In his evaluation of the Prince Fielder signing and its impact on the division, U-God noted that the Detroit Tigers just filled out the biggest contract in AL Central history. That made me wonder what the competition looked like, and here's what I was able to remember/discover. Let me know if I overlooked one.
1. Prince Fielder, 9 years, $214 million
2. Joe Mauer, 8 years, $180 million
3. Miguel Cabrera, 8 years, $153 million
4. Magglio Ordonez, 6 years, $90 million*
5. Justin Verlander, 5 years, $80 million
6. Justin Morneau, 6 years, $80 million
7. John Danks, 5 years, $65 million
8. Alex Rios, 6 years, ~$62 million**
9. Paul Konerko, 5 years, $60 million
10. Travis Hafner, 4 years, $57 million
* Contract was originally five years and $75 million, but an $18 million option for 2010 vested, nullifying a $3 million buyout.
** Approximate amount of money owed to Rios at the time the White Sox claimed him off waivers.
Fielder's contract cost the White Sox a spot on the list, and you can take your pick.
One is Mark Buehrle, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract in 2007. He's off the board, and that Buehrle gave the Sox all that value without making that big of a dent underscores just how swell his White Sox career was all the way around.
Or you could choose Adam Dunn, whose identical dollar figure is spared the spotlight.
Dunn talked to Mark Gonzales and Daryl Van Schouwen, and no, he's not 30 pounds lighter (one demerit for Chuck Garfien's sources). But he is taking regular batting practice, even if more for fun than intense mechanical examination. He has also increased his core work, and is preparing to play in the field more if needed. I think this is all that can be expected, because Gordon Beckham worked out like a madman after the 2010 season, and he ended up in similar straits.
What was most interesting are the things he didn't say in Van Schouwen's account. For instance:
"I don’t want to make excuses. There are a few things that I probably look back on and say, ‘I shouldn’t have done this or that,’ a few things I probably would have done a little differently, but it’s over with. I can’t take it back. I don’t want to say anything that would sound like excuses. That’s the last thing I want because there are no excuses. I should have been able to get out of it, and I couldn’t.’’
It's a shame he wouldn't divulge even a one for anthropological reasons. The appendectomy would be so easy to blame, because he definitely rushed back. He was expected to hit the disabled list, but he was back after six days. And sure, Matt Holliday had his appendix removed without going to the DL, but he took 10 days to recover.
Ozzie Guillen didn't help matters, either. While writing about the surgery for White Sox Outsider 2012, I rediscovered Guillen's rationale for the early return: "[Dunn] was hungry to play. I figured out I love Jerry Reinsdorf, and if this guy is sitting on the bench, he’s making a lot of money with no production."
And speaking of Reinsdorf, Dunn might have picked up on the chairman's cue when discussing his former manager:
"I’ve never had a manager like Ozzie [Guillen],’’ Dunn said. ‘‘No one has ever had a manager like Ozzie. It’s going to be different. I don’t know how Robin is going to be, but I would imagine he’ll probably be more of a traditional manager. Not to say it was bad; it was just different. This will be something I’m more accustomed to as opposed to somebody like Ozzie, you know. There’s only one Ozzie.’’
Dunn said 73 words about Guillen, and not one of them can be taken as a definite positive. It's like sharing your favorite album with somebody who can barely get through a listen, and he/she doesn't have the heart to be honest.
"It was ... different."
(Can you elaborate?)
"The singer has a unique voice, certainly."
And then I thought of all the midsummer debates over Dunn's playing time. Guillen would not bench Dunn due to his payroll obligation, and we were told the Sox couldn't bench a veteran like Dunn because it's complex. Then, when the Sox promoted Dayan Viciedo and Dunn saw writing on the wall, the media ran to him to get a response, he simply said, "I'm a realist, not an idiot."
Granted, I could be drawing connections that aren't there. And no matter what, Guillen isn't responsible for the quality of Dunn's 2011, only the quantity. Dunn's season would have been a heaping helping of poison either way; Guillen just made a Golden Corral out of it. But given Dunn couldn't object to lost playing time, it seems reasonable to posit that the relentless failure wore him down.
Or maybe he's not saying that at all. As much as I'd like to know, it's a good sign that we can only guess. Huzzah for diplomacy. Huzzah for sucking it up. After sucking it up.
Going back to that list, the name that stands out is Magglio Ordonez. The Detroit Tigers gave big money to a non-elite player, who was coming off a big-time knee injury, no less. He had one elite year, posting 8.9 bWAR in 2007. In the other five years, he averaged 1.26 bWAR. He was vastly overpaid, but he didn't cripple the Tigers. They made the World Series in 2006, and they lost Game 163 to the Minnesota Twins in 2009.
Ordonez contributed 0.4 bWAR that year, and that's not even close to the biggest disparity between personal and team success. Look at last year, when he was as bad as Alex Rios during his one-year, $10 million contract. The Tigers won 95 games.
The point is, you can build a team despite one colossal bummer of a contract. Two is a different story, as the Twins can attest.
The White Sox had three last year.
Jake Peavy will be the closest to redeeming himself, one way or another. It's one year of frowns at the most, and the Sox could be free of him sooner than expected. He's a guy that could draw plenty of interest from a contender at the deadline as a three-month rental.
Then it's down to Dunn and Rios. Who knows which player stands a better chance at providing actual value, but let's roll with Dunn since we're already talking about him. We'll be assuming that Jeff Manto is The Donkey Whisperer and Dunn puts together a season that would be a godsend after last year's debacle -- 1.5 WAR, .221/.350/.452, 25 homers and 70 RBI, whatever your preferred measurement. Dunn will still be overpaid, but at least Robin Ventura can work with that.
Should that happen, the Sox are down to one complete loss, and almost every team with an eight-figure payroll has one of those. Then, it's just a matter of the surrounding talent, which is a whole 'nother problem if Gordon Beckham can't resuscitate his career. Still, in this optimistic scenario, at least the Sox aren't fighting a two-front war with their resources. That thought might not keep you warm right now, but at least we're having a mild winter.