February 29, 2016 0 By Dan Freedman


As it is written, it is done.

On Friday I wrote about many contracts – and one specifically lacking.  And, over the weekend, that one player got a new deal.  Ian Desmond, he of the turned down 7/$107M offer, took a 1-year deal to play leftfield for the Rangers.  So, he gets to change teams, change leagues, and change positions, all for the right to play on a one-year deal for $3M less than he made last year.  The hits just keep on coming.

This deal was the topic du jour over the weekend, culminating with former Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden saying: “I have never seen a worse contract, ever.”  Strong words indeed.  I think Desmond is a good guy and a good player, so I hope that he plays well and gets a nice multi-year deal next Fall to at least make up for some of that lost money.

After I posted on Friday, I thought more about the deal Dexter Fowler ultimately signed with the Cubs.  Apparently, the sticking point on his deal with the Orioles was that Fowler wanted an opt-out clause after the first season (Yoenis Cespedes got one of those from the Mets, and Scott Kazmir got one from the Dodgers).  The difference is that neither the Mets nor the Dodgers were required to give up a draft pick to sign their respective deals (Cespedes remained with the Mets, and the Astros did not make Kazmir a Qualifying Offer).  For the Orioles to give Fowler $11M to play in 2016, commit themselves to another $22M, give up their first-round draft pick and the money allocated thereto, just to have Fowler potentially walk next November, was a bridge too far.

And, upon further reflection, it may very well be that Fowler got exactly what he wanted, and more:

  • He stays with a team he knows.
  • He has a better chance to win with the Cubs than the Orioles (even though the Orioles do look to be competitive in the stacked AL East).
  • He continues playing CF (in Baltimore, Fowler would have moved to RF because Adam Jones lives in CF at Camden Yards).
  • He gets an opt-out after one season (remember, it is a mutual option for Year 2).
  • If he utilizes the opt-out, he will make $13M this season (remember, there is a $5M buy-out).
  • And here is the kicker: After looking at all of the deals being done, I am sure his agent convinced him that there is no world in which he won’t get him 2/$20M in the open market after 2016. Or, said differently, the worst Fowler could do over a three year period would be 3/$33M.  That sounds a lot like the deal he turned down from Baltimore.

Of course, Fowler is taking a performance risk; he is taking an injury risk; and after seeing Ian Desmond’s deal, he may be taking a market risk.  But, it just may be that having the chance to break the Curse of the Billy Goat was worth all of those risks (oh, and a guaranteed $13M if it all goes to hell helps as well).

Which brings us to the other story of the weekend: Gerrit Cole not being happy with his $10K raise.  A brief explanation: Players with less than three years of service time in the Major Leagues are obligated to accept the contract offered by the team.  Cole has less than three years of service time.  He was paid $531K last season, and was offered $541K this season (as point of reference, the MLB Minimum is $507.5K).  The Pirates claim to have a policy about these types of things, and Cole and his agent (more about that in a minute) think an exception should be made for a guy of Gerrit’s stature and skill level.

It is a valid argument, but one that, upon closer inspection, doesn’t hold water.  Here are just a few reasons why:

  • At $541K, Cole is still the Pirates highest-paid pre-arbitration player.
  • As a mid/small market team, the Pirates need to count nickels, and not give away C-Notes just to make one player happy.
  • Cole received an $8M signing bonus when drafted by the Pirates in 2011.
  • In 2013, Mike Trout, in the same position as Cole (but not, because by then he was already one of the best players in baseball and just won the Rookie of the Year Award), received $510K.
  • But, the most important reason why this doesn’t hold any water is that Gerrit Cole is represented by the Dark Knight himself, Scott Boras.  Boras nearly always (always?) brings his players into Free Agency, hardly ever (has he ever?) gives a team a hometown discount, and extracts every ounce of value (plus an additional pound or two; see Fielder, Prince in Detroit; Ellsbury, Jacoby in New York; Werth, Jayson in Washington) from an acquiring team.  You can bet that when Cole hits arbitration in 2017, and the open market of free agency in 2020, Boras won’t remember any beneficence on the part of the Pirates in the Spring of 2016.  No, Boras will don a mask, wield a gun, and empty some team’s vault for his prized right-hander.

The last chapter of this book has not yet been written.  It may be that the Pirates cave to the pressure and throw Cole an extra $100-$200K (Boras wanted a deal of at least $650K) just to make him happy.  But they really shouldn’t.  Gerrit Cole is a member of the MLBPA who negotiated the CBA, and he will most certainly be the beneficiary of that CBA in a few years’ time.

Sometimes, young Gerrit, patience is a virtue.

Teams started official Spring Training games today.