Wakefield to keep knuckling along in Boston

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Torn up Monday was baseball’s one truly unique contract.
And, arguably, one of the most foolish.
In April 2005, a then 38-year-old Tim Wakefield made a deal with the Red Sox that gave the team a one-year, $4 million extension for 2006 and $4 million in perpetuity after that. The Red Sox had exercised those options religiously through 2009 and only hesitated on pulling the trigger for 2010 based on Wakefield’s recent back surgery.
So, the Red Sox and Wakefield got together for another incredibly amiable round of negotiations and came to a new agreement that gave the knuckleballer a multiyear deal for the first time since he wrapped up a three-year pact in 2005. Wakefield is guaranteed $3.5 million in 2010 and $1.5 million in 2011. He will earn $5.5 million next year if he makes 30 starts and $3.5 million in 2011 if he pitches 160 innings. So, if he stays healthy, he could beat the $8 million he would have earned had the Red Sox simply kept exercising their options.
Amazingly, the $5.5 million figure would be a career high salary if Wakefield could reach it. His previous high salary was $4.67 million, from the final year of that three-year deal that ended in 2005.
Wakefield has won 16 games four times in his career. He has 11 seasons in double figures in wins. He’s seventh among active pitchers with 189 wins and eighth with 1,979 strikeouts. Through all of that, he’s earned a mere $50.495 million, according to Baseball Reference data.
Now, sure, that should be enough to pay for a nice house and at least a year and a half at a decent university. But it’s less than the Red Sox paid the Seibu Lions for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51.111 million). It’s less than Darren Dreifort received in his five-year, $55 million deal with the Dodgers signed after 2000. He was 39-45 at that point and 9-15 from then on. It’s a small fraction of the $124 million that Mike Hampton has received while racking up 148 career wins.
The Red Sox have been accused of paying too much attention to the bottom line during Theo Epstein’s regime, but in this case, they appear to be rewarding a player whose loyalty has left him with a smaller wallet than he would have had otherwise. No, Wakefield was never a candidate for a $50 million deal — there’s just too much suspicion about that knuckler — but he should have been making at least $7 million-$8 million per year in his upper-30s. To give him some added security now was a nice gesture.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.