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The Steak is Served. Was it worth it?

Mar 25, 2013, 1:31 PM EDT

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Back in January, Scott Boras said this to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick regarding his then un-signed free agent clients, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse:

“People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet. Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”

Now steak is served, and steak costs approximately $12 million a year over four years for the Bourn strip and $11 million a year for three years for the filet Lohse. Good deals on steak, or market price?

That’s the big question now, as the two most high-profile free agents subject to draft pick compensation have finally found homes.  Did the market work how it was intended to work, or did these two get boned because of the draft picks that were the cost of doing business with them?

I can sort of see it both ways.

On the one hand, in a vacuum, I’d say that Bourn and Lohse are basically worth what they got. This isn’t economics I’m talking about here. It’s gut. It’s me looking at their performances in recent years, their ages, their skill sets and consulting with all of the intangible crap that floats around ife and saying “yeah, that seems about right.”  $48 million and $33 million, respectively, are numbers that, if my team signed them for, I’d probably be able to live with. And if some team signed them for significantly more, I’d say “hmm, seems like an overpay.”

On the other hand, free agents don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a market in which other guys sorta like them sign. And I see B.J. Upton and Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson and a lot of other free agents getting deals that are either worth much more or, given the relative quality of the players involved, seem to be more valable for the guys in question than what Bourn and Lohse got. Put differently, I can’t help but think that those “overpays” I mentioned above would have come to pass but for the free agent compensation.

And now, with everyone of any stature signed, people are going to revisit that free agent compensation thing. Some are going to argue that it’s unfair. Some are going to argue that it worked the way it was intended and it kept free agent salaries from getting out of control. I don’t know that it truly worked either effect particularly well.

Shane Victorino showed that if you’re not quite worth a $13.3 million risk in a qualifying offer, you still can get that much times three on the market whereas, if he were better and worth the qualifying offer, he’d get nothing approaching it. The top end guys showed that owners will still pay near-silly money for free agents. Overall, there wasn’t a ton of discipline exacted on the market. But if there was, it seemed to fall disproportionately on a couple of guys.

In that sense I’m not sure it worked for either the owners or the players, whatever they intended when they negotiated the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because I can’t imagine that the desired effect by either side was “a couple of free agents will get what, in vacuum, sorta seems fair to some fans.”

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