- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Five years and $75 million for a player coming off a .298 on-base percentage (B.J. Upton), and everyone is already referring to the deal as a bargain.
Four years and $40 million for a 31-year-old center fielder (Angel Pagan), and nobody blinks an eye.
Three years and $39 million for a catcher who hit .227 and likely will spend most of his time at first base (Mike Napoli), and the signing sort of makes sense.
Three years and $20 million for a 37-year-old second baseman who posted a .684 OPS in 95 games with the Rockies in 2012 (Marco Scutaro), and the contract isn't roundly criticized.
Now ... Shane Victorino. That signing finally seemed to stir up the masses. Considering the switch-hitting Victorino's struggles against right-handers in two of the past three seasons (.230/.295/.332 in 2012) and his age (32), three years and $39 million seem a lot for a player one executive told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney he had expected to receive $6 or $7 million on a one-year deal.
So it's just crazy money at this point, which is why we're seeing $150 million to $160 million estimates on Zack Greinke's ultimate price tag.
I wonder if we're evaluating some of these deals in the wrong way, however -- in isolation, instead of in the context of where the team is. In Boston's case, these points may make it easier to understand the Victorino signing:
1. It gives them the flexibility to trade Jacoby Ellsbury for pitching, with Victorino playing center field.
2. It gives them some certainty on their roster moving forward; if they waited too long to sign Victorino, only the big-ticket players (Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher) are left, a direction the Red Sox don't appear to want to go.
3. The Red Sox have money to spend. Boston's Opening Day payroll in 2012 was about $175 million, so if we assume a similar revenue stream in 2013, we can assume the Red Sox would have a similar budget if so desired. With the departures of Adrian Gonzalez ($21.8 million), Carl Crawford ($20.3 million), Josh Beckett ($17 million), Kevin Youkilis ($12.2 million), Daisuke Matsuzaka ($10.3 million) and Bobby Jenks ($6 million), you can see plenty of room exists.
The Red Sox could sign Victorino and Mike Napoli -- even overpay to get them -- but stay well under budget and not destroy their long-term payroll flexibility if those players don't pan out. The Red Sox also have some highly rated prospects who could be ready by 2014 -- most notably shortstop Xander Bogarts and center fielder Jackie Bradley -- and if those players develop as expected, they'll get several years of inexpensive production, creating even more payroll flexibility.
Look, is there a chance Victorino is a bust? Sure. But even last season when his offense dipped, his defense, baserunning and ability to hit left-handers made him a two-win player. If he bounces back just a bit at the plate, the contract is more reasonable (he was a five-win player in 2011, although that appears to be a career year).
But the bigger point is that in analyzing where the Red Sox are as a franchise, it's easier to see their thought process. Plus, it's not our money; what do we care if the Red Sox overpay to sign Victorino? This wasn't an either/or situation, where signing Victorino and Napoli will prevent the Red Sox from pursuing Hamilton or Greinke; they weren't going to go the $100 million-plus contract route again this winter following the Crawford/Gonzalez disasters. Signing Victorino doesn't block a young player. And it could work out.
In the end, it's not dollars spent per win that matter, it's wins. Sure, you want to do that as efficiently as possible, but the free-agent market isn't set up for efficiency.