I'm not sure who everyone is in this sit-com analogy. Are we the motorcycle? Is Skip Schumaker the shark? I hope I'm the Fonz, in any case.
But before we work ourselves into a hysteria over the puzzling multi-year deals Walt Jocketty has given out so far this offseason, it's worth considering a few things:
(1) Brayan Peña is a back-up catcher who will make $1.1M next season.
(2) Skip Schumaker is a bench player who will make $2-2.5M next season (depending on how the contract is broken up).
Last season, the Reds paid $3.5M to Ryan Hanigan, Derrick Robinson and Jack Hannahan to fill the rough equivalent of these roles. They got 0.1 bWAR back in the bargain (all the positive WAR coming from Robinson).
** These are both rough estimates, combining players and pro-rated $$$ to approximate the roles and PAs that Schumaker and Peña might expect in 2014.
The Reds are have not been a good template for how to spend on bench players, but they also prove you can make the playoffs with a pretty lousy bench. These salaries just don't impact the payroll very much and most teams are forced to give time to a stable of replacement-level players. That also makes it a particularly low bar to improve in 2014.
Teams are also paying around $5M per win on the open market right now. This is obviously an oversimplification and gets skewed by bonuses and years tacked on to superstar mega-deals. Teams aren't paying bench players the same way. And they're not giving two years to Skip Schumaker.
But while the Schumaker deal is baffling, the Reds are still paying around $3.5M to Peña and Schumaker in 2014. If they combine to be slightly above replacement level - maybe not even 1.0 WAR together - they'll be "worth" their contracts. And they'll be better than their rough equivalents on Reds' playoff benchs past.
Anwyay, that's all to say that I don't think Walt Jocketty has blown the offseason yet. He's just being kinda weird so far. And probably letting too much non-baseball stuff influence baseball decisions.
Are these moves part of a larger pattern of outmoded baseball think though?
Let's look back over the previous year at some of his major moves, trying as much as possible give Jocko the benefit of the "what we knew at the time" logic:
Jonathan Broxton contract (November 28, 2012)
This was the first major move of the post-2012 off-season and it was a bad one. Broxton got three years, $21M gauranteed. It wasn't budget-busting - and Broxton looked like he would be a good value in 2013, if healthy - but there's a major opportunity cost to giving a bullpen arm $16M dollars in 2014 and 2015 (plus a $1M buyout in 2016). Instead of a glorified set-up guy losing velocity and entering his 30s, the Reds could have put that change toward a better bench in '13 and, say, a new center fielder next year.
Ryan Ludwick contract(December 10, 2012)
I think this move feels worse than it is. Ludwick was injured most of the season, ineffective on his return and carped about fan support. But this was a two-year, $15M deal structured so that Ludwick made just $1M last season and $7.5 this season. That blunts the impact considerably. And Ludwick was coming off a season in which he was the Reds' best hitter this side of Joey Votto. Even if Walt should've let another team pay for two years of Ludwick, outfielders get expensive when you don't have cost-controlled ones at the ready. In terms of AAV, Ludwick was a relatively cheap gamble.
Shin-soo Choo trade (December 11, 2012)
We liked this at the time and I'm pretty sure we love it now, even with how the season ended. Choo was paid less than $4M by the Reds last season, with the Indians picking up the rest of his $7.4M salary. It hurt to lose Didi Gregorious, but ability to hit and his future as an above-average SS was very much in doubt at the time (and perhaps still is). In exchange for him and the equivalent of Broxton's 2013 salary, the Reds got a sorely-needed OBP monster.
Jack Hannahan contract (December 13, 2012)
This is another example in what's become a pattern for Walt - two-year contracts to players who weren't even asking for them. Hannahan's contract is broken up so that he's paid $1M last year and next year (with a $2M buyout in 2015). That's incredibly tolerable for a guy who was easily worth that price in his last two seasons in Cleveland. He also fills a bench need on the Reds. Or he did. The problem is not with the contract, but with Walt's unwillingness to cut bait.
Logan Ondrusek contract(January 18, 2013)
There was no reason I could see to give Ondrusek two years. Going into 2013, he had four years of team control ahead of him and it was hard to see how his salary was going to inflate much beyond the $1.35M sides settled on - especially since he started 2013 in the minors. And since Logan is out of options for 2014, a multi-year deal puts him on the major league roster (or forces the Reds to eat his salary). Maybe it makes him a tiny bit easier to trade to teams that like his velocity? This one was pointless, but Ondrusek pitches well enough, in spurts, that it's not burden to have him on the lower rungs on the bullpen.
Manny Parra contract (February 1, 2013)
I think opinion was mixed on this one at the time, but Parra filled a pretty clear need the Reds had for a lefty to hang with Sean Marshall. No one saw Parra taking on Marshall's mantle and putting up 11 K/9, but 1 yr/$1M seemed like a good risk.
Zach Duke (June 14, 2013)
There was zero risk to this, other than Dusty misusing him. With Marshall down and Arredondo's control lost in the wilds of AAA, the Reds needed someone like Duke. They picked him up for basically nothing.
Not doing anything, even sabotage, at the trade deadline (July 31, 2013)
We'll never know what opportunities were real and which were imagined, but something could have been done, right? The Cardinals got some bonus slot money and traded for John Axford. The Pirates got Byrd and Morneau. The Reds did absolutely nothing. The race with the Pirates, at least, was close enough that a small acquisition could have made a difference on either side - and Walt held the lever to stop the Pirates from getting Byrd. It's easy to say in hindsight, but it would've cost the Reds no more than $700K to get Byrd (or nothing, if the Mets pulled him back). Too make room, Ryan Ludwick, who came back on August 12, could've waited until September or Heisey could've been sent down for two weeks. Wasn't $700K worth it to throw a wrench at your rival?
Firing Dusty Baker/Hiring Bryan Price
We've already poured over this one. I think Price is going to be an improvement, but I'm not sure we know yet what strategic/roster things Price will do that got him the job - this season will bear that out.
Peña and Schumaker
For both, I'm waiting to see how Jocketty uses the relatively cheap free agent depth to make trades. Schumaker definitely got too much money - and at least a year too many - but we know there's a deal (or deals) coming.
Here's how I score them.
Good: Choo, Parra, Duke
Bad:Broxton, Schumaker, Staying idle at the trade deadline, Ondrusek
Incomplete: Peña, Hiring Price
With the Ludwick and Hannahan deals, they've clearly gone south but, when they were made, I think they were "OK" in terms of value - not good, not bad. I also think Jocketty has mismanaged the DL, but I'm not sure how to assess that. With the Peña deal, it seems like the inevitable trade of Hanigan or Mesoraco is pretty essential to knowing if that was a good move.
These are pretty mixed results over the last calendar year for Walt. Completely blowing the trade deadline - and probably bringing back Ludwick when he couldn't even lift weights too - put this into C/C-territory for me.
As far as the current offseason, we just have to wait 'n' see. The Schumaker deal seems stupid, but the best thing Walt has done over the past two seasons are the totally sub-rosa trades for Latos and Choo. These signings could help the Reds pull off another cagey deal without having to give up Robert Stephenson or something. And if free agent salaries blow up even more than we're expecting, they'll also look a little better.
I'll just look over there while you start acquiring Ben Zobrist.