Alex Rodriguez went on national TV last week and said, “Owners are doing a terrific job working closely together” to restrain player salaries.
Whether he knows it or not, Rodriguez was alleging collusion, which is illegal. But let’s assume the less nefarious, that groupthink, not collusion, has overrun the industry. For also within that interview on ESPN, Rodriguez pointed out that since signing his 10-year, $252 million pact after the 2000 season, MLB revenues have more than tripled to better than $10 billion. Yet, that pact still ranks as the third largest ever bestowed, behind only his 10-year, $275 million follow-up and Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million package.
A-Rod called it “mind-blowing” that a player has not soared to a significantly larger payday considering the game’s financial growth. But if there is groupthink, then part of the reason is the industry learned from A-Rod about the dangers of these long-term deals.
Rodriguez was mainly productive during both of the pacts, but the Rangers couldn’t win with him, he stepped on the 2007 World Series to opt out of the first deal, he was publicly outed twice as a PED user during the second deal, he was suspended for a year and at least threatened to sue every important institution involved with the sport before backing off, and was released with a year-plus left on the contract.
It reminded front offices of the pitfalls of long marriages, particularly to players they don’t know well. For example, now that the Yankees have had Stanton for a year, would they do the same trade over again that ties him to the franchise through 2027? I would bet not.
Either way — nefarious or not — less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers, there are still roughly 100 free agents, notably Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It remains possible that both young stars will be paid long term in a way that satisfies them. But what if those offers never come? What alternatives remain?
I just don’t see Scott Boras doing anything short term with Harper, but I wonder if a case could be made for Machado to offer himself up to a high bidder on a one-year contract for, say, $35 million? Why that could make sense:
Machado’s representative, Dan Lozano, issued a statement two weeks ago stating that reports of the White Sox’s bid being seven years at $175 million were “completely wrong.” Still, Lozano/Machado have not heard what they want or else Machado would almost certainly be signed.
If Machado did a one-year deal, he would return to a free-agent market next offseason that could include shortstop/third basemen Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Xander Bogaerts and Didi Gregorius. Still, Machado would still have only played his age-26 season in 2019 and be younger than all in that group except Bogaerts, who is three months younger. Thus, I suspect barring calamitous injury (which is a small risk), he would receive at least seven-year, $175 million offers again, which means a total of eight years at $210 million if he could score a one-year, $35 million deal. Many basketball players, in a more physically demanding sport, do short-term deals (think Kevin Durant this year) to better control their near future.
2. Can he score that deal? I would think the three teams known to have interest — the Padres, Phillies and White Sox — would all do it to avoid long-term risk; it could actually be a way for Philadelphia (at least in 2019) to have Machado and Harper. But the Cardinals should definitely be in play at that total, and the Angels, too (team him with Mike Trout). Heck, you can make a case that small-market clubs such as the Pirates and Rays should be in play.
I actually had two people who represent players throw open the idea of Japan for a season. Could you find an owner there who wants to build his name recognition internationally who might offer $40 million or more? Would that embarrass MLB that one of its great prime-aged stars left for a year? And as opposed to a major league team, a Japanese team can’t put the qualifying offer on Machado after the season.
3. What about the Yankees? That was Machado’s preferred destination. Even on a one-year deal, I don’t think the Yankees bite for 2019. My suspicion is the Yankees internal data forecasts they are a 95-plus win team already, and a Machado signing would easily throw them over the top luxury-tax-penalty threshold.
But even signing somewhere else for a year, Machado would get to see if Miguel Andujar actually can hold down third base, if Gregorius leaves as a free agent after the season and whether Troy Tulowitzki has anything left. In other words, the Yanks might be in a different level of need come next offseason, albeit with a chance to grab Arenado, whom they like better.
Also, one year provides the Players Association and MLB further time to talk about myriad items, including getting more teams motivated to spend. I continue to believer this is not just a union problem. MLB is hurt that there is so much negative public discussion of varied issues, including the refusal to pay stars.
4. If Machado’s field is really just the Padres, Phillies and White Sox — three teams he probably has fear of joining long term — this provides him a one-year look at one of them to know for sure. More important, if Machado’s bids are being tamped down by his unattractive October — lack of hustle, stupid comments about the lack of hustle and at least borderline dirty play — then he gets one year to do what he could not do in that one platform month: Be on his playing-hard best behavior to show he is worth oodles of long-term dollars.
Essentially, the one-year, $23 million deal Donaldson signed with Atlanta was designed similarly, just to show he can remain healthy so he could return to the market next offseason to try to score big. Donaldson, though, is seven years older than Machado.
5. Any contract for more than $34.42 million would make Machado the annual average value king (perhaps only until Harper signs). It is something to take away from this process if he cannot get the long-term dollars, a potential face-saver if the deals really are maxing out currently in the seven-year, $175 million range.
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