In this era of baseball free agency, championships are sometimes won in the offseason.
The Red Sox certainly made themselves the team to beat in the American League when they got Carl Crawford to agree on a 7-year contract worth a reported $142 million late Wednesday night. Crawford will take his physical in Boston on Friday and sign the contract soon after.
GM Theo Epstein can now focus on signing one more strong arm for his bullpen and then take it easy.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have been forced to up their offer to free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, offering him something similar to the deal they gave CC Sabathia two years ago – 7 years, $161M. And Lee still might not take it, choosing to go back to Texas to please his wife and settle some unfinished business after losing two games in the 2010 World Series for the Rangers.
The American League East also looks different with Crawford in Boston. Tampa Bay can’t spend with the big boys in the division, something everyone knows. The Rays plan to cut their payroll from $73M in 2010 to around $53M in 2011. They have already lost Crawford (Red Sox), Carlos Pena (Cubs), and setup man Joaquin Benoit (Tigers). Closer Rafael Soriano is another free agent too rich for Tampa’s budget.
The Rays will replace Crawford with top prospect Desmond Jennings, a speedy athlete who hit .278 with 3 HRs for Durham in a disappointing 2010 minor league campaign.
It is pretty clear Tampa Bay has hit the wall when it comes to seriously challenging New York and Boston. Those two teams can equal Tampa’s entire payroll on just their three richest players. (Two if you count A-Rod’s various bonuses).
I’d be the last person to complain about baseball’s financial system favoring the rich markets. It’s a free country. Capitalism is still our economic way of doing business. If Boston and the Yankees want to invest their profits in the product on the field, more power to them.
And remember: high payrolls only get teams into contention. Winning the World Series still comes down to executing on the field. The Giants won the World Series last October with great pitching and a bunch of journeymen players in the field.