Players made it possible for owners to rule free agency

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — As we wait for the possibility that J.D. Martinez could join the middle of the Red Sox lineup, here’s a takeaway from the massive numbers of free agents still on the market, including Martinez: Forget this stuff about collusion by the owners. Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff simply smoked Tony Clark and his union team in the CBA negotiations. It’s that simple.

The owners are taking advantage of their obvious and decisive win in negotiations.

Clark said this week, “For decades, free agency has been the cornerstone of baseball’s economic system and has benefited players and the game alike. Each time it has been attacked, players, their representatives and the Association have united to defend it. That will never change.”


But Clark and the players have nobody to blame but themselves. They allowed owners who are making record profits to have a built-in excuse to limit lucrative, long-term contracts. After all, big-market teams like Boston, the Yankees, the Dodgers, and now even the Tigers and Giants, have no urgency to eclipse the luxury tax threshold of $197 million.

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The luxury tax penalties are so harsh that teams are now “resetting” their payrolls so they don’t eclipse the threshold and face loss of international money and draft picks. The Red Sox reset their luxury tax last year by staying under and are willing to go over it this year if they decide to sign Martinez, who they desperately need.

There will be many bargains by the time this free agent flurry ends between now and the end of spring training. We suspect there will be a lot of one-year deals for players who normally would have agreed to multi-year deals.

Manfred, even before he was commissioner, was an experienced negotiator for the owners. So he knows the game. He went up against Clark, a smart, terrific guy who cares about the players. But let’s face it, Clark doesn’t have the negotiating prowess of someone like the late Michael Weiner or Donald Fehr. Clark is not a lawyer, though he has lawyers around him.

And so, the players were taken to the cleaners.


What’s left is a bunch of very good players who are left out in the cold. Some of them will get their fair share. Some will get market contracts, but it seems the owners are finally going to get what they’ve always wanted — the ability to limit long-term contracts to a chosen few, elite players.

And no, that’s not collusion. That’s just beating up the players at the negotiating table.

Former Red Sox farmhand and veteran Brandon Moss said it best recently, “If you run too good of a deal out there in a bargaining agreement, then of course the owners are going to jump on it. You have to be willing to dig your heels in a little bit [and] fight for the things the guys in the past have fought for. . . . Everybody wants to look up and scream collusion. . . . Sooner or later, you have to take responsibility for a system you created for yourself. It’s our fault.”

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We’re wondering what the new Red Sox management and coaching staff will look like. As someone with almost 35 years of covering Red Sox baseball, I was always impressed with John Farrell’s staff. Brian Butterfield, Torey Lovullo, Gary DiScarcina, Ruben Amaro Jr., Dana LeVangie, Chili Davis, Carl Willis, and Victor Rodriguez comprised one of the best in baseball.


Lovullo left after 2016 and won National League Manager of the Year honors with the Diamondbacks. Lovullo was replaced by another very good bench coach in DiSarcina, who’s now with the Mets. Butterfield was considered one of the top two or three infield coaches in baseball and Davis has always been considered a respected hitting coach. Both joined the Cubs this offseason. Rodriguez was a guy who did tons of work with hitters and never got the recognition. Amaro was the outfield coach and his work with statistical data to set defenses was exceptional. He also joined the Mets’ staff.

Willis, who has joined Terry Francona’s staff in Cleveland, did a good job keeping pitching instruction simple and understandable. Brian Bannister, who remains, added a more analytical approach.

The other holdover is Dana LaVangie. He’s gone from bullpen coach/catching instructor/reliever coach to the pitching coach. LeVangie is a terrific coach and he’ll have no problem. But there’s a whole new group of coaches under Alex Cora. Tim Hyers, who was Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator at one time and was with the Dodgers last season, will take over as a hitting coach. His job will be to take the hitters where Davis couldn’t — basically out of the ballpark. He needs to stress home runs.

The Sox have added Tom Goodwin as the first base/outfield coach; former Double A manager Carlos Febles as third base/infield coach; Ron Roenicke as the bench coach; Andy Barkett as the assistant hitting coach; Craig Bjornson as the bullpen coach, and Ramon Vazquez as the quality control coach.

This may be an outstanding group, but there are more unknowns than knowns.

Roenicke is an experienced baseball man with vast experience as a coach and manager of the Milwaukee Brewers who should help Cora manage the game, especially early in Cora’s tenure. Febles will be tagged with the responsibility of getting Rafael Devers to be a better third baseman and Xander Bogaerts a better shortstop.

We’ll see if this group is up the task.

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If Rusney Castillo is one of the Red Sox’ most talented players why isn’t he on the roster?

The Red Sox have kept him off the 25-man roster the past year because his $10.5 million salary would be counted toward the luxury tax. But it’s a contract the Red Sox signed him to. Castillo had a solid season in Pawtucket last season, and is tearing up the winter leagues. He was managed by Cora last season in winter ball in Puerto Rico. Castillo gives you speed, good outfield ability, and he can hit.

The Red Sox are giving Bryce Brentz a chance to be their fourth outfielder this season, but if Castillo has a superior skill set then why is he being wasted in Pawtucket? Castillo hit .314 with 15 homers, 14 steals, and an .857 OPS last season and is hitting over .300 in winter ball.

It’s hard to keep a good player down isn’t it?

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.