That's an extraordinary growth rate, and it casts free agent contracts in a different light; $24m/3yr was more in 2004 than it was in 2005, and it was more in 2005 than it was in 2006. Therefore it seems prudent to re-evaluate some of the big recent deals, since inflation will (sort of) make them cost less than it appears on the surface.
However, before you rush to proclaim that this would justify the Mariners spending out the wazoo for Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt, it's important to understand that inflation doesn't really mean anything if it isn't reflected in the team payroll, and the M's spent as much on their players in 2003 as they did last season (while the average league payroll increased by 9%). When you're operating on a static budget, it doesn't matter if $10m in four years is technically less than $10m now, because it still takes up the same percentage of your payroll.
For the Mariners to "take advantage" of this inflation, so to speak, they need to consistently increase payroll, something they've thus far been unwilling to do. Rumor has it that the executives have okayed a figure in the mid-$90m's for 2007, but (A) that doesn't mean it'll actually happen, and (B) that's only a one-time increase, whereas ideally it'd go up every year. So stay tuned, because while Schmidt's hypothetical $60m/4yr deal may seem somewhat palatable in a broader context when you consider the league-wide inflation, it would still be tough on the M's if they continue to operate like they have for the past several seasons.
Something else that came up in the comment thread over at Sabernomics was the following, from THT's studes:
Basically, this was an absolutely fantastic year for pre-arbitration players, rookies in particular. When you're getting that much production from guys who cost $300-500k, you have more money to spend on veterans/free agents, which has undoubtedly contributed to the wild market that we've seen so far.
The problem with using this to justify outrageous spending, however, is two-fold: for one, there's no indication that young players will continue to produce at such an incredible level in the future, and for another, the cheap players who did so well this year are only going to get more expensive, cutting into the total amount of "free money". It'd be one thing if free agents were getting pricey but shorter deals, like $40m/2yr for Soriano or something, but most of the contracts we've seen so far have been longer than usual, going anywhere from three to eight years for guys in their 30's. That's going to hurt down the road, when this year's young talent is getting seven figures while the free agents are still collecting their sizeable paychecks.
You can't always count on young players to perform as well as they did in 2006. That's going to come back and bite a few teams in the ass.
Incidentally, with Putz/Lopez/Betancourt/Felix/etc., the Mariners are sort of in a position where they're getting a lot for a little, but because of the big money going to Sexson/Washburn/Beltre (not including whoever they sign for a bunch within the next few weeks), they've all but negated the advantage.
The winning bid for Kei Igawa is apparently somewhere around $25m, or twice what most people thought it would be. Suddenly, unless the winning bidder also has an international slush fund where the posting fee doesn't count against payroll, he doesn't look like such a bargain candidate anymore. I don't see any reason why he can't succeed as a Major League starter, but he's going to have trouble with wildness and home runs, making him a decent #4 for the approximate cost (to the team) of Vicente Padilla's imminent contract. Not awful, but not as good as I'd hoped.
No word on who won the rights yet, but it shouldn't be long until we find out.
Update: it's the Yankees. We'll never hear the end of the Irabu comparisons, even if they're completely unwarranted (which they aren't, really).
Randy Wolf's contracts calls for a $9m 2008 option that vests if he throws 180 innings next season. I like it for the Dodgers; if he's pitching as well as he used to, he'll exceed that total and be worth the money, and if he struggles, he'll get yanked early, have his starts skipped, and get bought out for $500k next winter. Vesting options aren't as good as team options, but they're light years ahead of letting the player decide.
The Cubs have reportedly bid around $45m/3yr for Jason Schmidt. It's almost certainly going to take another guaranteed year to get anything settled, so unless you think he's willing to take a substantial hometown discount, I doubt you'll see him in a Mariner uniform for anything less than $55-60m/4yr. Ye gods.
It seems like the Manny Ramirez rumors are picking up steam after all, with Peter Gammons jumping on the bandwagon (the Mariners, of course, aren't mentioned anywhere, which sucks, but whatever). JD Drew's apparently only a few days away from joining the Red Sox for slightly less than Harvard's endowment, which could signal the end of Manny's time in Boston. It would be in their best interests to deal him to Los Angeles, since they've got the most young talent to give away, but because I hate everything about the Red Sox I'm pulling for Manny to end up in San Francisco in exchange for whatever godawful talent they have to offer.
It's scary to think that a team might be able to trade away Manny Ramirez and actually get better, but Theo Epstein may be able to pull it off. That's amazing to me.
I'm typing this all up on a computer in the chemistry building since my Dell Inspiron is on the fritz after 3+ years of faithful service (I think the backlight is failing, and that's just about impossible to fix). If any of you have recommendations for a new and relatively inexpensive replacement, I'd love to hear them.