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Ain't That Horse Dead Yet?
by Derek Smart
Since this week in baseball is almost entirely about where Carlos Beltran will end up, with the Cubs as theoretical players of the game, I may as well comment on the fact that the Astros have decided to toss in for crazy money, making what is termed as a "final offer" for the services of Beltran at $105M over seven years. This is Houston's answer to the Mets reported offer of $112M over the same time period.
If you're not used to the concept already, steel yourself and become inured to the idea that the Cubs aren't in serious pursuit of Beltran, and at those prices, probably shouldn't be. Seven years is an awfully long time, even for a player of Beltran's youth and quality, and a deal like this is the one you let the other teams make: if it's a net positive over the course of the agreement, they've beaten the odds and more power to them. But if it goes sour in the last couple years, or perhaps even sooner, then you've managed to dodge a bullet.
Risk is a part of any contract, especially when you're going after a superstar-quality player, but I'd rather take that risk in big, short doses - an offer to a player like Beltran of, say, 5/90 or even 4/80 - than spread it out over great swaths of time. Bidding higher on a yearly basis in exchange for shorter term commitments strikes me as a sounder long term strategy, particularly for teams with larger budgets. Of course, you'd have to get the player to buy into the concept, but as I said above, if someone else is willing to go longer and higher, by all means let them.
Assuming all the published figures on these offers are correct (including the Cubs supposed offer of $75M over five years), and that no one significantly raises the bar by tomorrow, I'd fully expect that Beltran will be staying in Houston until 2011, or such time as he's traded.
There are factors here we aren't aware of, particularly regarding the structure of the contract offers, that could put the lie to my prediction. But if the main difference between the Astros' and Mets' offers is $7M stretched out over as many years, I'd say it's an aspect small enough to be rendered insignificant if, indeed, Beltran's reported desire to stay in Texas is accurate.
A month or so ago the idea that the Houston Hammer might be returning for many years of Cub pummeling would have sparked my Chicken Little reflex, but not today. The last time the Astros signed one of their marquee players to a huge, long term contract was the day they inked Jeff Bagwell to his current deal, which is still causing Houston significant problems (Bagwell, good as he was and is, isn't worth the $13M and $16M he's getting over the next two years, let alone the $25M in deferred payments he'll be receiving over the course of 2007 and 2008).
It's hard to know for sure without seeing the structure of the contract, but there's strong potential that, for a team with Houston's relatively limited resources, ponying up for a player like Beltran could hurt their ability to compete long term by making other key stars less financially accessible. Will they be able to get a deal done with Lance Berkman next year? How about when Roy Oswalt is freely available after 2006?
It's these considerations that lessen any concern I might have. Do I want to see Cub pitchers get scalded for 130 or so games over the next seven years? Of course not. But while he'll certainly make the Astros a better team for the next couple of seasons, the likelihood that this particular contract could hurt Houston in the long term settles my stomach quite a bit.
Sometimes you have to give something to get something, and getting out of the way as the Astros sign Carlos Beltran might just be the gift for the Cubs that keeps on giving.