Starting a few years ago, the Red Sox began tying up their core players and saved themselves a ton of money.
Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, and last season Clay Buchholz signed long-term deals that took them through their first couple of years of free agency. The Sox also extended Josh Beckett long-term.
But they weren’t able to do it with Jonathan Papelbon, and they have yet to tie up Jacoby Ellsbury, who now becomes the key target for that type of contract, since he is due to be free after 2013.
Ellsbury, who now may miss 6-8 weeks with a shoulder injury, and his agent, Scott Boras, have not been receptive to a longer-term deal the past two offseasons. Boras knows he has the 2011 American League MVP runner-up, a guy who, when healthy, is one of the top players in the game.
From a player’s perspective, you are always taking a chance when you hold off on a long-term deal that will make you a millionaire many times over. You take the chance that injuries could reduce your earning power.
Two years ago, Ellsbury broke five ribs and played in only 18 games. On Friday, he injured his right shoulder trying to break up a double play. He is making $7.9 million this season, so the injury of two years ago hasn’t hurt his earning power. Perhaps this latest one won’t, either.
The Sox could be thinking longer-term with Daniel Bard and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but so far there has been no indication. Andrew Bailey would be another, but, as with Ellsbury, injuries have been a concern.
Some players roll the dice. Pedroia didn’t want to. He watched as Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler - second basemen that you could argue are lesser overall players - sign big long-term deals.
Pedroia signed a six-year, $40.5 million deal that will pay him a high of $11 million in 2015 if the Sox pick up the option that year.
Sure, Pedroia could have made more money by holding off, and the Red Sox got a good deal given the player he is, but Pedroia is also satisfied.
As he often says, “I have a lot of money in the bank, I have a beautiful family, and I’m playing baseball. What more do I need?’’
On the other hand, playing it out worked for Papelbon, who got $50 million over four years from the Phillies, and the Red Sox actually helped him because they managed him so well that he didn’t have the wear and tear that many closers have at this stage.
Recently, there has been a flood of extensions around baseball. With the changes in the amateur draft under the new basic agreement, teams feel it’s going to be tougher to get draft picks to the major leagues, so if you have core guys, sign them up. They also feel that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
The Giants tied up Matt Cain, who was scheduled to be a free agent, paying him $127.5 million over six years.
The Reds did it with Joey Votto, who got a 10-year, $225 million deal. They also tied up Phillips for six years, $72 million.
The Rangers gave the 30-year-old Kinsler a five-year, $75 million contract starting in 2013, buying out his free agency.
The Indians tied up catcher Carlos Santana for five years at $21 million. And shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera got a two-year extension through 2014.
The Pirates did likewise with Andrew McCutchen.
The Rays, who did such a great job signing Evan Longoria just a few days into his major league career, have chosen to do the same with lefty phenom Matt Moore.
Longoria’s deal is interesting in that he would be a free agent after the 2014 season, but in that season, he will earn $7.5 million. There are team options the next two seasons at $11.5 million.
If Longoria hit the market after the 2014 season, he would earn a Votto-like contract, likely averaging more than $20 million per season.
Longoria will only be 30 when the contract expires, and he may yet get that big dough anyway. But he’s perfectly satisfied to take less for the security.
The Rays signed Moore to a five-year, $14 million deal, but it contains three options that tie up two of Moore’s free agent years, topping off at $11 million. If Moore pans out like Longoria, it will be a big-time bargain for the Rays. The Rays did similar contracts in the past with David Price and Ben Zobrist.
When the timing doesn’t work out, the player is forced to take one of those famous Boras one-year deals. It helped Adrian Beltre, who got his five-year, $80 million deal from the Rangers a year after the Red Sox rented him for one year at $9 million.
Teams like the Red Sox and Yankees can afford to play things out, though the Sox elected not to get into competition for Papelbon, feeling the price was far too high for a closer.
How will they approach Ellsbury, now that he is injured for the second time in three years?
Today’s players have gotten rather chummy
Jerry Remy remembers saying hello to former Angels teammate Mickey Rivers the first year he experienced the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. After Remy greeted Rivers, Carlton Fisk called him over and said sternly, “We don’t do that here.’’
In other words, don’t socialize with the enemy before the battle.
It used to be an unspoken rule, and in some cases, if players were caught socializing with the other team, they’d be fined by the manager.
Now, it seems, everyone hugs everyone else before games. You constantly see Red Sox players laughing it up with the opposition. What happened to the gamesmanship?
“I would never speak to anyone from the other team even if I’d grown up with the guy,’’ said Phillies scout Charlie Kerfeld, a former pitcher. “Afterwards was another story, but before, never. Wouldn’t even think of it.’’
One reason often given is that players are represented by the same agent. But that’s no different than the old days.
Jeremy Kapstein was the prominent agent in the old days, and his clients included many of the top players. Yet there was no fraternization among them unless they were on the same team.
Have baseball players simply gotten softer? Can you be completely competitive against another player if you’re friends with him and have just enjoyed a nice pregame chat?
Another scout/ex-player I spoke with said, “It’s just human nature. As competitive as we all are, it’s impossible to go all out against someone if you know them and like them.
“You think you can, but is part of you holding back? That’s what those of us who grew up in a different era wonder. I don’t think you ever saw Bob Gibson speak to his teammates, let alone the opposition, before he pitched.
“Now guys are hugging and laughing. It’s really changed.’’
Sometimes David Ortiz seems to be baseball’s goodwill ambassador out there. The Latin players admire him and seek him out.
On the flip side, you never see Roy Halladay speak to anyone.
Most players think it’s harmless, but you don’t see Dustin Pedroia doing much of it. Before games, he likes to sit on the bench and talk to his teammates but you rarely see him partaking in social interaction with the other team.
“I won’t do much of it or any at all before a game,’’ said Pedroia. “If I’m at first base and I see someone like Carlos Pena, who I played with at Pawtucket, I’ll ask how his family is. When I get to second base and we’re playing the Yankees, I always say something to [Derek] Jeter.’’
It just seems that things have got a little too chummy.
Apropos of nothing
1. Veterans Committee, please do what the voters didn’t do: Make Dwight Evans a Hall of Famer
2. Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki saw 29 pitches in going 1 for 3 last Wednesday against the Cubs. Aoki fouls off a lot of pitches. He was known for that in Japan. It’s a pretty good way to wear down pitchers.
3. Yu Darvish, who has not pitched well in two starts, has really been impressed with the Rangers’ firepower in his brief time in Texas. It may be because his former team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, provided only 2.8 runs per game for him last season, scoring two runs or fewer in 14 of his 19 starts. In his first start for Texas, the Rangers hit four homers and provided him with 11 runs.
4. He’s a Red Sox killer, but Orioles second baseman Robert Andino is one of those players you’d love to have on your team.
5. Here’s why I like Eric Wedge’s tough managerial style: Brendan Ryan made a couple of bad errors for the Mariners last week and was benched for Munenori Kawasaki. “There’s a level of accountability and a level of responsibility that I feel everybody has,’’ Wedge said. “It’s no more and no less than that. I’m not going to dive into details on it, but I’ll leave it at that.’’ Ryan is back in there, but he got the message.
6. Love the fact that White Sox lefty Chris Sale throws changeups when he’s playing catch. As Jim Rice always tells me, “Why don’t hitters practice breaking balls all the time?’’
7. Jonathan Papelbon has changed his entry music twice already. The latest: “Antichrist Superstar’’ by Marilyn Manson.
8. If you can afford a few calories, try the “Moby Dick’’ offered by the Lake County Captains of the Single A Midwest League for 20 bucks. It’s about 4,000 calories of five quarter-pound fish filets, eight slices of cheese, 6 ounces of clam strips, a third of a pound of french fries, and a cup of cole slaw topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and, of course, tartar sauce on a 15-inch hoagie roll. At least it’s healthy fish.
9. “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron,’’ written by ESPN’s Howard Bryant, is being made into a movie by Barry Levinson, who directed “The Natural.’’
10. Two bills I’d like to see: the amount Dr. James Andrews has charged the A’s for Tommy John surgeries over the years (Joey Devine being the latest) and the final tab for travel expenses associated with the Red Sox inviting more than 200 former players back for their 100th anniversary gala next Friday. Bet it cost the Sox more than $1 million.
11. Two numbers to remember for the Yankees and Pirates: 7 and 5. The Yankees have seven players who have hit 30 homers in a season. The Pirates have five players whose name begins with “Mc.’’ I’ll take the Yankee number.
Updates on nine
1. Zack Greinke, RHP, Brewers - He may be an interesting name on the free agent market if the Brewers can’t reach an agreement. The sides recently put discussions on hold. The Brewers took a hit when they couldn’t re-sign Prince Fielder, and owner Mark Attanasio is very competitive. Greinke, however, needs to have a stellar season and show consistency from one year to the next (he went 16-6, 3.83, in 28 starts last season) to get the big-money deal he’s seeking. The former American League Cy Young winner may feel he warrants a Matt Cain-type contract (six years, $127.5 million). But the numbers may not back him up.
2. Shaun Marcum, RHP, Brewers - Another who could be a free agent. So far, there has been no discussion on an extension. The Brewers gave up top third base prospect Brett Lawrie to get Marcum from Toronto, so there’s extra incentive to keep him after such an outlay of talent.
3. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers - Like Daniel Bard in Boston, the Rangers are experimenting with their former closer as a starter. And like Bard, Feliz has always wanted to be a starter. He had that deer-in-the-headlights look when he blew a save in Game 6 of the World Series last season, and there was some question as to how he would respond switching roles. The fact that he pitched seven scoreless innings in his first start surprised some. “It just seemed that he takes things to heart and gets nervous,’’ said an AL scout. “I thought going out of his element a little bit would not be the best thing, but he has great stuff and that took over.’’ Feliz has been able to find a nice mix of his devastating fastball with sliders and changeups. And so far the transition has been smooth. It’s a tribute to pitching coach Mike Maddux, who transitioned Alexi Ogando last season and now has him back to the pen.
4. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees - Slowing down? Ah, think again. His bat shows no signs of it, and a National League scout timed him at 4.125 seconds down the line - which is better than the average of 4.3 for a righthanded hitter.
5. Mark Reynolds, 3B, Orioles - You may see some high error totals by third basemen this season. Miguel Cabrera will brick a few at third, but Reynolds could lead the pack. He made 31 errors last season - 26 at third - but persuaded Buck Showalter to play him there again. He had two errors in his first five games.
6. Johnny Damon, OF, Indians - We’ve written for weeks that it would make perfect sense for Cleveland to sign him. In the end, and especially after his team hit .176 on its opening five-game homestand, general manager Chris Antonetti came to the same conclusion. Damon can play left, and there’s even the possibility he plays some center. What he will do is add leadership to a young team and provide adequate offense while Grady Sizemore recovers from his latest injury.
7. Jerry Dipoto, GM, Angels - He is “looking under every rock’’ for bullpen help. Angels relievers blew leads last Wednesday and Thursday. It was great to obtain Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, but if you leave your bullpen vulnerable, it could blow up.
8. Scott Atchison, RHP, Red Sox - Some scouts feel he could remain in the Boston bullpen and be effective because of the cutter he has refined. Scouts watching his three-inning scoreless streak the other day were impressed that he’s now giving hitters a little different look with a fastball that’s moving in and out of the zone.
9. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees - Good example of how quickly things can change. A few scouts were commenting Friday how slow Rodriguez’s bat looked early in the season. That night, Rodriguez hammered his 630th home run to tie him with Ken Griffey for fifth all-time. His bat didn’t look so slow then. There have been two viewpoints on A-Rod. One says he looks as physically sound as he has in three years. The other is the slow-bat theory. I’m buying the former.
From the Bill Chuck files: “The Washington Nationals are offering the ‘StrasBurger’ - an all-beef burger (combination of ground brisket, chuck, and short ribs) served on a large bun with secret sauce, American cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, pickle chips, and weighing 8 pounds total.’’ Also, “Since 1918, the Red Sox have scored exactly 12 runs 216 times, and their record in those games is now 212-4, with losses in 1926, 1929, 1933, and 2012 (and a win in 2012). In all games in which they have scored at least 12 runs, their record is now 584-7-1.’’ . . . Happy 67th birthday, Ted Sizemore.