Taking stock of the Red Sox signing 1B Adrian Gonzalez to a $154 million extension earlier this week, the Signs On San Diego’s Tim Sullivan warns the deal is just the latest example of big market powerhouses keeping the little guy down. Or, as he writes so pithily, the pact “is worth more than the priciest of Picassos, more than the most coveted of Van Goghs. It is worth more, even, than the $140 million Mexican mogul David Martinez reputedly paid for one of Jackson Pollock’s imponderable abstracts, titled No. 5, 1948.” In other words, Tim Sullivan knows art, but he also knows what he doesn’t like.
Whether the Padres could have financed such a contract to keep Gonzalez is a question clouded by ballpark promises, economic recession, John Moores’ divorce and Jeff Moorad’s business model. How much the Padres can afford to spend on any particular player depends on what you make of accounting management does not make public.
In the continuing absence of a salary cap and in the presence of escalating differences in local revenues, mid- and small-market baseball fans are reduced to window-shopping when an elite player reaches the marketplace and are often resigned to irrelevance come October. Though the Padres have generally delivered good bang for limited bucks, their inability to keep a hometown star with bilingual appeal tells you baseball’s playing field is still tilted and its marketplace maddeningly stratified.
Epstein acquired Gonzalez from the Padres in an off-season trade, but the teams’ comparative finances afforded him leverage with the Padres and a critical edge on most prospective bidders. Though A-Gon’s new contract allows him to designate two teams to whom he can veto trades, agent John Boggs acknowledges that the size of his client’s check effectively eliminates 90 percent of big-league ballclubs.
If Boggs’ comment sounded off-the-cuff, his math was masterful. Though the game’s 25 highest salaries for the 2011 season are divided among 15 different teams, only the Yankees, Angels and Twins employ players who will make more than the $22 million Gonzalez will average through 2018.
Though it’s hard to argue that the Red Sox don’t have tremendous resources the likes of which small-market clubs can only dream of (or as Sullivan puts it, “money might not buy happiness, even in baseball, but it tends to improve one’s odds”), Boston is currently sporting the worst record in all of baseball, despite Sunday’s 8-1 defeat of Toronto. Existing market inequities didn’t prevent the Twins, Rays and Reds from making the postseason in 2010, nor is being situated in the nation’s two biggest television markets enough to guarantee even .500 finishes in 2011 for the Mets or Dodgers.