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pound foolish

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the main problem with the looper signing isn't the player; it's the money. the player i'm not wild about, as i explained here, but at the right price he might have been a worthwhile pickup. "it's thought that it won't take one of those crazy setup-man contracts that are being bandied about; [looper's] value is currently low after a subpar year . . . . mlbtraderumors intimates that looper won't cost more than $1m or so, and at that price he might be worth a flyer."

but at 3 years, $13.5 million? in this season of manic setup-man contracts, that is the 3d-richest deal handed out, trailing only the monstrous farnsworth and flash gordon deals. but those pacts appear shrewd next to this one. so, too, do the 3 yr / $12m deals the cubs gave bob howry and scott eyre. here's dan szymborski's snap reaction: "You have a second base battle between Aaron Miles and Deivi Cruz for the upcoming season, you cry about money even though you're awash in it, and you spend more than $4 million a year on an OK setup man?" yep, that's what they did.

if deployed properly looper may pitch pretty well, as danup explains. but even if he does, this acquisition strikes me as a flat-out waste of scarce payroll resources. looper's just not that much better than average to justify an investment of this magnitude.

if you don't believe me, take a look at the table below. it lists all 16 setup men who've signed as free agents this offseason, ranked according to their 2006 salary. if you read across each row and look at the bold numbers, you can see how each pitcher's 2005 performance ranked in (from left to right) win shares, runs saved above average (rsaa), win expectancy added (wxa), ops against, and era. to use kyle farnsworth as an example: he's tied for 1st in salary, 3d in win shares, 4th in runs saved, 1st in win expectancy added, and 2d in ops and era. he got elite dollars, but he turned in an elite performance. take howry as another example: his 2006 salary falls right in the middle of this pack (tied for 8th), yet he was well above the median in every category -- reading across: tied 4th, tied 5th, 4th, 1st, and 4th. starting to look like a bargain. in most cases, there is a surprisingly high degree of correspondence between a player's salary ranking and his statistical rankings:

pitcher salary rsaa wxa ops era
1T. farnsworth $4.5m 11 (3) 17 (4) 4.3 (1) .542 (2) 2.19 (2)
1T. gordon $4.5m 15 (1) 18 (3) 3.3 (3) .602 (5) 2.57 (5)
3T. looper $3.5m 4 (12T) -1 (13T) -0.2 (15) .762 (14) 3.94 (12)
3T. timlin $3.5m 13 (2) 19 (2) 2.3 (6T) .705 (11) 2.24 (3)
3T. tavarez $3.5 (est) 5 (10T) 5 (9) 2.3 (6T) .757 (13) 3.43 (9)
6. ro hernandez $2.75m 10 (4T) 16 (5T) 2.6 (5) .637 (7) 2.58 (6)
7. eyre $2.7m 9 (7) 14 (7) 3.8 (2) .574 (3) 2.63 (7)
8T. howry $2.5m 10 (4T) 16 (5T) 3.1 (4) .514 (1) 2.47 (4)
8T. mesa $2.5m 3 (14T) -1 (13T) -1.2 (16) .796 (15) 4.76 (16)
10. carrasco $2.3m 10 (4T) 23 (1) 1.1 (9T) .582 (4) 2.04 (1)
11. seanez $2m (est) 7 (8) 13 (8) 1.7 (8) .632 (6) 2.69 (8)
12T. worrell $1.5m 3 (14T) -5 (16) 0.5 (11) .850 (16) 4.07 (13)
12T. dessens $1.5m 4 (12T) 4 (10T) 0.3 (13T) .680 (8) 3.56 (10)
12T. carrara $1.5m (est) 6 (9) 4 (10T) 1.1 (9T) .736 (12) 3.93 (11)
15. dejean $1.3m 5 (10T) -2 (15) 0.4 (12) .695 (9) 4.48 (14)
16. santana $800K 3 (14T) 0 (12) 0.1 (14) .697 (10) 4.50 (15)

and then there is looper, who is tied for 3d in salary but falls between 12th and 15th in the statistical rankings. ugh. the only other player in this chart with a similar discrepancy is jose mesa, who will draw the 8th-highest salary despite finishing between 13th and 16th place in every stat category. it's noteworthy that both mesa and looper excelled in one stat category: saves. never mind that in the course of "saving" all these games, both mesa and looper registered negative win-expectancy totals -- ie, the net effect of their performance was to lower their teams' chances of winning. . . . . the cardinals -- so proud of their fiscal restraint and their eye for bargains -- appear to have paid a foolish premium for the "closer" label sewn into the merchandise. the contract is way out of line with the market unless you place a high value on "saves" -- which dunc and tony surely do.

i will grant that looper is better than his 2005 statistics suggest, but that still doesn't justify giving him kyle farnsworth-type money. even at his very best looper never had a year as dominating as krazy kyle's 2005; not even close. for a million bucks the cards could probably get a scrap-heaper who's as nearly good as looper, maybe even better (e.g., al reyes). so the $2.5m in marginal salary is wasted on what may at best be a 1- or 2-game dividend in the standings.

this signing makes me wonder if the cardinals are simply running out of places to put their money. they tried but failed to pump it into a rotation upgrade, and missed opportunities to put dollars into upgrades at rightfield (giles) and/or 2b (castillo, loretta). per the rostertracker at left, the cards still have $10m to spend and only 3 roster slots to fill. . . . . but who's left that is worth spending the money on? if they were gonna fritter dollars away, there's a lot of other ways i'd prefer they'da frittered.