Three Long-Term Deals: Why We Shouldn't Worry

John Perrotto expresses concern about the Pirates' signings of Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm to long-term contracts:

However, the Pirates are taking a bit of a gamble by committing to all three in the long term.

Maholm's lifetime record is 30-35 and his ERA is 4.30 after 96 starts. That isn't bad but it also isn't eye-popping.

Doumit had long been considered a talent but had never been able to stay healthy. He played in less than 100 games in three of the previous four seasons until last year.

McLouth had a wonderful year in 2008 but also struggled mightily once Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were traded in late July. McLouth hit just four home runs in 205 plate appearances, one every 51.3 PA, after Bay and Nady were dealt after going deep 22 times in 480 plate appearances, one every 21.8 PA, in the first four months of the season.

Surely any deal in which millions of dollars change hands is a "gamble," and Perrotto is right to point out that none of these guys are really superstars yet, if they'll ever be. But as multimillion-dollar gambles on non-superstar players go, I think these are pretty good ones. 

The Pirates had the right to take these three players to arbitration next offseason and the one after that. By signing these players, the Bucs are giving up the chance to non-tender one of these guys next year or the year after if they get hurt or fail to perform. But that possibility doesn't concern me terribly, because the Pirates are pretty likely to be bad in 2010, and perhaps also 2011, anyway. If Ryan Doumit breaks his back and never plays another game, the Bucs are still off the hook by the time 2012 rolls around, and that's the next time we might really reasonably expect them to be good again. 

Doumit, Maholm and McLouth all would have been a free agents after 2011, so having the flexibility to retain them in 2012 (and, in Doumit's case, 2013) is very nice. The Pirates have sacrificed some flexibility in years they won't be competitive for a considerable amount of flexibility in 2012, when they could be competitive and thus have a use for that flexibility. By then, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata could be starting in the big leagues and hitting well, along with Pedro Alvarez and perhaps a couple other Coonelly/Huntington draftees. (In 2012, McCutchen and Alvarez will be 25; Tabata will be 23.)

Think of it this way. Doumit, Maholm and McLouth are signed through 2011 for sums that aren't be all that different from what they would've gotten in arbitration. If they're not any good by the time 2011 rolls around, the Pirates aren't going to be either, and with the time it will continue to take to remake the minor league system, there's really no getting around that. So the worst case scenario here is that the Pirates end up handing out several million bucks they'd rather not have spent in a year in which they stink anyway. The best case scenario is that Doumit, Maholm and McLouth contribute, earn their salaries, then form part of a real team in 2012. The Pirates are assuming some risk here, but not too much, and from a fan's perspective, there's really nothing to not like about these deals. The worst case scenario involves the owners spending a few extra bucks in 2011 for what is pretty likely to be a losing team. Why should we care about that? 

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