By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
Many of us ardent baseball fans have been checking various MLB news and rumor sites, social media, and other outlets since the first week of November, in search of player signings, trades, etc. For some of us, it’s tested our patience, and has been a brutal wait. All of the major free agents who were on the market the first day of free agency are in fact still sitting on the same open market.
Several insiders have weighed in on why this hot stove season has been so historically slow. One obvious factor which is universally accepted is that too many teams are “tanking,” and keeping their payroll low as they build their farm systems. Or essentially have chosen not to put competitive teams on the field in order to keep their rebuilding periods as inexpensive as possible. Even if it means upsetting their fan bases. Some examples of this trend could be teams like the Reds, Braves, Marlins, White Sox, Rays, Athletics, and the Pirates.
Another theory which has been kicked around, is that the more competitive teams are actively colluding with each other to not pursue the top free agents in an attempt to lower their markets to more affordable prices. The common denominator for most of these top players is that their agent is Scott Boras, a polarizing figure who many industry executives don’t really find any pleasure in doing business with. This theory, while intriguing, is damn near impossible to prove.
The Red Sox hold a unique position of power over Scott Boras, and the rest of the free agent market. For starters, the market for Eric Hosmer took a heavy hit when the Dave Dombrowski signed Mitch Moreland to a two year deal. This left only the Royals and Padres, both of whom have each offered Hosmer a seven year deal. No other teams have come forward in pursuit of the first baseman.
The player most hotly linked to Boston is J.D. Martinez. His initial asking price was seven years at $210M. However, the Red Sox have only offered five years at $125M, and no other team is presently known to have an existing offer in a similar price range, nor do any other teams seem remotely interested in jumping in the Martinez sweepstakes. Boras is dead in the water, is coming up far short, will have to swallow a great deal of pride, and Dombrowski knows it.
The Red Sox could have gotten Lorenzo Cain or Jay Bruce much cheaper than their current offer for Martinez. If $125M is what it costs for Martinez, the Mets will have acquired Bruce, who only hit nine fewer home runs in 2017, and signed for $86M cheaper. Not to mention Bruce is a good fielder. However, $125M for Martinez will certainly seem like a bargain compared to $300M-$400M for Bryce Harper.
The thing that frustrates me about most sports fans, is that they do not understand value. Many of them will sell their mothers to sign Bryce Harper for $300M. Even though the World Series has only been won ONE single time by a team with a player making over $200M (NYY in 2009) on its pay roll. They’re too stupid to realize that taking on a contract that size will actually PREVENT them from winning a World Series. History is not on their side. They look at Bryce Harper with the same tunnel vision in which they look at the next iPhone. They simply HAVE to have him.
Ever since Stanton signed his mega deal, no other deal similar has been signed for a position player. Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes, and Justin Upton all took considerably lesser deals than they were projected to. The market has seemingly been dropping.
At present, the Red Sox have the following “bad” contracts:
David Price ($31M)
This is the only contract Dombrowski is personally responsible for. The logic behind signing Price was flawed from the beginning. Several red flags had popped up in terms of his inability to emotionally handle a big market’s fans and media. Also the fact he always fails in high pressure moments, specifically in October.
Hanley Ramirez ($22M)
The Red Sox outbid themselves when they signed Hanley. No other team across MLB was offering close to the four year, $88M he ultimately signed for. Most aggravatingly of all, they signed him to be a corner outfielder not really knowing he could play that position. It blew up big time.
Rick Porcello ($20M)
How he won a Cy Young is the eight wonder of the world. It made no sense whatsoever for Ben Cherington to sign a career 4.25 pitcher to a contract of that size. Following Porcello’s magical Cy Young season, he reverted back to form, and the Red Sox have gotten little value considering the size of his contract. Including not a single playoff win.
Pablo Sandoval ($19M)
Probably the worst contract in the history of the franchise for a multitude of reasons. I don’t need to elaborate any further.
Rusney Castillo ($14M)
It’s hard to get too upset about this contract. There is a huge element of risk when it comes to international signings. It’s usually hit or miss. Considering all of the other bad contracts, we still have to call it for what it is.
The morale of the story here, is that we Red Sox fans need to be patient. Dave Dombrowski knows what he is doing. There is no sense coming this far into the hot stove season, with all the leverage he has, only to sign another over priced contract.
The worst case scenario here is that Boston loses out on Martinez to a last minute offer that tops our current one. Should this take place, other alternatives could be pursued. Another option is the Red Sox could simply tread water with the depth of talent they currently have, and then make a move at the July 31 deadline.
At the end of the day, this wasn’t the off season anyone expected. Not everyone will be thrilled with how things played out. Some are clamoring for Martinez, while some believe he will be a bust. Others had hoped for Stanton, Hosmer, and even Manny Machado.
If you’re an optimist, no potentially long term fatal mistakes have been made thus far. And Martinez will more likely than not end up with the Boston Red Sox, at their price, for a contract that is sustainable. Lets sit on this for a little while longer.
ICYMI: AVIDBOSTON PODCAST EPISODE 28: THE JD MARTINEZ/ROB MANFRED EDITION!
Also available on iTunes!