A rare moment in recent baseball history passed Thursday at Target Field without anyone noticing. It deserved a standing ovation, at least among the accountants in attendance.
Cliff Lee faced Joe Mauer from 60 feet, 6 inches away, the rare occasion when two big-money baseball players worthy of their paychecks can be found within close proximity.
Of course, they both star for losing teams, so perhaps the moment should have been commemorated by the accountants, and general managers across the country, taking angina medication.
With a few spectacular exceptions, the rule in baseball this year is this:
If you spend a lot of money on a ballplayer, you will be disappointed.
Mauer has taken a beating in the Twin Cities for making $23 million a year and failing to hit home runs like he did in 2009, when he was positioning himself for his $184 million contract. By comparison with other players making $20 million or more this season, he’s a bargain: an All-Star catcher ranking among baseball’s leaders in batting average and on-base percentage.
Lee, who is making about $25 million, is 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA, but hasn’t made the Phillies competitive, largely because the Phillies are paying Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Michael Young about $94 million to do not much of anything.
Not long ago the Phillies were being lauded for “going for it,” and spending money to bolster their roster and please their fans. Now they’d own the most embarrassing roster in baseball if it weren’t for the Yankees … and Dodgers … and Blue Jays … and Angels, all teams who spent wildly on players who are now injured or failing.
There are 21 players with a salary of $20 million or more this season. Three of them currently play for a first-place team — all for the Detroit Tigers. Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are all durable and highly productive, although Fielder has not been exceptional this year. The other five first-place teams have zero $20 million players.
A few of the players who make $20 million or more and have been injured, inept or merely disappointing: Alex Rodriguez, Johan Santana, Vernon Wells, Mark Teixeira, Tim Lincecum, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Matt Kemp, Howard, Halladay and Barry Zito.
The list of $20 million players who have justified their contracts, at least in the short term, is much shorter: Mauer, Cabrera, Verlander, Felix Hernandez and maybe CC Sabathia if you consider the Yankees’ wealth and the fact that he has already helped them win a World Series.
The results don’t get much better if you consider players making $17 million or more. That list includes Josh Beckett, Young, Josh Hamilton and Alfonso Soriano, with only Cincinnati’s Joey Votto justifying his contract.
The problem with being a frustrated Twins fan these days is that you want to complain, but most common complaints are nonsensical.
Spend more money? That hardly ever works. The Twins could have excited their fan base by signing Josh Hamilton or Albert Pujols, and they’d already regret it.
Blame it all on Mauer? He’s an excellent, healthy player in his prime who plays every day. Blaming him for the Twins’ losing is like blaming the Titanic’s orchestra leader.
Blame Ron Gardenhire? He has mediocre talent. Know what Joe Torre or Jim Leyland would have done after managing the 2012 Twins? Retired.
Blame Terry Ryan? Most of the GM’s acquisitions have either been excellent or logical. Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jared Burton were worthwhile bargains. Alex Meyer and Trevor May could be front-line starters.
The only cure to the Twins’ malaise is the one that causes fans the most anguish: patience. The Twins will be good again not when they spend wildly or start firing people, but when their best prospects reach and adapt to the majors.
There is no way to speed that process, not even if you have a billion dollar bill burning a hole in your pocket.