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As baseball has changed, free-spending Yankees have fallen behind
April 10, 2014 BY BRIAN MACPHERSON Journal Sports Writer
NEW YORK — Sometimes even bottomless pockets can’t guarantee a contender.
Fifteen years ago the New York Yankees won 98 games and the second of their three straight World Series titles. Ten years ago the Yankees would have gone to a second straight World Series if only Dave Roberts had been one step slower. Five years ago the Yankees won the World Series behind newly acquired ace CC Sabathia and newly acquired slugger Mark Teixeira.
Coming off an 85-win season and already without Teixeira and closer David Robertson, today’s Yankees might be hard-pressed to avoid their first sub-.500 season since 1992 — the year they drafted Derek Jeter. The Bronx Bombers appear to be on the verge of bottoming out.
As always, the Yankees more than demonstrated a desire to win with the money they spent this offseason. They doled out $155 million plus a $20-million posting fee for Masahiro Tanaka, $153 million for Jacoby Ellsbury, $85 million for Brian McCann and $45 million for Carlos Beltran. But all those moves served merely as a superficial makeover for a franchise with a crumbling foundation that can’t be rebuilt the way it once was.
Years of coming up empty in the June draft — either by forfeiting picks to sign free agents or by misfiring on picks made — are starting to catch up. Since the departed Robinson Cano broke in with the Yankees in 2005, Brett Gardner and the erratic Ivan Nova are the only impact homegrown players the franchise has produced.
The result is a roster advancing in age with little prospect of an infusion of youth.
The only under-30 New York position player with at least 20 plate appearances this season is Yangervis Solarte, a former minor-league utilityman. Kelly Johnson is 32. Brian Roberts is 32. Sabathia is 33. Teixeira is 34. Carlos Beltran is 37. Alfonso Soriano is 38. Hiroki Kuroda is 39. Derek Jeter is 40.
There was a time when that might have been OK. That time came to an abrupt end when baseball tightened its rules on amphetamines as well as steroids, greatly diminishing the ability of players to be productive beyond the age of 32 or so. Baseball is a young man’s game once again.
Ten years ago, 49 hitters who were at least 32 years old slugged over .400 in at least 400 plate appearances — an all-time high. Not once in the last three seasons have even 30 players age 32 or older met those same criteria — a drop-off of almost 50 percent in a decade.
The best way to acquire young players always has been through the June amateur draft. That’s how the Yankees landed Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada so long ago — three of the Core Four. But an entire generation’s worth of drafts has resulted mostly in whiffs for the Yankees.
Since Jeter in 1992, the Yankees’ best first-round picks might be Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. Even if Kennedy gets credit for being a trade chip that helped snag Curtis Granderson, those three only count for three All-Star appearances among them.
Too many opportunities have been missed. In the first round of the 2005 draft — the historically deep draft in which the Red Sox added Clay Buchholz, Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie — the Yankees selected C.J. Henry, a shortstop who never even reached Double-A. They wound up snagging Gardner in the third round of that draft, then Doug Fister in the sixth round and Austin Jackson in the eighth. They failed to sign Fister, and they traded Jackson away in the deal that brought back Granderson.
In the similarly deep 2011 draft, the Yankees didn’t have a pick until No. 51 because they’d forfeited their No. 31 pick to sign reliever Rafael Soriano. Among the players who still were on the board when that forfeited No. 31 pick came around were Henry Owens and Jackie Bradley Jr., whom the Red Sox took at No. 36 and No. 40, respectively.
What the Yankees have always leveraged in their favor has been their enormous financial advantage. But every revision of the rules that govern team-building in recent years has restricted the ability of deep-pocketed teams to acquire young players — from draft-pick compensation, to allotments for bonuses in the draft and on the international market, and steep penalties for those who exceed their allotments.
Even worse for the Yankees, with every high-profile young player who signs an extension with his current team — from the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter and the Pirates’ Starling Marte — the pool of players at whom the Steinbrenners can throw their money is depleted. Players who once might have reached free agency at the age of 28 or 29 now are postponing free agency until their early 30s.
Stars in their prime years, like Adam Jones and Justin Upton, might have been top targets for the Yankees last winter, just like Kershaw, Elvis Andrus, Jay Bruce and Evan Longoria might have been top targets this winter. All are great players still a year or two away from 30, still at least several years away from their inevitable downturn. All have signed lengthy extensions with their current teams that will keep them out of the Yankees’ reach until that downturn.
Success in baseball always is cyclical. Teams that play to win now usually lose later. The Yankees spent years breaking that cycle through sheer power of finance, but even their money can’t save them anymore.
Yankees Out-Scout Competition For Greene
National Baseball Analyst
Posted Apr 9, 2014
Yankees righty Shane Greene isn't unique just because he was a 15th round pick out of junior college that just made the big leagues; that's happened many times before. His story is a little more unique than you might guess after a cursory look at his Baseball Reference page.
Yankees Florida area scout Jeff Deardorff knew Greene as early as age 9, as he lived near the Greene family in Clermont, FL. Greene didn't draw much if any attention from scouts out of high school and went to Daytona State JC. After a handful of innings his freshman year, his elbow popped and he got Tommy John surgery; nothing out of the ordinary yet.
When Deardorff went hunting with Greene and his father the next winter, Greene told the scout that his rehab was going well and he wanted Deardorff to come see him pitch when he was healthy. The scout remembers thinking the pitcher had a great 6'4 pitcher's frame, but it was still a long shot to go from unknown to draft prospect right after surgery.
Deardorff started getting calls from Greene's father later in the spring, encouraging him to come scout Shane. He hadn't pitched in a game all spring and was stashed on Daytona State's JV roster as he only got healthy enough to throw bullpens after the season had already ended. The frequency of the calls intensified in the weeks before the draft and Deardorff set up a bullpen in Clermont to see what Greene had.
Greene's friend caught the pen and the catcher's 10-year-old sister held Deardorff's gun behind the plate, while the scout stood by the mound to watch Greene's mechanics. Deardorff remembers that Greene's arm was much more fluid than he expected and he shouted to the little girl, "how much?" and she replied, "92."
The scout hustled behind the plate, assuming that even with the quick arm that the reading wasn't accurate, but Greene threw his hard sinker even a few ticks harder and mixed in a few sliders as well. Deardorff called Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to ask about adding Greene to the club's pre-draft workout in Tampa the next week. Deardorff remembers his boss sounding more than a little surprised about where this latest prospect had popped up, but made a spot for him at the workout.
Greene showed more of the same at the workout and the Yankees brass were shocked this kind of arm was anonymous to the scouting community. As it turned out, the only other scout aware of Greene before the draft was legendary Angels scout Tom Kotchman (now with the Red Sox), who has signed scores of big leaguers and whose son is former big league 1B Casey Kotchman. Greene coming to Clermont to throw a bullpen for Deardorff was far enough down the road from his school that Kotchman missed Greene's bullpen that he was planning to see that day. The other 28 teams didn't even know Greene's name.
Come draft day, the Yankees took Greene in the 15th round of the 2009 MLB Draft (Deardorff: "my phone blew up with scouts killing me for not telling them about this guy") and signed him less than a week later for a $100,000 bonus. Why that much money for a kid with no profile off of only seeing him throw two bullpens? The Yankees didn't want to get cute and lose Greene to higher bonus demands, as major colleges were quickly investigating the unknown Juco kid that got drafted so high.
There were a lot of adjustments to be made for Greene after signing. I scouted him a few times that year and saw a future big league reliever, if he could clean up the delivery: a low-90's sinker that hit 95 mph and held it's velocity late into games with an above average slider, but a fringy changeup and below average command. One-time Yankees pitching coordinator Gil Patterson rejoined the club for the 2013 season after a stint with Oakland and helped Greene make more adjustments, such as cleaning up that finish.
In big league spring training this year, Greene was turning heads of high-level scouts, as he was sitting 93-96 with heavy sink, an above-average 88-91 mph cutter and a hard changeup at 85-88 with enough command to get big leaguers out. He was called up to the big league team yesterday to work out of the bullpen for the Bombers.
What's the takeaway from this story for Deardorff? "Damon has always been known for trusting his scouts and letting us go with our gut in the right situation. He let me bring a guy to the pre-draft workout that I had only seen throw one bullpen and signed the guy having only seen him throw that other bullpen because he quickly evaluated the talent and trusted his scouts. You can't ask for more as an area scout."
Athletes finish out of the money
ByAndrew Osterland August 11, 2013 - 12:01 am EST
Professional athletes might seem particularly blessed in the modern sports world, where multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts can provide them and their families financial security after their generally brief playing careers are over.
But based on the disheartening fates of thousands of young athletes, cursed may be the better description.
The sad truth is that many, if not most, of the athletes skilled enough to play in a professional sports league are totally unprepared for their good fortune. They spend too much, they invest poorly and they become victims of fraudsters.
A high proportion of them, in fact, don't achieve financial security but end up in financial ruin, often in worse condition after their playing days are over than when they started their athletic careers.
Just in the past year, several high-profile former athletes have made headlines for large losses that resulted in suits against their financial advisers for mishandling their money.
National Football League wide receiver Terrell Owens was among a group of more than 30 NFL players who went after a Florida-based broker following a botched casino project that led to more than $40 million in losses. Their broker was barred from the industry in March.
In February, former boxing champion Mike Tyson and his wife sued his former adviser and advisory firm for allegedly taking more than $300,000 from their accounts and costing them millions in lost income.
And five-time Major League Baseball All-Star Mike Sweeney sued his former broker and UBS Financial Services Inc. just last month for $7.6 million in losses tied to investments that he alleges were misrepresented or hidden from him altogether.
Like every other individual trying to achieve financial security, pro athletes have to accomplish two things: manage their lifestyles in a sustainable way and invest their wealth wisely. And on both fronts, athletes are particularly challenged.
For one thing, most young athletes have never had money, have never paid taxes and have never had the ability to buy houses and cars for their families and friends. The typically extravagant confidence that has served them well during their athletic careers tends to be a handicap when it comes to sensible financial planning.
Most assume that they will get the big money that only a very small percentage of pro athletes ultimately do, and they spend accordingly both on themselves and on their family and friends.
“These are typically very young people with little to no experience with money and they're ill-equipped to deal with it,” said Jason Katz, an adviser with UBS, who works with a number of professional baseball and basketball players. “Even if they have some background in finance, they spend as if the gravy train will last forever.”
In fact, the gravy train is typically very short.
The average professional football player has a career of 2.7 years, according to Eugene Lee, an NFL agent with ETL Associates Inc.
Players in other major sports leagues last only slightly longer on average.
Most professional athletes can count themselves extremely lucky to sign a second contract in their careers.
“These athletes don't come from wealthy homes, and it's a major shock when they come into sudden wealth,” said Mr. Lee, who tries to pair up clients with a good adviser as soon as he can. “A lot of them don't get the advice they need and end up in post-career bankruptcy or with major financial problems.”
The breadth of the problem has been well-documented by sports media organizations. Last year, ESPN aired a documentary called “Broke” that described the financial ruin of dozens of pro athletes who ended up bankrupt.
Among those profiled was Keith McCants, an All-American linebacker from the University of Alabama and fourth overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft. After leaving the Crimson Tide before his senior year, an unorthodox move at the time, he signed a five-year, $7.4 million deal, and scored a $2.5 million signing bonus.
Mr. McCants spent the sum total of his five-year salary right after signing his contract — the only one he would ever sign.
“I bought myself a yacht, a mansion, a couple of cars. That ain't a million dollars,” Mr. McCants said in the documentary.
“That's $7 million,” he said. “I pretty much gave it away.”
The problem is endemic to the major sports leagues, but it is particularly acute in football and basketball.
In a 2009 article, Sports Illustrated cited a “host of sources,” including athletes, agents, advisers and players' associations, who said that two years removed from the gridiron, 78% of pro football players are either bankrupt or in financial distress because of joblessness or divorce.
In the National Basketball Association, an estimated 60% of former players are broke within five years of retirement.
“Those numbers are probably about right,” said Andre Mirkine, an adviser with Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, who along with three other advisers formed the Sports Financial Advisors Association in 2004.
The association works to promote a network of licensed advisers to help with the unique needs of pro athletes.
“It pains me as a financial planner to see someone who has the chance to amass wealth run into big problems, and I see it all the time,” Mr. Mirkine said.
He suggests that athletes in sports such as baseball, golf, hockey and tennis tend to be better managers of their finances because they usually have to struggle more to get their big paydays.
“If someone has to manage their lives on a $10,000 allowance in the minor leagues, they're probably going to do a better job managing big money if and when they get it,” Mr. Mirkine said.
Pro athletes are also prime targets for unscrupulous advisers and fraudsters who see them as an easy mark — because they are. Most athletes are predisposed to taking outsize risks with their money.
“They tend to be Type A personalities [who are] comfortable with risk, and you have to talk them down,” Mr. Mirkine said.
“Athletes just don't have the time to vet all the inquiries and offers that come their way,” he said. “I tell my clients to run everything by me or their [certified public accountant].”
Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, a former wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys who earned nearly $20 million during his time as a professional football player, probably wishes he took that advice.
Another of the athletes featured in ESPN's “Broke” documentary, he had a tendency to invest in far-fetched business ventures, including a phone card dispenser, an inspirational movie, a calligraphy store and a record label. Mr. Ismail invested in a cosmetics procedure based on blasting oxygen into the skin, and sank $300,000 into a Hard Rock Café knockoff.
The list of current and former athletes suing advisers and investment promoters for losses from risky investment schemes during and after their playing careers is a very lengthy one.
The NFL Players Association recently added a telephone help line manned by certified financial planners to a financial education program that it launched for players in 2004.
The service offers players a second opinion on investment ideas and strategies they get from advisers. The overall program is intended to help football players, who typically receive the least amount of guaranteed money among the major pro leagues, better educate themselves on money matters.
“We try to get them to focus on building their wealth and help them transition to second careers,” said Dana Hammonds, the NFLPA's director of player affairs and development.
David Emma, a former professional hockey player for 11 years in the NHL and European hockey leagues, who now works as an adviser, said that he learned some lessons the hard way.
“I worked with a friend of a family friend, and no disrespect to him, but I took a lot of risk I shouldn't have and really didn't want to,” he said.
After retiring from hockey, Mr. Emma worked as an adviser with Merrill Lynch for 11 years and two years ago joined registered investment adviser Masterson Emma & Associates at HighTower Advisors. About a third of his practice is focused on families with professional athletes, and his firm manages about $400 million in assets.
“I did some good things, but I'm not afraid to say I made mistakes. I'm now trying to do what others didn't do for me,” Mr. Emma said.
That includes helping players make the transition to a second career.
“At 35, you're too young to do nothing. If you meet the right people, you can do great things,” Mr. Emma said.
“Athletes have so much opportunity, and I want to help them take advantage of that,” he said.
They could certainly use the help.
“One general manager suggested his team factors in a player's agent as to whether he's worth drafting”
Seduction of 'donut contracts' has MLB players leaving millions on table
At one of the annual meetings of baseball agents this offseason, an official from the Major League Baseball Players Association tried to emphasize just how pervasive the trend of players accepting multiple club options on long-term extensions had gotten. If he worked for a team, he said, he would offer a player a deal with six club options, because he was sure someone in the room would take it.
Some chuckled. Others seethed. Ceding ground to teams in contract negotiations has become a massive issue for the union, which must balance the reality of its situation – suggesting, in many cases, a player turn down tens of millions of dollars – with the reality that doing so often is an exceedingly difficult proposition.
In a vacuum, the issue gets a big, fat #richpeopleproblems hashtag. If the MLBPA's biggest problems revolve around a guy not getting enough millions, whooptie damn do. At the same time, that ignores an important principle, and one the union is stressing as long-term deals swing more and more in favor of teams: Baseball is a $9 billion industry, and every dollar that doesn't go to the players who make the game what it is funnels straight into the suit pockets of owners who are getting even more stinking rich with every successful long-term deal.
An analysis by Yahoo Sports of every contract extension since the beginning of the 2010 season shows a distinct trend toward giving teams not just friendly deals in terms of dollars but via club-option years. In the last two weeks alone, five players have agreed to deals with two club-option years – almost one-third as many in the previous five seasons.
Of the 209 contract extensions listed inMLBTradeRumors.com's database, 73 have included a club option for one season, 21 a pair of club options and eight with three club options.
The numbers get even more harrowing when narrowed down to the 96 deals for four years or more – generally the sort given to players considered a strong part of a team's future. Nearly two-thirds of the deals include a club option of some type: 38 for one year, 18 for two years and six for three years.
Certainly among the long-term deals exist some legitimate messes, ones that went definitively in favor of the player after his career went sour. In looking for security, however, players are leaving combined hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, and the worry runs deep inside the union that too many players are seeking the easy payday instead of exercising their right to free agency and the riches it provides those patient enough to wait.
And it does take patience, certainly. For some players – particularly pitchers – the fear of not cashing in before an arm injury hits is palpable, especially considering the Tommy John surgery epidemic in the sport. For others, especially those from Latin America, the issue is often socioeconomic: One agent recounted that his client could barely conceive of a million dollars after growing up poor, and when a team offered him an eight-figure deal, he couldn't possibly turn it down, even if the contract didn't come close to compensating him for what he was worth.
The problems for players run even deeper. Some agents, fearful that their clients could get poached by another agent before he signs a deal, suggest players take money that's on the table to ensure they receive their commission. It is a dirty side of the business, client poaching a legitimate fear.
Such factors give teams an enormous amount of leverage, one they use to their advantage increasingly. One general manager suggested his team factors in a player's agent as to whether he's worth drafting, knowing some agencies are friendlier to the idea of long-term deals. Another GM said two club options is now a starting point with negotiations, something the union a generation ago would've considered hubristic and laughable.
Options hurt the player the most when they take him from free agency in his age 28, 29 and 30 season and up to 31, 32 and 33. While exceptions exist, the largest money in free agency goes to the youngest players. Three of those who signed deals with two club options in the last two weeks will be 33, 33 and 32 should their teams exercise both options.
Boras speaks from a position of power, certainly, carrying a huge client roster and playing the big, bad wolf who's a threat to recruit a player at any time. Still, with the baseline for extensions barely shifting from where it was a generation ago, plenty of players are relinquishing riches that weren't guaranteed but, in hindsight, would have been mega-jackpots. They do so most often because of a tenet repeated this week by the latest player to agree to two team options:
1. Chris Archer, the (RELATIVITY BASEBALL)Tampa Bay Rays starter who now is generationally wealthy. He signed a six-year deal for $25.5 million that includes a pair of team options totaling $18 million. The 25-year-old right-hander has not been in the major leagues for even one season, and now he is a millionaire 25 times over, with baseball contracts fully guaranteed. Never before has a player with less than a year service time received so much.
Still, the Archer deal left one agent miffed that "now they're going to use that as a baseline when they offer [one of his clients] an extension." That is, after all, how the industry works, whether in free agency, arbitration or extensions. Templates are set and followed, and rarely do they evolve. When they do, it is often toward the team's side. The strongest deals for players are derisively referred to as outliers.
The Rays are a perfect example of this. General manager Andrew Friedman has set a standard for Tampa Bay, and it is brilliant: club options are a must. All eight of the long-term extensions Friedman has given out since 2010 included at least one club option, including Archer's and shortstop Yunel Escobar's this past week. He was the architect of James Shields' incredible deal that landed Wil Myers, and Evan Longoria's initial six-year, $17.5 million contract with three club options that for half a decade represented the single team-friendliest agreement in the game. (TWC SPORTS) Whether Archer turns into a Shields or Longoria type – or even someone like Matt Moore, signed similarly cheap – will unfold over the next six (or seven or eight) seasons. Even though risk exists, the Rays understand this is extremely good business, the sort personified when players like …
2. Chris Sale (JET MANAGEMENT) end up signing long-term extensions. Now, Sale is a pitcher, and not your cookie-cutter one, either. He has an atypical body type and an atypical delivery, both of which scared off teams in the draft and made an extension a risky proposition. He has stayed healthy, though, and matured into a true ace, and true aces get paid far, far more than the five-year, $32.5 million deal that includes club options for 2018 and 2019 bringing his total maximum to $56.5 million. With his 2017 season at $12 million, the Chicago White Sox own three of Sale's potential free-agent years for $36 million. In 2017 alone, Clayton Kershaw will make $33 million. Had he not signed, Sale would have hit free agency at 27 years old. The last elite pitcher to reach free agency was Zack Greinke, and he got $147 million at 30 years old. Cliff Lee fetched $120 million at 32. Sale at 27 is a $200 million pitcher, and granted, he still will be a free agent at 30, and if he's still healthy, he'll cash in. This is all so easy to second-guess, too, considering the case of …
3. Ricky Romero (LEGACY) and his disappearing career. In the midst of his breakout 2010 season for Toronto, he signed the deal pioneered by Jon Lester almost 18 months earlier: five years, $30.1 million with a club option. Romero followed in 2011 with 225 innings of 2.92 ERA ball, an All-Star appearance and the air of a bargain. Then he fell apart. In 2012, he couldn't throw a strike. In 2013, he barely cracked the big leagues. In 2014, he is beginning the season in Triple-A Buffalo, his $7.5 million salary helping push the Blue Jays toward austerity. He's owed another $7.5 million next year, and barring a miracle turnaround, Toronto will buy out his $13.1 million option for just $600,000. Toronto's Alex Anthopoulos is the king of club options, going 11 for 11 on contract extensions since 2010. He hit enormous home runs with deals for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The Romero deal was a terrible misfire, the sort that should give teams pause but doesn't because the economics are weighed that much in their favor. Take, for example, the deal …
4. Martin Perez ( OL BASEBALL) signed in November with the Texas Rangers. Perez just turned 23. He may not look the elite part quite yet, but he is a 6-foot-tall, hard-throwing left-hander with a vicious changeup, and that's the very pedigree that won Johan Santana a pair of Cy Young awards and landed him a $137.5 million contract.Perez could get that someday, because his contract allows him to reach free agency at 29. In the meantime, though, he is guaranteed only $12.5 million over the next four seasons, and the Rangers own three options for a total of $22.5 million more. One more time: Kershaw gets $33 million for one year, Perez can max out at $35 million over the next seven. Club options should exist for one reason and one reason only: to mitigate risk for a team on the front end. When the team is giving up next to nothing in the guaranteed years of the contract, giving club options – and ones with meager buyouts at that – are a gift. And the single greatest present bequeathed in baseball today was from …
5. Salvador Perez (SPS SPORTS GROUP) to the Kansas City Royals. On Feb. 27, 2012, after two months in the major leagues, Perez signed a five-year, $7 million deal with three club options that total $14.75 million. Even with the $5 million in potential salary increases during the option years with All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, it is a very simple calculus.
Perez's contract is the best in the game today for a team, bar none, and there's no contender within a mile. He is one of the five best catchers in baseball, up there with Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and Brian McCann, and their deals are for $167 million, $75 million and $85 million, respectively.
On one hand, it seems unseemly, if not unfair, to prey on a player with a deal like Perez's. It's the business, though, and some players simply want security no matter the cost. The player can put it simply to an agent arguing otherwise: If you don't negotiate it, I'll hire someone who will.
So donut contracts, especially those with option years, can turn into a second long-term deal – and still at a massively discounted rate. See Longoria's follow-up to his first: a well-under-market six-year, $100 million pact. It makes the deal …
6. Mike Trout (LSW BASEBALL)signed look good by comparison, though Trout could be the perfect example of someone who stood to benefit everyone by going to free agency and shattering every single record.
Then again, he got $144.5 million. One more time: He is 22 years old and got $144.5 million. And even though his people want to criticize him – had he waited to go to free agency, some team would have given him 10 years and $400 million – and that criticism, crazy as it sounds, is fair, he still got $144.5 million guaranteed, and he can say with complete certainty Mike Trout VII will be driving the latest flying Tesla in the year 2200.
More than that, Trout hits free agency at 29 after the final year of his contract expires in 2020, and he should strike it plenty rich then, too. It’s not too late for a 10-year contract considering nearly every other one was given to players older than that. Look at what Detroit did with …
7. Miguel Cabrera (RELATIVITY BASEBALL) and his 10-year, $292 million deal – which includes, somewhat shockingly, a pair of club options, the last at $30 million with no buyout. It’s essentially a free look at a 42-year-old Miggy in 2025. When the nicest thing to say about a contract is that it includes the ability to say no to paying a baseball geriatric $30 million, that probably doesn’t bode well for it.
Arguments exist in favor of the Cabrera deal, or any big deal, though they come off hollow and specious. The idea that one player can change the image or fortune of a franchise? Temporarily, sure, but have we not learned the greatest game-changer is winning, and that massive-salaried players and winning do not necessarily correlate? Moreover, the concept that such players deserve decade-long deals at advanced ages is a function of history, not pragmatism.
Such contracts make sense only for the handful of teams looking to shrink the contract’s average annual value, since AAV factors into teams’ luxury-tax calculations. For the Yankees, sure. For the Angels, maybe. For the Mariners and Robinson Cano, absolutely not, which makes that contract all the more ridiculous.
Trying to justify such deals instead of monster-AAV, shorter-term contracts that pay a player for his most productive seasons is an understandable reaction considering how few avenues players now have to wring the most money out of teams. The amateur draft is capped. Same with international spending. Extension dollars aren’t what they should be. And as …
8. Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales (BORAS CORP) will attest, free agency ain’t what it used to be, either. There could be movement with both of them soon, though, because Boras now has much greater motivation to push the remaining vagabonds of the qualifying-offer system to a team.
While it isn’t a loophole, per se, a misunderstood part of the free-agent compensation rules helps Drew and Morales. Much like players who cannot be tendered qualifying offers if they’re traded, those who do not start the season under contract with a team cannot receive an offer at season’s end, either. Which means as of opening day, Drew and Morales can sign one-year deals with the guarantee of unencumbered free agency after the season.
Of course, the problem to this point has been that both come attached to draft-pick compensation, and whichever team signs them must forfeit their highest choice this season. It neutered the market for qualifying-offer free agents and continues to freeze out Drew and Morales, both of whom, in a truly free market, would’ve long ago been snatched up, even if Boras’ asking prices started higher than they would’ve liked.
While there’s a possibility both players could wait until after the June draft, when the compensation attachment disappears, Boras said he believes both will sign before then and are open to both one-year contracts and multi-year offers.
“The reason for us waiting was that we found in the rules and advised our clients they should wait until after opening day to sign,” Boras said. “They’ll be true free agents at young ages. It was far better to be an unrestricted free agent than signing one year for the qualifying offer.”
9. Starling Marte (LEGACY) received from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who often throw out an all-contract-extension outfield. They run the gamut, too.
Reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million deal with a $14.5 million option that will keep him a Pirate through his 32nd birthday. It is almost surely one of the five best contracts in the game.
Then there is backup outfielder Jose Tabata, who locked himself in for $15 million guaranteed by signing a six-year contract with three club options. Were Tabata any good, the contract might be as bad as either of the Perezes'. Tabata isn’t very good, though, and it’s a stretch that he ever would have made $15 million otherwise.
Marte is 25, entering his second full season, and the Pirates locked him up for $31 million over six seasons, plus a pair of club options for $21 million total that covers the entire prime of his career. This was Marte’s first fortune, and he didn’t turn his back on it, even if he did turn his back on much, much more. He and …
10. Chris Archer (RELATIVITY BASEBALL)and plenty of others do this for one reason or another, and some at the union bellow at it, because even if the players’ association exists specifically to allow players to make these very sorts of decisions, if the education in place isn’t stressing enough of how they are allowing owners to create permanent siphons with such deals, it needs to be better and stronger.
The cases are illustrated annually in free agency. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was offered the same sorts of deals second basemen Matt Carpenter and Jason Kipnis accepted this offseason: six years and around $52 million, with one club option. He turned it down, hung through an arbitration system that didn’t well reward his best assets, hit free agency at 31 and signed a $130 million contract.
It takes patience and production in equal volumes to do what Choo did, to do what almost any free agent does, and in a sport where failure is palpable, the prospect of continued success strikes fear into even some of the best players.
Nevertheless, the mantra will be repeated by the union for fear that what the players have lost already won’t get worse. Emboldened, some teams are making multiple club options standard in their discussions with players. The slippery slope is icier than ever, and players are sliding down in record numbers, getting their piece of the action: bigger than imaginable in real life, paltry by comparison to what it could – and should – be.
NEW YORK — During his time as a starting pitcher, Baltimore Orioles reliever Brian Matusz would spend the days in between his outings poring over scouting reports. The strategy aspect of the game was one of his favorite parts of playing baseball. He would try to devise different ways of trying to get a batter out. He would think of sequences, pitch counts, and what pitches would work best in certain scenarios.
He rarely does that anymore now that he’s a reliever. Mostly, he’ll have a quick conversation about a hitter, usually a lefty, with some of his bullpen mates. Since he mostly is relied upon to get left-handed hitters out — although he’s not exclusively a specialist quite yet — Matusz doesn’t have a need to carefully study advance reports.
These days, he relies mostly on the deception that comes from being a lefty who faces a lefty. And he’s quite good at it. Last year, Matusz held lefties to a miniscule .502 OPS. In 2012 it was a .528 OPS.
And yet for all the success Matusz has had as a reliever, the job itself leaves him unfulfilled, although he makes sure to point out that he’s incredibly happy to be in the majors. Matusz misses those days when he’d spend an hour talking to a catcher about an opposing team’s lineup. For Matusz, being a reliever has dumbed down the game a bit.
“I still look at it as I’m a starter,” Matusz said. “I really do. I feel I have four quality pitches and can throw them for strikes and mix them. Yeah I feel that’s there, hopefully that’s still in the picture some day, but right now, take advantage of the role in the bullpen and embracing the moment.”
Matusz last started a game in 2012, and the reality is that his numbers in that role are not very good. As a starter, Matusz has a 5.51 ERA and opposing hitters have an .832 OPS against him. The problem is that he can’t get out right handed batters, who have accumulated an .861 OPS against him in his career.
A move to the bullpen has forced Matusz to become essentially a two-pitch (fastball, slider) pitcher, which has made him more effective. In 2013, batters had a .236 batting average against Matusz’s fastball and a .226 average against his slider. In 2012 — when Matusz split time as a starter and reliever — batters hit only .097 against his fastball and .158 against his slider when he pitched out of the bullpen. As a starter that season, hitters hit .347 against Matusz’s fastball, .462 against his sinker, and .289 against his change up.
The numbers were similarly ugly in 2011, when Matusz spent the entire season as a starter: .359 average vs. fastball, .370 avg. vs. the change up, .471 average vs. the curveball and .390 average against his slider.
So why doesn’t Matusz just embrace being a reliever? Well, ego could be one reason. Most starting pitchers don’t believe they belong in the bullpen, since it can feel like something of a demotion — although Matusz, picked fourth overall in the 2008 draft, denies that’s the case with him.
Money could be another reason. A starting pitcher is likely to earn a better contract than a lefty specialist. The 27-year-old Matusz will be a free agent after the 2016 season.
Matusz simply says he thinks he has more to offer than just being a reliever.
“I think that option will always be there as long as you continue to stay healthy and get the lefties out, which is key, but yeah I’m definitely embracing the role of having this success,” Matusz said. “Ultimately, it’d be nice to someday be able to start again.”