I have to admit it: sometimes I like Scott Boras. I always love a good villain in a movie. My personal favorite is Kurtwood Smith (the dad from That 70’s Show) in Robocop.
But sometimes even I get annoyed with Boras’s hyperbole. He seemed to stretch the truth a bit on Kyle Lohse. He implied the Cardinals would fail to win the division this year because they didn’t sign Jeff Weaver. And now he’s making his pitch for Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (hat tip DRays Bay).
The difference is that while Lohse and Weaver are mediocre at best, Pena truly did have an elite season. Boras called him "the greatest player to ever put on a Devil Ray uniform." That’s a bold statement given that the D-Rays have employed a near Hall-Of-Famer (Fred McGriff) and an actual Hall-Of-Famer (Wade Boggs).
I’d like to take a quick aside and determine if Pena’s 2007 is even the best-ever single season by a Devil Ray. So far he’s got 565 plate appearances with a robust .279/.401/.608 line. His total offensive and defensive contribution this year has been worth 8.2 wins according to Baseball Prospectus. If you want to get all technical about it, Julio Lugo’s 2005 was worth 8.4 wins. Pena still has ten games to close the gap, but it’ll be close either way. Just saying is all. Boras also said Pena’s 2007 was one of the five best performances in the Majors this year, which is not even remotely true.
Back to the matter at hand. Boras says the DRays basically got a $15MM season for the cost of $1.2MM and also takes some digs at the franchise. But it’s disingenuous to imply that a fourth-year player should be earning free agent prices. That ain’t the way it works. Albert Pujols earned $7MM in his fourth year, which seems like some kind of record. Jason Bay is earning $3.25MM in his fourth year. Matt Holliday is at $4.4MM. I could make a laundry list of young players who are huge bargains because of baseball’s pay scale. Hanley Ramirez is making $402,000 this year.
Pena reaches free agency after the 2009 season, and Marc Topkin says the Rays have already begun discussions on a three or four-year deal. If the Rays are to buy out a year or two of free agency, those might cost $12-15MM each. More likely, the team just goes to arbitration with him twice and trades him in a summer of ’09 blockbuster (assuming he remains a 40 HR threat).