Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, December 28, 2008


It's a loss that surely pains Red Sox fans, as it may for years to come. And it's a loss that certainly perplexes millions of baseball fans in general. After clearing payroll over the course of the past year, the Red Sox had somewhere between $40-$60 million to spend this winter alone.

In the most basic terms, the Red Sox lost out on Mark Texiera because they wouldn't offer a 10-year contract, or enter into a protracted bidding war.

The Sox, as always, place a value on a player and refuse to go above it. Naturally, they start negotiations below that number, giving them room to move up to, but not above, it. They have generally negotiated in a rational and unemotional manner during the Theo Epstein era. The exceptions may be the four-year, $36 million deal for Julio Lugo, and the five-year, $70 million deal given to JD Drew. Neither player was worth their contract, and the Red Sox overbid against only themselves in both cases.

Going beyond a player's perceived value is a violation of organizational philosophy.

The Red Sox have largely adhered to that philosophy since the John Henry ownership/management group bought the Red Sox in December, 2001. The team is very leery of long term deals, as evidenced by the fact that the longest pacts granted over the past seven years are the six-year deals given to 26-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka and 25-year-old Dustin Pedroia.

Though he was seeking a 10-year contract that would have reached $220 million with vesting options, Teixeira eventually settled on an eight-year deal with the Yankees. And though the Red Sox truly desired the slugging first baseman, a 10-year deal was out of the question from the start. In fact, Henry recently expressed concern about a contract of eight years or more.

“We all have limits,” he said. “Eight years is a very long time in baseball and everywhere else.”

Henry also said the amount the Red Sox are willing to spend on a free agent “depends on both” the economy and the player being sought.

“Baseball as a whole has not yet been hit by the financial crisis, but it will,” Henry noted. “The degree is in question and won’t be answered for a while.”

Apparently the Yankees don’t recognize this, or don’t agree. Sometimes it seems as if they operate in their own separate financial universe.

So far this winter, the Yankees’ spending spree amounts to $423.5 million — more than every other team in baseball combined. That amount, spent on just three free agents (CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira), is more than the value of 16 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Chew on that for a while.

It also means that the four highest paid players in the game are now on the Yankees' roster.

In fact, the Yankees will have nine players being paid $13 million or more in 2009. Those nine players – Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon – combine for $159.1 million, more than the payroll of any other team. For the record, all teams have 25-man rosters.

But none of this means the Yankees will win the AL East or the Pennant, much less the World Series. They've gone this route for years, and signing the most highly touted and expensive free agents hasn't served them very well in this decade.

Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Gary Sheffield, A-Rod, and Johnny Damon were all high priced free agents who were supposed to be the lynchpins to the Yankees 27th World Series championship. Obviously, it hasn't worked out as they all had intended.

Not everyone responds well to the pressure of playing in New York, to the intense media and fan scrutiny, or to the expectations of the Steinbrenners. It didn't sit well with Hideki Irabu, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, or Jose Contreras.

The Yankees have had the best team in baseball, on paper, for most of this decade, and they have just one World Series title in this period to speak for it. That's because it's tough to repeat as champions in baseball. Despite the inequities in small and large markets, payrolls, and the ability to attract free agents, baseball has surprising parity, compared with other sports.

Let's put it in perspective:

- Over the past 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all, 15 teams made the World Series - half of the teams in baseball.

- Over the past 20 years, 14 different teams have won the World Series. In all, 22 teams made the World Series - two-thirds of the teams in baseball.

- Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only four - Cubs, Mariners, Rangers and the Expos/Nationals - have failed to get there.

And by comparison:

- Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years.
- Only 14 different men have won Wimbledon over the last 30 years.
- Only 13 teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last 30 years.
- Only nine teams have won an NBA title over the last 30 years.

So, baseball has more parity than many might think, and only one team with a payroll north of $100 million has ever won the World Series – the Boston Red Sox, twice.

The reality is that games are won on the field, during the summer and fall; not in executive offices during the winter.

The Red Sox won't, and can't, make the same sort of free agent market splash as the Yankees this offseason. And they might not next winter either.

They will obtain a catcher, a utility infielder, a fourth outfielder, and perhaps another starting pitcher (Brad Penny, Ben Sheets or John Smoltz on a short term deal). But it isn't likely that any of them will be high priced, superstar free agents, or true difference makers. And a regrettable trade may have to be executed, particularly for a catcher (Miguel Monterro or perhaps Chris Iannetta).

Naturally, the Red Sox will never abandon free agents all together, not even the high priced ones. The upside is that they only cost money, not the highly prized players/prospects lost in trades.

However, the Sox will remain focused on a long term plan, protect their top prospects, and continue trying to improve from within through the draft and player development – the old fashioned way.

In times like these, it may be a requisite.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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