Monday, December 18, 2006

Just Your Garden Variety $100 Million Dollar Players

So much for the fantasy of Vernon Wells in a Phillies uniform. Admittedly, as fantasies go this one was way out there. Probably no more than a few of us even entertained the notion but we are back on our medication now. Before we move on, or back, to reality, and in light of my recent post on salary madness in baseball, it is impossible to ignore the huge contract Wells just signed with Toronto without comparing it to those signed just this past off-season by a few other outfielders.

Wells is a very fine player who at age 28 should be reaching his peak. A career .285 hitter who has slugged 200 home runs over his seven seasons, Wells has also won three consecutive Gold Gloves. What’s more, during a brief stint this post-season as an in-studio analyst on ESPN, he was impressive: bright, articulate, insightful. This guy, as they say, appears to have the whole package.

Leaving aside character, do Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee merit nearly as much money as Wells? Soriano is a high-strikeout kind of guy with lots of power, too. He has hit 208 home runs, 41 of them last year alone. Over the same seven years the 30-year old Soriano has a .280 batting average. He was among the league leaders in outfield assists last season (he may have even led the league) but will never be mistaken for Willie Mays.

Interestingly enough, Lee, also 30, has logged seven years in the big leagues himself. Over that period he is a lifetime .286 hitter with 221 home runs. No one would mistake him for Willie Mays Hayes let alone his namesake!

Wells extended his current contract with Toronto last week, signing for $126 million over seven years. Soriano signed for $136 million for eight years with the Cubs in November.. Lee signed a six year deal with Houston for an even $100.

To summarize: three guys, all with the same major league experience whose career batting averages are within six points of each other and whose home run totals and within 21 of each other. Only when comparing them as fielders do the differences stand out.

Get used to it, baseball fans. We have entered the era of the good but not certifiably great (yet, if ever) $100 million player. When I was a lad we used to hear of heated debates that went something like this: who would you rather have on your team, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, or Roberto Clemente? I would seriously doubt our $100 million outfielders of today (you can throw in Carlos Beltran while we are at it) are the subject of such debates.

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