It goes without saying that there’s a lot of money floating around Major League Baseball.
The Boston Red Sox just committed to spending $217 million over the next seven years for the services of starting pitcher David Price. The Arizona Diamondbacks dropped $206.5 million for six years of Zack Grienke.
Big, medium or small, market size doesn’t seem to matter quite as much as it used to. The money is there, and for the right players, teams are anything but shy about spending it.
Here’s another thing that teams seem to be increasingly willing to do.
They’re willing to spend money to get rid of players.
It is beginning to look like the 25 and 40 man roster limits are more daunting for some teams than a luxury tax or a nine-figure payroll.
Last season the Los Angeles Angels basically paid the Texas Rangers to take Josh Hamilton off their hands. The Angels agreed to pay around 73 of the remaining $80 million left on Hamilton’s contract. In exchange the Rangers sent next to nothing to Los Angeles.
If that seems unusual that’s because at the time it was.
This past Sunday, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo mentioned that the Los Angeles Dodgers may be on the verge of releasing veteran outfielder Carl Crawford.
That in and of itself is not too big a deal. Teams release veteran players who used to be good, but no longer produce all the time. They do not release them when they’re still owed $42 million, as is the case with Crawford.
Carl Crawford is still owed $42 million, that’s all that remains of the $142 million contract that the Boston Red Sox signed him to back in December of 2010.
The Dodgers are one of baseball’s wealthiest teams. Baseball Prospectus ranked their 2015 season-ending, 40-man roster payroll of $291 million the league’s highest.
With only 25 roster spots available or opening day, and a surplus of outfielders, Crawford simply might not fit anywhere on the team.
The $42 million that he’s owed renders him virtually impossible to trade.
So the Dodgers are considering just paying him, to not play.
Why should Red Sox fans care about this?
There could be some Carl Crawford types of circumstances on the Red Sox in the not-too-distant future.
Pablo Sandoval is owed $75 million over the next four seasons. Hanley Ramirez is owed a minimum of $66 million over the next three seasons. Both players underperformed in 2015. Both players have been public relations nightmares for the Red Sox as well. Don’t forget Rusney Castillo and the $56.5 million left on his deal. All three players appeared in ESPN.com’s Dan Szymborski’s Wednesday column ranking the 25 biggest salary albatrosses in MLB.
More importantly, the Red Sox will be shedding the salaries of David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz and Koji Uehara. Shedding those players will free up money for the Red Sox to spend in any way they see fit, even if that way is paying players to go away.
There’s also the team’s youth movement. There are four consensus top 100 prospects in the Red Sox farm system.
Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Anderson Espinoza might not all fulfill their lofty potential, but each one of them will inevitably get a shot to perform in the big leagues.
To provide those players with opportunities in the majors, the Red Sox don’t need money, they need roster space. That’s what makes paying a player to not play, at times a more attractive option than a trade for next-to-nothing, or simply benching the disappointing, high-priced veteran.
The Red Sox do not want this to be the end result. They’d much prefer that Castillo, Ramirez, and Sandoval all improve thus providing the team with either a solid, but well-paid trio of hitters, or three marketable assets to teams in need of such players.
No team wants to throw-away money, but the pressure to win is real, the money is there, and no matter what size market you play in, you’ve only got 25 active roster spots to work with.