Locking up Dustin Pedroia is more about sentiment than sense

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There’s something to be said for rewarding a star player who has been underpaid most of his career. Dustin Pedroia is one of the two faces of the Red Sox, he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate every year and it’s possible he’ll go into the Hall of Fame someday. If he were a free agent this winter, a long-term, $20 million-per-year extension would make plenty of sense for the Red Sox. He’s worthy of that kind of money.

But, of course, Pedroia isn’t a free agent this winter. The Red Sox have him signed at the bargain rate of $10 million next year, with an $11 million club option for 2015. Those salaries can increase a bit if Pedroia finishes in the top three in the AL MVP balloting this year, but he’s a steal either way.

So, why sign Pedroia now? The plus for the Red Sox would seem to be to beat the big Robinson Cano deal that’s coming this winter. Cano is likely to get one of the biggest free agent contracts ever; $150 million for six years would be the low end for him. Something like $190 million for seven years might be more realistic. Pedroia might not want to settle for $20 million per year once Cano is making $25 million-$27 million.

But that’s basically the only reason to do it now. Pedroia is nine months younger than Cano, but he won’t be a free agent until he’s 32. Of Pedroia’s 10 most similar players through age 28, according to Baseball Reference, only one remained a star after age 32. That’s Charlie Gehringer, one of two Hall of Famers in his top 10. The other HOFer, Tony Lazzeri, had his last year as a regular at 33. Jose Vidro, Pedroia’s most similar player, had a lousy year at 33 and then vanished. Ray Durham and Michael Young, Nos. 3 and 4 on the list, lasted as regulars, but not as very good ones.

Probably in part because of the takeout slides and all of the diving around, second basemen tend to have shelf lives. Pedroia has been durable, missing a big chunk of a season just once in his career to date, but he does get banged up. It’s probably going to get worse in his 30s, given how hard he plays the game. If his body starts breaking down, he’ll turn worthless in a hurry.

There’s also one more big reason for the Red Sox not to do a deal: any contract extension immediately gets factored in for luxury tax purposes. With an average annual value under $7 million, Pedroia’s modest deal has been a big help to a franchise that’s been trying to edge up against, but not exceed, the tax threshold. Any new contract will result in a big jump in that figure next year. If you remember, it was luxury tax purposes that caused the Red Sox to delay wrapping up Adrian Gonzalez’s big deal two years ago; they needed his cheap luxury-tax figure to carry over for one more year before they gave him his $22 million-per-year contract.

Pedroia is a wonderful player, and it’d be great to see him keep this up for another seven or eight years. Banking on it, though, would be a mistake. Ideally, the Red Sox could give Pedroia something like a two-year extension through 2017, with nice boosts to his 2014-15 salaries as part of the bargain. Since that probably isn’t happening, they should just let things play out for the next two years.

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.