Picture [your favourite sports franchise here] signing a ‘local’ kid to patrol left field, to sit back on the blue line, to punt the ball or to guard the key. Picture kids from local peewee and little league teams streaming into every game, waving pennants and wearing jerseys, with the aim of seeing the local-boy-made-good ply his trade on his own field of dreams…
Seems like kind of a nice idea, right? A way to boost community spirit, endear the team itself to an increasingly fickle sports-watching populace, and to bring the press a-runnin’, looking to splatter the front page of the sports section with pictures of Johnny Local trying on his new club’s shirt for the first time.
Yet, imagine how all that positive energy might be erased in seconds once it occurred to local fans that the Feel Good Signing of the Year would actually undermine the team’s on-field performance, even while it boosted its off-field fiduciary well-being.
This is the scenario awaiting Toronto’s remaining Blue Jays fans when the effects of today’s Corey Koskie signing become apparent. Jays management, desperate to inject some plot into a 2005 Blue Jays story that’s already looking as dry as an episode of the Charlie Rose show, today dished out a three-year, seventeen million dollar contract to Anola, Manitoba product Koskie. That’s well over five million per year, folks, for a third baseman who’s probably worth half of that.
Signing a kid from the local suburban sandlots (or, in this case, from the same country as the Jays play in) works when that player fits into a team’s current composition, or is the kind of guy around whom you build your team. The Cleveland Cavaliers would have signed LeBron James even if he’d been from Sevastopol, provided he could play like he does; that he happened to be an Ohioan was merely gravy. Same for Larry Walker as an Expo; that he was Canadian was completely secondary to the fact that he was a grade-A ballplayer at the time he was signed (and still is, of course, bad knees aside).
Koskie neither fits into the Jays plan nor qualifies as a man at the top of his craft. While GM JP Ricciardi’s Moneyball pedigree calls for players who get on base and hit for power, Koskie is hardly an exemplar; not only that, but his numbers, and his games-played, have declined for the past four years. Further, at thirty-one, it can be argued fairly conclusively that the man has reached his peak and is skiing down the other side.
Koskie was undoubtedly one of the better 3Bs available during this free-agent season, yet the fact remains that the player he’s figured to replace, Eric Hinske, remains on Toronto’s payroll as a very marketable individual who could be traded for cheaper, better Hot Corner talent. Koskie’s five million-plus salary actually outpaces the money that many similarly middling third basemen are currently receiving, including Washington’s Tony Batista (whom the Jays inexplicably waived in 2001), at $1.5 million, Boston’s Bill Mueller ($2.1 million), and Tampa’s Aubrey Huff ($2.9 million). Worse still is that Koskie’s new contract is worth more than the last one he received from the Minnesota Twins, despite his clearly deteriorating physical acumen and stamina.
All of which facts point clearly to a cynical line of marketing reasoning pervading the Blue Jays’ front office. It’s understandable that the team would want to sell a few t-shirts at Winnipeg-area malls, and yet it’s clear that the team’s on-field successes will not be helped by Corey Koskie.