Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ category

Maybe Free Agents Just Aren’t Worth It

February 3, 2019

On February 1st, I was planning to write a post about how strange it is that four of the top five free agents (at least according to mlbtraderumors.com) are still unsigned.  Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post beat me to it.  However, the title of his article got me thinking whether not signing free agents means not trying to win.

Analytics are showing that free agents aren’t worth the money they are getting in terms of actual performance on the free agent contracts they sign and that MLB teams are finally catching up, although it has taken them a long time to do so.

I thought it might be interesting to look at what last year’s top 50 free agents (according to mlbtraderumors.com) did in  2018, the first year of their free agent deals, when everyone expects free agents to be worth the most.  Everyone basically understands that signing a free agent is a win-now strategy and that players are overpaid in the latter years of their free agent deals to provide big value in the first year or two of their contracts.

So what were free agents worth in the first year of the new contracts they signed during the 2017-2018 off-season, which was the off-season when free agent contracts dramatically tightened up in terms of guaranteed seasons?  As it turns out, not what they were paid.

I used the average salary over the years of multi-year contracts, rather than the actual first year salaries, which are in many cases lower, because it was less work to calculate.  It also gives a more accurate value, in a sense, of what the team will end up paying annually for the term of the contract.

By my calculation, teams committed $441.9 million in first year salaries, and got total production value, according to fangraphs.com, of only $356.6 million in return.  Of the 47 free agents I included, only 12 players performed in 2018 at a level greater than their average annual average salary over the lengths of their contracts, while 34 performed worse, 10 of whom cost their new teams money by playing at a level below replacement level.  The 47 players have a remaining 62 seasons on their combined contracts, when as a group they will almost certainly perform at a lower level than they did in 2018, since free agents as a group do not age well at all.

Free agent contracts look like a lottery gamble for teams.  A team might hit it big with the kind of performance J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas and Mike Moustakas gave their teams in 2018, but teams were more likely to get the the underwhelming and overpaid performances Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce gave their 2018 teams.

There are a lot of reasons why teams would continue to sign free agents, even if they are overpaid even in their first seasons with their new clubs.  It’s good public relations to sign free agents, particularly if you have lost one or more of your own players to free agency.  The cost in talent, compared to trades, of signing a free agent is very low (although the current collective bargaining rules make it more expensive in terms of talent for the wealthiest, highest spending teams to spend big on free agents, which has always been the driver of the free agent market).  It might be worth overpaying a free agent in order to plug a glaring hole in your line-up.

However, what I take from this information is that it makes little sense to sign a free agent, particularly one in the bottom half of the top 50, unless you are fairly certain one or two performances is all that is separating your team from making or returning to the post-season.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be signing free agents until they are truly ready to compete.  Even if you don’t have a replacement level player in your organization at the position you are looking to improve at, a replacement level player can probably be obtained cheaply from another organization, particularly when compared to the financial cost of free agents, even with the sharp tightening in the market the last two off-seasons.

While I still suspect that teams are engaging in some kind of soft collusion — maybe MLB is holding meetings where MLB’s analysts are lecturing teams on the actual value of free agents each November — in-house analytics departments for each team are probably telling teams the one thing they need to do with respect to free agents is sign them for fewer seasons than they did in the past.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would get respectively 14 and 13 season contracts at $30M per.  The reason they may not yet be signed is that, while teams are willing to pay the $30M per, they aren’t willing to guarantee more than eight or 10 seasons, even for free agents so young and so good.  The only rumors I have heard for either is that the White Sox may have offered Machado somewhere between $175M and $1250M for seven or eight seasons only.

The current collective bargaining agreement terms are devastating the free agent market, because the ten richest teams can’t spend like they once did.  The talent bite that comes from overspending the salary cap for three seasons in a row, in terms of draft picks and international amateur spending, is steep enough that the richest teams are all trying to keep close enough to the cap amount that they can dip under at least once every three seasons in order to avoid the most severe penalties.  It is the richest teams that drive the upper limits of free agent contracts, so the current rules are bound to effect free agent contracts in a big way.

Advertisements

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign A.J. Pollock for $55 Million

January 26, 2019

So much for the Giants signing A.J. Pollock, one of the few premium free agents the team had been linked to.  The Dodgers signed Pollock for four years and $55M, only $5M less than mlbtraderumors.com had predicted.

At least the Giants get to keep the draft pick compensation that signing Pollock required, and management is making noises that they will still find a way to improve the outfield mix before Spring Training starts.  I’m really starting to feel, though, that new General Manager Farhan Zaidi was brought in to start a quiet re-build of the team that will begin in earnest next July if the 2019 club, with it’s core of veteran players, doesn’t play better/win more than they did last year.

The Padres have reportedly gotten in on Manny Machado because his market isn’t where everyone was expecting it to be.  It’s possible the Gints could similarly jump in on Bryce Harper, but I won’t have any expectations of that front until a signing is reported to be imminent.

What I am starting to anticipate with so many top free agents still unsigned is that the final contract guarantees will be disappointing, but will feature lots and lots of player opt-outs.  When teams originally began giving players opt-out clauses, as I’ve written before, it seemed absolutely crazy because the players getting the opt-outs were also getting record-setting deals.  Times have changed in a big way, and now the player opt-outs have become the miss congeniality, second banana prize in place of the record-setting contract guarantee.

J.D. Martinez‘s contract last year was the perfect example of this.  The $110M guarantee was disappointing, but he gets two opt-outs after each of the 2019 and 2020 season.  I could easily see either or both of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper getting $75M to $100M less in guarantee than mlbtraderumors.com projected, but getting like three or four or even five separate opt-outs over the length of the contract.

Why not?  The opt-out clauses make sense if the team can short the player on the guarantee.  In Bryce Harper’s case in particular, I have no doubt that Scott Boras will wring out every single possible term he can to get that benefits his client, particularly if he can’t get a record-setting guarantee.  Manny’s agent Dan Lozano won’t be far behind Boras.

 

San Francisco Giants Add Lefty Drew Pomeranz

January 23, 2019

The Giants have reportedly reached an agreement with left-handed starter Drew Pomeranz for $1.5M, plus another $3.5M in performance incentives.  If Pomeranz’s arm is healthy, this is a great, low-cost move for the Gints.

Pomeranz was once the 5th overall draft pick in 2010 out of Ol’ Miss, but the Rockies weren’t able to develop him into a major league star.  It is tough developing young pitchers in mile high Denver, and Pomeranz has pitched well when he’s played for teams playing in pitchers’ parks (Oakland, San Diego).  He had a fine year in hit-happy Fenway in 2017, going 17-6 with a 3.32, but pitched badly last season when he was battling injuries.

Pomeranz only recently turned 30, so the Giants could be getting a top starter for a bargain price.  Even if Pomeranz is hurt again, he’s costing the team a very small guarantee by current standards.  Frankly, I’m surprised that Pomeranz couldn’t get a deal promising him a $2M guarantee and $6M in incentives, given his pedrigree, his upside and his 2017 performance.  In fact, I like this signing better than bringing back Derek Holland.

One of the advantages of playing in an extreme pitchers’ or hitters’ park is that if management knows what it is doing, it isn’t hard to identify under-performing but talented players coming from teams playing in parks that don’t suit their skills.  Almost every off-season, the Giants identify and cheaply sign at least one pitcher who then pitches much better than he has in the recent past once his confidence gets buoyed by pitching in the friendly (for pitchers) confines of AT&T (or whatever they are calling it now) Park.  Last year it was Derek Holland; in 2019 it could well be Drew Pomeranz.

Ballplayers Still Getting Paid

January 12, 2019

Even with the free agent market tight and the average player salary down in 2018 for the first time since 2010, the stars are still going to get paid.  That’s the message I’m taking away from all the arbitration compromises being announced.

Nolan Arenado will set an arbitration process record with somewhere between his requested $30M and the $24M the Rockies are offering him.  All of Mookie Betts ($20M), Anthony Rendon ($18.8M), Jacob DeGrom ($17M), Khris Davis ($16.5M) and Jose Abreau ($16M) will be earning more than $15 million in 2019 through the arbitration process.  That’s at least several lifetimes’ worth of income for most Americans.

More than free agency, the owners hate arbitration because it forces them to give their young stars huge raises.  That said, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the owners, who are obviously much richer than the players and have figured out they can non-tender any player they don’t feel is worth his likely arbitration raise.

Given the competition between the rich players and the even richer owners, my sympathies are with the players, because they are the ones who put the cans in the seats.  That said, it’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy if players are making just a little less than in recent years’ past, when they are still making this kind of money.

You want to make the lives of professional players as a group — negotiate further increases in the major league minimum annual salary ($555,000 in 2019) and pay minor league players a living wage.  That’s the tide that would raise all boats.

World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

World Series Indifference

October 29, 2018

The 2018 World Series is now officially in the books, and I have to admit that I found it hard to get excited about this one, even aside from the fact that it turned out to be pretty one-sided.  As a Giants’ fan, I can’t root for the Dodgers as a team, and as a non-Red Sox fan, I find it hard to root for a team that spends as much money as they do and has enjoyed as much recent success even before this year’s World Series.  Also, with the spate of racist, terrorist attacks this week, baseball seems trivial (although it is precisely because the World is sometimes an awful place that we need distractions and entertainments like baseball).

When I can’t root for the teams, I root for individual players.  However, I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of many players on either team.  I like Kenta Maeda, because he’s a small right-hander and I sung his praises as a potential major leaguer for years before he signed with the Dodgers.  I like late-bloomer Justin Turner, although I don’t enjoy looking at that ugly, bushy, bright orange hipster beard of his — I don’t like Craig Kimbrel‘s beard either.  I’m eagerly waiting for both the don’t-shave-until-season’s-over baseball trend and the larger hipster trend to finally run their respective courses.

I root for Clayton Kershaw to pitch well in the World Series, so long as it can’t hurt a team I care about, because he’s such a good pitcher, but I root for David Price and Chris Sale for the same reason.  But if they don’t pitch well, my attitude is f@#$-’em, because you got to get it done when it counts the most.

The Red Sox and Dodgers have plenty of bright young stars, but since I don’t root for either team, I haven’t developed any particular fondness for most of them. They’re fun to watch, but that’s about it.

I was also a bit disgusted to see chronic steroids cheat Alex Rodriguez getting paid big money to provide commentary at the end of the games.  I can see why Fox hired Rodriguez — he’s a big name, he knows plenty about MLB baseball, he’s good looking (and relatively light skinned), and he’s reasonably well spoken.  It still rankles me, though, the way that Barry Bonds got black-balled by MLB for being an obstreperous black man, while arguably bigger steroids cheats like AFraud and somewhat less obstreperous white men like Mark McGwire are able to continue drawing big paychecks from the game.

In a just world, Bonds will get into the Hall of Fame before either Rodriguez or McGwire, but I wouldn’t count on it.  See racist, terrorist attacks above.

It must have given Red Sox fans pleasure to watch somebody’s else Manny being Manny for a change.  Machado went 4-for-22 with no extra base hits in the Series, which will probably cost him more this off-season than failing to run out the ball hit off the wall, although it really shouldn’t.  Even great players can have bad World Series.  Mickey Mantle went 3-for-25 with a lone double in the 1962 World Series, but hit 18 home runs in the nine other World Series in which he played regularly.

At the end of the day, though, I still expect Machado to get his $300M+ free agent deal this off-season.  You can’t under-perform in the World Series if you don’t get there in the first place, and Machado improves any team’s chances of making it there.

Manny Being Manny

October 27, 2018

World Series Game 3.  The Dodgers down by two games but up a run in the middle innings.  With two outs, Manny Machado smokes a ball toward the left-field wall.  He hit it so good, he sits there and admires it.  It hits low off the wall, and Manny barely has time to make the turn around first base.  Sigh.

The next batter made out, so the forfeited base probably didn’t matter.  Still, Machado has too much MLB experience and has heard too many times about his sometimes lackadaisical effort not to run that ball out hard from the box.

If the Dodgers go on to lose this World Series, I hope this memory sticks in teams’ minds and it costs Machado at least $10M or $20M on the still ginormous contract he’s going to get this off-season.  Really a bush move from a guy who fully expects a major league team to give him a $325M+ contract a few weeks from now.

It would really be nice if there were still consequences for stupid, self-absorbed behavior.