There’s a bit of a paradox when it comes to baseball: the game can be (somewhat) easily quantified, so when making decisions, it is (somewhat) easy to look back at what a player has done. However, when signing free agents in particular, the adage goes you want to pay a player not for what he’s done but for what he will do.
The more I think about this, I think Derek Lowe is a good example. He had some early success in Boston, but his years there were rocky to say the least. When the Dodgers gave him a 4 year deal before 2005 season, most saw it as lunacy.
The deal paid off though; Lowe harnessed his talents and became a reliable starter.
Now fast forward to this offseason, where AJ Burnett and Derek Lowe are two of the marquee free agents. Derek Lowe has the longer track record, yet Burnett could well end up being the better sign because the Yankees are paying him for what they think he will do.
Now there is enormous risk in that. When you sign Lowe, if he fails you can say, “well he always did it before” and somehow it seems like less your fault. Meanwhile, if Burnett fails, you can’t point to his track record.
But obviously Yankee talent evaluators think Burnett will be a quality starter for at least the next 4 or 5 seasons and develop the consistency he has lacked. It’s not that crazy; Lowe did the exact same thing for the Dodgers.
Given the Yankees’ financial resources, it’s a reasonable risk.