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The term was a new one on me, so I asked agent Scott Boras about the origins of a "pillow contract," which is how he described the one-year deal he'd cut for Adrian Beltre with the Red Sox.
"A pillow contract,'' he said, "is basically, you lay down, it's comfortable, when you wake up in the morning, it's soft, it's there, but it's not there with you all the time. That's a one-year contract. It's a pillow. You use it for a little bit, and you go on.''
Boras asserts that early on he informed Beltre, even as he was lobbying for a long-term contract for the free-agent third baseman, that a pillow contract was the likely course he'd be recommending in the end. Boras held out hope that a team might step up and offer a four-year deal at big bucks, but realistically, he said, that was unlikely to happen, with Beltre coming off successive summers of shoulder surgery (and surgery on his thumb as well in 2008).
Beltre had three-year offers in hand, Boras said -- he didn't name the teams, but according to an industry source the Orioles, Athletics and Mariners all submitted bids -- but they were so far below what Boras believed Beltre's value that he advised Beltre to take a different course: Come to Boston on a one-year deal, show you're healthy, re-establish your value, and see what the market brings in 2011.
Boras acknowledged that his initial approach to the Red Sox was for a long-term deal, but after the Sox signed John Lackey and Mike Cameron, he said he called general manager Theo Epstein and proposed the short-term scenario. Boras referred to the option year (at $5 million) as a "calamity scenario.''
Without mentioning Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik by name, Boras appeared to imply that Zduriencik's relative inexperience on the job as a GM -- he just completed his first year -- was a factor in his unwillingness to push harder to keep Beltre.
"Sometimes when you're very familiar with the game from an evaluation standpoint, you're going to make decisions you really trust,'' Boras said. "The hardest part of baseball today with transitioning to general manager is the economics of the game. It's much like the evaluation of the game. You grow comfortable with the decision-making, and when you're going to go out and make what I call a real specialized evaluation, you're prepared to take on a trust in your evaluation of the player and do something the market would not normally do.''
Perhaps the boldest comment Boras made Friday at Fenway Park was to suggest folks go back and look at Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman, and compare his numbers at age 30 to what Beltre has accomplished.
Not wanting to miss out, we did just that, using baseballmusings.com and to be honest, I can't figure out why Boras would have invited the comparison.
Schmidt turned 31 at the end of the 1980 season, a year the Phillies won the World Series, and his counting numbers were relatively close to Beltre's now:
Schmidt: .259 BA, 283 HRs, 787 RBIs
Beltre: .270 BA, 250 HRs, 906 RBIs
But Beltre played in 447 more games than Schmidt did at a similar point in their careers, and Schmidt's other numbers: .375 OBP, .525 SGP, .901 OPS are much better than Beltre's: .325/.443/.779.
Because Boras likes to point out that Beltre's numbers were negatively impacted by playing in Safeco Field, I checked the road numbers, and again it was no contest: Schmidt hit seven more home runs than Beltre (144 to 137) in 232 fewer games (613 to 845), and had an .881 OPS to Beltre's .826.
It's tricky comparing different eras played in different ballparks, which is why we turned to another stat, OPS-plus, which measures a player's OPS adjusted to his home park. Schmidt had a career OPS+ of 147 (100 would be the average player); Beltre is at 105.
So other than comparing their fielding wizardry -- and if you haven't watched it yet, I urge you to check out this video -- I'm not seeing Schmidt and Beltre in the same conversation.