There are much bigger concerns in the world right now than a lack of baseball, which we all know. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, while that absence of our favorite game is making life difficult for us, it is also undoubtedly the best thing for the country and the world. It is only April 1 and there is still a long, long way to go to know how any of this will turn out and when it will end, but there is at least a chance that there isn’t going to be any baseball at all in 2020. Anyone who says they know for sure either way is kidding, but the league certainly continues to indicate they plan on playing later this summer and there’s no reason to think they won’t do everything they can to do just that. However, I just don’t see how it happens personally. Again, no one really knows, but it sure looks like we are still in the beginning stages of this, or at least not on the downturn, and then there is going to be an extended slow down period. I just don’t know that it ends before it’s simply too late to restart a season, and if you rush it even without fans then what happens if a player tests positive? I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pessimistic to say the least.
Whatever the case may be, the league and the players know they have to be ready for anything which is why they hammered out an agreement on some contingencies last week. A lot of that had to do with a potential condensed or shortened season, but there were also some plans for the scenario where they indeed cannot restart the season. The big win for the players in said agreement was that they would get their 2019 service time for 2020 if the season is canceled. Service time is the lifeblood for players’ eventual paydays, and there’s no way to argue, by and large, that this is a win.
Well, at least that was my first thought. Ultimately and speaking broadly, I do still believe that is the case, but the more thought that goes into it the less convinced I am that it is indeed a, well, convincing win for them. Take players who are about to hit free agency. Mookie Betts has been the poster child here. He gets to hit the open market, which is great, but he does so after a year of no revenue. His potential $400+ million deal is simply not going to be there this winter if they don’t get games in. Generally speaking, the market is going to be depressed this winter, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the top of the market players like Betts take one-year deals to get back into a more normal market the following winter.
Of course, Betts is no longer on the Red Sox and we are, after all, a Red Sox blog. So, with this in mind I want to look at some players, and not only free agents, who have the most to lose from a potential lost year of baseball.
In my view, Martinez is the clear biggest loser in this scenario for the Red Sox. Now, it should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: This is all relative. No matter what, Martinez is on the books for almost $40 million over 2021 and 2022. He’s clearly not a loser when you don’t add in context. However, he had an opt out after this season that, I think, he was likely to use if he got through 2020 healthy. He could have used one last year as well, but using it after this season made more sense as the salary on his final two seasons in Boston dropped about eight millions. Martinez simply had a much better chance of beating his 2021-2022 salaries in free agency, even a year older, than beating his 2020-2022 salaries this past winter.
Now, he’ll potentially be left a year older without being to prove that he can get through a season without back spasms and in the aforementioned depressed free agent market. If there’s no baseball and teams aren’t getting their expected revenue, he probably won’t be beating that two-year, roughly $40 million deal. The good news for Martinez is that he does have another opt out after 2021, but at that point he’ll be entering his age-34 season. This coming winter was the time to strike for one more big(ish) deal, and that could be taken away.
Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Workman
These are the two obvious ones who fit into the Betts camp mentioned above, albeit at an obviously smaller scale. Both Bradley and Workman are due to hit free agency this coming winter, and both were very interesting cases. Bradley has the floor given to him by his defense, though that generally doesn’t get better as one gets older. The allure of his upside at the plate — which I am admittedly still buying into to some degree after all these years — is likely more narrative than reality. He’s been fairly consistent on a year-to-year basis in overall production offensively. Still, if he did have a better year at the plate this year, that combined with his defense could have set him up for a solid second- or third-tiered contract, depending on how you’re defining tiers. If there’s no baseball, he’s likely looking at a one-year deal, and perhaps one worth less than what he was due to make in 2020 through arbitration.
Workman, meanwhile, really had his future contract in his own hands. As a reliever who is on the wrong side of 30 he was clearly never looking at a megadeal, but it’s hard to overstate how productive he was in 2019. There were some causes for concern, but at the end of the day he did his job just about every time out. One potentially fluky season won’t get a reliever really paid though, and 2020 was his chance to prove that was no fluke. I honestly have no idea how the market would view Workman if there’s no baseball this year, but the most important individual season of his career could be taken out of his hands.
Eduardo Rodriguez/Matt Barnes
These are probably the two least effected names I’ll have on this list, but I still think it’s an interesting position to be in as they were both a year away from free agency with 2021 representing their final year of arbitration. In other words, this coming winter was a prime one for them to get a long-term extension. That is clearly still on the table, but the bargaining power there certainly lessens without having a 2020 season. For Rodriguez, he could back up his 2019 season and get a truly impressive pay day, and Barnes could back up the talent he’s always shown and get something more than one extra year tacked on to his arbitration contract. Plus, as I have mentioned a few times I think, teams aren’t going to be spending this winter so an extension doesn’t make much sense. This is particularly true in Boston’s case since they will once again be worrying about staying under the luxury tax.
Generally I think we would consider players furthest away from free agency to be the biggest beneficiaries of the players’ deal with the league, and it’s hard to argue with that. They don’t have their free agency delayed by a year and the financial situation of teams should be back to normal by that point. That said, while I think Devers and players like him will take the trade off they still stand to lose some money over the next few years if they miss the 2020 season. The most important year financially before free agency is the first year of arbitration, as it sets the baseline for the next two or three years on top of it. After his breakout 2019, Devers had a real chance to blossom into a near top-tier hitter and set a huge baseline for himself.
Instead, he would only going to have the one breakout year to bring to arbitration. He should still get solid money, but a drop of even a few million in year one only grows exponentially with each passing year of arbitration. Like I said, it’s still worth it for him to get to free agency that year earlier, but his arbitration salaries will certainly be lighter for the next three years if we don’t get baseball in 2020.
Pedroia probably wasn’t going to be able to play even if there was baseball in 2020. I know that. You know that. Some part of him probably knows it as well. Still, I wonder if he reconsiders even giving it another shot if we have to wait all the way until next year.