In the process of dubbing Juan Gonzalez the Least Valuable Player of the aughts, Jayson Stark deems Long Gone Juan an embezzler:
The ability to steal money is a quality I always look for in an LVP. And clearly, that became one of Juan Gone’s specialties. He had one season in the ’00s (2001) in which he hit 30 homers and drove in more than 75 runs. Yet he managed to parlay that season, and past reputation, to a total of $46.925 million worth of paydays in the ’00s.
Yep, $46.925 million. That’s more than Chase Utley, more than Miguel Cabrera, more than Hanley Ramirez, more than John Lackey. More than David Wright, Joe Mauer and Prince Fielder combined, for that matter. Yikes.
It’s also more than the salaries of the five AL MVPs from 2000 through 2004 put together. And it’s more than the opening-day payroll of 56 different teams in the ’00s. So how impressive is that?
Indeed. It’s clear that Stark understands this failure in moral terms; the term “steal” and the tone both indicate that Juan Gonzalez managed this theft because of a string of serious moral failings. While some might suggest that 34 year old outfielders often suffer from a series of nagging injuries that sharply curtail both playing time and effectiveness, Stark will have none of it; Gonzalez figuratively robbed, virtually at gunpoint, the Kansas City Royals of $4.5 million in 2004. Neifi Perez, oddly enough, isn’t considered a thief for the $4.1 million that the Royals paid in 2002 because “it can’t be just about the ability to string together production-free numbers,” and Derek Bell isn’t eligible for LVP even though he claimed explicitly that he was reducing his productivity because of unhappiness with the team.
No; the villain is Long Gone, who had the temerity to accept the contract offers that teams made, then went on to perform, repeatedly, the outright dastardly act of actually cashing the checks that team offices handed to him. What a monster! And then, just because he wanted to steal MORE money from the fans of Major League Baseball, he played half a season in the Atlantic League, and three years in the Puerto Rican League.
This would all be just plain stupid were it not for the fact that Stark is part of a sports journalistic machine that habitually blames players for the idiotic mistakes made by team owners. Somebody gave Juan Gonzalez $4.5 million? Blame Gonzalez! There’s a strike? Those greedy players are at it again! Ticket prices going up? Stupid greedy players! And of course, it would be nice if this pattern weren’t duplicated in coverage of labor-management disputes in the rest of the economy.
There’s certainly a way in which someone might determine the decade’s Least Valuable Player, and it would involve comparing salary and productivity. It might, moreover, be the case that Juan Gonzalez actually was the LVP, although I rather doubt it, and it would almost certainly be because of the $24 million he made in 2002-3 from the Rangers, rather than from the $4 million that the Royals wasted on him. But that rather gives away the show. Accepting a $4 million contract offer from the Royals on the heels of several unproductive seasons doesn’t make you a thief; it just means that you have a pulse.
…I think that one LVP candidate has to be my beloved Ken Griffey, who was paid $97 million for 17 wins above replacement over the course of the decade. Other possibilities?