Friday, February 19, 2010

The Long Term Impact of Being Cheap

It is more fun to root for a winner than a loser, though it is impossible to always win. If you can't root for a winner, it is certainly more fun to root for a team that is doing everything in its power to compete. There are many different models for doing this, from the Marlins' yearly "arbitration fire-sale" to the Moneyball employed in Oakland. Casual fans usually prefer to see players they have at least heard of before on the field, but more passionate followers know the value of replacement level players and that a relative unknown out of the minors may be a better fit for the long haul. What fans do not like is to feel like they are being screwed over by the team.

Nobody is going to fault management for being responsible with their purse strings. Hell, Alfonso Soriano could have single-handedly sunk the franchise. Instead, the team gave out several smaller bad contracts to spread the wealth. Then they did not sign their first round pick in 2009 over a few hundred thousand dollars, and battle with their "talent" at arbitration over even less. There is a line between being frugal and being cheap. The Marquis signing was frugal: the club didn't want to invest long term into the top free agents (not that those guys are coming to Washington), so they paid market value for the top of the next tier. Trading for Brian Bruney and haggling with him over 350K is just cheap. Why even bother trading for him in that case?

The Natmosphere has dissected the Brian Bruney arbitration mess from every angle, but the question remains: why will players come sign for a perennial loser if the team does not seem to be working in the players' best interests. Regardless of whether or not the Nationals go out and make competitive offers on the open market in the future, if they are labeled as being cheap by the players and agents, it will have long-term effects. Does anyone think Brian Bruney is going to go out and recruit any of his Yankee buddies in the coming offseason? Hell no. And when the players hear cheap, it doesn't just apply to salaries; they will assume that equipment, accommodations, etc, are all run the same way (which is sadly not far from the truth).

Nobody wants to work where the employees are miserable and there is little hope of change. Sure, it is great to get paid millions of dollars with little pressure to succeed (unlike a market like New York, where Javier Vasquez is returning to be crucified again), but in the end, the players that want to win are going to find a winner, and the rest will play for the Royals.

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