will not be blocked by big FA signings. I think this motivates them even more to earn their promotions.
    How many times have you heard national broadcasters comment on how much fun the A's players seem to be having? It's genuine.
    I was at a game when they swept the Yanks last month and the fans really feel like these guys are their own...almost felt like rooting your brother on.
    Cubs could do much worse than follow the A's blueprint. And when they are one player from the promised land, there will be no financial restraints.
    Now if we can only get Rickett's to understand ticket value!

  • In reply to AdolphoPhillips66:

    True...and they can keep the guys they do develop. The A's will lose guys like Jarrod Parker once they become FAs. Cubs will have the option to keep guys in house.

  • The Marlins is a franchise on the fence when MLB will be talking about "Contraction". Their fan base is the worst, and their over spending on free agent players will affect them in the years to come. Two of their best pieces were traded off in the past years. Both Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez should have been the cornerstone for the Marlins. The Miami media drove those guys out of town. Florida is more of a Football state than a Baseball state. Miami, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, FSU, Miami U. and Florida is what Floridians talk about, not baseball. Florida is only good for Spring Training games, and not for summer baseball. Look at the Rays, a great team, but also has a poor fan base.

    The Angels will regret paying these large contracts when their stars have knees like Alfonso Soriano. Only hope for Angels is a few more "Trout" type of players come around and keep the Angels going. Which will happen.. California fans can support MLB teams. Florida cannot.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    You forgot the biggest reason for contracting the Marlins our of existence: Jeff Loria. Goggle him and read how he (with the help of Bud Selig and John Henry, who then owned the Marlins) sold the Expos to a syndicate of the other MLB owners, basically sold the Expos to MLB, and the other owners of the Expos sued Loria for violation of the RICO act. Loria then bought the Marlins from Henry with that money who then turned around and bought the Red Sox and hired Theo Epstein.

  • Dear Santa:

    I have been a very very good boy this year. All I want is 3 SP's (prefer 2 lefties) with dominant ace stuff to one day challenge Shark/Garza for opening day SP consideration. A starting Catcher that will knock your nuts off if you try to steal on us, works the staff well and happens to hit .280+ with some power. Continued development of Castro/Rizzo, Vitters/Jackson, and Baez/Soler/Almora. Oh and a lead-off hitter with a .400+ OBP that is capable of 50+ steals a year.

    I'm not really picky if these are FA signings or drafted/developed. I just want all of this to happen by 2016 at the MLB level. Thank you!

  • I know the Dodgers are playing well, but I can't help but seeing some Hendry type pain coming their way after these big contracts.

    LA is fickle, and I can see their spending biting them in the shorts later.

    Having lived through the Hendry years, is like talking to these Dodger kids about the great depression...

  • I definitely think they shouldn't make any deals big enough to cripple their ability to keep the minor league system stocked. And stay away from NTC deals too, but Theo apparently does that already. I agree with the sentiment that we should be careful, but we still need to start spending when we have a strong minor league foundation in place. No reason with our big market revenue we shouldn't have the highest payroll in our division, which it was rumored Ricketts promised Theo before he took the job. Hopefully he's a man of his word.

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