Jeremy Hermida signed a one-year contract this week to stay in Boston for 2010, and with Hermida's job security comes the continuation of an impressive winning streak for Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. In eight offseasons, Epstein had never taken a player to arbitration to settle a salary dispute — he's always found a way to settle out of court. Every single time.
It looked like that streak was coming to an end this winter, but Epstein once again pulled a rabbit out of his hat and made all the contract disputes disappear.
First came Jonathan Papelbon, the annual arbitration scare, but Epstein got that out of the way. Then Pap's bullpen partners in crime, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez, inked new deals, too. And finally, after sitting down with Epstein and the Red Sox on Tuesday, Hermida fell into place. After an initial disagreement — Hermida wanted $3.85 million for next season while the Red Sox wanted to pay him $2.95 million — the two sides met in the middle at $3,345,000.
Why, you ask?
Why is it so important to Theo Epstein to get deals done out of court, avoiding arbitration at all costs? Why has he made a point of doing this every winter, eight years running?
It's a good question. And the answer isn't simple, but it makes sense. Epstein is maintaining good relationships with his players, keeping them fat and happy during their arbitration-eligible years.
Between their third and their sixth seasons of major-league service time, every player in Major League Baseball is eligible for arbitration. They can't file for free agency; they're still under their teams' contractual control, and the only question is for how much. But this contractual control only lasts for three years — and after that, the players are on their own. Epstein is doing everything he can to keep his players happy so that after six years come and go, he and his players are still on good terms.
A long salary dispute can be taxing for a player's relationship with his team. Take Papelbon and the Red Sox, for instance. Boston's All-Star closer wanted $10.25 million to pitch in 2010, putting him on par with other elite closers like Joe Nathan and Brad Lidge. The Sox wanted to give him $8.45 million. A difference of nearly $2 million over a one-year contract is a major disagreement, and one that could damage ties between Papelbon and the organization that's nurtured him ever since his selection in the 2003 draft.
But Epstein got a deal done instead, finding a way to meet Papelbon in the middle and offer him $9.35 million. Papelbon took it.
This is what Epstein does best. He's got an analytical mind and a good head for numbers. He knows exactly what every player on his roster is worth to him, and he can put a dollar sign on it.
When Epstein's numbers conflict with a player's wishes, that presents a tricky situation — especially with someone like Papelbon, an ambitious player who strives to set the bar for closer's salaries in baseball. Epstein's role is more than just crunching numbers. He has to be a master negotiator, knowing how to keep players' egos in check. Ultimately, everything is about putting the team first.
Epstein's streak isn't just a personal achievement. It's a testament to the strong teamwork within the Red Sox organization, and it's proof that the Sox are committed to keeping their players happy. No one likes a drawn-out legal battle.
Whether it's Papelbon, Hermida, or anyone else, Theo Epstein knows how to get a deal done and keep his players happy. The streak lives on, and so does the business philosophy of a proud baseball organization.