The myth of the Hometown Discount

BOSTON - APRIL 25: David Ortiz #34 and Tim Wakefield #49 of the Boston Red Sox share a moment against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 25, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It's a situation we've all seen before- a popular player is up for free agency, in high demand and coming off of a great season.  Teams all over are clamoring for them to join, offering probably more money than they can possibly be worth to the team, but in the end they end up re-signing with the team they've had success with for less money and/or years than they would have been able to get on the market.

It seems to happen particularly a lot to the Sox (see Mike Lowell, see David Ortiz, see Josh Beckett, see Tim Wakefield). 

Then fast forward to a few years later (let's look at Lowell, because we've been hearing all about his contract status lately), and they just aren't the same player.  They are aging, not playing as well, and the team starts thinking that there are better options to start every day.  Fans all over who are used to seeing them on the field start complaining about how it is unfair to the player, who took a discount to stay, to not be putting them out there.

What do you think?  Is there any validity to this?

Personally, I say no.  When a player signs a contract, they are not signing as a favor to the GM of the team.  When Lowell was a free agent after 2007, he had several other offers, including a 4 year deal from Philadelphia.  He ended up signing for just three years for the Sox, but not because he liked Theo and wanted to do him a favor.  At that point in their career, players take stock of their options and decide what they're comfortable with based on a few different things:

  • How much money and how many years are being offered?
  • How comfortable are they with where they are now and do they feel like uprooting and having to deal with a whole new set of coworkers?
  • and of course
  • Who is going to give them the best shot at a brand shiny new World Series ring?

There are some other factors that play into this.  Lowell, for example, has said that he's always thought about retiring after these three years are up (though one questions how recently those thoughts became serious).  He also thought Boston offered him a better chance at another championship than Philadelphia (oops).  Wakefield agreed to a reduction in his already bargain-basement price because he was comfortable with Boston and wanted his shot at making the Boston record books (again, oops, looking more and more unlikely).  The Red Sox even see this happen with players who haven't even been in Boston before, taking less money to play here than they are offered by other teams, just because they think they'll have their best shot at a ring (Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre).

So, these hometown discount players, do the Red Sox owe them anything?

Sure they do.  It's spelled out in their contracts.  They have the responsibility to pay Lowell, for example, $12 million dollars a year, no matter what they do with him.  This is the players guarantee.  It should be the Red Sox perogative to decide whether they'd rather pay their players to play everyday for the Red Sox, to play golf, or to play for the Orioles.  The team obviously wants the players they sign to work out for the length of the contract and to play great baseball, but signing a contract agreeing to pay out $37.5 million dollars shouldn't mean that the front office should be handcuffed to starting a particular player every day if they think there are better options out there.

Now don't misunderstand me.  I fully see how and why Lowell is upset with the way things are.  It's gotta be tough to go from being a key piece of a team to a leftover who spends his days sitting on the bench wanting to play.  I fully sympathize with Lowell for this.  This post is not intended for him, but for the fans who shout "he took a discount to play in Boston!  Not having him start is a disservice to him!"  He still makes his money at the end of the day whether he plays or not, and Boston is holding up their end of the deal.

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