Not only have Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder landed contracts in excess of $200 million, but Reds first baseman Joey Votto has reportedly surpassed that plateau with his contract extension and Matt Cain has become the richest right-hander in the history of baseball.
Pujols and Fielder were expected to land such deals, but the extensions for Votto and Cain come as a bit of a surprise — not really because of their timing, but because each deal signifies that we’re in the midst of a full-fledged market boom across Major League Baseball.
Votto was under contract through 2013 before inking his deal, while Cain was under contract through the upcoming season. Both deals clearly show how much of an emphasis there was by each team to lock up what it deems to be an integral part of its future.
However, in addition to the leaguewide implications that each deal has, the Red Sox will most certainly be among the teams most impacted.
The reported deals inevitably impact the Red Sox because they’re typically a team that isn’t afraid to spend money in free agency. This offseason stands as an exception, but it would be shocking if the Sox weren’t major players in the open market at some point in the near future, as they’ve been for much of the last decade. With hefty contracts getting doled out at will, any future endeavors will prove to be that much more costly for the Sox if they continue to operate under a similar business model. It’s also true for every other team in baseball, but a big market team like the Sox may find itself pulling on the reins a bit going forward.
And one of the reasons the Sox could pull harder on the reins is because of what’s looming when it comes to their own players.
Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name that Ben Cherinton and Co. will have to deal with moving forward, as the reigning MVP runner-up is slated to become a free agent after this season. Matt Kemp‘s eight-year, $160 million extension with the Dodgers may have set the bar for Ellsbury’s upcoming deal, but the contracts that have been handed out since have only raised that bar even higher.
Before this offseason, only Alex Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year, $277 million extension following the 2007 season, had obtained a contract in excess of $200 million. Now, Pujols (10 years, $240 million), Fielder (nine years, $213 million) and Votto (10 years, $225 million) have quadrupled that exclusive club’s membership over the course of a three-month span. By comparison, Adrian Gonzalez‘s seven-year, $154 million deal suddenly looks extremely club-friendly.
Ellsbury isn’t a slugging first baseman like this offseason’s trio of $200 million contract recipients, but with the speedy outfielder reaching superstar status last season, it’s safe to say his stock could reach new heights with a repeat performance in 2012.
When it comes to Boston’s hurlers, Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s contract is set to expire after this season and Jon Lester‘s runs through 2013; two situations also impacted by the recent Cain signing.
It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Matsuzaka’s tenure in Boston come to an end upon his contract’s expiration, but it also wouldn’t have been shocking if the Sox reallocated the money spent on him elsewhere. And while we’ve already seen Mark Buehrle (four years, $58 million) and C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) receive huge paydays this offseason, Cain’s six-year, $127.5 million deal truly marks a new starting point for future free-agent negotiatons. It also makes next year’s potential free-agent crop a bit thinner, as Cain’s extension means there’s one less fish in the pond.
Cole Hamels and James Shields are among the other starters slated to hit the open market following the 2012 season. And while either — or both — could eventually get locked up long-term by his current team, the investment just got that much greater with Cain’s new salary.
Jered Weaver signed a five-year, $85 million extension with the Angels this offseason, and the Phillies’ latest offer to Hamels was in that ballpark, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. However, with Cain’s huge raise out on the West Coast, Philly will likely have to up that offer even further, perhaps significantly.
In other words, it was understandable that the Sox didn’t want to overexert themselves this offseason, as holding back theoretically puts them in a better position to be major players during the 2012 offseason or during what projects to be a solid free-agent class in 2013. However, with the recent developments, any future expenditures may also have to be record-setting.
The Sox will undoubtedly want to lock up Jon Lester to a long-term deal — in addition to potentially going after other free-agent starters — and they’d be best served to do so before the lefty hits the open market, meaning next offseason seems like a logical time to get something done. But with Cain, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay all now making more than $20 million annually, you can bet that every conversation with Lester’s reps will start and end with that figure.
It’s been an expensive offseason across Major League Baseball, but future price tags may be that much more spendy.