By Terry Cushman — @cushmanMLB
Until only a few years ago, if you were a superstar perennial power hitter with 30/100 (homerun/RBI) capability, when you reached free agency in your early 30’s, eventually a team would unload a huge sum of money for your services. So many of those deals would range in the six to eight year range. After a while most teams’ front offices across MLB started to figure that most of those signings experienced serious drop offs after 3-4 years into their deals, and were essentially dead weight or damaged goods for those final few years. Take Mark Texeira, formerly of the Yankees for example; he signed for $175M, but was junk the final few years, all of which were injury plagued. Alex Rodriguez is essentially retired, and STILL get paid on his $275M contract. Undoubtedly one of the worst in MLB history.
Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Giancarlo Stanton were the last three players to receive a contract or an extension north of $240M. All of which were inked following the 2013 & 2014 off seasons. The last few off seasons several top free agents fell well short of landing contracts of that magnitude. Jason Heyward got $184M from the Cubs, but under performed so badly that he was benched for a few games by manager Joe Maddon in the 2016 World Series. Justin Upton signed with the Tigers for $132, but undoubtedly the Tigers have some buyers remorse on that one. And finally the Baltimore Orioles somehow managed to FLEECE themselves for Chris Davis at $154M. No other team came close to that offer, so the Orioles inexplicably took the plunge and unloaded for Davis, when he could have been signed for much less.
Fast forward to this past off season, Yoenis Cespedes, one of the top offensive performers in MLB opted out after the first year of his $75M deal, and was resigned to the Mets for four years at $110M. Edwin Encarnacion is on par if not greater than Yoenis Cespedes, but only netted a three year $60M deal from the Cleveland Indians. Jose Bautista was rumored to be demanding a five year $150M deal following his infamous bat toss in the ALCS, but was relegated to a one year guaranteed deal for a “meager” $18M, with two optional years tacked on. Each of these free agent players were expected to be landing big time paydays, but after waiting out the market for most of their off seasons, each player signed for much less.
Noticing a pattern? Each couple of years the market drops off more and more. Why is this? Teams have started to find that the real value is in drafting and developing players, and they’re GETTING that value. Only once in the history of MLB has a team won the World Series with a $175M player on its payroll, which was the New York Yankees in 2009. It never happened before, or since. There is no value in handcuffing yourself with huge contracts which ends up preventing you from signing players to fill needs in other areas of the team.
In 2016 the Boston Red Sox had the best offense in MLB. Of their three 30/100 players, Hanley Ramirez had the biggest contract at $22M on the season. David Ortiz was next with a very affordable $16M. Mookie Betts nearly won the MVP on his $566K salary. Not very far behind them in the 30/100 catagory were Xander Bogaerts ($650K) and Jackie Bradley Jr ($546k). This totals up to roughly $40M a year.
To put $40M into perspective, Bryce Harper will be a free agent after the 2018 season. He is projected to be the first player to land a $400M contract (though I have my doubts), which will likely be $40M over 10 years. This is ONLY for ONE player. Again $40M a season for ONE player. The Red Sox had FIVE players in 2016 that were capable of producing a very similar offense as Harper, and all five COMBINED made $40M that season. Five is better than one, right?
So why blow your load on just one player? There is no value in doing so. Some team will end up paying Bryce Harper a record contract, and history will not be on their side. Furthermore, what do the Washington Nationals have to show for Harper? Definitely not a championship. In fact, not even a playoff series win. What do the Anaheim Angels have to show for Mike Trout and Albert Pujols? Pretty much the same.
Under the right circumstances, I believe in paying for pitching. But not for top of the market positional players. I hope the Red Sox steer clear of the Bryce Harper’s of the world, and keep continuing to build from a balance of their own inner development, and efficiently navigating through the free agency markets. That’s where the value is, and precisely why the Red Sox have won three World Championships this century.