It's February 2012 and Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Hideki Matsui remain unemployed. Can you even imagine that happening to six, over-37 former All-Stars back in 2006?
Not a chance.
Back in 2006, Mike Mussina (38), Miguel Bautista (35), Jim Edmonds (36), Frank Thomas (38), and Barry Bonds (42) all signed for multiyear deals worth over $15 million. If any of their 2011 counterparts sign, it will be for a one year deal at less than $5 million.
What happened? Steroids are gone from baseball and executives now assume that older players will break down and fall apart like old skeletons. Is that a fair assumption?
Steroids and performance enhancing drugs certainly helped older players avoid injury and regain their vitality and bat speed. Mark McGwire admitted as much when he told longtime fans that he took steroids to recover from chronic injuries. Those drugs also helped him play better than he did in his late 20s prime and break baseball's home run records.
But are performance-enhancers alone responsible for the value older players provide? Should their disappearance, and the increasingly lower-levels of productivity by players over 35, mean an end to the illustrious careers of future Hall of Famers like Damon and Guerrero?
No. Players of that caliber were definitely seen as more valuable in 2006 but their veteran contributions on the field and in the locker room should not be completely discounted. They are diminished but should certainly not be forgotten.
Two years ago, Guerrero was an excellent designated hitter for the Rangers. He still has enough bat speed and power to help several contenders. Damon helped the Rays to the playoffs last year and is viewed as one of the best clubhouse influences in the game. Are those types of contributions to a ball club truly worth less than $4 million?
As baseball transitions out of the steroid era, its clubs need to reassess older players' contributions to their teams. They are no-longer ageless sluggers who merit multiyear, seven figure contracts. But leaving them unemployed is an equally egregious mistake.
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