Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What the Hell Were You Thinking? Jeff Suppan Edition

*Over the next couple of weeks, Jorge Says No! will take an in depth look at some of the worst contracts in baseball. We'll evaluate why the player was signed, what went wrong, and future implications of the contract. Behind every bone head decision, there has to be a reason for it...right?*

Why Sign Suppan:
Looking back, it's hard to fathom why the Brewers decided to make such a vast commitment to Jeff Suppan. Prior to the 2005 season, Suppan was nothing more than an average to below average pitcher, who only had one season with an ERA below 4.

But the 2006 offseason was the perfect storm for Suppan. He had a number of different things going for him.

1. Huge postseason
-For those that don't remember, Suppan was the MVP of the 2006 NLCS and pitched a memorable game 7 against the Mets . Because of his post season performance, his stock was at an all time high and he gained a reputation as a big game pitcher.

2. Consistent
-Suppan's calling card on the free agent market was his durability and his ability to take the ball every fifth day. From 1999-2006, Suppan never made less than 30 starts in any season.

3. Free agent market
-Aside from Barry Zito, the free agent market was barren of quality starting pitchers. Even though Suppan was far from an ace, his performance in the postseason combined with the lack of starting pitchers on the market made Suppan immensely more valuable than he actually was.

As GM Doug Melvin noted at the time:

Suppan is expected to join Sheets, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush and Claudio Vargas in Milwaukee's starting rotation. Adding depth to that group had been a priority for Melvin, but the GM had been critical of some other free-agent contracts awarded in this frenzied offseason. Suppan was worth spending on, Melvin said.

"This guy has more wins than Barry Zito over the last three years," said Melvin, referring to the consensus No. 1 free-agent pitcher on the market. "There's more to it than win totals, but that says something. He has 44 wins over the last three years and he has won some big games."

What Went Wrong: Simply put, Suppan reverted back to his pre 2004 ways. In each of his three seasons with the Brewers, Suppan's ERA has exceededded 4.62 and he has never won more than 12 games. Suppan's ERA has gone up in each season with the Brewers and he has performed nothing like the "big game, durable, ace" that GM Doug Melvin thought he was acquiring.

Future Implications: Luckily for the Brewers, Suppan's contract expires after this season so the future implications of this deal should be minimal. However, Suppan is owed $12.5 million in 2010, which will limit the Brewers payroll flexibility this offseason. Hypothetically speaking, if the Brewers did not have Jeff Suppan and the $12.5 million owed to him, the would they have been forced to trade JJ Hardy? More food for thought: if the Brewers did not have Jeff Suppan, then would the Brewers have been able to make a stronger run last winter at CC Sabathia?

Lesson Learned: Ask yourself this: should a team with a $70-$80 million dollar payroll really commit $8-$12 million annually to a mediocre pitcher, who is past his prime and lacking dominant stuff? I think not.


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