From Dan Connolly's post in the Baltimore Sun's Oriole Insider blog, regarding Paul Konerko and the aggressive offer the Baltimore Orioles are reported to have made:
That said, the Orioles really could use Konerko. He fills several needs: a legitimate power hitter who plays first base, bats right-handed and brings winning experience and a veteran presence. He is one of the more well-respected professionals in the game.
Yes, he’ll be 35 and people have been waiting for his body to break down or his skills to erode for a few years now. And there’s a concern that his huge 2010 – which included 39 homers, 111 RBIs, a .312 batting average and career highs in on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.584) – was the product of a walk year and that he’s setting up his next team for an expensive fall.
But the Orioles have little choice. Their perfect free agent first baseman – Victor Martinez – is off the board and the other candidates are left-handed hitters, flawed or both.
That first paragraph, I have no issue with. Konerko would be an excellent addition to the Oriole lineup...if this were fantasy baseball. But this is real baseball and you have to account for the contract it will take to get Konerko to Baltimore.
There have been no details about the offer the Orioles made but I think we can make a few assumptions. Konerko just came off a contract where he was making $12 million per season. Anyone think he will leave the White Sox for a pay cut? Doubtful. Does anyone think the Orioles can lure him to Baltimore on a 2-year deal? A 3-year deal? I think the club will have to offer him at least a 4-year deal. So the 4-year, $48 mil offer they made to Victor Martinez seems to be a good jumping off point for Konerko. If anyone thinks we can sign him for less, please let me know.
So, should the Orioles offer this kind of money to Paul Konerko? Well, Konerko is a 34-year old first baseman coming off his career year. Yes, the stats for 2010 were fantastic (a .977 OPS in addition to all the stats Connolly recounted) but those were the best numbers he has ever put up by a good margin. Who wants to wager that he will put up those numbers again during his age 35-38 seasons? Not I.
Much of Konerko's season was fueled by a career-high BABIP (one that is not supported by his Line Drive percentage) and I think it's safe to assume that the composite of the previous three seasons (2007-2009) are a better indicator of what he will look like going forward. Top performances in terms of OPS+ from 2007-2009 for 1B/DH types:
2007-2009 OPS+ 1. Pujols 178 2. Fielder 151 3. Teixeira 147 4. Pena 145 5. Berkman 143 6. Gonzalez 142 . . . 16. Matsui 119 17. LaRoche 117 18. Butler 111 19. Konerko 111 20. Loney 110
There's Konerko, way down there with the 111 OPS+, under Adam LaRoche.
Guess who else isn't on this list (because he was a LF during much of this span)? Luke Scott who had a 114 OPS+.
So there's Adam LaRoche again, a player who could match Konerko's production over the next four years but would be available for less years and less money. Anybody think the Orioles need to give him $48 mil? How about extending Scott with that deal? And wouldn't you have to think twice about giving that kind of cash to Carlos Pena as well?
Konerko's going to be 35. He's due for a big decline over the course of a 4-year deal. And his 31-33 seasons were no great shakes to begin with. He has just come off his best season by far.
In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!"
Giving Konerko a contract as I described would be a disaster at worst and a huge overpay for a slightly above average player at best.
But Connolly (and a lot of fans) think it's a disaster the Orioles have no choice but to walk right into. Why? Why should the Orioles do something that will be to the ultimate detriment of the team. They don't have to do this. There are other options that are good bets to produce like Konerko but come at far less financial risk. LaRoche is one. Derrek Lee is another. Adam Dunn is still another, given the talent gap between the two. (Yes, Dunn is a better player than Konerko...)
This is not the Konerko of 2005. Not even the Konerko of 2000. This is a soon-to-be 35-year old first baseman coming of a season we will never reproduce and heading for an age induced decline. Don't believe the hype and hope we dodge another bullet.