From Dustin Pedroia to Kevin Youkilis to Jon Lester, the total cost now rests at roughly $112 million for 15 years, an average of just under $7.5 million per player per season. And that is the real beauty of a productive farm system, one that has produced the nucleus of the Red Sox for several years to come.
The Red Sox and Lester have yet to announce the five-year, $30 million contract first reported by Yahoo!.com yesterday, but we all know it is a relative formality as the Sox continue to tie up loose ends as they approach Opening Day. One by one, general manager Theo Epstein is crossing tasks off the list as if he were strolling through the produce section, fixing long-term costs at a time of national economic turmoil.
Smart? You bet it is, and not solely for the Red Sox. Pedroia, Youkilis, and Lester all get something out of this, too, particularly Lester. Security means different things to different people, and you can bet it means a great deal to a young man diagnosed with cancer roughly 2 1/2 years ago.
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: For all of the criticisms of professional athletes for being greedy and self-centered in this day and age, we cannot sit here now and say they should have held out for more money. We just can’t have it both ways. The large majority of deals like those signed by Pedroia (six years, $40.5 million), Youkilis (four years, $41.25 million) and Lester end up favoring the team -- just ask Nomar Garciaparra, Grady Sizemore, or Evan Longoria -- and the player sacrifice on the back end is bigger than many realize. Over the long-term, Pedroia, Youkilis, and Lester all will lose money on these deals the way Josh Beckett is losing money now, but there comes a point where dollars become like grains of sand on the beach.
Once you sock away $30-$40 million, the next $5-$10 million doesn't mean so much, assuming you didn't spend it all on a fleet of yachts.
So, while some players and agents (like, say, Scott Boras) might frown on these kind of deals -- and that goes especially for the players' union -- you should recognize that contracts like this generally are good for the fan. Barring a career-altering injuries to key players, you know the Red Sox will have a good nucleus in the coming years. You know they will have money to spend on the free agent market. You know they can continue to put a good team on the field, year in and year out, because management is being shrewd enough to secure its most talented young players, simultaneously creating the financial flexibility to address weakness by pursuing high-priced players like Mark Teixeira on the open market.
Baseball is not like football. There is no salary cap. The beauty of being a big-market team with a thriving farm system is that you can keep your players and sign new ones, an art the Red Sox are now mastering.
Perhaps Pedroia, Youkilis, and Lester won't remain with the Sox beyond their current deals. But at the moment, there is just no real need to worry about that. All three players will be in their 30s when their current deals are up -- the Sox also have options on each -- and the Red Sox have shown us in recent years that they are prepared to let anybody walk when the price gets too high.
By then, if all goes well for the organization, there will be a new Pedroia, a new Youkilis, and a new Lester to have emerged from the Boston player development machine. Epstein merely will continue to change fuses in the fusebox. The major downside for the organization comes only if the farm system goes dry, at which point Epstein might be forced to spend more on the free agent market than he would like.
Even if someone like Pedroia, Youkilis or Lester suffers a major injury, the financial hit on the organization is relatively minimal. But if someone like Teixeira goes down at a cost of $22.5 million annually, the team gets hammered on the field and on the balance sheet, the latter of which can prevent the team from addressing the former.
Relatively speaking, deals like this are safe investments for the team. That is why the Sox have agreed to terms with Pedroia, Youkilis and Lester, and not with closer Jonathan Papelbon. Certainly, it can be argued that Papelbon is every bit as important to the club’s long-term success as any of the previous three, but the problem is that he has had some shoulder issues and that closers generally have short lifespans.
Beyond that, the days of fans building "relationships" with players are clearly gone, largely because economics have become a driving force in the game. You may be a huge Josh Beckett fan, for instance, but you should prepare yourself now for the reality that he could be gone after his current contract expires in 2010 (assuming the Sox exercise their option for next season). The only way Beckett stays is if he makes that a priority the way Jason Varitek has, which he may or may not be eager to do after previously agreeing to a three-year, $30 million contract that now looks like a bargain for the club.
Of course, fans long ago seemed to have accepted the reality that players come and players go, which is just the way that sports work now. Sentimentality is gone. For most fans, the comfort now comes in knowing that Lester will be wearing your uniform for the next five or six years, and there is comfort for Lester in that, too. For the Red Sox, the comfort comes in knowing what it will cost to keep Lester in that very same uniform.
After all, over the next several years, somebody has to wear it.
Could you think of a better guy?
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