Last winter, the Boston Red Sox molded a 93-loss disaster into a 97-win juggernaut through an offseason of wise, shrewd and visionary free-agent signings. According to Alex Speier of WEEI.com, team president Larry Lucchino is hoping for a sequel when the Red Sox go about filling out their roster in the aftermath of a World Series championship:
Said team still prefers shorter term deals for more dollars, and prefers to keep draft picks as default option.— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) November 25, 2013
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, lightning doesn't strike twice. By capitalizing on undervalued assets, creating a template for short-term, low-risk deals with midtier free agents and attacking free agency in the last year before baseball's new, lucrative media deal put $20-25 million in the pocket of each owner, Boston cornered a market that was wide open.
This winter, the copycats will be in abundance, but supply and demand won't let any team, including the Red Sox, repeat the same strategy en route to a franchise-changing offseason.
In New York, the Mets have posted five consecutive losing seasons, are battling budget concerns and come across unwilling to hand out $100 million deals. Of all the teams looking to spend and improve this winter, the Mets seemed most likely to go about the Red Sox model.
Thus far, they've found the climate, per the New York Daily News, of free-agent prices to be above and beyond what they are prepared to spend. It's likely that every other team attempting the 2013 Red Sox model will soon be confronted with the same realization.
Last year was a perfect storm for Boston. The free-agent class, dollars spent and undervalued assets fell right in line with the needs on the Red Sox roster. According to Yahoo! Sports' free-agent rankings, Boston reeled in seven of the top 50 free agents on the market last winter for less than $100 million.
That number didn't just represent the price paid out to Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara and Jonny Gomes in 2013; it was the total amount spent to secure their services for 11 combined seasons. In other words, Boston brought in the sextet for less than $10 million per season.
|6||Mike Napoli||One-year, $5 million|
|17||Ryan Dempster||Two-year, $26 million|
|19||Stephen Drew||One-year, $9.5 million|
|21||Shane Victorino||Three-year, $39 million|
|38||Koji Uehara||Two-year, $9.5 million|
|49||Jonny Gomes||Two-year, $10 million|
|115||David Ross||Two-year, $6.2 million|
To put that into perspective, Jhonny Peralta, the 18th-ranked player on Yahoo! Sports' current free-agent rankings, just received a four-year, $52 million contract from the St. Louis Cardinals. Last winter, Dempster was rated 17th by Yahoo! when garnering half that total amount from Boston.
Not only are teams trying to copy the Red Sox model, but money in the game is also on the rise. In September, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote a prescient column on this subject, imagining baseball's middle class earning much more money this winter and beyond. Per Sherman's reporting:
There are a lot of teams with available cash — more now with the new national TV contract putting an additional $20-million to-$25 million annually in each team’s coffers beginning in 2014 — and many of those clubs are indicating they are going to shun Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the market and, well, diversify the portfolio. Which means the middle class is about to become the upper-middle class as the good-to-very good free agents are going to get bid up by multiple teams.
The following chart shows the free-agent stars with corresponding rankings this winter to the players signed by Boston last winter. As you can see and imagine, the idea of those seven players, or similar stars, signing for a grand sum of less than 11 years or $99 million is absurd.
|115||Juan Carlos Oviedo|
In fact, with Byrd already inked to a $16 million deal in Philadelphia, Beltran, Cruz and Nolasco would have to combine for less than $83 million in total contract value to give credence to a team pulling off a 2013 Red Sox free-agent heist.
Boston is wise to attempt an offseason model similar to last year. Short-term deals are generally much, much more palatable for both general manager and ownership. If a decision is wrong, it won't cripple the franchise for years.
Can the Red Sox use their own offseason strategy to repeat in 2014?
While it's smart to try, the same results are nearly impossible to garner this time around. Beyond the fact that the middle class of players is poised to cash in, more teams are looking to duplicate the successful approach. This time, the 2014 Shane Victorino might cost $55 million, not $39 million.
Furthermore, even if the Red Sox find a few players who perfectly fit the model established last year, luck likely won't be on their side again. When general manager Ben Cherington inked Koji Uehara, the 38th-ranked free-agent on the market, few could have imagined one of the greatest relief pitching seasons in baseball history emerging from the move.
This time around, Lance Berkman is the No. 38 player on Yahoo! Sports' free-agent list. If he lands in Boston on a short-term deal, posts one of the greatest hitting seasons in history and leads the Red Sox to another World Series, it will be time to admit that Boston truly has its strategy perfected.
Until then, call it what it was: The perfect offseason plan for the perfect offseason.