Boston's Smoltz deal exemplifies market divide

Gordon Edes
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – As if you needed another reminder of the difference between large-market and small-market teams, there is this:

For the six weeks that John Smoltz(notes) was with the Boston Red Sox before being designated for assignment Friday, Boston will pay him, by our calculations, $7.06 million. They guaranteed him a $5.5 million base, gave him $125,000 when he was added to the major league roster, and paid him $35,000 for each of the additional 41 days he was on the 25-man roster, or another $1.56 million.

The Red Sox, in other words, paid Smoltz almost $1 million more than the Florida Marlins are paying the five pitchers who have made the most starts for them this season: Ricky Nolasco(notes) ($2.4M), Andrew Miller(notes) ($1.575M), Josh Johnson(notes) ($1.4M), Chris Volstad(notes) ($400,000) and Sean West(notes) ($400,000). So six weeks of Smoltz cost more than the Marlins' entire starting rotation.

When the Red Sox signed Smoltz back in January, general manager Theo Epstein described it as a low-risk acquisition with a potentially high reward. It's a low risk when money is no object. Boston laid out more money for Smoltz's six weeks than last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee(notes), is making ($6 million). More than World Series hero Cole Hamels(notes) ($4.35M), more than Royals wunderkind Zack Greinke(notes) ($3.75M), Diamondbacks ace and NL Cy Young runner-up Brandon Webb(notes) ($6.5M) and Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez(notes) ($3.8M). More than Boston's closer, Jonathan Papelbon(notes) ($6.25M) and Smoltz's fellow graybeard, Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield(notes) ($4M).

Only 56 pitchers began this season guaranteed to make more money than Boston is paying Smoltz. For their money, the Red Sox paid more than $3.5 million per win, as Smoltz won just twice in eight starts before his 8.32 ERA and demolition by the Yankees on Thursday forced Boston's hand.

And as an aside, we probably should mention that the Red Sox are paying the remaining $11 million on Julio Lugo's(notes) contract ($2M this season, $9M next) after trading him to the Cardinals.

The ugly outcome offers vindication for the stance taken this winter by the Braves and GM Frank Wren, who was vilified by many – including, indirectly, Smoltz – for offering Smoltz a lower guarantee than the Red Sox. Wren turned around and signed Derek Lowe(notes) to anchor the Braves' rotation, and later cut ties with another Atlanta icon, Tom Glavine(notes), to bring up rookie phenom Tommy Hanson(notes). Both moves have worked out splendidly for the Braves.

By designating him for assignment, the Red Sox have given Smoltz the chance to dictate the terms of his retirement. Even though he indicated after Thursday's game that he'd be willing to pitch out of the bullpen, it's doubtful that physically he could do so. With the state of pitching today, perhaps there is another team that would take him, as one big league scout suggested Friday, but it's hard to imagine Smoltz setting himself up for any further humiliation on his last stop to Cooperstown.

Classy move by Epstein, to fly from Boston to New York on Friday morning to break the news personally to Smoltz.

"It's never easy to tell someone he has been designated for assignment, especially a Hall of Fame pitcher,'' Epstein said. "We asked him to go home for a few days and think about what he wants to do.''

The Red Sox called up Junichi Tazawa(notes), who was signed out of a Japanese independent league and has made two starts for Triple-A Pawtucket after spending most of the season in Double-A. But while scouts praise Tazawa as being polished far beyond his 23 years, the expectation is that Tazawa is here this weekend to bolster the bullpen and prospect Michael Bowden(notes), who is scheduled to start Tuesday in Pawtucket, and will get the summons to take Smoltz's spot.

"This is a challenging time for this team, no doubt about it,'' said Epstein, who also claimed shortstop Chris Woodward(notes) on waivers from Seattle because of uncertainty over Jed Lowrie(notes), who missed three months with left wrist surgery and now is experiencing a tingling sensation in his fingers. "[But] things will stabilize. We'll get through this as an organization.''

Especially if they can buy their way out.


War drums?: Indians president Paul Dolan told reporters this week that the team is projected to lose $16 million this season, a primary reason they jettisoned both Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez(notes) before they became free agents following the 2010 season. Dolan said the team could have picked up the options on both players for next season, but this was the only way they could bring in additional talent to compete down the road.

Dolan also complained that mid-market teams like the Indians cannot compete with the big boys under the present system, a possible foreshadowing that the next round of collective bargaining could be a contentious one. The current CBA expires after the 2011 season.

"A salary cap is the easiest to understand," Dolan said of possible remedies. "Revenue sharing has shrunk the gap, but right now the gap is too wide.

"The other change that is happening in the game in the last five years is that not only are the small and medium markets losing in the free-agent market, but we’re now losing in the amateur signing and international free-agent market.

"The larger-market clubs have managed to take their money and manipulate the amateur-draft situation. Not only are they bringing in the elite talent on the free-agent level, but the elite talent on the entry level."

Dolan also proposed that baseball consider a worldwide draft with a slotting system similar to that in the NBA.

Ghost of the Giambino: In his last three seasons, up to his release Friday by the Oakland Athletics, Jason Giambi(notes) had the lowest average of any major league player appearing in as many as 300 games. Giambi is batting .229 since the start of the 2007 season, and has more strikeouts (249) than hits (225) in that span. The next lowest, by the way, is another Oakland player, the oft-injured Bobby Crosby(notes) (.231).

Teammate to tenant: Adam LaRoche(notes) played for the Red Sox for just a week before being traded to Atlanta, but that was evidently enough time to make himself at home. While in Boston, he stayed with J.D. Drew(notes), with whom he played on his first go-round in Atlanta, and after being sent back to the Braves, he made arrangements to rent out the Peachtree City home in which Boston pitcher Jon Lester(notes) lives during the offseason.

Family ties: Alex Avila's(notes) promotion to the big leagues by the Detroit Tigers was not only a source of joy for his father, Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, but continues a family legacy begun by his grandfather, Ralph Avila, the Cuban-born scout who played a huge role in opening the Dominican Republic to the major leagues while working for the Dodgers. Avila, a catcher drafted in the fifth round, had two hits in his major league debut, then homered in his next game.

Fungo hitting: The Nationals have interviewed Rays senior VP of baseball operations Gerry Hunsicker, Diamondbacks player personnel director Jerry DiPoto, Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer and in-house candidate Chuck LaMar for the team's GM position, according to sources. Mike Rizzo is the interim GM and remains a candidate to keep the job on a permanent basis. … Prince Fielder's(notes) tirade in Dodger Stadium, in which he tried to storm the home clubhouse after a game in which former teammate Guillermo Mota(notes) hit him with a pitch with two outs in the ninth inning, came a year to the day after he went after teammate Manny Parra(notes) in the Brewers' dugout. … The Red Sox did not give the Mariners a blanket list of prospects to choose from in talks about Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, but talks about a three-way deal involving San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes) were serious in the hours before the trading deadline. "Felix was definitely out there,'' one scout said. "I think Jack [Zduriencik] put it out there, just to see what kind of offers he might get, see if there was a [Roy] Halladay-type deal to be made.'' The Brewers were among the clubs that also talked to Seattle about Hernandez.

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