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A Lesson in Playing the Market [Addendum]

Posted By Bill Baer On January 4, 2012 @ 8:00 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 11 Comments

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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