The Internet has changed the discussion of baseball — all sports, really — significantly over the last few years. As fans, we’re a lot more concerned and up to date with the financial side of things than we’ve ever been before, largely because of the constant rise of popularity of analytics across the league. The thing that we probably don’t think about enough, though, is that when we look at contractual details, we view them through the scope of the organization.
It’s actually one of the strangest things about sports to me, that they can make even the most liberal and pro-labor individual take the side of employer over employee. That’s not to say it’s not understandable. Fans root for teams. While everyone may have their own favorite players and get upset when a team lets them go, at the end of the day they (we) are rooting for the organization above all else. There’s certainly no judgements here, as it’s something we all (myself included) do.
The negative side of this is that we fail to look at many of these things from the players’ perspective, or we at least don’t look at it from this angle for a proportional amount of time. Individual free agent signings are looked at as good or bad, but only from the team’s point of view. When someone signs for more money than expected, it’s looked at as the team making a mistake, not a player capitalizing on a market and getting the best compensation possible for himself. Again, it’s an understandable way to look at things, but it’s something that we should probably strive to alter.
I bring all of this up because there’s one story that’s been gaining steam around the Red Sox beat, and one that I would expect to only get bigger as the season goes on. Both Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are coming off extremely impressive seasons, especially given how young they are. As such, the question of whether or not the team should be looking into an extension has begun. The thing is, it’s not a very difficult question. Of course the Red Sox front office should try to get a deal done with one or both of these players. They are potential franchise cornerstones and getting them under contract long-term is of great benefit to the organization. So, why hasn’t it happened? The answer becomes clear when you look at it through the eyes of these two young talents.
Deciding whether or not to sign a long-term extension in arbitration or pre-arb years is a tough decision for every young player in the league. Everyone weighs the pros and cons of a possible deal and makes the decision from there. Some sign, some don’t, and the decision is defensible for either side. Looking specifically at Betts and Bogaerts, and really any player who is facing this decision right now, the pros and cons are shifted a bit. The incentive for this group to sign one of these deals is even lower than usual given the expiration of the current CBA and subsequent new agreement coming after this season.
In an era where the business side of sports is as prominent as ever, it’s a little surprising how relatively little we’ve heard about the upcoming CBA negotiations. Honestly, that’s good news for us fans, since it appears to mean there’s little chance of a work stoppage. With that being said, there will probably be some significant changes to the way the league works beginning with the 2017 season. Of course, many of these changes will have little-to-nothing to do with the current young major leaguers. For example, there’s been a lot of talk about moving towards an international draft. Whatever your opinion on this may be, it’s not likely to have a huge effect on players like Betts and Bogaerts.
On the flip side, there are plenty of decisions that will be made that could make an extension for Betts and Bogaerts much more lucrative, even ignoring how much they may boost their value in the 2016 season. First and foremost, the luxury tax is going to change. It’s possible the execution of the clause may change, but at the very least the threshold is going to rise. This will allow the richest teams in the league to spend more, which will in turn increase salaries for players across the game. I would also expect players to fight for a larger chunk of the league’s overall revenue stream. As you can see in this post from Fangraphs, the players have a smaller piece of the pie than they’ve had in recent memory. Assuming they can address this in negotiations, that will also increase salaries.
Beyond those two major changes, there are some other less likely changes that could have a massive effect on players like Betts and Bogaerts. At the start of last season, we saw a number of controversies regarding teams manipulating rookies’ service time, most notably involving Kris Bryant. If the league can stop that practice, that should at least marginally affect the salaries of the leagues’ younger players.
Although there hasn’t been much talk about this, but it’s also not impossible to see the players argue for less service time required to hit free agency. If you look at other sports leagues around the country, you’d find that six years is an awfully long time for a team to control a player before he can hit free agency. At the very least, they may be able to find a way to change arbitration. Whether that means increasing salaries in that process to better reflect those players’ value or making the process value different qualities, it would result in a large increase of value for players at the early stages of their careers such as Betts and Bogaerts.
Now, is any of this guaranteed to happen? Of course not. In fact, there’s a better chance than not than any individual example presented above doesn’t come to fruition. As such, none of this is to say that Betts and Bogaerts have no incentive to sign an extension right now. The temptation of having long-term security is huge, and any player in any situation can understandably give in to that temptation. At the same time, the incentive may be at a near-all time low for these guys to sign an extension right now.
With the new CBA coming and the value of young players skyrocketing across the league, there’s a chance for both of them to significantly increase their salary by holding negotiations off for a year. And that’s without factoring in how much they’d increase their value by playing well again in 2016. The Red Sox obviously want to sign both of them to long-term deals as soon as possible. When we look at it through the players’ lens, however, they would likely benefit by waiting another year to get a deal done. And no one could blame them for doing so.