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Phillies Free Agency: There Are No More Precedents

There was a time a person could look at past deals as a guide to current contract negotiations. Those days are no more. Do we need to adjust our expectations of what a "fair" deal is?

Maybe the Carlos Ruiz deal was fair, after all.
Maybe the Carlos Ruiz deal was fair, after all.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When the Kansas City Royals announced they were signing Jason Vargas to a four-year $32 million deal on Thursday, most everybody had the same reaction.

Four years four Jason Vargas? A finesse pitcher who turns 31 next year, has a career ERA 4.30 and is largely seen as a below average pitcher? Is this really happening?

It seems as though we've been saying that about a lot of signings recently.

As Phillies fans, the third year for Carlos Ruiz and a two-year deal at $8 million a year for Marlon Byrd seemed excessive, especially when you consider the Phils were largely bidding only against themselves for Byrd. The Giants' three-year deal for Javier Lopez was a head-scratcher. Josh Johnson is coming off an injury plagued 2013 season, and even though the Padres signed him to just a one-year deal, he'll still get $8 million in a season in which he's just trying to restore his value.

We saw it last year, too, when the Angels gave the oft-injured Josh Hamilton a five-year, $123 million deal, when the Giants gave Angel Pagan a four-year, $40 million contract, when Edwin Jackson got four years and $52 million, Joe Blanton got two years and $15 million, Marco Scutaro got 3 years and $20 million, and B.J. Upton got five years and over $75 million. Even Shane Victorino's three-year, $39 million deal seemed to have an extra year on the end and a few million extra dollars on it, although that deal looks pretty darn good after year number one.

Here's the thing, though. With more money coming in from both national and local TV deals, and fewer quality free agents hitting the market thanks to teams re-signing their own players, teams are flat-out overpaying for talent.

Even if that "talent" isn't so talented.

There was a time when pitchers almost never got a contract longer than three years. For Pat Gillick, that was a mandate. Even when Ruben Amaro traded for Roy Halladay, they signed him to an extension of only three years, telling him it was team policy not to go longer than that.

As it turned out, thank goodness for that.

Since then, of course, the Phillies have signed two of their starters, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, to deals much longer than three years. But that's just the nature of baseball's economics right now.

You can no longer look at past deals as precedent. Even deals made two years ago are antiquated. With all the new money flowing into the game and less talent to spend it on, we need to adjust our thinking. We should probably automatically add an extra year and about 15% more money to any potential free agent the Phillies are considering.

Most of us think Ruiz should have only gotten two years. Why? Because in the past, catchers his age coming off their worst offensive season in five years while playing in only slightly more than half of his team's games weren't deemed worthy of a three-year commitment, even if they were a World Series hero.

But that's not where the game is anymore.

Sure, there are still some bargains out there, but even the bargains are going to cost more. There have been rumors that Corey Hart could get a multi-year deal from someone. COREY HART DID NOT PLAY A SINGLE GAME LAST YEAR BECAUSE BOTH OF HIS KNEES ARE VERY BAD. In the past, a team would have taken a one-year flier on Hart for a few million dollars. This year, the guy could get a two-year, $10 million deal.

Some team is going to give a five-year deal to Ervin Santana. Some team is going to give three years to Bronson Arroyo and probably even Scott Kazmir. Nelson Cruz, suspended for PEDs at the end of last year, could get a three or four-year deal somewhere.

It has never been a better time to be a one dimensional, older player or a mediocre starting pitcher coming off an injury.

This isn't to say the Phillies should jump into this crazy market with both feet. Caution would be wise. But this is a reality check. Perhaps it is us, the fans, who need to adjust our expectations of what a fair deal is now. We are using numbers and old contracts as precedent, when clearly, there is a new normal.

At the end of the day, the three-year deal the Phillies signed Ruiz to, and the two-year deal that Byrd signed, may turn out to be right in line with how the rest of free agency is going to pan out. Of course, one could argue the Phils helped set the market with those two players. But consider that the Phillies largely sat out of the free agent market last year (Mike Adams aside) because the contracts being given to prospective outfielders were so inflated.

It is a completely new market. I don't like it and probably neither do you. But it's time to throw out the old expectations. Add an extra year and about 15% more salary to any contract idea you may think is fair.

Then, you may not do a spit-take when the Phillies sign the 36-year-old Bronson Arroyo to a three-year deal.