A Lesson in Playing the Market [Addendum]

Last week, I wrote about both Ryan Madson and the Phillies looking less-than-stellar so far this off-season. Madson is a Scott Boras client, but you haven’t heard too much about him as of late. Two other Boras clients, however, have been in the news: first baseman Prince Fielder and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Boras is seeking a five-year deal with an average annual value between $15-17 million for Jackson. Jackson, who has been with six teams in nine years, has a career 4.46 ERA and 4.38 xFIP. Only two free agent pitchers signed a multi-year deal more than two years in length this off-season: C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) and Mark Buehrle (four years, $58 million). Other similarly-skilled pitchers, such as Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, signed less-risky deals. Jackson may be vastly overrated, but any GM — stat-savvy or not — will see the ridiculousness in Jackson’s demands.

Meanwhile, you’ve heard Fielder’s name linked with the Washington Nationals. With Albert Pujols having been off the market for a while now, the demand for Fielder is rather weak. There aren’t many teams out there that need a first baseman, can afford Fielder, and would benefit from the signing in the short-term. Additionally, there are still some capable first basemen still available, including Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, and Casey Kotchman, which reduces some of Fielder’s leverage. As an interesting note, since 2007, Fielder has only been better than Pena by about 1 fWAR per season on average. If you’re a GM, do you feel more comfortable with Pena on a one-year, $10 million deal, or Fielder at seven years, $140 million?

Along with Jackson and Fielder, waiting perhaps a bit too long and being a bit too inflexible with their demands, is Madson. Madson was reported to have signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Phillies in November, but it never became official. Shortly afterward, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million deal. The market for Madson has dried up, but his demands never weakened — or at least that’s how one of his last suitors felt, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Boras is seeking a deal similar to what Rafael Soriano got from the New York Yankees last January: three years, $35 million, which would be a slightly-worse get for Madson two months later.

Those are are not the only ones potentially losing money. By my count, there were eight noteworthy Boras clients entering free agency. So far, only one has signed a contract (Andruw Jones, one year, $2 million) and one accepted arbitration (Francisco Rodriguez).

Player POS Details
Damon, Johnny OF
Fielder, Prince 1B
Gonzalez, Mike RP
Jackson, Edwin SP
Jones, Andruw OF 1 yr, $2M
Madson, Ryan RP
Pena, Carlos 1B
Rodriguez, Francisco RP Accepted arb.

Most or all of his clients could still get a large sum of money, but Boras is preying on (and praying for) the inability for some GM’s to read the market. In past years, this strategy has worked wonderfully for most of the Boras clientele, but this off-season has a strange amalgamation of smarter GM’s, an uglier free agent market, and an abundance of information. Is this going to be par for the course going forward, or is it just a blip on the radar? It will be interesting to see how it plays out leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting in February. Who knows? Madson may end up back with the Phillies.

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  1. frank riccard

    January 04, 2012 09:55 AM

    I love the (relatively) smarter offseason.

    After Werth and Crawford both failed to live up to their massive deals in such enormous ways, even big money teams have been much more risk-averse. I mean, look at the Yankees. The richest team in baseball definitely needs to upgrade their rotation, but they haven’t appeared to be seriously in on any of the biggest names this offseason. The Red Sox have been active, but more so through trade than free agent signings.

    Yeah, the Phils jumped at Paps, but w/ their moderate bench moves, the low-risk/high-reward Willis signing, and J-Roll’s completely reasonable deal, I think we can safely call it a wash.

    Everybody seems to be getting reasonable deals. Paps was the best available closer on the market, and is still in his prime, and even if it was absurd to give a reliever that much money, at least it went to the best guy not named Mariano Rivera. The other crazy deal was given to Albert Pujols–’nuff said.

    I think Fielder and Madson are the two best examples of teams refusing to buy into the bull. Madson is a solid reliever, and I think he’ll be a very good closer, but he’s just not going to get the deal Boras is looking for. Fielder is fat as a house, and unless he manages to slim down its only a matter of time before he starts having knee and back problems.

  2. Phillie697

    January 04, 2012 03:30 PM

    I continue to pray the Nats don’t sign Fielder. If they do, once they call up Harper, that team is crazy scary. Werth, Zimmerman, Fielder, Morse, Harper is a scary lineup, and that’s not counting the nice complimentary pieces like Ramos and Espinosa. Plus they now have a Strasburg/Gonzalez/Zimmermann rotation. I’m not so sure they are that much worse than the Phillies, minus perhaps experience.

  3. astrojet

    January 04, 2012 06:03 PM

    Why do people continue to anoint Bryce Harper as the next Babe Ruth when he hasnt even been on a big league lineup card as yet? The toughest jump is AAA ball to the majors. Sounds just like the hype JD Drew got and he’s not turned the baseball world upside down! You can tell way more about pitchers potential than hitters. Slow down on Harper and remember all the “cant miss “busts.

  4. jeff miller

    January 04, 2012 07:11 PM

    Why do you think the phillies are not pursuing a 1st baseman? Isn’t the injury to Howard the most difficult to overcome.

  5. Andrew

    January 04, 2012 07:15 PM

    Who will sign prince?

  6. Chris R

    January 04, 2012 09:36 PM

    The Soriano contract last year was patently absurd when signed, and looks even worse after his worthless 2011. Perhaps that was the inflection point at which some GMs decided they no longer would deal with Boras. Not buying the snake oil; not even listening to the patter.

  7. Nick W.

    January 04, 2012 09:42 PM

    I don’t think anyone is etching Bryce Harper to be the next Babe Ruth. Whether he lives up to his potential or just seems to hover around the outside of what the scouts believe he can achieve, he will still be a very effective outfielder with some power.

  8. Phillie697

    January 05, 2012 11:09 AM


    Love this paragraph in the article: “I know Cole Hamels can throw hard, and make the ball move, and has great stats. I know Zack Greinke makes old men weep. Maybe one of those guys will be the exception. But it’s much more likely that they’ll be injured or ineffective or go through a conversion to the bullpen before ever throwing 200 innings in the majors.” Ooops, LOL.

    And yes, Nick W is right. Nobody is expecting Harper to be Babe Ruth, nor does he have to be to make that lineup scary, not when they already have Zimmerman, Werth, Morse, and possibly Fielder.

  9. Richard

    January 06, 2012 03:52 PM

    also, you know, JD Drew was pretty damn good

  10. LTG

    January 07, 2012 12:52 PM

    Yeah, Phillie, I saw that and chuckled too. Fortunately for the author, the prediction does not sink the argument.

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