FORT MYERS, FLA. – Miguel Cabrera received an eight-year, $248 million contract extension from the Detroit Tigers that kicked in as he turned 32 in 2016. Cabrera increased his standing as one of the greatest righthanded hitters of all time in 2016, then fell off a cliff in 2017.
As Detroit reduces payroll and attempts to rebuild, the Tigers still owe $184 million to Miggy on a contract that expires in 2023, as he turns 42 early in that season.
The Boston Red Sox signed David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract as a free agent. The lefthander was 30 when the contract started in 2016, was injured for much of 2017, and is owed $157 million on a deal that expires in 2022.
There is considerable angst among union leaders, players and agents as the start of spring training beckons and high-profile free agents remain unsigned, including eight of the ranked top 10 entering this offseason.
We have been offered three main options for this from the unhappy players’ side of the situation:
One, the biggest moneymaking teams are trying to avoid the luxury tax thresholds for payroll.
Two, as many as one-third of the teams are trying to follow the Astros’ model of going to the bottom in the standings and payroll, while creating a young corps with championship potential.
Three, this is being orchestrated by the clubs to slow the game’s ceaseless salary inflation.
The term “collusion” has been avoided for the most part, but when camps open next week, I’m guessing you will hear it more frequently — particularly in clubhouses, as players voice support for their unsigned union brethren.
For me, the real collusion has been taking place for several years, as owners have seemed to unite as one to turn over the baseball decisions to extremely bright young people with degrees from exceptional universities — with most located in the East.
These young gents used to go to Washington and work for think tanks, or provide ideas to make an important business more successful.
Now they are running baseball operations; keeping around a few old-line baseball guys for consultation, but also surrounding themselves with young people of similar backgrounds in the search for better player development and more efficient on-field success.
“Moneyball” might have been the start of the efficiency wave, but baseball is well past that now. This is “Theoball,” scores of impeccably educated baseball devotees trying to follow the path of Yale graduate Theo Epstein to the pinnacle of the game.
For sure, when you have brought a World Series title to the Cubs for the first time in 108 years (2016) a dozen seasons after bringing a World Series title to the Red Sox for the first time in 86 years (2004), you deserve to be emulated.
Best I can tell, these guys are not egomaniacs. Former Twins outfielder Randy Bush, one of the old-liners relied on by Epstein with the Cubs, told me the day after the 2016 World Series was secure that his boss isn’t looking to overwhelm the competition with greater brilliance.
“Theo always says we’re just looking for a small edge … maybe 52 percent to 48,” Bush said.
Derek Falvey, the Twins CEO for baseball, was talking about the final roster cut for Opening Day last March and said to a pair of Star Tribune reporters: “We had to pivot a few different times to the different iterations of those rosters.”
Really, that’s what he said … and he wasn’t being pompous. That’s just the way the 52 Percenters from the Eastern colleges talk.
For decades, agent Scott Boras walked into a negotiation with his degree from the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific and was the smartest guy in the room.
Boras remains as smart and as powerful as ever, but if he is trying to sell his theories on why a 30-year-old pitcher deserves a six-year contract to the Twins, Falvey (Trinity) and Thad Levine (Haverford) now have Daniel Adler nearby with full research on the subject that can paint a different picture than Boras’.
And the 31-year-old Adler can trump Boras with a law degree from Harvard, as well as an MBA.
Those long-term contracts for massive dollars that carry late into their 30s that agents are wanting or not getting? This was the answer from Levine, another smart guy, in a radio interview this week:
“As an industry, we probably got thrown a curve by a time when performance-enhancing drugs may have been more prevalent and skewed some of the aging curves. Prior to that time and after that time, those aging curves have been real.”
Or as Pete Townshend suggested on a more serious matter: “Won’t get fooled again.”