There has been some debate about just how much one can characterize Cliff Lee’s deal with the Phillies as one in which he “left money on the table.” On the one hand, there is the potential there for him to make more money with Philly than he made in New York. On the other hand, there was more money guaranteed in New York than Philly. On the third hand — stay with me; more than one hand is OK — we’re learning now that the first year or two of Lee’s deal will be at lower dollars before it jacks up past $20 million. The upshot: there are a lot of moving parts to this deal, and while it’s clear that he took some form of a financial hit to come back to the Phillies, it wasn’t terribly large.
But the whole affair has had a lot of people wondering about what the player’s union thinks about a top free agent at least appearing to take less money than the market would bear. Jon Heyman asked union head Mike Weiner about whether the union put any pressure on Lee to take the best deal, and this is what Weiner said:
“Absolutely not. That’s just not our approach. We want players to make the best use of their right under the Basic Agreement … As long as a player makes an informed decision, we’re happy. There are non-economic considerations. The fact that Cliff took a deal that wasn’t top dollar isn’t a problem for us.”
I agree with Heyman on this: good for the union if what Weiner says is true. Which I believe it to be.
Which isn’t to say that there still isn’t some form of pressure working on free agents. I just don’t think it’s direct. It’s probably more cultural than anything. Players grok the dynamics of the free agent market pretty early in their careers. They know that what one guy makes will impact them. This is driven home to them in their arbitration years when a player’s worth is explicitly determined by direct comparisons to other players, by name. They are certainly aware once they hit free agency that, in some important ways, they’re not just setting their own salary, but helping set the salaries for others. And that’s not even taking into account the subtle pressure an agent and family members may exert.
Put differently: even if the union doesn’t send memos to players on the subject, there’s a passive pressure on guys to take the best deal.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.