The Art of a Bad Deal Revisited
Score one for J.D. Drew and Aramis Ramirez. The players signed contracts two years ago allowing them to opt out after their second season. Guess what? They both did. The players won and their teams lost. No ifs, ands, ors, or buts about it.
Drew exercised his option last Thursday and is now a free agent. He left three years and $33 million on the table. Ramirez filed for free agency on October 30, turning his back on $11M in 2007 and $11.5M in 2008, before agreeing to a new five-year, $75 million deal with the Cubs.
Ramirez's windfall is highly transparent. His total salary increases by $7.5M over the next two seasons and he has gained an extra three years of security at $15M per. The 28-year-old third baseman has a full no-trade clause through 2010 and the right to void his contract after four years.
We won't know how much Drew stands to gain until he comes to terms with his new team. But one thing is certain: J.D. will sign a more lucrative deal than the one he just forfeited. You can take that to the bank.
First of all, it was not an accident that Scott Boras negotiated the escape clause to coincide with the arrival of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Secondly, Boras sized up the market, determined that Drew would be one of the most highly prized free agents this offseason, and realized his client would have no problem securing a better contract than what remained on the old arrangement.
Based on Ned Colletti's comments, the Dodgers are not going to bid on Drew. According to the Los Angeles Times, the general manager, who hadn't spoken to his star right fielder since October 6, was "surprised" and "disappointed" in Drew's decision to test the free agent waters. Colletti was also blunt in his assessment of the situation. "I'm done. He wants out. He can have out."
I recognize that it was Paul DePodesta--and not Colletti--who signed Drew to that one-sided deal in December 2004. But Ned inherited the contract and could have negotiated a new one if he wanted to keep Drew in Dodger Blue. It might be a painful lesson but the door swings both ways. The Dodgers exercised their right not to pick up Eric Gagne's $12M option for 2007 and J.D. Drew exercised his right not to return to the Dodgers. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Drew was a polarizing figure in L.A. He was generally supported by the sabermetric crowd but never embraced by the casual fan or the mainstream media. In fact, there are many who see Drew's exit and say good riddance, others who view his departure as a blessing, and those who seem relieved by it all. The more objective, even-handed take on the matter seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Whether one likes or dislikes Drew is not the point here. Players who hit close to .300/.400/.500 don't grow on trees. Lost on the critics is the fact that Drew was the #1 right fielder in the NL last year and the sixth-best in the majors (behind Jermaine Dye, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cuddyer, and Bobby Abreu).
The point is that the Dodgers are worse off without Drew than with him. His production cannot be easily replaced in today's market for $11 million per year. The Dodgers--and the Cubs in the case of Ramirez--made a costly mistake in agreeing to the escape clause. As I pointed out in The Art of a Bad Deal in January 2005, "you don't give the other side the right to put (the contract) back or call it away unless you get something in return."
A year later, I included the following comments on Drew in High Risk, High Reward:
The risk to the Dodgers is twofold: (1) if J.D. plays well, he has the ability to opt out of his contract; (2) on the other hand, if Drew gets hurt and/or plays poorly, he sticks around for the last three years of his contract and collects the remaining $33 million owed to him.
Heads Drew wins, tails the Dodgers lose. One way or the other, the outcome was not going to work out in L.A.'s favor. Mind you, between the two risks, losing a productive Drew earlier than expected beats the heck out of keeping an unproductive Drew for three additional years.
Nonetheless, the Dodgers now face the prospect of having to replace Drew in an environment in which comparable players will cost them more dollars and years. Welcome to the laws of supply and demand. Economics 101. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise. In the case of MLB, the supply of talent is more or less fixed while the amount of money chasing these goods has generally been on the rise.
Baseball teams are awash with cash and the bidding for top-tier talent will be fast and furious. The Dodgers will either be forced to pay up for Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, or settle for someone like Moises Alou, Frank Catalanotto, Cliff Floyd, Luis Gonzalez, Aubrey Huff, or Trot Nixon. Besides Nixon, none of these players have the tools to play right field. Andre Ethier could be switched from one corner to the other, freeing up a spot in left for one of the above or perhaps even James Loney (should the Dodgers bring back Nomar Garciaparra).
Given Colletti's reluctance to hand the center field job to Matt Kemp, the Dodgers will also need to re-sign Kenny Lofton, pursue Juan Pierre or Gary Matthews Jr., or make a trade for someone like Chone Figgins.
No matter what, the Dodgers are going to spend more money or wind up with lesser players than Drew at all three outfield spots. There's just no opting out of that.