As many of you know, the Los Angeles Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million dollar contract on Thursday. Josh Hamilton was viewed as the jewel of this year’s free agent class and many thought the Mariners were front runners to sign him. The overwhelming response from Mariners fans has been frustration, outrage, and disappointment. Failing to sign Josh Hamilton has been characterized as a failure by the Mariner’s front office to act and to understand the fundamental needs of the team. These reactions are ultimately emotionally driven and I would like to offer a reasoned response to those Mariner fans who feel frustrated and disappointed.
First, let’s examine the needs of the Mariners this offseason, perceived by the fan base and detailed by the front office. It’s no secret that the Mariners are in desperate need of offense. That statement hides the fact that the Mariners have glaring hole at a number of other positions. The Mariners have needs at first base and the back end of the rotation and are hoping that second base, third base, and left field don’t turn into needs. Josh Hamilton would have been one piece that fit into a larger puzzle but he isn’t the only piece that could complete the puzzle. To many, Josh Hamilton represented the prize that could solve the Mariner’s offensive woes, a legitimate power threat that fit into a position of need, outfield. Believing that one player, no matter how good, could solve all of the Mariner’s problems is incredibly narrow minded and short sighted.
In fact, the belief that one player is able to lift an entire team to greatness is common in both baseball and soccer. However, it is an illogical fallacy that causes teams to overvalue certain players and undervalue others. Michael Lewis addresses this fallacy in his book Moneyball, “the pathology of many foolish teams that thought all their questions could be answered by a single player.” This allowed Billy Beane to properly value players that were being overvalued by large-market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and now the Dodgers and Angels.
This same process occurs in soccer, specifically in the transfer market of the major soccer leagues around the world. Transfers are commonly made to create a spectacle for the owners and the supporters of the team. For many prominent teams, transactions are not made rationally but to draw an emotional response from fans, sponsors, and the media. “Buying a big name is a way of saying, ‘Yes, we are a big club,'” writes Simon Kuper, who examines this trend in his book Soccernomics.
Large-market baseball teams, especially with an influx of cash like the Angels and the Dodgers, are able to spend big on players without thinking about indirect consequences. The Mariners have to be much more wise about the way they use their resources. They don’t have the leeway to make large potential mistakes in the free agent market. Jack Zduriencik even confirmed that this is the way the Mariners are operating:
“I know people are anxious and you can get to a point where you feel you have to do something,” he said, “but you only have to do something if it’s the right thing from a baseball standpoint. You can’t do something that just looks good in the newspaper the next morning. It has to be sound and fair value for fair value.
So when the Mariners aren’t making the splashiest moves this offseason or next, remember to take a more holistic view of the team’s needs and the market that we’re operating in. There are still a number of free agents still unsigned that can provide similar value to Josh Hamilton (Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn). Let’s make sure our reactions are rational and not emotionally driven.