No, the Red Sox aren’t trading Xander Bogaerts for Cliff Lee

37 Comments

Cliff Lee is pretty terrific. He’s currently 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA. He’s on pace for a sixth straight season of 200 innings pitched, and his worst ERA in that span is a 3.22 mark. Since 2008, he has the second best ERA+ or anyone to throw 500 innings, coming in a bit behind Clayton Kershaw. Lee is also 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason starts.

Lee’s contract is less terrific. The Phillies backloaded it so that they could get away with paying him just $11 million in 2011. As a result, he’ll make $25 million in both 2014 and ’15. Worse is his option for 2016. It can vest at $27.5 million, which isn’t so terribly bad. But it has a $12.5 million buyout attached to it, which is going to be an awfully big hit for a team to take if Lee falls apart at some point within the next two years.

So, basically, any team that trades for Lee is going to be paying market value for his services. And if you’re going to pay market value for his services, there’s no way it makes any sense to give up one of the top 10 prospects in baseball for him.

Xander Bogaerts is considered the best prospect the Red Sox have produced since Hanley Ramirez. In truth, he’s a better prospect than Ramirez was, since there were always questions about Ramirez’s work ethic and ego as he climbed the ladder. Bogaerts might not be quite as talented as Ramirez, but he’s close. He’s hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games in Double-A and .279/.380/.483 in 41 games in Triple-A this year at the tender age of 20. He’s also turned himself into a pretty good shortstop through hard work. It used to be assumed that he’d outgrow the position and move to third base. That’s still a possibility, and the Red Sox have recently given him starts at third in Triple-A in order to determine whether he can help them this year. But he has shown enough at shortstop to suggest that he could last there for at least his first few major league seasons.

The Red Sox won themselves a World Series by trading Ramirez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, but they haven’t been back there since 2007 and maybe they would have been if they had kept Hanley and Anibal Sanchez around. Of course, they’d still do it all over again and they’d be right to. If trading Bogaerts for Cliff Lee assured them of a World Series victory this year, they’d do that, too.

But it doesn’t. Lee, for all of his postseason success, has never pitched for a World Series winner. That doesn’t reflect on him, just on the crapshoot that is the postseason. Lee is great, but he doesn’t swing the odds enough. If a lesser package could bring him in, the Red Sox might bite. It probably won’t, so they’ll simply make do. 6 2/3 seasons of Bogaerts for the right to pay Lee either $70 million through 2015 or $85 million through 2016 just doesn’t work.

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

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
18 Comments

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.