Pitchers and catchers report this week, which will theoretically bring an end to an offseason that never really started. Based on the number of big-name players still unsigned, it feels somewhere between mid-December and early January.
The winter meetings were two months ago, which is when Ken Rosenthal initially mentioned that Manny Machado and Bryce Harper may be in a holding pattern as their agents try to wait each other out.
Two months later, he still can write that story:
Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, and Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, both are believed to be seeking at least $300 million. Neither wants to sign first, knowing once one of the players goes off the board, the other will benefit from gaining the sole attention of the remaining suitors.
The clubs, too, prefer to stall.
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, for one, would prefer to chase the market rather than set it, according to sources. That way, he could avoid a bidding war, wait until the very end to hear the number he needs to reach, then decide whether he is willing to pay.
Usually a team in the White Sox’ position — one where money is the team’s sole advantage — has no choice but to set the market. The Sox have done so in smaller niches, breaking their three-year limit on pitchers to randomly sign Scott Linebrink for four after the 2007 season, then setting a new high for international players with Jose Abreu after 2013.
But those deals, best I can tell, were negotiated by Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn. Reinsdorf is directly handling this one, so there isn’t a relevant precedent in play.
There are two ways to read Rosenthal’s report:
Charitably: The White Sox are resisting the urge to bid against themselves when no other team has forced action, and Machado hasn’t been presented, nor presented the White Sox with, a higher offer.
Uncharitably: Reinsdorf is hoping somebody else will blow away the field.
This pursuit has a hint of auction sweat to it — bidding for the action and attention with the nagging fear of winning it — but only a hint. Without reports of stronger offers, it just could be a sweeping revision of the conventional wisdom.*
Back when the free agent market behaved like a free market, the rule of thumb was that landing the top players required setting said market (or overpaying, depending on your perspective). GMs who insisted on remaining rational were going to finish in third.
What this offseason presupposes is, “What if they all remained ‘rational’?”
That’s what Sam Miller is pondering at ESPN, and specifically what it means for small-market teams. When a significant chunk of the league could stomach paying retail for big-name players, it might’ve been inherently unfair to the Milwaukees and Tampa Bays of the league in terms of payroll, but with the behemoths’ attention elsewhere, their pursuits for winning cheaper faced less resistance.
Now, everybody is trying to swim laps in their lane. As Miller puts it, it’s unfortunate if league conditions mean the Yankees sign Bryce Harper for $250 million when the Rays can only pony up $125 million, but it’d be way worse if the Yankees only had to pay $126 million. When all bids are close, there are other ways for the big guys to win:
In the NBA, for instance, salary restrictions keep the best players from making anywhere near their true market value. This has not, however, meant small markets have had equal access to the very best free agents. Rather, players who’ve found their earnings artificially capped have instead exercised their leverage to sign in the biggest markets, to get the most media exposure, to surround themselves with other stars, and to have the best chance of winning. If Bryce Harper’s $400 million asking price is forced down to $300 million, or $200 million, or even — extremely unlikely! — $125 million, he’s still probably not going to sign with the Rays, who aren’t as attractive as the Yankees for any number of other reasons. Instead, the Yankees might just get a deal.
The White Sox are not a small-market team, although sometimes they act like it. They fit the bill in the above scenario in that they’re a team with a miniature footprint and no recent success, and it hasn’t been a fun place to play. Until Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada get a lot of help making the black-and-white Sox cap as cool as Kevin Durant and Boogie Cousins make it look, the Sox are going to have to inject some excitement from outside. It’s unavoidable.
The question from here is whether the White Sox are trying to avoid it. It kinda looks like they are, in this situation where they could throw an aggressive top offer at Machado and face no armchair GM resistance for doing so. Alas, this process has drifted so far out to sea that I’ve lost all sense of direction. It’s boring to say “we’ll find out when we find out,” but it’s been a boring offseason.
(*In the past, “a sweeping revision of the conventional wisdom” has turned out to be collusion.)
It figures that it finally comes time for the White Sox to sign an actual top tier free agent*, and so the league decides to collude.
I can only conclude that the White Sox are still cursed and that the curse was sleeping on the job with ’05 Podsednik; ‘Hah, they traded Lee, the bums.’
*Albert Belle excluded as he is such an outlier.
There’s no such thing as curses, aside from curse words. The fans crying curses, ie Cubs fans for 100 years, only serve to absolve incompetence. Instead of blaming the poor schmuck in the stands going for a foul ball, maybe blame the players for blowing it under pressure?
I refuse to believe the White Sox are under some voodoo spell for all eternity. Just look at the Bulls. I believe their “curse” will end soon after the Muppets known as GarPax leave the organization.
Neither wants to sign first…
Come on Jerry. Set the market.
Offer them each 300 for 10 years on the condition they both sign. Offer is good for 1 day. They can share the record for greatest salary ever and jump start the most exciting rebuild ever, with less pressure to “be the man”.
They wouldn’t share any records if that was what they were paid, in either AAV or total dollars. Still, have to think it would get the job done.
My fandom feels at risk….
I still think there’s a pretty big gap between what front offices think these players are worth and what the players think their worth, and not just in an artificial/posturing way (and more than just the standard way).
If you look, for instance, at players that received huge contracts ($225m+), all but one exception had cleared combined 12 WAR in their previous 2 years and most were at 15 WAR. Machado is 9.1 and Harper is 6.0. Stanton is the one exception (also at 9.1), but he was 24 at the time and his contract still looks pretty bad now.
I get that there are many more considerations than just what WAR a player produced in the last 2 seasons. The upside, the age…there’s a lot to like. But recent production is not a wholly unjustified concern, it seems to me. I can’t help thinking that if one of them had been up near 15 WAR, they’d already be signed.
(Note: I’m not “taking the owners side” here. I hope they both get $300m+. But this seems to me a salient and significant different between the two sides that is in large part causing the holdup, and I at least understand the FO concern.
From the point of view of economics, I wonder if teams manage the 1 WAR = 8-10M (Depending on pitchers or position players). I think that figure is lower or at least, discrete (2 tiers). I can’t stop thinking that a sizable chunk of WAR (all teams) per season comes from players in their control years.
The ratios WAR/salary varies so much among players that it loses meaning. Many people think in a straight-line where Machado at 250M / 7 yrs is a bargain based on somewhat WAR to $ ratio that has lost its meaning due to the state baseball (broken) structure is. It is not as simple as that. I actually think it is a very complex financial transaction. How can you compare, again from the economics point of view, paying 300 M for 10 years when your direct competitor pays 44 million over the next 5 years to Jose Ramirez until he turns 30? The competitive advantage your opponent exhibits there is huge.
The current state of baseball is broken and it’s in need for an urgent balance or tweak. The economics laws provide a good balance in the end, but often times takes years to set in and not without going thru a lot of turbulence to shake up those who are still sleeping.
You can’t really compare the cost of a non-FA (like Jose Ramirez) to an FA. Obviously, a non-FA player is much better for a club, but they’re not just widely available. FAs are.
Some people have really been doubting whether teams really do value wins at $8-10m. But look at what the Sox have done this off-season. They’ve signed six players projected to produce a combined 2.6 WAR for $38.3m.
So if the Sox value wins at less than $8m, why have they been paying $14.7m for each one this year?
That is exactly my point! You can’t compare it, thus, from the economic point of view, this is hard to reason with. In an ideal world, players should be freely paid according to their performance. You are good, you get paid. It is a simple as that. When MLB tries to control the freedom of a healthy marketplace, then weird unfair things happen. Someone will try to exploit the system, and that’s what is happening now.
It worked in the past when teams were throwing “stupid money” around, but baseball in the 2010s is vastly different. Sabermetrics helped GM to assess performance. TV deals provide a source of income that render attendance less relevant than before. Tanking is profitable. Decision making is based more from the economics point of view than from the “guts” baseball point of view. Jim Margalus mentioned here that many teams are now being managed by Ivy League graduates. Finance reasons are trumping baseball reasons. Baseball teams are managed as a profit seeking corporation more than ever before.
And if that’s the case–that they’re no longer operating primarily like a sports league– they shouldn’t have monopoly exemption anymore.
Teams are paying about $4m/win overall. But as 35Shields pointed out, that’s aggregated between cost-controlled and free agent contracts. League minimum players really drive down the average.
If winning matters and teams don’t have enough cost-controlled talent internally available, they ought to pay the premium price for wins. It’s not a competitive league otherwise.
Dan Szymborski had a good thought of maybe GM’s are using Wins Above Average and not Wins Above Replacement.
If a GM is willing to pay, let’s say, $4 million for an average player and then $8 million for every win above average is how they set their offer.
Machado was only 2 Wins Above Average last year. With that line of thinking, a $20 million per year offer might be made from a GM using this model.
That’s kind of believable but would still represent a departure from past practice. And it’d still be remarkable for every front office to adopt the same scale at the same time. And then to make similar offers that ignore things like differences in market and win-curve.
Yeah each FO will have their own scale, but I do think Dan is on the right path that using WAA is closer to how teams operate than just using $/WAR.
The average scale really only makes sense for teams that consistently produce average or better players from the farm. Teams that can’t should pay for wins over replacement.
There is no 1 WAR = $X formula, because talent is not spread like that. There’s gobs of 1 WAR players, none of them get 8 million; there are fewer 2 WAR players, etc. The more likely breakdown is 1 WAR player (AAV) = $2m, 2 WAR player = $5M, 3 WAR player = $10M, 4 WAR = $17M, 5 WAR = $26M, 6 WAR = $37M…
Machado and Harper project at about 5 WAR and their agents are trying hard to get closer to 6 WAR money (which is their job). My guess is most teams – if presented with legitimate offers – would be willing to go a little higher on the projected WAR money. But they’re going to want some sort of protection if they do so and the real haggling going on is on the option years and if some sort of performance clause kicks in additional years or additional guarantees. As much as the fans don’t like this, I don’t think the players or the teams enjoy it either but this is the business they’ve chosen.
The theory of non-linear $/win has been tested. The data doesn’t support it.
You’re also understating the importance of contract length for reducing annual salaries.
I look forward to Mike Trout getting offers of $70 million/year.
@HallofFrank and AC, the issue isn’t that Machado and, to a lesser extent, Harper think they’re worth more than what FO’s will give them, they are worth probably more than what Manny and Bryce think they’re worth.
Six win players don’t grow on trees. They are a very rare commodity compared to 1 or even 2 win players. Since there are fewer of them, they should be worth more than whatever WAR*($/win) says they’re worth. The fact that no one has paid Manny is, imo, a total joke and the sport is outright broke. At least with Harper you could argue he’s not a 6 win player because he hasn’t been other than two seasons.
I agree that Manny and Bryce are exceptionally valuable players. But, if reports are accurate, they’ve received exceptionally valuable contracts. You won’t find another player anywhere near a 10 year, $300m offer whose put up a total of 6 WAR in the last 2 years.
If the very real scenario plays out where going into 2020 none of Harper, Machado, or Arenado (basically any tier 1 FA) aren’t on the roster I think there’s going to be a lot of Sox fans including myself questioning the commitment of the team and in turn their support of the team.
The sox are approaching this thing desperate for their 2nd place participation trophy. Should of locked this thing down months ago. I absolutely cant stand the logic that they are bidding against themselves nothing could be further from the truth. There is a winning bid and a losing bid. These players could say screw this and take a 1 year deal, they could sign under their value with the team of their choice, etc etc. The sox wanted a rebuild they wanted to shed all their salary. That was their choice, they knew the road ahead involved having to sign a couple big free agents when the time was right. Their advantage was always going to be money, they put themselves in the spot where to sign a top tier free agent they would probably have to be 20-30 mil over the other top offers maybe more. Its time to get 1 or 2 of these deals done its just money and baseball teams all around the league are rolling in it.
Sure but, assuming the Sox are willing to spend top dollar, why not wait? Jerry could just tell Lozano “always come back to me before you accept an offer” and just keep beating whatever offer Manny gets that’s better. Until that time, if you’ve got the best offer, I totally get not bidding against yourself.
Until a team says, we got 300 mil 10 years but need an answer now…
The sox are playing this to lose, prove me wrong jerry, prove me wrong
“always come back to me before you accept an offer”
That sounds good, but life doesn’t always work that way. I’ve done a lot of buying and selling. They might just find something they like and pull the trigger.” Manny said do it, or the deal was today only, or gee, that’s right we did say we would get back to you. Sorry. Or hey, I wanted to but I was over ruled.”
Nah, I don’t buy that it happens like this. Life doesn’t always work like that, but it almost always does. Especially in negotiations like these. I would be shocked if a team said something like “get back to us before you accept another offer, we’ll beat it” and the agent/player ignored it. It sounds like a dream scenario for a team, since it might cause a bidding war. If the Sox did do this and Lozano/Machado ignited the request, the Sox were never getting Machado anyway.
Telling the seller that you’d pay more than another max offer is bidding against yourself.
At this point, a little bidding against oneself may be rational. If Machado will sign today at 8/$264 instead of waiting out the rest of the league at 8/$250, why not giving him some extra money for him to save some face or whatever?
I don’t want you doing my taxes.
Real estate is more apt than tax preparation.
What’s wrong with spending money on something you want? If the Sox evaluate Machado as a 4-7 WAR player for the next 8 years, they should be prepared to play him market rate. This isn’t Eric Hosmer we’re talking about either. Machado is probably the second best third baseman in baseball.
By the way, I was a volunteer tax preparer one year. I found d the biggest return at the site this year, over $10,000. So your loss.
Did you then advise your client to give the $10,000 back to the government so that they would feel better about themselves?
Wow! Happy Sunday.
I meant that in the friendliest way possible.
What are you, my cat?
Love ya YG. I obviously just hit a nerve impugning your volunteer tax preparation skills.
Nobody fucks with my volunteer tax preparation skills.
Be careful where you say that, I think those were Tupac’s final words.
You know who seems to go unmentioned, but who I feel really bad for: Moustakas
Dude got screwed last year, took a one year deal and played great. Now he’s back on the market and no one is seemingly interested until at least Machado signs, which might occur sometime in the mid 22nd century.
I have a feeling he’s going to get stuck with another one year deal, which just sucks. He deserves better.
He isn’t that great of a player. I think what you stated can be said of a lot of middling free agents.
He isn’t great, but he’s a helluva lot better than Eric Hosmer, and while neither deserves the deal Hosmer got, Moose has played much better than what he’s been getting offered.
I’m still far more concerned about their ability to scout/develop prospects than will they or won’t they on big name FA’s.
The concerns about the prospect pipeline are why they need the premium free agent acquisition(s).
They will never FA their way to the playoffs.
They could sign Harper, Machado and Keuchel and still come up short of what Sale, Eaton and Q gave them in ’16.
The prospects they’ve acquired, plus this years’ draft, must perform. Otherwise they’re just spinning their wheels.
Aren’t the Sale/Eaton/Q years proof that acquiring premium Free Agents is the more concerning of the two?
Scouting/developing prospects hansn’t been all that bad since 2013. Signing the right FA…has.
Well, if Moncada, Cease, Jimenez, and Robert all turn out to be studs, Anderson, Lopez, Giolito, and others turn into solid complementary pieces, and their capstone signing is another Austin Jackson type, yeah, this is going nowhere.
Or, even better, they go through another stretch of continually finding the players on the verge of diving off a cliff, in the proud tradition of Laroche, Keppinger, Bonifacio, and so many others.
Since 2012- Haven’t had an intl signee make it to AA and haven’t gotten a 3 WAR season out of a single draft pick not named Chris Sale. This rebuild was about acquiring and developing multiple pieces of a talented, cost-controlled core.
I’ll worry about the shortcomings they’ve shown on phases 2 and 3 of a rebuild, when they get to phases 2 and 3.
I’m not sure that really rebuts the point, though. The point is: in the Hahn era (2013 and beyond), they’ve been at least adequate (perhaps even good?) at scouting/developing young, cost controlled assets. They have been terrible at evaluating and signing the right Free Agents.
Fernando Tatis Jr. says hi.
Yes. Well done by the Pads getting him to AA. mien also had a 3.7 fWAR season with the A’s last year. Flowers has 8.2 WARp over the last 2 years with the Braves.
Tyler Flowers has managed 1 bWAR exactly once with the Braves and was still outproduced by Kurt Suzuki that year. Sorry, not sorry he’s gone.
Flowers’ situation certainly relies on which Catcher valuation you trust.
Either fWAR or bWAR – Suzuki out-produced Flowers in 2017 and 2018 in both.
Or 5.5 bWARP in 2017 and 2.9 bWARP in 2018. That’s 2.3 and 1.1 higher than Suzuki in those years.
It amazes me that White Sox fans, who got to see the value of Flowers behind the dish day after day, and compare it to the shit-show that’s been going on since, still act like we aren’t missing out on something here. You can argue how much value to place in framing, but it’s silly to act like there hasn’t been a monumental difference.
Tyler Flowers was a bad hitter with the White Sox who became a good hitter not-with-the-White Sox. This is kind of an important part of the entire Flowers “debate”.
This is a both/and not either/or situation. They need production out of both.
But they’re at a point where they have enough players who aren’t on track to project near their best case outcomes that they need to spend cash on ones who are more likely to.
If you pay Melky 4 WAR money and he delivers 2 WAR, or you pay Harper 7 WAR money and he delivers 5 WAR, you’re still making the same mistake. Unless you have a fan base willing to give you money for a garbage product (and there’s about 5 or 6 franchises like that), overspending and overevaluating can’t go on very long.
A smaller and smaller portion of team revenue is made up of their fans’ dollars.
And if you pay no one any money and get zero wins you’re not making the playoffs, either.
Also, no one’s getting 4 or 7 win money in a single season. Teams spread the risk by paying lower AAV over longer terms.
Lastly, overspending can go on as long as media licensing deals are lucrative and franchise values are high. Teams are awash in cash.
Doesn’t matter how awash in cash teams are. Those who spend it wisely will always have more wins than those who spend it foolishly.
Markets for scarce, prestigious resources (like wins, championships, and future Hall of Famers) don’t usually operate with an eye towards efficiency. How much cash is available is absolutely a driving factor.
See the first tuna sold at auction in Japan every year.
It could just be the February blues talking, but if we don’t get Machado or Harper, I will have lost the little faith I had in Reinsdorf to act like even a medium market owner/franchise. This fanbase needs hope and the Moncadas and Giolitos of 2018 aren’t giving us much of it for the short-term.
Somehow reminds me of Buttermaker talking to Kelly Leak … “Do you want me to put in Stein? At least he’ll try.”
Didn’t Jerry handle the offer to Torii Hunter in ’07? You know, the one where Torii agreed to 5/75 and said he would fly in Monday to sign, and then called Jerry on Monday and said he was signing with the Angels for 5/90. We can argue about whether he really verbally agreed (as had been reported locally at the time), but there is no doubt about the validity of the Sox offer and the surprise last-minute offer from L.A.
No sense getting into a bidding war with yourself – let them get other offers and come back to you to see if you want to beat it. If they don’t come back to you, they didn’t really want to be here anyway.
This makes me think of the Mike D’Antoni situation as well. I hope these are just isolated incidents and not harbingers.
My Uncharitably take is that the White Sox are scared to death that they might actually sign Machado and never expect it to get this far. If the Sox were serious about signing Manny, they would have signed him by now.
And please don’t give me that “they don’t want to bid against themselves” we are FAR past that point.