Eating cash is the new eating crow. I am not sure when the tide turned and teams decided it was better to eat cash and release or trade a player rather than rolling him out day after day (or start after start) and suffer the indignity of a deal gone bad. But it definitely has happened. We have seen this phenomenon a few times just this past week. To wit:
After an on-radio tirade by the team’s general partner, Padre GM A.J. Preller thought it best to rid himself of James Shields. The problem, Shields is still owed about $58M (from the 4/$75M deal he signed last season). The White Sox, knowing they had a ton of leverage, required the Padres to eat $31M of that. The ChiSox get an innings eater at $7M/year for the next three years. (However, he only went 2 innings and gave up 7ER in his White Sox debut, so maybe it wasn’t such a good deal.)
Last week the Dodgers did a two-fer: First they released Alex Guerrero. The Dodgers finally resigned themselves to the idea that this was just a bad deal for a bad player. There is plenty of blame to go around on this one: While playing shortstop in Cuba, the scouts felt that he didn’t have the skills to play that position in the big leagues. The Dodgers game him some work at second base, but never enough reps to get proficient (that is partly due to Dee Gordon’s little-anticipated ascendance at the position in 2014); and then they moved him around the diamond like he was playing a game of musical chairs. Unfortunately for both the player and the team, the music has stopped. The front office thought it made sense to take a 4/$28M risk on a mid-level hitter with no real Major League defensive position. Now the Dodgers are forced to pay about $7M to make this mistake go away.
But Guerrero is a drop-in-the-bucket compared to the debacle that is and was Carl Crawford. With the hand-writing on the wall for seasons, the Dodgers finally bit the bullet and ate the remaining $35M on this deal. Red Sox fans rejoiced when the Dodgers took over this $142M albatross in 2012, and now the Dodgers are left holding the bag. Time will tell if Crawford can ever be serviceable Major League player, but he will still be paid like one through the end of next season.
These two teams are tied in ways other than the 5 Freeway and the NL West. When Dodgers dumped Matt Kemp on the Pads before last season, they agreed to pay $3.5M of the $21.5M Kemp is entitled to until the end of the 2019 season. However, when (if?) the Padres can dump Kemp on some other unsuspecting team prior to the August 1st trade deadline, it seems pretty clear that they will have to eat some money. Thus, there is a great chance that, come August, Matt Kemp is wearing yet another uniform and getting paychecks from three different clubs.
One team unwilling (yet) to eat cash, and choosing instead to eat crow every other day or so is the Philadelphia Phillies. They still owe Ryan Howard about $16M for this season, and then $10M to buy out his option for next year. Rather than release a fan favorite (?) and someone who has meant a lot to the team and the community, they give Howard spot starts and pinch-hitting opportunities. How has that worked out: 9 HRs, 9 singles, .150 BA, .559 OPS, and strike outs in 1/3 of all plate appearances. There is no sign that Matt Klentak or the owners are willing to embarrass Howard by releasing him; they would rather embarrass him by allowing him to try to hit.
Of course, as I have written previously, the grand-daddy of all “eating cash” deals is still a guy who was back in the news today: Josh Hamilton. As of the moment the Angels shipped Hamilton to the Rangers, they remained on the hook for $73.5M of $79.5M Hamilton was due through 2017. It was announced today that, after it had been previously announced that Hamilton would miss the entire season, he had surgery to totally reconstruct his ACL. He may never play again. I guess, since he was traded in-division, this may be the best news the Angels could have received.
As television deals get richer, and as revenues continue to grow, and as GMs cannot help themselves from making long-term dumb (?) deals (see Greinke, Zack; Pujols, Albert; Cabrera, Miguel; Sabathia, CC; Sandoval, Pablo; Ramirez, Hanley; Ellsbury, Jacoby; etc., etc.), in the years to come you may see more and more teams electing to eat cash rather than eat crow.