Ballplayer Wants to Get Paid: News at 11

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Red Sox vanity, originally uploaded by sixes & sevens.

So Papelbon wants to get paid. And the club is reluctant to pay him more than they have to. Both of these things I know. What I don’t is why this is qualifies as news. Or, more pertinently, why this should be anything but expected.

Is Papelbon’s overt drive for a better financial return flattering? Hardly. It’s clearly left a sour taste in Rob’s mouth. But is it really that surprising that a 27 year old kid wants to be paid like one of the best in the league, when he’s begun like one of the best in the league’s history?

If Cole Hamels, Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, or innumerable other young players serving their time are anything to judge by, the answer is no. Pap’s behavior is both predictable and anything but illogical.

Papelbon’s dealing from a position of public relations strength, after all, even as he’s not from a contractual and service time perspective. Or maybe you believe that the World Series clinching closer, much beloved for his…ahem…free spirit, will be booed on opening day for publicly requesting a raise of ~$400K. You know, since we’re paying Drew $12M+ to hit .270 and slug .423.

Sure, some will be turned off, and the Herald is already doing its best to fan those flames with a little editorializing in its headline (which, I suppose, is to be expected during an otherwise quiet camp). But most fans, I suspect, will sympathize. Just pay the man, they’ll say. Excuse me, are saying. What’s a couple of hundred large to a team that can afford to pay Lugo $8M per?

There is precedent, after all. As Sox and Pinstripes notes, the Rockies just ponied up a guaranteed $8.025 million for their closer, who – while the owner of absolutely filthy stuff – is far less accomplished than Papelbon. Which, incidentally, you can be sure that Papelbon and the flying Levinson brothers (better known as his agents) have duly noted.

The question from a club perspective, I’m guessing, is this: what’s the return on effectively doubling (Paps made $425K last year, and is asking for $900K this one) the cost of the player? The $900K figure, after all, derives explicitly from the voluntary payroll escalation the Phillies committed to with the aforementioned Ryan Howard. Does anyone think that Howard is genuinely more likely to sign with the Phillies when he becomes a free agent two years from now?

Seriously?

So if the benefit isn’t an ease of retention come free agency, the question is what’s in it for the club? Because as much as I’d like them to throw around hundreds of thousands of dollars, none of that has conveniently found its way into my pockets. Hypothetically speaking, I think it’s safe to assume that in return for our $475K, we’d receive an unknown quantity of goodwill. Maybe $475K’s worth, maybe less, it’s tough to say. As it always is, even on balance sheets.

What’s the goodwill balanced against, is the next question. Yes, aside from the cash. And the answer to that, as far as I’m concerned, is precedent. Which is the answer to the impasse here, I suspect.

As Paps himself observes, the Red Sox will have no shortage of similar cases in the future – unlike the Phillies, who don’t have quite the same stable of kids on the way. Next year there’s Pedro, the year after (presumably) Buchholz and Ellsbury, and maybe the year after that Bowden, Kalish, Masterson et al.

So if the Red Sox set, with Papelbon, the precedent that goodwill is worth doubling a contract before contractually obligated to do so, and before the big raises start with arbitration, it seems extraordinarily likely that the respective agents for the aforementioned players will all remember that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. Even if they’re not the caliber player that Papelbon is, because for all of his obvious excellence, let’s remember that a year ago this time no one was certain whether or not the closer’s shoulder was capable of holding up for a calendar year. Ellsbury in particular, you might recall, got scooped up by Scott Boras this past offseason. He tends to file away things like that, unfortunately for all of us.

What happens, then? Well, my guess is that the Red Sox – as usual – have a value that they will not exceed for Papelbon. It’s also very possible that they’d like to see another season from him to gain further insight into his injury risk. You know, for those actuarial tables they use to spit out the valuation. And speaking of the valuation, it seems likely, based at least on the public commentary, that Papelbon’s opinion of it is not entirely aligned with the club’s.

Meaning that I’m guessing they’ll renew with a slight raise, without giving Papelbon what he wants financially. Or without coming to a long term agreement.

Does that bode ill for the future? Very probably. Frankly, I’m terrified of 2010. Not just because we’ll only have 2 years left before the end of the world, but because all of the kids we value highly now because they’re not just good but cheap will be good but expensive. Not to mention the fact that Tampa is likely to be very, very good by then.

But that’s a conversation for another time. For now, just try and shrug off attempts to manufacture controversy, understanding that both sides are acting entirely predictably and in their own self interests. That’s what I’m doing, anyway.

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