The Mike Hampton Rule – NL Central

Today, I continue my team-by-team look at their worst contract – the player the team would choose to release if MLB granted a one player amnesty. Since this whole idea was brought about by realizing how little Mike Hampton has pitched under his current contract, I’m calling it the Mike Hampton Rule. Yesterday, I looked at the teams in the NL East. As with yesterday, all contract and performance data is from Cot’s Baseball Contracts or Baseball Reference.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

The Cubbies have a lot of big contracts that could be considered for the Hampton Rule. Aramis Ramirez is owed $67 million over the next 4 years, but he’s been consistently one of the top third basemen in the league since he came to Chicago, and the contract only runs through his age 33 season. Alfonso Soriano‘s contract, on the other hand, runs until he’s 37, and still has $127 million over 7 years to go. I think that’s going to be probably 3 years and $54 million dollars too long. Soriano has a strange set of comps, but not too many of them held their productivity into their mid-to-late 30′s. I didn’t think I was going to choose Soriano when I started this post, but I think I’ve talked myself into him. My original guess was going to be Jason Marquis. He’s owed $16 million over the next two years, and has expressed his discontent at pitching out of the pen*. Yes, Soriano is currently a much better player, but that $16 million is less than a single season of Soriano’s deal. And the difference in money, as well as the fact that I envision Soriano hitting a cliff in the next 3 years, makes him the easy choice.

* The current rumor has Marquis going to the Red Sox for Coco Crisp. The Sox must be really hurting for starting pitching depth. It’s strange that a few months ago Crisp might have been the centerpiece of a Johan Santana deal and now he might be traded straight up for Jason Marquis. Of course the other players the Sox were talking about adding to the Santana deal probably had something to do with that.

Cincinnati Reds

Looking over the Reds’ contracts, I’m tempted to argue that Dusty Baker should be the one to go. He’s only being paid about $10 million over the next three years, but some of his statements this spring are indicating he might not be the best manager to lead the current team. But, really, managers aren’t part of this game. And I’m pretty sure Krivsky knew what he was getting when he signed Baker. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot to quibble with in terms of contracts. I think the Francisco Cordero deal is a little risky, but he’s being paid close to market rate for a free agent closer. Both Griffey and Dunn come off the books after this season. Well, not really in Griffey’s case. He deferred a bunch of money over the course of the deal ($57.5 million to be exact) which is owed him over the next 15 years. I think the Reds would love to be clear of that money. And so Griffey will be their savior.

Houston Astros

Cough… Carlos Lee… cough. Sure, he’s an ok hitter for a corner outfielder. But have you seen him try to play defense? And he’s just going to get bigger and slower out there. Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were just an average player today. I don’t think I’d want to be paying $86 million over the next 5 years for a player who’s only average right now and will likely be getting worse. The Astros do have some other possibilities for the Hampton Rule though. Miguel Tejada is still a very good player, but he’s been trending downhill and there are obvious steroid questions. Still, he’s only owed $26 million through 2009 and should be good for that. Beyond that, the rest of the possibilities are small, but confusing contracts. Kaz Matsui at $5 million for three years? Woody Williams at $6.25 million for his age 41 season? And Brad Ausmus as a third catcher for any amount of money (1 year / $2 million)? I guess they’re hoping he can teach J.R. Towles a lot.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are a tough team to identify anyone for. They don’t really have anyone signed long-term for big money. Jeff Suppan has another 3 years and $35 million to go, but as long as he keeps doing what he’s done for the last nine years, he should be worth it. The biggest risk I see isn’t David Riske (haha, I kill myself) but Eric Gagne. But even here, Doug Melvin has done a good job limiting the downside with a 1 year deal. I suppose it could come back and bite him if Gagne somehow pulls out an Eric Gagne season of old. But if the Brewers get that kind of year from Gagne, they’ve probably made the playoffs and I can’t imagine Melvin would be too upset. Jason Kendall is signed for $4.25 million for this season and his 2009 option automatically vests at 110 games started. He’s definitely not a plus offensively anymore* but there’s not a whole lot of risk here either. I’m going to admit defeat here. I don’t see any contract that the Brewers would be trying to get out from under.

* Apparently Kendall will start the season batting ninth. It’s nice to see someone other than LaRussa willing to experiment like this. I wonder how long it will last if the Brewers start off poorly. And whether it will reflect badly on Ned Yost if things go bad.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I don’t think it’s much of a surprise who’s going to be named here. It’s not like the Pirates have a lot of big contracts. You know, I know it, Matt Morris‘ family knows it… he’s really the only choice. I’m not saying Matt Morris is a bad pitcher. And he’s probably not even that overpaid at $9.5 million this year. He just doesn’t make much sense for the Pirates. Unless Morris is the next Leo Mazzone, and can get Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny pitching like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, he just doesn’t really fill a need. The one thing the Pirates have going for them is their depth of youngish starting pitching. Besides the three already mentioned, Paul Maholm and Bryan Bullington probably should be starting full time. That’s a rotation with a lot of question marks, but it’s not like Pittsburgh has a shot at the playoffs. I suppose you could argue that Morris could provide some consistency there, but he was pretty inconsistent from game to game last year himself. Plus, on a team that’s going to struggle to win 75 games, I’m not sure consistency is worth $9.5 million.

St. Louis Cardinals

I hate to say it for the Cardinals because he’s one of my favorite players, but I’d have to think long and hard about letting go of Chris Carpenter under the Mike Hampton Rule. Carpenter has been amazing when healthy, but hasn’t been healthy enough recently. He’s owed another $55 million through 2011 and there have to be questions about whether he’ll be worth it. If he comes back from missing almost the entire season last year and pitches like Chris Carpenter the rest of the contract, then he’s probably a steal. If he pitches like Karen Carpenter, then not so much. Probably the only other option is Troy Glaus, who exercised his 2009 player option as part of the trade that brought him from the Blue Jays, and is therefore owed $24 million over the next two years. As with Carpenter, Glaus has some injury concerns, but he’s been pretty consistent with the bat and should continue to be for the next few years.

Well, there’s the NL Central. Tune back in tomorrow for the NL West. Prepare to be surprised by the choice for the Giants (or not).

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