Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sox Blow It; Sign Wakefield

How's that for a misleading headline?

Last night the Sox blew a game they should have lost, and signed Tim Wakefield to an extension. First the game, then the contract.

How do you characterize getting out-hit 13-6 and only losing 4-3 in the ninth? Is that good or bad?

Bronson Arroyo pitched well enough to get the win, departing after seven innings with the score at 1-1 lead. Big Papi's two run homer in the bottom of the seventh put the score at 3-1 and put Arroyo in position to get a win for his efforts. Alan Embree came on to face the Jays in the 8th and just like that Arroyo's lead disappeared. The crap parade continued as Keith Foulke came on in the ninth to protect a tie and blew it after getting the first guy and going 0-2 on the second guy. Red Sox starters: 7 innings, one run. Red Sox relievers: 2 innings, 3 runs. Yuck.

Enough about that. In other less depressing news, the Red Sox signed Tim Wakefield to a 1,000 year, $4 Billion contract yesterday. Ok, not really, but with a few simple advances in medical science it could come to that. But even then, not really.

The contract is really a one year contract extension for 2006 at $4 Million with a few incentives. What makes it such an interesting deal is that it contains a provision for a $4 Million option for the next season in perpetuity. For example, after the '06 season the Sox can pick up Wakefield for '07 at the same $4 Million price. No irritating haggling with an agent, no back and forth about 'value', no discussion of money whatsoever. After the '07 season they can do it again for the '08 season. Same price. They can pretty much do this forever. All the options are club options. The decision is up to the Red Sox each off season. Do they want Wakefield next season? If so, fork over four mill and he's yours. If not, decline the option and he's a free agent.

Needless to say, this is a very strange deal. Essentially, this is Wakefield saying 'I don't want to bother with any of that pesky free agency stuff. I want to be in Boston as long as they want me there.' As refreshing as that may be to many fans (and don't many fans need refreshing?) and as good a deal as this seems to be for the Sox, one has to wonder if this deal is really in Wakefield's best interest.

If you listen to talk radio you'll often hear people complaining about the money that athletes make. Some mullet-head will call up and say 'What's the difference between three million and four million dollars? These athletes are all over-paid anyway!" While there are a number of problems with such a statement, I'm going to just address the 'difference' part. So, what is the difference between 3 or 4 Million dollars? Well, the difference is a Million dollars! One Million dollars! That's a lot of money. If someone were offering me a million dollars I'd sure take it. That's what Wakefield is potentially turning down. I'll be the last guy to say that $4 Million isn't very much money, but ballplayers have a limited earning potential and with this contract Wakefield is essentially foregoing the opportunity to maximize that potential. Does he get something in return for this? Sure he does. He gets the assurance that he'll be a Red Sox through 2006 for sure, and as long as he stays around league average probably for a number of years beyond that. He obviously trusts management (to sign a deal like this he has to), and he obviously considers the $4 Million he'll earn each year of this deal to be fair payment for his services.

Let me be clear: I don't think this is a bad deal for Wakefield, just a strange one, especially in light of the fact that just this spring he was saying he didn't want to be the one to go to the bullpen when Wade Miller comes off the disabled list. By signing this deal he's tied himself to a team that has five other starting pitchers signed through next season and in most cases beyond. Wells is on the first of a two year deal, Clement is on the first of a three year deal, Schilling has (I believe) two more years left after this one, and Arroyo and Miller are both under Sox control for next season. That doesn't mean Wakefield won't be a starting pitcher for the Sox, but it does mean he might not be. In either case he'd be a valuable asset to have, but if he wants to pitch exclusively as a starter then this probably isn't the deal for him.

I assume that Wakefield must know all that though.

As a Red Sox fan, I'm very happy with this deal. Wakefield is a decent-to-good starting pitcher who is equally good from the bullpen. He has developed a reputation (deserved or not) as a yankee-killer, a reputation that only increases his value to the team. Furthermore, by all accounts he's a good guy who genuinely cares about the Red Sox, and the Boston area.

This is another in a series of excellent deals from Theo (Wade Miller, Ortiz, Schilling, etc). The Yankees certainly don't get this type of creativity from their GM. As long as Theo is in charge the Sox stand a good chance of competing, and that's all you can ask for as a fan. This deal is just another example of that.

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