The most valued commodity in baseball is low-salaried talent under your control, an approach that allows you to overspend for other areas of weakness. The Red Sox, the most successful of the Moneyball teams, clearly understand this. Spending money to make a splash guarantees nothing, and you may just lock yourself into both bad contracts and bad chemistry.
Among the Red Sox high value, low cost contracts include:
- Kevin Youkilis
- Jonathan Papelbon
- Dustin Pedroia
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Jon Lester
- Clay Buchholz
Established players carry higher price tags for past production, and expected production at similar levels to the past. For example, with Mike Lowell, is he more likely to hit .320 with 25 homers and 120 RBI, or hit .290 with 20 homers and 90 RBI? I'd argue the latter, although quite content with the Lowell signing.
Most competitors underestimate the importance of The Winner's Curse. You can go the following website and experiment with a variety of applications.
Johan Santana, winner of a pair of Cy Young Awards, has a career on a trajectory to become a Hall of Famer. Rumor is that he has already turned down over 18 million dollars a year to pitch for the Twins. Rumor also has it that the Twins seek as much as possible for Santana (three to four upper echelon prospects including a couple of major league ready players), for ONE YEAR guaranteed of Santana. Only the richest clubs can afford to bid with both prospects and dollars, and the accompanying luxury tax considerations for some teams. Negotiating an extension would clearly be a precursor for any team willing to part with so many prospects.
We already know that no team has won the World Series with one player's salary dominating their payroll beyond a certain amount. Even with Santana's positive health history, no guarantees exist, expressed or implied that this will continue. His proven track record in the AL means a lot.
The Red Sox projected starting rotation for 2008 includes:
- Josh Beckett (arguably the post-season MVP)
- Daisuke Matsuzaka (seeking to meet higher standards)
- Curt Schilling (twilight season)
- Jon Lester (seeking breakout season)
- Clay Buchholz (projected as a possible number one starter)
- Tim Wakefield (possibly part of a rotation designed to allow more rest for the entire staff)
To an extent, what transpires represents philosophy. I'd be inclined to continue the developmental pitching track, and try to avoid suffering the Winners Curse. Last year the Yankees suffered the Winners Curse with their abysmal Clemens bargain. Whether A-Rod and Mariano Rivera will continue that faux pas remains to be seen.
Whatever the Sox choose to do, I hope they educate themselves in the Winners Curse.