Gordon Gekko’s greed creed is dead. The words that rang oh so true in the world of Major League Baseball have been proven completely and utterly worthless this offseason.
“Greed is good?” Oh, really? Then why haven’t veteran free agents like Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez found a home yet?
These players, who both own a pair of World Series rings and have respectively contributed to contenders with a revered baseball mind and a prolific bat, are still without a team because, in this year’s economic climate, greed is the best kind of repellent.
Gekko, who in this little off-season drama is played by agent Scott Boras – the part he was born to play – thought that the money would always be there. Good economy, bad economy, these baseball teams are still incredibly wealthy.
Until now, teams threw cash at free agents with all the reserve of a child throwing snowballs after a two-foot snowfall. At least one team (see: Yankees, The) made it rain for its prize targets with a Pac-Man Jones-like monsoon of money. But for Boras clients Tek and Manny, it’s been a full-on drought.
When they entered free agency, they no doubt valued themselves as difference makers, as all-stars and justifiably so. In Varitek, Boras no doubt saw a catcher that could command a championship pitching staff. In Manny, he saw a future Hall of Famer, a player that almost won his league’s MVP award after just two months with the Dodgers. Both assessments are accurate … But that was before baseball’s 2009 financial reality.
Now that the real estate market has tanked and the pyramid schemers have struck, baseball’s owners stand with hands in their pockets. Now these teams are applying scrutiny where there was previously a scant hesitation. And because of that, the bloom is off the Boras’s bouquet of free agents.
Instead of a pair of world champions and a future Hall of Famer, they see an offensive liability and a clubhouse cancer. Instead of a pair of difference-makers that provide pennant potential, they see a weak-armed catcher and a walking headache.
So dictates the free market.
They have no one but their own camp to blame. They could be swimming in a vault of money like Scrooge McDuck … if they had only agreed to arbitration. But they didn’t want a one-year deal set by a judge. Not when the market had been so good to free agents, particularly veterans that had helped win pennants.
They declined the “bird-in-hand” that was arbitration – and now it looks like a golden goose.
Teams are so afraid of arbitration that they’re willing to cough up record sums to avoid the process. The Red Sox re-upped Jonathan Papelbon for one year at $6.25 million, the most ever given to a closer in his first arbitration-eligible year. Even Erik Bedard was re-signed for $7-plus million, despite a disappointing season in Seattle that ended in September shoulder surgery.
And consider this: Players almost never receive a pay cut in arbitration. That means that Manny, with all of his antics, still would have made about $20 million next season. Varitek, and his .220 average last season, would have pulled in around $10 million. Think they’ll get that now, Gordo?
The day has finally come when greed has hurt baseball players. Of course, the beauty of such a day was supposed to be that it would help smaller market teams obtain the services of otherwise high-priced free agents. That hasn’t happened, largely because teams would have to give up a compensatory first-round draft pick to sign either player. And these days, a top pick is worth far more than an aging veteran. So, rebuilding teams with young pitchers and catchers that could really benefit from Tek’s teachings, like the Nationals or Marlins, aren’t willing to sign him. These free agents may cost less money, but they are no less “expensive” to bottom-dwelling or small-market teams.
So, this “unfortunate” pair figures to sit out in the cold for a while longer while teams wait for their prices to drop, but even then, the climate doesn’t seem like it will help redistribute the wealth of good players going to rich teams. Even in a down market, the Yankees and Red Sox will always have more spending capital, and they’ll always be expected to compete for the World Series.
Without such a redistribution, there doesn’t seem to be any potential for a long-term market correction. Nothing will have changed.
Sorry folks. Looks like a false alarm. Gordon Gekko will rise again.
Mike Hume may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.