Red Sox senior advisor Bill James thinks all baseball players are replaceable

Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
45 Comments

In the early- and mid-2000’s, many debates were had over the meaning of the ethereal “replacement-level player,” used as the baseline for the WAR statistic. It turns out that, after all of this time, a “replacement-level player” simply refers to all baseball players.

Famed baseball historian and father of Sabermetrics Bill James, now a senior advisor on baseball operations for the Red Sox, spent part of his Wednesday on Twitter arguing against the value of players’ labor for some reason. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald tweeted about agent Scott Boras, who criticized teams for tanking during his press conference at the GM meetings. James responded, “Because, of course, some players getting more money than they are worth doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with it.”

Chris Towers of CBS Sports replied, “What about the players who are drastically underpaid for most of their careers/primes?”

James snarkily responded, “My heart bleeds for them.”

Towers and James went back and forth for a bit and various other people from Twitter got involved. In one of James’ replies, he wrote, “If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”

Red Sox players, whether in the majors or in the minors, should be deeply concerned by that comment. As should free agents who might consider joining the defending champion Red Sox, or a player who happens to get traded to Boston. James is guilty of saying the quiet part out loud. Everyone knows that front offices regularly devalue the players’ labor. The front office execs are usually just very good about keeping it quiet. James literally said “we would replace them” regarding every single current baseball player. You truly can’t get a more anti-labor comment than that. Present and future Red Sox players would be right to wonder just how widely-shared James’ sentiments are in the Red Sox front office, and major league front offices in general.

More to the legitimacy of James’ comment: As we have seen in sports throughout the years, when striking players have been replaced by scabs, the product deteriorates to a nearly unwatchable level. Shall we go to the highlight reel for the 1987 NFL season? In a story about the ’87 strike for ESPN, Elizabeth Merill quoted Giants replacement quarterback Jim Crocicchia as saying, “One reporter asked me after the first game, ‘What was the game plan? How were you feeling?’ Well, I looked around the huddle at my offensive linemen, and our strategy became to stay in the huddle for as long as we possibly could because they could not catch their breath. I mean, it was one of those things where they were just not in game shape. We had a number of mental mistakes that were going to happen.”

So, no, we could not replace the current batch of baseball players and get a product of similar quality. Perhaps the critics of Sabermetrics from the early- and mid-2000’s were right after all: Saberists really do see the players as interchangeable numbers in a spreadsheet, not as actual human beings. Many, including James, seem to not see them as human beings who have dedicated years — oftentimes decades — of their lives working to create an elite athletic body, developing a world class skill set, and an an ability to perform in front of the public.

If we give James the most generous reading of his argument, he might be clumsily saying that fans root for the name on the front of the uniform, not the back. That’s generally true — fans tend not to hop from team to team along with their favorite players. The players come and go but team fandom sticks for life. To use that as a justification to suggest players are “getting more money than they are worth,” however, is completely unwarranted and not appropriate coming from a member of a major league front office.

Report: Aaron Judge, Yankees reach 9-year, $360M deal

0 Comments

SAN DIEGO — Aaron Judge has issued his ruling: Court remains in session in the Bronx.

Judge is staying with the New York Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million contract, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the AL MVP’s deal had not been announced.

Judge will earn $40 million per season, the highest average annual payout for a position player. The contract trails only Mike Trout‘s $426.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels and Mookie Betts‘ $365 million pact with the Los Angeles Dodgers for biggest in baseball history.

Judge was offered a long-term deal by New York before last season that was worth $213.5 million over seven years from 2023-29. But he turned it down in the hours before opening day in April.

The 6-foot-7 Judge bet on himself – and won.

Judge set an American League record with 62 homers in 2022, powering the Yankees to the AL East title. He also tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs and just missed a Triple Crown with a .311 batting average.

New York was swept by Houston in the AL Championship Series, but Judge became the first AL MVP for the Yankees since Alex Rodriguez in 2007.

By rejecting the Yankees’ preseason offer, Judge gained $146.5 million and an extra two guaranteed seasons. The Northern California native also visited with the San Francisco Giants last month, and there likely were more teams monitoring the market for the slugger who turns 31 in April.

Judge’s decision will have a domino effect on several teams and free agents. His status held up at least some of New York’s offseason plans, but general manager Brian Cashman made it clear his team would wait patiently to see what Judge wanted to do.

In the end, the patient approach worked.

Judge, 30, was selected by New York in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft and made his big league debut in 2016, homering in his first at-bat.

A year later, he was one of baseball’s breakout stars. He hit .284 with 52 homers and 114 RBIs in 2017, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award. The four-time All-Star has 220 homers and 497 RBIs in seven big league seasons.