Peter Gammons: A few thoughts as we start 2018

So we’re in 2018. The owners have their tax cuts. But they also have luxury tax threshold of $197M with serious disincentives not to cross, at least not this winter, which, in accordance with their last labor agreement with the Players Association, is in many agents’ eyes $13M less than that in terms of payroll since the $197M includes nearly $13M in benefits. Now, we understand why teams like the Dodgers, Yankees and Nationals want to get under the threshold because Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Miller, Charlie Blackmon, A.J. Pollock and Craig Kimbrel could all be on the market in ten months.

But in the current market that includes Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and other notable players, it seems odd that there hasn’t been a four year, guaranteed deal signed, and the only $20M AAV contract belongs to Carlos Santana. Major League Baseball boasts of its revenue stream. The revenue sharing allowing some teams to lose and make $50+M profits, Disney paid north of a billion dollars for streaming rights, and here it’s 2018 and no free agent has signed a four year deal with an AAV of $20M.

Perhaps as a couple of general mangers have suggested, that because of disappointing cost v. production contracts like Hanley Ramirez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jordan Zimmerman—just for examples—that management is backing on term length and high A.A.V. guarantees; Scott Boras and most agents would cite that a lot of the mega-deals like Max Scherzer, C.C. Sabathia, Kershaw, Jon Lester, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera have already paid for themselves.

Because Boras has so many of the prominent free agents, several general managers predicted in November that the signing season would come late. “December was the new November, and January will be the new December,” says one GM.

Is there, as some agents suggest—and this is an annual suggestion—that the Commissioner’s Office is trying to put the brakes on rising salaries and attempting to orchestrate some of the winter’s business? This seems to be a two-trains-running scenario with the proposed expansion to 32 teams (with Montreal and Portland), regional realignment that would result in huge savings in travel costs and a schedule shortened to 156 games. But, as we know, anything can happen, the travel and the inter-divisional rivalries do seem to make sense. Of course, if Montreal and Portland are indeed viable, what does this do to the Tampa Bay, Miami and Oakland problems, who lessen moving options that may someday allow them to hold their current markets for ransom similar to all the teams (White Sox, Mariners, Giants, Rangers, et al) that threatened to move to Tampa Bay, which now seems like a Jimmy Kimmel routine.

We do know that it is a good thing to be a reliever on the market; nearly 20 had signed two and three year deals by New Year’s Eve.  Starters? Not so, as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Cobb remained unsigned, with several teams at least kicking the tires on Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole trades. The Cubs did give Tyler Chatwood a three year contract worth $38M, but looking at the Wade Davis, Mike Minor, Bryan Shaw, Brandon Morrow and Tommy Hunter deals, the fact that relievers threw 38.1% of all innings in 2017 and that only 15 starters threw 200 innings, two threw 210 in 2017 as oppose to 38 with 200 and 19 with 210 in 2007 is further proof of the analytics’ argument that pitching staff management has been one of the most significant change trends of the last decade.

On the other hand, it is obvious what elite starters like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale mean to the totality of a pitching staff.

If some team believes that Arrieta is elite, that he will make alterations like Verlander, then he’ll get close to Scherzer money. Maybe some position player gets hurt; think what Aaron Boone’s hoop injury and Victor Martinez’s ACL meant for Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder. One hears conspiracy theories; for instance, that Boston’s signing of Mitch Moreland at Chris Young money is a message to Hanley Ramirez that he won’t get the plate appearances to guarantee his 2019 $22M contract, will accept a deal to a team needing a DH and that would allow Boston to go big on Martinez, if he’ll accept a DH role. Or maybe Mike Moustakas would take a bloated 2018 pillow deal with a team like the Yankees, hit 40+ homers to the porch and go back in the market next November. Or all of a sudden Toronto looks at losing Josh Donaldson next fall, loses patience with the career path of Troy Tulowitzki and thinks what 50-something homers from Martinez in that park would mean to Rogers.

We really don’t know. It’s about 170 days to summer, albeit -7 wind chill factor, and free agency feels like it usually does before the winter meetings. So I have three New Years predictions:

1. Some really good player will sign after the Feb. 13 reporting date, 2. At least four players will sign contracts that competing general managers will ridicule as a “vast overpay” and come November baseball will have broken another industry record for revenues.

With that, I think I’ll watch “It Happens Every Spring.”

Comments

  1. Peter, thanks for making some of your stuff available that we don’t have to pay for.

    • Amen to that. Intelligent, rational, well-considered information with deep echoes from long years of experience.

  2. Horace Fury says:

    Thank you for the article, Mr. G. I love the ideas of regional realignment and a shorter schedule (154). It would also be a great relief to leave the divisional era behind and its mind-numbing 19 games per season between division rivals. It feels so much like the NHL when there were 6 teams in the ’60s. There are a lot of interesting ways to run a season and set up post-season play with an undivided league of 15 teams, while having the most obvious benefit of keeping many more fans interested in the denser jockeying for contention in the standings.

  3. John Inferrera says:

    If they indeed go to 32 teams there should be 4 div. with 8 teams in each. The first and last 42 gms would be 3 home & away vs each div rival. This takes care of early season bad weather because there would be late season games vs every early season team. 12 teams make the playoffs with the 4 div winners getting a 1st rd. bye.

  4. It Happens Every Spring is one of my favorite baseball movies.

  5. Andre Mayer says:

    Thank you; good survey to start the year. I take some issue with the expansion/relocation issue, though – seems to me the Miami, TB, Oakland situations differ. Miami is now a huge and fast-growing metro, though not wealthy overall; moving the franchise is implausible. The TB team only exists because of a pre-existing stadium (why those other teams threatened to move there) and, bad as it is, the stadium and its location aren’t the real problem. Oakland’s situation is that MLB seems to be trying to force a move, treating the A’s as a big-market team but restricting their ability to relocate within the market – all this takes is a change of attitude.

  6. Mark Leonard says:

    The GNP of France is over 2 trillion dollars. I don’t think that Disney paid this much for streaming rights. You may want to fact check Peter.

  7. I believe the number of innings required to compete for an ERA title should be dropped to 140… any thoughts?

  8. I think the ownerships are getting smarter with their spending, guys like Machado and Harper are going to be worth their mega contracts because of there age and they are entering the prime of their careers! The players that are 30 plus are now going to get shorter term money which co insides with their peak performance years. The owners have been burnt to often on long term contracts that are albatross by the end of the term! Thanks Peter

  9. Scott Richards Sr says:

    You know, it is SO refreshing to read something from such a respectable writer. Thanks for a great and informative article. You’re the best. Good movie also 🙂

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