Cliff Lee did not leave a ton of money on the table

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UPDATE:  I somehow missed a Jerry Crasnick tweet on this that said that the Phillies offer had either a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016 or a $12.5 million buyout.  If so, that makes the Phillies deal that much better. In fact, it probably makes it better than the Yankees’ deal in absolute terms as well as average value, depending on what triggers the vesting option. The remainder of below the analysis stands as-is for dynamic, even if some of the specifics are screwy.

9: 44 AM: As LeePocalypse was going down last night, the conventional wisdom was that Lee was going to take substantially less money to go back to Philly than he would have received had he gone to New York.  While the details are still emerging this morning — and while some math is involved and we all hate math — it appears that the Phillies offer was superior in terms of average annual value to that which the Yankees were offering, even if it was a shorter guaranteed deal.

The best information we have right now is that the Phillies will pay Lee $120 million over five years. That breaks down to $24 million a year.  The Yankees guaranteed offer was for six years and $132 million, which is $22 million a year.  Of course there was a $16 million player option on there for 2017, which would make it a $148 million deal over seven years, at just over $21 million a year. For what it’s worth, the Rangers are reported to have offered two deals: a six-year, $120 million offer and a seven-year $138 million offer, though that would have been heavily back loaded.

The key here, obviously, is that under the Phillies deal, he could make a lot more money in year six if things go well for him than he would have if he took the Yankees’ deal, for he will be a free agent in year six rather than be “stuck” with a $22 million one-year deal. If he flames out by year six, sure, he’s out the $22 million he would have made that year plus the player option (and minus any salary he can snag elsewhere). But if he remains a front-of-the-rotation starter, he’s on a presumably inflated market come November 2015.

Ultimately, then, this was less an act of selflessness on Cliff Lee’s part — less an act of giving it up to go back to Philly — than it was a gamble on himself.  If Cliff Lee is worth his contract — and he certainly believes he will be, because that’s how human beings work — he’ll come out ahead for having taken the Philly deal.

If not? Well, then at least he’s the highest paid pitcher in baseball for a good long while, and that ain’t anything to sneeze at.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.