The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Making Sense of Mega Deals

Superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado headline this winter’s class of high-profiled free agents.  They’ve established themselves as two of the game’s best players, and now they are seeking some of the biggest deals ever made.  They figure to command deals worth $31M to $33M a year for nine or ten years.  Sure, they’ve been highly productive players in their short careers to date, but it’s questionable whether clubs should invest that kind of money in long-term contracts.

With both players at age 26, they will be in their prime years for the next 5-6 seasons.  However, interested teams realize they will need to offer contracts with longer terms in order to attract them.  That’s because players generally can’t command another lucrative long-term deal once they reach age 30 or 31, if they only sign for a four or five year deal now.

In the past six to eight years many clubs have taken the approach to build their rosters through player development within their farm systems versus navigating through the veteran free-agent market.  The Astros, Cubs, and Yankees have recently proved this strategy works, while teams like the Braves and Phillies are on the cusp of reaping the rewards for re-making their clubs through more youthful approaches.  The Padres, White Sox, Marlins, and Orioles have recently embarked on similar strategies.

These teams don’t put all their eggs in one basket with a high-dollar deal involving a long-term in order to acquire a high impact player.  They don’t mortgage their future by sinking a sizable portion of their payroll into one or two players.  Most GMs have learned these deals don’t generally work out for the organization in the latter half of the contract terms, when the players have passed their prime years or become injury-prone.  Albert Pujols, Jayson Werth, and Alex Rodriguez are a few examples of this.

Giancarlo Stanton is the latest superstar to land a long-term lucrative deal, when he signed a contract extension with the Miami Marlins in 2016 valued at $325 million over 13 years.  When the Marlins’ new ownership group took over prior to the 2018 season, one of the first things they did was to trade Stanton as part of a massive payroll reduction initiative.  As a re-building, small-market team, the Marlins knew they couldn’t sustain Stanton’s salary for the long-term, despite the value he could bring as a player.  It turned out the Marlins didn’t get much in return for trading Stanton to the Yankees, largely due to Stanton’s no-trade status. But they did it anyway.

So, why are Harper and Machado attracting interest by several clubs despite their projected price tags?

MLB teams look for windows of opportunity where, if they can add one or two key players and dramatically increase their chances of competing for a World Series ring in the short-term, they will spend the extra bucks to put them in a winning situation immediately.  The Milwaukee Brewers did that last year when they added veteran outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain (although not with long-term contracts), and the team indeed made a valiant run for the National League pennant as a result of their contributions.

Harper and Machado are the type of players who can provide help to a club looking to get immediate results.  Whether clubs actually expect to keep them for the entirety of their contract is debatable.

It appears there are a handful of legitimate suitors of Harper and Machado.

The Washington Nationals, with Harper at the core of its lineup, had been favorites in several seasons to win the National League pennant, but ultimately fell short.  Wanting to retain Harper as a core player after he became a free agent at the end of the season, the Nationals made an offer of $300 million for ten years during an exclusive negotiating period.  Yet Harper and his agent Scott Boras turned it down.  Reportedly, Boras is seeking a staggering $400 million deal for his client.

On the other hand, it’s interesting that the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t expected to re-sign Machado, whom they acquired from Baltimore as a short-term rental last year to backfill the loss of their regular shortstop Corey Seager due to an injury.  They already have the highest payroll in the majors and don’t want to be saddled with his long-term salary, even though they probably have the deepest pockets among the MLB organizations.

Other teams who have been reported to have interest in the two free agents include the Phillies, Giants, Rockies, and Yankees.  The Rockies and Phillies are two teams that appear to be close to making breakthroughs as viable playoff competitors. The Giants lack much-needed power in their lineup and are perhaps a few years out when it comes to making another run for the NL pennant.  The Yankees’ presence on the potential list of suitors raises some eyebrows, since they already have Stanton’s big contract; but don’t be surprised if Stanton is dealt to another club to make room for Harper.

Last year, several of the game’s top free agents weren’t signed until shortly before spring training.  There was speculation by the players and their agents that major-league owners had conspired to hold down the amounts and years of free-agent contracts.  Perhaps that could happen with Harper and Machado this year.  Interested teams are looking for creative ways to acquire these two players without having to mortgage their future.  So it will probably come down to a battle of wits and fortitude between the teams and these top players.

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