Andrew Friedman got $35 million to leave the Rays for the Dodgers … and he might be underpaid

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Everyone figured the Dodgers must have shelled out a ton of money to lure Andrew Friedman away from the Rays and now Buster Olney has the details: $35 million over five years.

That’s obviously a ton of money, but $7 million per season means almost nothing to a Dodgers team with a $240 million (and climbing) payroll.

Plus, in terms of what $35 million buys you on the field Friedman is getting–for example–$14 million less than Ricky Nolasco and $13 million less than Ubaldo Jimenez got as free agents last winter. He’s getting third-starter money, basically. Jason Vargas (four years, $32 million) or Scott Feldman (three years, $30 million) money.

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that general managers (or perhaps more accurately front offices, overall) can have a larger impact on a team’s long-term success than even elite players, let alone third starters. GMs are much tougher to evaluate than players and Friedman still has plenty to prove, but if you think a GM and/or president of baseball operations is truly great then $35 million in a bargain.

And my guess is we’re going to see GM salaries skyrocket soon as more high-revenue teams realize it’s one of the few remaining places to out-spend your low-revenue opponents now that draft and international spending is mostly regulated.

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.