Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Sox and Free Agents

This is a very unimaginative blog posting and I always am hesitant to direct traffic from our small blog to a big, behemoth site like, but today I've got to do it.

I think I have mentioned before how much I like Tony Mazz' blog over there and the other night he made a post-Winter Meetings post which I thought was great on a number of levels. Mainly, he nailed the point on the Sox handling of signing their own guys to long term extensions versus what they will give to free agents on the open market.

Also he brought up a couple of interesting side items about the pursuit of Teixeira. First, that the Sox are greasing the skids for the whopper contract they will offer Tex by bringing up and rationalizing their past major contracts and secondly that with NESN's ratings down last year they are looking for an external spark to bring more viewers back to Sox games. With the last point you really need to give props to the Sox owners as business men, but of course the first illustrates how recklessly they have over-spent in many free agent cases. Let's focus on the good though because I think it is more interesting.

If they throw a few extra million per year at Teixeira and that bumps their ratings back up they can therefore increase the cost of advertising on NESN and win in the end. It's a risk but it is also how rich people can get richer. Spending money to make money. The Celtics owners did the same type of cost/benefit analysis when assessing the risk involved in paying tons of cash to Ray Allen and KG and that of course worked out great.

With all this being said, the amount of money that Tex stands to receive from the Red Sox really unsettles me. Not in a high-horsed, "I can't believe athletes are getting paid like this in these times!" kind of way, but more in a "a .300/30/110 corner infielder is really worth $25M???" kind of way. And that brings me to my final point and one I think Mazz subtly gets at too. The more these Teixeira talks drag on, the more it seems people are starting to re-evaluate things. As I have said before, his pending free agency has all of a sudden elevated him to being perceived as a top of the line player. The player that he should be most naturally compared to in this light is Albert Pujols, an outstanding defensive first baseman with a big bat. The thing is, Pujols laps Teixeira as a player. For Pujols' 8 year career, his OPS+ is 170. Tex' is 134 over six seasons. That is not bad by any means, but again, you are paying him to be Albert Pujuols and the fact of the matter is he is not.

For the last time, I am not saying that the Sox would not be a better team with Tex. They absolutely would be. I just don't think he is worth anywhere close to the contract he is going to get. From them or anybody else for that matter.

One final point and it is again something that Mazz brought up in his blog.

At what point do the Sox farmhands get sick of signing below market contracts to stick with the team while they see big name free agents either their lesser, equal to, or slightly superior come in for way more than them? I understand the allure of long term financial security and all that, but what happens when one player - and I think it is going to be Youk - says, "screw you, you are offering me a 5 year/$50M contract when you offered JD Drew $20M more total 2 years ago and you just paid Mark Teixeira almost 4 times that when he had only a slightly better year than me last year?! Let me say it again, SCREW YOU!" And what about when it comes time to pay Lester, Papelbon, and maybe Beckett again? What happens there when pitchers in their neighborhood are making $15M a year? I am not saying that the Red Sox should go there with them, but what happens when they offer Jon Lester less of an annual salary than they pay Julio Lugo? How will that sit?

I am not saying that they should overpay their own talent by any means. What I am saying though is that at some point the front office will be made to pay by their own players for all the reckless spending they have done in free agency. At some point, won't it rankle somebody to see the massive dollars being thrown at guys like Rent-a-Wreck, Matt Clement, Julio Lugo, and JD Drew while below market contracts continue to get put in front of their face? I say it's only a matter of time and the solution lies in selective free agent bidding, not massive in-house over-payment.

The Red Sox farm system reconstruction has clearly produced massive dividends, but I do fear a comeuppance of sort on the horizon if they continue to burn cash on and overpay out of town free agents while low-balling their internal players when it comes to contract time. There are not too many MVP players out there willing to get paid less each year than Julio Lugo and at some point something has to give.

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