Free agency strategies
Baseball fans tend to take the kitchen sink approach to free agency. I think that if we took the time to read the message boards of every team out there, we would find a certain kind of fan making the same kind of a vocation. For example ... as Nick V. and Colin have noted, Ken Griffey Jr. is a free agent. He's also a veteran with more than 600+ career homeruns and is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, unless they discover that he's got the bones of prostitutes buried in his basement, or something.
He's also getting on 40, has a decade's worth of injury problems, and has seen declining production. But there will always be the kind of fan out there who says, "An aging Hall of Famer with credentials out the wazoo? We gotta get this guy!" It's the name recognition factor - having Ken Griffey Jr. on your team used to mean something.
Now, I obviously am no general manager, and even were he to stumble across this article and read it, I doubt that Jim Hendry would say "hmm, that Kurt Goat Riders guy, I wonder if he's available to work in the front office?"* But while my brain is no bigger or better than anybody else's, I have a few suggested rules I'd like to offer in regards to free agent strategies.
(*Note to Jim Hendry: Yes, yes I am. Call me)
1. If he's over 35, do not abide. Players - especially those not on career prolonging drugs - have a fairly limited shelf life. However, there are a limited few who, as they enter the golden years of their career, remain viable and worth contemplating. Guys like that available this year might be Brian Giles and Bobby Abreu. Abreu is on the bubble - he'll turn 35 in March, and between 1999 and 2005 he averaged 24 homeruns a year, whereas he's averaged 17 in the past 3 seasons. Giles, meanwhile, will be 38 next season, and his past 4 seasons haven't been in any way, shape, or form outstanding.
2. If he's a relief pitcher older than 33, then he's not a choice for me. Free agent relief pitchers are especially volatile. We've seen time and time again that a guy with great numbers one year can fall completely off the face of the earth the next, and while some relievers have had success into their 40's, their likelihood of failing has to rise exponentially once they turn 35. Therefore, if a GM needs a relief pitcher, he should look to offering a 3 year deal to anybody under the age of 33. And, even then, he should only expect good results for 2 of those 3 seasons.
3. If he has stats on the decline, your GM shouldn't feel inclined. Giles is an example of this. Players with diminishing returns, again, are not likely to see solid numbers throughout their contract, especially if it's a long-term deal. The Yankees can afford that, because they can afford to replace a dud, but everybody else is stuck with an albatross. Teams with their minds set on winning should target players with good numbers who will be no older than 36 or 37 in their final year.
4. Did that veteran player slip a disk? For the right price, he might be worth the risk! Nothing beats rules contradictions. Let me elaborate: if the big free agent signing of the Cubs this off season is Curt Schilling, then the Cubs are doomed. But if the Cubs have gone out, improved their team, and assembled the right players for the job, and then decide to take a low risk on an incentives contract to a 40-year-old like Schilling, then it's ok. Every good team has that surprise player who contributes in ways beyond anybody's expectations.
Applying these rules to free agency, I'd say that Griffey Jr. should be a no-go unless, into January and without a contract, he calls up the Cubs and says "I see that your outfield is set, but things happen. I'd like the chance to play for you and I'll sign a cheap contract."
But if a guy like Griffey, or Giles, or even Abreu is at the top of the list, then I will worry about the Cubs.