The meaning of Randy Wolf (Part 1)

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
2:04
PM ET
Along with news of today's big deal, a bit of analysis:

    Another one bites the dust.
    [+] EnlargeRandy Wolf
    AP Photo/Tom MihalekRandy Wolf reportedly inked a three-year deal worth just under $30 million with the Brewers.


    An already weak crop of free agent starters just took another hit as left-hander Randy Wolf has reportedly inked a three-year deal deal worth just under $30 million with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    --snip--

    As a Type A free agent, it was believed that he might once again struggle to find a team willing to offer him a multi-year deal as the signing club would be forced to surrender draft pick compensation to Los Angeles.

    There was even talk that Wolf might be better served to accept arbitration and return on yet another one-year deal.

    The perennially short-sighted Dodgers, however, were worried Wolf would accept and didn’t want to pay him the $8-10 million it was believed he could earn via arbitration.

    As such, the club foolishly chose not to offer him arbitration and he immediately became one of the most desirable free agents on the market.

I don't know if the Dodgers are "perennially short-sighted," but this does seem an odd decision. Isn't giving up Wolf for nothing (except a bit of payroll relief) worse than the other two possibilities? Wouldn't a fairly reasonable one-year deal have been the best thing for a rich club like the Dodgers? Well, we'll see what their rotation looks like in a few months.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers' loss is not necessarily the Brewers' gain. Wolf's contract necessarily calls to mind Jeff Suppan's. Three years ago, he signed a four-year deal worth $42 million. Since then, he's 29-34 with a 4.93 ERA. He's gotten worse every season, with another yet to come. He was almost 32 when he signed the deal; Wolf is 33. Suppan was hailed for his ability to "eat innings"; Wolf is supposed to do the same (even though he's topped 200 innings only four times).

Wolf and Suppan are far from perfect comparables. Suppan's strikeout rates were low, and his strikeout-to-walk ratios unimpressive. Wolf's strikeout rates are fine, his ratios the same. We know that strikeout pitchers age better than finesse pitchers, generally.

The Suppan contract was simply foolish, a product of its times. We'll not see its like again, or at least not often. Is Wolf's contract the last of its kind, too? Probably not. Wolf's contract does suggest that the rich teams will not get all the good players. All or most of the great ones, sure. But it's not hard for a small-market team like the Brewers to justify overspending by just a million or two a year, and often that's all it takes to get a guy signed.

Wolf's contract also suggests something far more interesting about baseball's economics. But that something will have to wait for another post ...

(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)

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