Thursday, November 11, 2004

New Contracts For Torres, Mesa

Mesa first: the AP reports that his contract costs the Pirates $2 million in 2005, plus a $4 million option or a $500,000 buyout in 2006. We might as well just call it a one-year, $2.5 million contract, since Mesa isn't going to be any good this year, and it's hard to see the Pirates bringing him back at $4 million even on the off chance that he is any good. This is a ridiculous, pointless waste of money, and I can see no reason for it other than Proven Closer Syndrome (and the closely related Veteran Fetish Syndrome). I've written about this elsewhere, but the Pirates are going to regret this one.

Next up is a two-year contract for Salomon Torres. I haven't seen the financial terms anywhere. Since the Pirates also recently declined their option on Brian Boehringer, I thought I'd do a Rob Neyer-style "Player A / Player B" comparison with Boehringer and Torres before the two relievers were awarded two-year contracts. I found out, though, that Torres' current value is a lot higher than Boehringer's pre-contract value was. Torres pitches more innings, puts up much better K/BB numbers and has lower ERAs. Torres can also be used as a starter in an emergency (although he's been much better as a reliever). In fact, Torres was an excellent reliever in 2004: his VORP in 2004 was better than such well-regarded relievers as LaTroy Hawkins, Guillermo Mota, Damaso Marte and Jason Isringhausen.

Still, I don't like this contract, unless it's for minimal money. It's dangerous to give multi-year contracts to non-elite relievers because they pitch so little in a year that it's tough to really gauge their true talent levels; I won't be surprised if Torres' ERA is a run or more higher next year. Also, if a team loses a Torres-type player it's never too hard to find one who's just as good or close enough.

Then there's the broader problem, which is that even if Torres and Mesa perform as the Pirates think they will, they're just puzzle pieces (and Mesa is like a puzzle piece that you accidentally dropped on the floor and your dog chewed on for a while). The Pirates are acting like they're already a contending team, passing out contracts to relievers in their 30s. They're not, and they won't compete until they get improvements or upgrades at several positions where guys play every day or accumulate hundreds of innings. The Pirates have plenty of young pitchers (Mike Gonzalez, Frank Brooks, Ian Snell, Dave Williams, Jeff Miller and so on) who could fill Torres' and Mesa's spots and probably be only a few runs a year worse than Torres and better than Mesa.

Meanwhile, instead of pooling their money to fix a problem at a position where good players are not so easy to acquire, the Pirates will continue to have a veteran pen and one of the worst third basemen in baseball. These moves are aimed at preserving the status quo, not getting better. Obviously, it's hard to get better if you let your best players go, but Torres and Mesa aren't likely to be the Pirates' best players next year, and a team in the Pirates' position has got to be proactive about improving, not just maintaining.

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