The BLOG: Culture

The price isn’t always right, but MLB teams will pay regardless

Some advice for new parents: Take away the football helmet, basketball shoes and hockey stick, and get your kid a baseball glove.

This is to be taken semi-seriously – youth and high school athletes should always diversify. But it’s hard to read about Tuesday’s big free agent news regarding David Price and the Boston Red Sox and think any other sport should hold someone’s professional aspirations.

To recap: Price, a CY Young-award-winning left-hander, will be signing with his third AL East club, the Red Sox, for a deal reported to be for seven years and $217 million.

The $31 million-per-year average matches Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the highest annual average, and when you consider a starting pitcher only throws once every five games or so, the per-appearance value skyrockets. Price’s season high for appearances is 34 (done twice), and if he started 34 games for all seven years of the deal, that is just less than $912,000 for each of his 238 starts.

This is not to say that the deal isn’t worth it – not like you or I have any say when it comes to signing these big paydays. Price is an extraordinary talent in his prime. He’s a coveted southpaw who has already navigated every one of the hitter-friendly AL East ballparks, including a minuscule 1.95 ERA at Fenway Park. Yes, his postseason numbers are ghastly – 2-7 record and 5.12 ERA – compared to his regular season stats, but he was the biggest fish in the free agent sea and new personnel czar Dave Dombrowski wanted to make a splash.

The point is, more so than other sports, trying to assess a dollar value to any given baseball player is meaningless – unless you have a cash-conscience owner. Baseball is the one major North American sport without a hard salary cap. Football, hockey and basketball teams are all held to a spending limit in their respective sports, but baseball owners can throw as much money as they are willing to spend to lure a player to their club.

To put this in perspective: Every single one of Price’s reported $217 million is guaranteed. They are all his. All the dollars. Even if he blows his elbow out in Year 3, the Red Sox (or any team that trades for his contract) are on the hook. In the NFL, the highest amount of guaranteed money is $65 million – owed to quarterbacks Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.

So while Manning and Rivers will have to continue to stand in the pocket and face 270-pound missiles of muscle trying to decapitate them in order to earn the entirety of their deals, Price could potentially lob underhand to hitters and still get paid. And if that happens and Price negotiates a buyout with the Sox, he can always defer the payments, sparking a Bobby Bonilla scenario that will all give us a chuckle when the BoSox are still sending him a check in 2035.

The Monopoly money thrown around by baseball teams come free agency can elicit a moral dilemma of whether athletes should be paid the amounts that they are. But this isn’t about to change. The Red Sox will be deemed “winners of the offseason.” The team who throws $217,000,001 at a pitcher next year will be the winner of that offseason.

Maybe in 15-20 years we’ll be talking about MLB contracts north of half-of-a-billion guaranteed dollars. Here’s hoping your kid’s curveball has enough bite to it by then.

Alex Jankowski

Alex Jankowski

Alex Jankowski is the Web Editor of the NewBostonPost. He spent five years traveling the country as a sports journalist before settling down with his wife in Boston. He can be reached at [email protected].