Twenty-four million dollars a year for pitcher Cliff Lee. Twenty million dollars a year for outfielder Carl Crawford. Eighteen million dollars a year for outfielder Jayson Werth, who will be getting paid like a star when he’ll probably be playing like a faded one.
Money, it seems, is being thrown around this winter like candy off a float at a holiday parade. All it seems you have to do is hold your hand out and wait to be rich.
So where does it all end? Answer is, it doesn’t, not when next year’s free-agent class includes Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano, Roy Oswalt and Heath Bell.
This year’s $20 million a year contract could be next year’s $30 million a year contract. And in Pujols’ case, it might be worth more than an entire team. Literally. Forbes Magazine valued the Pirates’ entire franchise, 30th of all 30 major league teams, at $289 million last April. Think Pujols’ next contract won’t be worth that much? And don’t think that isn’t fair? Then ask yourself who affords the best chance of winning for the next 10 years: Albert Pujols from ages 31-41 or Charlie Morton and the Pittsburgh Pirates?
The Phillies are paying Cliff Lee $24 million a year because they can (left unanswered is why they couldn’t in 2010, and whether they might be a better team if they had signed Werth for $15 million a year when they still might have, and spent $9 million a year on a Bronson Arroyo type).
The Rays aren’t paying Carl Crawford $20 million a year because they can’t. Or because it’s not good business. Last year their payroll was roughly $75 million, and they’re cutting for 2011. They can pay rookie Desmond Jennings 2.5% of what the Red Sox are paying Carl Crawford, and they can hope for 75-80% of the production. If you’re running a business, which do you do?
It’s easy to suggest baseball payrolls are on steroids and the game is as troubled by economics as Roger Clemens apparently is by the truth. Perhaps so. But it’s not the $24 million a year being paid to Cliff Lee that is evidence of that, it’s the $8 million shortstop J.J. Hardy is likely to be awarded in arbitration. If Branch Rickey were alive today, he’d no doubt suggest that it’s not overpaying for quality that’s the problem, but overpaying for mediocrity.
If you’re the Red Sox, there’s a lot of good reasons to pay Carl Crawford $20 million a year, and keeping him from the Yankees is only one of them. If you have an iPhone, and you can afford an upgrade, you get an iPad. That’s just what the Red Sox did.
And if you’re the Rays, you get whatever gizmo fits into your budget. And you can put a salary cap on your Christmas wish list and wait for Santa Claus to deliver. There’s likely to be snow outside the Rays’ offices before there’s a salary cap inside it.