I read recently that large tomatoes were going for upwards of $4 per pound at Whole Foods over the winter. I'm not a big tomato guy, but that's fairly pricey. My mom grows her own, and tells me that they taste better and are much cheaper than buying them at the store.
Of course, it's harder to grow your own tomatoes in the winter and, well, supply and demand and all. You may be asking right now, “What the hell does this have to do with baseball, jerk?” Well, more than you might realize.
Many have talked about how the days of paying big dollars for a closer are pretty much over. Jonathon Papelbon may be the last one to cash in. Most teams have realized the value of cultivating a bullpen with young, hard throwers.
It seems like forever since the last time the Cubs didn't have to spend high dollars on the market to muster a quality relief corps. Back in 2007, the Cubs were paying around $20M of their payroll just for the bullpen. And the bulk of that was spent on guys over the age of 30 pitching in major roles:
Ryan Dempster- $5.33M
Bob Howry- $4.5M
Scott Eyre- $3.83M
Kerry Wood- $1.75M
Will Ohman- $900K
Neal Cotts- $825K
Michael Wuertz, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol, and a couple others were all making at or around $400K. The bullpen ERA that year was 3.76, in part because Marmol was very, very good. The average age of all relievers with more than 35 IP was 29.8, and the majority of them weren't even in the Cubs bullpen just a few seasons later.
But more recently, we're starting to see the fruits (tomatoes are technically a fruit, right?) of the efforts of Theo Epstein and the new regime. They've made several moves to build a farm system that not only produces notable hitting prospects, but power bullpen arms. For the sake of comparison, let's look at the 2014 bullpen construction:
Carlos Villanueva- $5M
Jose Veras- $3.85M
James Russell- $1.77M
Wesley Wright- $1.43M
Pedro Strop- $1.33M
Hector Rondon, Neil Ramirez, Brian Schlitter, and Justin Grimm are all making around $500K each. The Cubs have spent roughly $15.5M on this bullpen, which has a 3.23 ERA. However, that dollar number is going down.
The two most expensive relievers are both over 30, but Veras is already off the roster and Villanueva likely won't be around past July 31st. The average age the guys currently in the pen is 27.5. Unlike in years past, the majority of these guys will be around if the Cubs want them around, and none of them will be making big dollars any time soon.
We all have seen how good guys like Rondon, Ramirez, Schlitter, Grimm, and the rest have been this year. But the guys we haven't seen are pretty good too. Arodys Vizcaino, aquired from the Braves in the Paul Maholm trade, is finally healthy and throwing well at AA; it's likely we will see him at some point this year. Other guys we have seen or may see by 2015 are Zach Rosscup, Marcus Hatley, Alberto Cabrera, Blake Parker, and Armando Rivero. All of these guys are legitimate bullpen prospects.
I know a small segment of Cubs fans are probably asking “Who cares? They can afford to spend money, this is a major market!” Well, without turning this into a Gordon Wittenmeyer column, that's true. But less money spent on relief pitchers means more of the budget can be allotted towards signing a big starting pitcher, helping land an outfielder with an expensive contract, or making a mid-season trade for a guy that can help you win right now.
The Cubs bullpen being fairly cheap going forward is going to help set up the rest of the roster. All of those homegrown tomatoes might help allow them to finally afford some lobsters.
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