Bradford: Red Sox players explain how there's more to free agency than money

Rob Bradford
March 01, 2019 - 7:03 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's supposed to be a simple equation.

You're a Major League Baseball player who has earned the right to make a significant career choice. Hence, FREE agency. Want to prioritize a certain organization in a specific part of the country? Sure. Or perhaps it's more about getting a deal done on your timetable. Seems reasonable. Sign away.

Not so fast.

When it comes to agreeing to contracts in this world of MLB there are plenty of things to factor in. Just ask Bryce Harper. Just ask Mookie Betts. Just ask David Price.

"Probably when I got to the big leagues in 2008," said Price when asked about when he realized the reality when it comes to making a contractual decision.

As was the case with Price, players who make it to this level of baseball are educated fairly quickly that there is something else to consider before signing on the dotted line. Before you go and take that deal for something less than perceived market value take a moment to consider the players who might be coming up in a few years. Contracts are compared to contracts and anybody who sets the bar a low level is going to be viewed a bit differently.

As Price noted, that was certainly the case when one of the game's top young players, Evan Longoria, jumped at a team-friendly extension basically a week into his big league career.

"You were hearing veterans on our team voice displeasure about Longo when he signed his first deal in Tampa," the Red Sox pitcher remembered. "It was really a team-friendly deal and everyone viewed him as a needle-pusher for the market and stuff like that. We had quite a few veterans on the team at that time and I remember them talking about that, how the big guys can push the needle for guys who are coming after that. Getting the average salary up and what-not."

Those who raised eyebrows with the Rays 11 years ago weren't unique.

When a deal is done and word trickles throughout baseball, players in every clubhouse start dissecting how it might impact the next guy. That's why Betts admitted at last season's All-Star Game he would be keeping a close eye on Harper's deal. And the same goes for any of these recent extensions (Nolan Arenado, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino) that are being carted out.

"A bunch of times throughout my career," said J.D. Martinez when asked if he had witnessed uncomfortable reactions to contract agreements, along the lines of what happened with Longoria. "I'm like, 'What is he doing?' But the thing about baseball is, we have so many different cultures here. Guys have from the Dominican, Venezuela, certain guys come up with nothing. So when they get that kind of money thrown at them, it's tough. You understand. At the end of the day, they have to feel happy about what they got, and you have to feel satisfied with what you're given. And if you feel satisfied, and you feel like, 'I've been paid the right way,' then OK. Because very few guys get their peak value. It doesn't happen. To me, it's a luck game now. Certain guys just have it easy, other guys have to fight for it."

But what makes the battle appreciably more difficult for those attempting to get their ideal scenario if there are examples the teams can use when trying to drive the price down.

It's a reminder that might be initially hard to fathom as a young player, but something that remains of the utmost importance -- particularly during these days where it certainly seems the teams are holding the negotiating hammer.

"Once you get to arbitration, you start to understand it more, because you're forced to understand it more," Martinez said. "When you're a kid, you're just playing the game and you're like, 'Dude, I'm just happy being in the big leagues.' You're so focused on being in the big leagues. You're not thinking about money or signing deals or not signing deals. That's what you have your agent for. I think that's why most of these teams look to throw kids money right away, because, 'Oh my God, $20-something million? Grab it now. I just got here.' I just feel like in your first year, you don't think that way. You don't know if you're good enough. But I think after going into arbitration, you're like, 'Wait a minute, I'm in Year Three here, and I'm pretty good at this. What is my real worth?'

"You try to hold everyone to a standard, but at the end of the day, guys before us fought for it. So when a guy signs a quick deal, he kind of gives that edge back the other way. Obviously, we frown upon it as baseball players, but we can understand. It might be a different situation you don't know about. A lot of guys really care, some guys just want to get their money, be free, and that's it. Play baseball and be done with it."

The Red Sox have a good chunk of players who will be put to the test in the coming years.

Chris Sale is as good a pitcher as any in the game and will be hitting free agency at 30 years old. So logic would suggest he get something at least along the lines of Price's seven-year, $217 deal. But concerns about his durability and the way teams' offers are trending might make such an agreement more difficult than a few years ago. That, however, doesn't mean Sale will settle.

The same goes for Xander Bogaerts, Martinez and Rick Porcello, who already had to weigh the financial impact for the next generation when agreeing to his four-year, $82.5 million extension heading into the 2015 season.

"It’s the odd scenario you deal with because it’s essentially it’s that guy’s future," Porcello explained. "It’s his family he has to take care of. If he has something thrown in front of him he likes it’s completely his prerogative to sign that deal. But we educate each other. We educate the younger guys on the ripple effect, whether it’s an arbitration deal you settle on or an extension or a free agent contract, there are implications beyond the years and you have to keep that in mind.

"Veteran guys in the clubhouse do what they can to educate the young guys with the experiences they’ve had. What they know about the future and what the young guys are going to be seeing through the arbitration process, the extension or free agent talks. I was also fortunate enough to have representation who educated me step by step along the way on basically everything. Not everyone is that fortunate. Some guys don’t have the best representation or they don’t know some of the ins and outs, or they’re not concerned about it and that’s where hopefully you have veteran players who can help out and make sure they let guys know what’s going on."

The Red Sox is one team that does have those veteran voices.

"I think you know the better the guys before you do, the bar is set there and hopefully, it affects the younger generation in a positive way. We understand it," said Andrew Benintendi. "The closer I get the more I pay attention to it. I would never pay attention to guys’ contracts before. Now I’m kind of keeping an eye on it and putting it in the back of my mind."

He's not alone.

"It’s definitely a weird feeling knowing that you’re negotiating for yourself and for your family, which is essentially all that should matter, but you’re also affecting a lot of other guys," Porcello said. "It’s something you have to keep in mind."