The free agent market was stagnant until George Springer signed with the Jays, though arguably the market started to open up with Liam Hendriks becoming The South Slydah. As fans and pundits we have fun speculating on the next moves for Rick Hahn, but often those moves are oversimplified by just saying “he’s exactly what we need and it’s just money”. In reality, every transaction is much more nuanced and no negotiation is as simple as tossing the most cash someone’s way.
This is not just professionally, either, where I have 15+ years of experience of deal making in the legal realm. In every negotiation there’s a mutual need that brings the parties to the table, but their ability to control the negotiations varies. In negotiations that I’ve conducted in litigation settlements or transactions between businesses, the power dynamic depended largely on who would lose in court, or who needed to reach a deal because they had it worse. In the most grayish situations, it was less about leverage on the losing side, and more a mutual need to just be done with it because no one wanted to expend more time or energy than needed. The key there was always to understand the other side’s strengths and weaknesses position-wise, and understand where we can fill holes that they had, while maximizing what they could give my side. In other words, try and be fair by being able to satisfy the other side too.
As a consumer things aren’t much different, but the power dynamic is rooted in the ability to say no. Last time I bought a car I got a great deal because I didn’t need to buy the car. I could have walked easily, because my car was fine. Granted, my butt would currently miss the heated seats I now have that my old car lacked, but my old solution of eating gassier foods was just fine thank you. If the price was right, the car was an upgrade and worth it. If not, I walk. In fact, I literally got the deal after saying no to a similar car from another brand that was the wrong price. I had the total power.
Buying the services of an MLB player is not like buying a car or a TV. Trevor Bauer is not the same as Garrett Richards, in the way a Ford and a Honda might have similar specifications or two TVs might have the same resolution. George Springer and Adam Eaton are not equivalent right fielders for the Sox; so going into the off season when everyone knew there’d be a new guy in right there wasn’t the power dynamic for Rick Hahn to just walk away from every deal and make the player make it happen. It’s like trying to buy a car when you had to Uber to the dealership, it’s harder to (literally) walk.
Truthfully with pro sports, it’s a mix of the above dynamics. Hahn could walk away from George Springer in that Hahn didn’t need that particular guy at the price the Jays gave him. Hahn’s risk is a less dynamic player but still getting a productive one. If Springer really wanted to be in Chicago, his risk in not taking Rick’s price would be not being here and whatever happens if he’s turned loose on the market. It turns out when he does get turned loose he does very well in Canadian dollars and what I assume are very polite groupies. The reality is Springer wasn’t desparate to sign with any particular team. He, like most players, just wants a contract befitting his talents and would play just about anywhere that paid him what he wants.
Closer to the Basement, you see what happens when a player does fancy a certain team. Liam Hendriks made no secret at the end of last year that he liked what the Sox were doing. He knew, as we all did, that there was a Southside closer opening with Alex Colomé being out of contract at season’s end. Rick Hahn knew a closer would cost at least $10 million per year, since that was what he was paying Colomé in 2020. Rick also knows his budget…so would Hendriks have the power in negotiations or the Sox? Hendriks could take whoever gave him the most money and years (he wanted four years at market price) or take what the Sox offered. The Sox knew they needed to offer a reasonable rate to fill their closer hole with a certain level of player, whether that was Hendriks, Brad Hand or Colomé. But the Sox knew Hendriks liked them, so they could get him without having to grossly overpay. Hendriks wanted a certain amount of money and years, and the Sox had that in their budget (albeit creatively), and both sides knew that they were a fit. There was very little by the way of a power dynamic being flexed because neither side needed it worse than the other…they both wanted it and knew they could meet each other’s needs.
So do the Sox have any negotiating advantage left? Depends on the player. Let’s take a look at four pitchers who are similar: veteran former top end starters who have fallen to back end rotation types and took 1-year deals. Three lefties, JA happ, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana, and one righty, Garrett Richards. Richards got the highest amount at $10 million from the Red Sox, Quintana and Happ both took $8 million from the Angels and Twins respectively, while Lester got $6 million from the Nationals. If each one wants a better contract in 2022, they all have to prove themselves for various reasons. Why then if they are so similarly positioned, are they so disparate in the contract amounts? THe answer: Different power dynamics.
Jon Lester didn’t have many suitors due to his age and declining performance, and possibly his beer choice. He’s the same age roughly as Happ, but wasn’t as good in 2019 so he appears more worn out. Assuming the Nats’ offer was his only offer, Lester either takes it or makes nothing in 2021. If he has other, lesser offers or non-guaranteed offers, that’s the same flavor in a different bag. The Nats had a take-it-or-leave-it dynamic to flex on Lester, who had little to no leverage.
Happ and Quintana both went to teams that were starved for pitching, as the Twins and Angels both realistically had only 2-3 major league starting pitchers without getting into fringe guys and not-ready prospects. Both pitchers are declining from their peak. Happ’s peak was longer ago with 2019 a possible dead cat bounce, and Quintana’s decline starting slowly a couple years back.
The way the market had developed, Quintana lost leverage because his then-signed comparables in Drew Smyly at $11 million per and Anthony Desclafani at $6 million set some bookends for better or worse. Smyly was wildly overpaid and Disco probably took too little. The Angels represent a good fit for Q, and he’s a good for for them, but at the time he signed the market still had Richards and Happ, and still has Taijuan Walker, Brett Anderson, and other comparable players. Q wasn’t getting the aberrant Smyly cash, but he could walk away from the Angels if they undercut him too far because Boston and the Twins both had similar openings. The Angels were in a more exposed position than Q, so they gave him a deal like the younger, better armed but not quite as successful Robbie Ray or the Q-similar Mike Minor. Q used his slight leverage to get a deal where he can reclaim his mojo for a better deal next year, doing so in a better 2021 setting for him than in Minnesota or Boston, and gets a decent market price.
After Q, Happ signs an identical deal with the Twins. The market has now really spoken as Q, Robbie Ray and Mike Minor, all similar back end lefties like Happ, have taken $8 million (Minor $7 million this year, average $9 million per on his deal). Happ doesn’t have any power to flex, other than the Twins can’t undercut him because he could still walk away to Boston or Toronto, for example for the market price. The Twins need and want to wrap this up because they have other problems, so they sign the deal at market value. Gray areas abound, so it gets done because Happ understands the Twins issues and the Twins know Happ has to make the market level at least.
So how does broken-down right hander Garrett Richards get $10 million from the Red Sox? He’s not as valuable as a lefty overall, but he’s also the only one of our four that could regain ace status since it’s injury and not wear that caused his numbers to drop. Mainly, though, the Red Sox have a worse power dynamic than the Twins, Nationals or Angels. First, Boston…fun town to visit as a civilian, I suppose, but tough crowd as a sports figure. The laid back Angels fans and easy to outrun Twins fans are far less of an issue. Second, The Angels have Mike Trout and a chance at doing something, the Twins have been at or near the top of the AL Central for years now, but the Red Sox are stuck in nowheresville in a “rebuild or not” mode, and aren’t going anywhere over the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays soon. And, for a guy that might be a bit more gas can than he’d care to admit, Fenway isn’t a great rebound park for a pitcher. Given the bleh picture they paint, the Red Sox need to overpay pitchers. They dangled an overmarket price at Garrett Richards, who needs a deal, so foot meet red sock. Good for Richards, but an overpay.
Back to the White Sox and the fans wallet thumping for a fourth starter and a veteran DH. Popular theory is that as spring training draws nigh, the teams have the upper hand as more players are Jon Lesterized. So if no one offers Trevor Bauer what he wants, the Sox get him cheap, right? Yeah no. Dallas Keuchel signed after spring training in 2019 and still got $21.1 million. Craig Kimbrel is currently eating well as a Cub after the same wait. So the start of the season won’t create extreme bargains.
The Sox power dynamic is (and has been all off season) that they offer a legitimate chance to win, for a hitter a good park and lineup around him, for a pitcher the comforts of a good offense and pen behind him, and for the Sox right now they hold an advantage in that they don’t need to sign anyone. None of the benefits is enough to make a player go way undervalue, but maybe it is enough to tip the scales in a competitive bid. So for someone like Adam Wainwright, who was going to be Lesterized this off season no matter what as he’s at the end of his career, choosing an offer from the White Sox over the Red Sox is easy unless the Red Sox wickedly overpay. And assuming the White Soxd are his only real offer, they can undercut him a bit. But for Trevor Bauer, taking a budget offer from Rick Hahn vs. a market offer of his sought-after $30-ish million from the destined for 3rd place Giants is a no-brainer, and the Bauer Outage is headed west.
What this all means as we wrap up the Hot Stove and pitchers and catchers reporting acts as the amuse-bouche for the meal said Hot Stove produced is that the Sox still have to have room in their budget for these players and pay a fair rate, but a few guys might jump to the Southside over other opportunities. Unless Jerry has another $20-$30 million he wants to spend, don’t expect a premium DH and starter.
The Alternate Sight vs. The Minor League Season, an Andrew Vaughn Tale
At Sox In The Basement, we have noted a very key stat when discussing Andrew Vaughn: 55 professional games played. Seems a tad low when discussing the Designated Hitter of a championship team. At least former Sox “Savior(?)” Gordon Beckham had played 77 pro games before he turned out great.
Beckham hit .270 with an .808 OPS and 106 OPS+ in 103 games for the 2009 Sox. While that would have bested Nomar Mazara and Edwin Encarnacion last year, it’s hardly a difficult find to get a guy to hit that level overall. In 2019, that was Twins OF Eddie Rosario and Pirates SS Kevin Newman, at 77th and 78th best hitters. In 2018, that’s Oakland 2B Jed Lowrie at 63rd…and Eddie Rosario at 62nd.
But when the league figured out Gordon Beckham, he never recovered. As was discussed on the Podcast, that seems like a Gordon issue. He felt the weight of some headline stupidly calling him a franchise savior, and seemingly never got over it. Vaughn could fall into that well too, but he also arrives with other highly touted youngsters and not alone like 2009 Beckham joining a veteran squad. Besides, Vaughn is the better hitter, right? NCAA career .357 hitter with a 1.183 OPS? Beckham was what, an NCAA career .333 hitter with a 1.047 OPS? Oh. Uhh…
Look, the argument is that Vaughn is not ready because he didn’t play any games last year in Birmingham hitting off of some team’s #7 overall prospect or in Charlotte off a guy on the fringe of being in the bigs or who failed to get back there. Except he basically did just that. He faced the Sox equivalents in Schaumburg, which isn’t as much of a bandbox as the pictures would make you think. Compared to Comiskey/G-Rate Field, Boomers/Wintrust Field is longer down the lines by a bit (25 ft. to left, 15 ft. to right), Schaumburg is shorter in the alleys by 7ft., and both fields are 400 Ft. to center. It turns out the Schaumburg baseball facility was originally designed to mimic…Wrigley Field when the Cubs were rumored to be moving to the ‘burbs. And dimensions-wise, the field does mimic Wrigley. Of course, Boomers/Wintrust doesn’t have the height or stands that you’ll find at 35th and Shields or 1060 W. Addison, but it isn’t a little league park. It’s also in between Birmingham and Charlotte in terms of field size, and has the benefit of being the same weather as Chicago.
So let’s say that Vaughn virtually in 2020 got in roughly the amount of games against AA and AAA pitching that Nick Madrigal did in 2019, when he played 71 games. The main difference is lack of variety…you see one Jose Ruiz outing you’ve seen them all…and possibly the stakes being lower. The stakes in the minors are to impress the big club, which was the goal in Schaumburg too but in a more training camp sense. Regardless of the diminished variety and competition, assuming Vaughn showed a good approach, could handle the stuff that was thrown at him, then it really is just a question of doing it when you don’t know the pitcher as well or at all, and with game intensity. Vaughn will face all new pitchers in the majors anyway, with a few familiar faces sprinkled in. If he wilts under competitive stress, he could hit off a tee and it wouldn’t matter. Madrigal handled all of that in 29 games last year, and well. Beckham handled it in 2009…to the tune of possible DH free agent candidate Eddie Rosario.
The White Sox will have Andrew Vaughn as their primary DH this year, for at least the second half. There’s every reason to believe that he has more valid experience under his belt than cautionary tale Gordon Beckham, and not that much less than penciled-in 2020 starter Nick Madrigal. This year, he should be fine. Whether he gets crushed under a savior complex or he and Madrigal torture the MLB for years to come remains to be seen, and mentally at least is up to Andrew Vaughn. And Nick Madrigal. I don’t think Vaughn controls him.
Still…Eddie Rosario is just sitting there. Give the guy a 1-year deal, fellas, and let Vaughn hit his way up through the system.
A Lineup’s worth of Things about the Sox that worry me, an ongoing list:
- Whether the team being outmatched on the trade market now means outmatched at the deadline too.
- I just legitimately compared Andrew Vaughn to Gordon Beckham.
- The Twins signing JA Happ to hahahahahaahaha just kidding. Thanks for the fading lefty, dontcha know.
- I just roundaboutly compared Nick Madrigal to Gordon Beckham.
- “The team is on the floor” when help is literally standing floor adjacent.
- That Jose Ruiz continues to be a legitimate White Sox reference.
- Gordon Beckham’s hair. Never was quite able to fully comprehend its majesty.
- Walls and Nets vs. Eloy. (Even as a DH, somehow).
- I just traded for Dylan Cease in a fantasy league and I don’t want that pressure.
- And warming up in the pen: Gordon Beckham’s hair, DH.