One-year deals sign of tough times

Posted Jan. 26, 2009, at 10:20 p.m.

Rocco Baldelli, John Smoltz, Brad Penny and Mark Kotsay are all members of the Red Sox, but that is not all they have in common.

All have signed contracts for one year. They are on a long list of such one-year deals in this offseason of major league baseball.

There likely will be many more such 365-day deals because there are plenty of free agents still sitting without a uniform to wear. Spring training is fast approaching.

There are some 100 free agents still unsigned, with former Sox star Manny Ramirez still on the list.

There can be little doubt that a primary reason one-year deals are popping up everywhere is the economy and the concern by all businesses, including Major League Baseball, that the worst is yet to come.

No one wants extended financial commitments when avoidable, and for baseball they are avoidable, except for the few fortunate high-priced players.

One GM, who shall go unnamed since he is negotiating with free agents for the coming year, told me this week that he does not want to be caught with financial commitments to players and then find the revenues down this year and maybe beyond.

“I don’t need to be stuck looking at those kinds of deals,” he said.

“I think a lot of free agents last fall were talking about the money they thought they could get and a lot of teams just said ‘OK, see you later,’” said this GM.

Another factor is the likes of Smoltz, veteran players trying to extend their careers with everyone unsure how that’s going to work. That will increasingly be a factor as more veterans try to play until they are 40.

There is also an argument for the players and their agents to want one-year deals.

Since it is clear the clubs will use the economy and uncertain future as a reason to hold salaries and length of deals down, why not take the one-year deal and see what the market looks like in another year?

Players can also build substantial amounts into the contracts as performance bonuses.

While we as fans hear about some such clauses, there are many that go unreported since the clubs do not want other players to know what types of bonuses they are willing to give and who gets them.

Another result of the times will be a number of players performing in the free-agent year of their deals for the second year in a row.

That can only be good for the game and the teams. Players don’t like to say their performance is affected by what year of the deal they are in, and for most they don’t consciously think of that, but it is human nature to have the weight of a new deal in the forefront of their minds as they push for big stats.

Many teams still have money to spend and every day that passes creates a stronger bargaining position for them if the free-agent basket continues to be full.

We are in the offseason of extended negotiations and each side waiting out the other. That favors the teams this year and should make the run up to spring interesting on the signing side.

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