Earlier today, Carlos Ruiz signed a three-year, $26 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The deal includes a $4.5 million option with a modest buyout for 2017, as well as a limited no-trade clause that will allow Ruiz to block moves to four clubs.
The reaction to this deal on Twitter has been as you would expect: just about everyone hates it. We, as a community, wanted Ruiz to get two years, not three. We hate every catcher deal that doesn’t follow the Salvador Perez model. We hate that Ruiz is 34 and that Ruben Amaro Jr. is the one who signed Ruiz to this deal. We hate that the Phillies apparently outbid the Red Sox for Ruiz, although I’m sure there would be riots at Fenway had we given Chooch the same deal.
But what I think we hate most of all is that this ends the delusion that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going to resign with the Red Sox for two years at $8 million per. I hope this ends some other delusions as well.
I don’t know why I’m so sensitive to all of the free agent bashing this offseason. Maybe it’s because I saw Boston’s much-maligned free agent splurge of a year ago lead to a World Series ring. Maybe it’s because the constant negativity has broken me. Maybe I just feel like being a contrarian.
But I feel like many of the smart, talented Red Sox fans and writers I follow are simply failing to acknowledge some pretty simply truths: it takes significant investments to sign good players, and players are getting more expensive.
Nowhere is it more apparent that Red Sox fans don’t want to embrace this truth than with the ongoing debate about what Boston should do behind the plate. There seem to be four schools of thought now that Ruiz is off the board:
1) Resign Saltalamachcia, but only on a team-friendly deal.
2) Sign Brian McCann, he’s awesome
3) Go with a stop-gap to pair with David Ross, like A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro or Ryan Hanigan
4) YOLO, how bad can Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway be?
The first three of these methods all have some merit. Salty had the best season of his career in 2013 and while he’s certainly due for some regression, there are signs of genuine improvement as well. Whether or not you like McCann, he’s one of the best catchers in the game and would give a huge boost to a lineup that might lose two of its best hitters. And signing a platoon or stopgap catcher would at least ensure that the Red Sox don’t embarrass themselves behind the plate in 2014.
The Butler/Lavarnway option is, to me, a joke. It all but assures that the Red Sox have some of the worst production from behind the plate in all of baseball, and without a very compelling argument as to where else we should allocate the funds that could be used to solidify the catching role, I think it’s needlessly cautious and borderline negligent.
I’ve made it pretty clear both here and on Twitter that I’m not as anti-McCann as is a majority of the fanbase. That’s not to say I don’t think there are very reasonable cases to be made against signing McCann. Not wanting to commit five-plus years – and I firmly believe that’s what it will take – to a catcher with a lot of miles is understandable. I dislike the disingenuous suggestions that McCann isn’t much better than Salty, but I digress … But, statements like “I’d only take McCann at three years” or “I’d only take Salty at two years” are meaningless and a waste of everyone’s time, because they’re not going to happen. “Sure, I’d take Robinson Cano for three years, but only on my terms.” Oh, ok then.
I also take issue with preferring to let catcher be a black hole for the Red Sox next season – and potentially beyond – than risk needing to absorb one mediocre salary in 2017 and 2018.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Red Sox have four players under guaranteed contract for 2015: Shane Victorino, Clay Buchholz and Dustin Pedroia, plus a $4 million option or $100,000 buyout for Craig Breslow. That’s about $43 million in guaranteed salary for a team that can afford to approach $189 million. Yes, it excludes the players we’d own at the league minimum and who we’d have to pay through arbitration, but you get the picture: the Red Sox are in excellent financial shape moving forward. They can afford to give up some – not all – of that future flexibility if it gives them a good shot at winning right now.
An example: Even if I buy the argument that McCann will need to move off of catcher in three years – and that’s not an argument I’m willing to automatically concede – he’d be an average first baseman or DH. he average first baseman this year hit .254/.332/.430, for DH it was .255/.338/.427. McCann hit .256/.336/.461, and he was hurt by a poor BABIP.
Is it ideal to pay a middle-of-the-road first baseman in excess of $15 million for two years? No. Is it going to sink the franchise as we know it? Absolutely not, and that’s the cost of doing business if you get ~12-15 WAR out of McCann while he’s still behind the plate.
Apologies for letting yet another article become solely focused on McCann, but he just too perfectly exemplifies the point that I think needs to be made about this offseason: adjust your expectations for what it takes to sign a player today. Good, healthy players don’t get two-year deals. You don’t need to be a future HOF-type to receive $20 million anymore. With new revenue from TV deals and with new evidence that each win costs $7 million, and not $5, both the dollars and years given to agree agents is going to increase.
You can say “then we should stay out of the market,” but that sort of free agent isolationism if narrow-minded for a team with financial flexibility and the need to add to a core that’s short on star power. If you never give out a big contract, you’re not going to control the game’s best players. Shane Victorino’s 2013 season is an exception to the rule.
There are reasonable plans for the Red Sox this offseason that don’t include signing McCann, resigning Jacoby Ellsbury or splurging on the likes of Shin-Soo Choo. But I don’t believe there are reasonable plans that include bringing back none of our departing free agents while failing to significantly bolster the lineup. If Mike Carp, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Ross and Will Middlebrooks are all regulars, you’re going to see a steep drop in offensive production from 2013.
We’re in a great position thanks to the Nick Punto trade. Let’s not waste the second chance we’ve been given.