Rick Porcello is a reminder to one and all who are down on David Price.
You can have a bad year, particularly when you are under a big contract in a big-market city. It happens all the time. Price is experiencing that this season. It’s not that he’s bad; he just hasn’t been ace-like.
Porcello agreed to a four-year, $82.5 million extension before he’d even thrown a pitch for the Red Sox. He was terrible for most of last season and a lot of people were down on him. But what a comeback! He’s 15-3 and he could become Boston’s first 20-game winner since Josh Beckett in 2007.
There’s no doubt that pressure comes with signing a big deal. Players can downplay or deny it all they want, but it’s true.
Those who make big cash are usually prideful players who have obviously accomplished a lot. All of a sudden, the expectations of them go through the roof. They are expected to be perfect every time out, but they’re not perfect.
The pressure of the contract weighs them down. When they have a bad game, they can’t avoid the negative attention, and the pressure then mounts.
Scott Boras, who has negotiated endless big deals, has done research on the subject and shares it with teams with whom he negotiated. Boras found that “there’s about a 25-30 percent drop-off from the average performance of the player that first year. But what we find is the player performs to their normal levels and higher for years 2-4.”
Boras was talking about multiyear deals of five seasons or more. Much of the value of such contracts is based on the player’s career leading up to the megadeal.
In Price’s case, he’d been one of the best pitchers in baseball for quite a while. The $217 million he received from the Red Sox was justified based on performance.
Boras cites acclimation to a new environment, perhaps a more stressful environment where expectations are higher than in the player’s previous city, as a major reason for slippage in the first year. Boras’s research shows most of that slippage occurs in the first 30-60 days of the contract, before the player becomes more comfortable in his new surroundings.
Price will never tell you that he feels the heat of the $217 million contract. But those familiar with the situation will tell you that’s precisely what’s happening.
Boston isn’t an easy place to play. Ask Carl Crawford, who busted on his seven-year, $142 million deal.
Ask Jon Lester about his six-year, $155 million deal he signed with the Cubs last season. He had an 11-12 record in 2015, leading some fans and media in Chicago to believe he hadn’t lived up to the deal. This year, he has.
There are plenty of other examples.
Zack Greinke has hardly lived up to his $206.5 million deal with Arizona, recently missing five weeks with an oblique injury. Justin Upton had a terrible first half for the Tigers. Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs, entered Friday hitting .226 with 5 homers, 32 RBIs, and a .624 OPS. Alex Gordon was hitting .203 with a .637 OPS after signing a four-year, $72 million deal to stay with the Royals. After some excellent offensive seasons in Atlanta, Brian McCann joined the Yankees for five years and $85 million. In his first season, in 2014, he hit .232 with a career-low OPS of .692.
The small-market Twins signed Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million extension in 2010. In his first year of the contract, Mauer’s batting average dropped 40 points to .287, with just three homers and 30 RBIs in 82 games. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval both had terrible first seasons after signing big contracts with the Red Sox.’
Ryan Howard, who began a five-year, $125 million deal with the Phillies in 2012, hit .219 with 14 homers, 56 RBIs, and a .718 OPS in an injury-filled first season of the contract. Josh Hamilton, after signing a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels in 2013, hit .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in the first year of the contract, down from 43 homers and 128 RBIs the previous year with Texas.
“I’ve experienced that before,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “We’ve had a few of those.”
With Price, scouts have noticed his struggles have more to do with his offspeed pitches than his fastball, which he is still throwing 94 miles per hour. In an excellent performance against the Angels on July 28, Price had a very good changeup. Against the Dodgers on Aug. 7, he had a poor changeup and stopped throwing it.
Obviously, every situation is different. The expectation is that Price will pitch to his normal level by next season, if not sooner. There’s always the possibility the Red Sox have signed Price on the downside of his career and will never see what the lefty produced in his best seasons.
If his stuff was bad, you could think that. But his fastball remains at what it was when he pitched with great success. The adjustment has been in coming to Boston, with the expectations, the historic contract, and the pressure to be elite every time out.
COUNT THEM IN
Popularity, TV deals will add up
Which teams could be major financial players over the next few years?
The Cubs, Phillies, and possibly the Marlins.
The Cubs’ popularity in Chicago and around the country is making them a cash cow. With Theo Epstein at the helm, they should keep competing for the highest-priced players in the free agent and international markets. They have the ability to take on big contracts in trade, which could be the way they go given the poor upcoming free agent class.
And it’s not that they need much improvement. But, for instance, if they want to re-sign Aroldis Chapman to a four- or five-year deal at $15 million to $18 million a year, there’s no reason why they couldn’t.
While nobody knows where the luxury tax is going — it would appear there may be a modest increase from $189 million — it won’t stop big-market teams. The recent deals ESPN and Disney have made with MLB could mean a windfall of some $100 million per team, so there’s plenty of money to go around.
The Phillies’ TV deal is worth $5 billion, which would put the team in tremendous position to spend big on players and rapidly accelerate their rebuilding process, which was set in motion by former GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
The Phillies have a good core of young players that they’ve started to integrate to the majors. They will shed Ryan Howard’s $25 million salary and that will mark the end of their obligations to overpriced veterans who have been a scourge on their roster the past few years.
The Marlins will get a new TV deal in the next couple of years. Their biggest priority is getting Jose Fernandez tied up long term. He’s scheduled to be a free agent after the 2018 season, so this winter could be a big negotiating opportunity between the team and Fernandez’s agent, Scott Boras. If there’s no progress, the feeling is the Marlins may seek to trade the Cuban-born All-Star. But on the other hand, the Marlins’ new TV deal could provide the resources to lock up the righthander. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t Boras want Fernandez in Miami?
Fernandez also drives ratings, like Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens did in Boston, where they filled the stands and drew a huge TV audience every time they pitched. Fernandez has that type of effect in Miami.
Apropos of nothing
1. There are about 250 Cuban players in limbo, some of whom have sought refuge in the Dominican Republic while waiting for approval from Major League Baseball to legally be dispersed into free agency. Some players have been defected from Cuba for a couple of years. Some are very good players. It’s not known why the backlog hasn’t been alleviated by MLB. But there are a lot of anxious young men waiting for the opportunity to seek employment with major league teams.
2. Jim Rice recently pointed out to Jackie Bradley Jr., “You shut your eyes when you swing.” Bradley said he wasn’t aware he was doing it, but realized Rice was right. Can’t hit the ball if you can’t see it, right?
3. Here’s one thing to consider when it comes to choosing a starter to pitch a one-game playoff: several teams could be in the wild-card hunt on the final day of the regular season. That means the wild-card game could come down to which pitcher is in line for his turn. For the Red Sox, that could be anyone from Drew Pomeranz to David Price, which is why the best thing to do is win the division outright.
4. One of the reasons Joe Maddon is such an excellent manager is because he combines analytics with his baseball IQ (feel for the game, hunches, common sense) to create this near perfect modern day manager.
5. Hopefully, part of Wade Boggs’s three-year deal as Red Sox ambassador will include a spring training stint where he can help teach young hitters.
6. One of these days, MLB will consider my proposal to make the four pitchers not starting that night ineligible for roster spots so you can devote more room for relievers and bench players on the 25-man. Essentially, teams have a 21-man roster, and if they don’t use the backup catcher, it’s a 20-man. It’s the most inefficient use of a roster in sports, especially in this day and age when the demanding schedule is wearing down players and when more relievers are needed given the reduced innings by starters.
7. One player the World Baseball Classic affected adversely was the retiring Mark Teixeira. He hurt his wrist playing in the WBC in 2013 and was never the same. The injury might have cost Teixeira a longer career and a chance to be a Hall of Famer. As it is, Teixeira, with 404 homers as a switch-hitter and five Gold Gloves, will at least be in the conversation for Hall consideration, but will fall short.
Updates on nine
1. Carlos Gomez, OF, Astros — With about $3.5 million left on his deal, it would appear Gomez would clear waivers, and the expectation is he’ll receive some interest. According to one major league source, “Carlos just never blended in with the people associated with that team. He never felt comfortable there.” The Cardinals and Mets have been reported to have the most interest in Gomez, but there could be others.
2. Jason Hammel, RHP, Cubs — Given that he’s 12-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 22 starts, it would appear to be a no-brainer that the Cubs would pick up his $10 million option, unless they have other plans. Hammel, 33, has put it all together at the right time, but the option probably limits his earning potential.
3. Chris Marrero, OF, Red Sox — Yes, he’d have to be placed on the 40-man roster, but there’s been a wonder as to why Marrero has not been promoted from Triple A Pawtucket based on his very good season. Marrero is the cousin of former Red Sox first-round pick shortstop Deven Marrero, and a former first-rounder (2006, Washington) himself. Marrero has 22 homers, 59 RBIs, and an .861 OPS in 110 games. At 28, perhaps he is typecast as a career minor leaguer. But a strong performance at Triple A should mean something.
4. Tim Tebow, free agent — Former All-Star Gary Sheffield, who spent time with Tebow in the batting cage recently, thinks the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner can transition to baseball. Tebow will hold a tryout for major league teams. “He’s a got a nice, natural swing. He’s a great athlete. I see no reason he can’t do this,” Sheffield said. Tebow is said to be in great shape, and he’s pretty quick for someone that big (6-2, 260 pounds). Tebow, who turned 29 Sunday, couldn’t make it in the NFL as a quarterback because he lacks arm strength, but most agree that he would likely have a strong throwing arm as a corner outfielder. Hitting in the cage is one thing, but facing live pitching is something else, and that’s what he’ll have to master.
5. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays — There’s debate over whether Bautista has hurt his free agent value given his injuries and reduced numbers this season (.222, 15 homers, 48 RBIs). It’s likely the Blue Jays will offer him a $16.7 million qualifying offer. The Blue Jays may now be in position to offer Bautista a short-term deal to stay. At age 35, Bautista may not get the four- or five-year deal he’s been seeking. He’s a workout junkie and really takes care of his body, so he should be able to play until he’s 40.
6. Brad Ausmus, manager, Tigers — Ausmus might have been an option for Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski had the team parted company with John Farrell, given that Dombrowski hired Ausmus in Detroit. Ausmus will likely have his option picked up with the Tigers rebounding this season. Ausmus was considered a Red Sox candidate in 2013 as well, had Farrell not been able to get out of his Toronto contract. Ausmus impressed the Red Sox in his interview, and at the time, Boston was the only team Ausmus wanted to manage. The Dartmouth grad owns a home on Cape Cod.
7. Alex Rodriguez, DH, free agent — Would the Marlins really sign A-Rod for the remainder of the season? Not many in the organization were willing to say anything on this topic late last week. Owner Jeffrey Loria wouldn’t mind the publicity of A-Rod hitting his 700th homer in a Marlins uniform (similar to Ichiro Suzuki’s 3,000th hit). A-Rod is a Miami native. He’d likely increase ticket sales and TV ratings. First baseman Justin Bour is out until September with an ankle sprain, so they could use depth there. The question is, does A-Rod have anything left? He would be reunited with his personal hitting coach, Barry Bonds. That would be good TV — Bonds and A-Rod in the same dugout, in the same uniform.
8. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Marlins — Picking up his $2 million club option seems a formality given the season Suzuki is having as Miami’s fourth outfielder. Suzuki, at 42, is hitting .318 and remains a good defensive player with decent speed. If the Marlins passed on what seems like a bargain contract, there’s a good chance he would get picked up elsewhere.
9. Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers — Fielder’s neck fusion surgery will force him to retire at age 32. It’s amazing that Prince and father Cecil Fielder each finished their career with 319 homers. There’s already plenty of discussion whether Fielder may fall into the Kirby Puckett category of Hall of Fame consideration because of a career shortened by injury. I think not, but the debate will likely be out there.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Noah Syndergaard has allowed 36 steals this season after he allowed four more to the Diamondbacks last week. The Mets record is held by Doc Gooden with 60, which means six more starts for Syndergaard of four steals and he ties Dwight.” . . . Happy birthday, Clay Buchholz (32) and Mark Loretta (45).
30 for 3,000
Ichiro Suzuki became the 30th major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits when he tripled off the Rockies’ Chris Rusin last Sunday. In addition to becoming the first Japanese player to reach the milestone (he also had 1,278 hits in Japan), he became just the second player to hit a triple on the milestone hit and the second-oldest player to accomplish the feat.