Sunday baseball notes

Without cash flow, Boras sees talent pool draining

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 4, 2012
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Scott Boras thinks that because the superpowers in baseball are going to save money on the luxury tax and can’t spend it in the draft because of restrictions in the new Basic Agreement, trade-deadline activity will decrease in time.

And this is despite the fact that the new playoff format - adding one more wild card to each league - would in theory have more teams trying to make deals to vie for that final berth.

Extreme or plausible theory?

While the Red Sox will likely be over the $178 million luxury tax threshold this season, the goal is to be beneath the $189 million threshold by 2014. And Yankees partner Hal Steinbrenner acknowledged to reporters Thursday that they will attempt to be beneath the threshold by then.

Boras is taking this tax-savings scenario a step further. He figures the savings will simply be profit because the money can’t go toward scouting and player development. Eventually, he reasons, minor league systems will have less depth and ultimately teams won’t be able to make big deals because they won’t have much to give up.

Not only will the Red Sox and Yankees benefit by paying no luxury tax if they stay under $189 million by 2014, they also will see a significant decrease in the amount of revenue sharing they must pony up.

But there will be no place to put the money.

Why? The new Basic Agreement has a tax system in place that severely penalizes teams that go over a limit for spending in the first 10 rounds and more penalties on bonuses over $100,000 from the 11th round on.

The tax goes from 75 percent if a team spends up to 5 percent above the $100,000 limit, to 100 percent if it spends above 5 percent, and that also triggers a harsher penalty: a team loses a first-round pick for going more than 5 percent over, loses a first- and a second-rounder for being 10 percent over, and loses two first-rounders for being 15 percent over.

“I think the draft now, with the inability of teams to spend money and the inability to use amateur scouting, is going to have less impact,’’ Boras said. “There are two freight trains going one against another, where you have a collective bargaining agreement where you’ve got the benefits of the luxury tax and you have the detriment of . . . even if you save that money, you just can’t spend it in the draft.

“You cannot do it internationally anymore. You’re going to have franchises that may be able to save $20 million-$30 million over a four-year period by keeping the luxury tax, but all the money they save is basically going to go for profit rather than going for development.

“Any team now that is a successful team annually and says, ‘We’re about player development,’ well, their entire player development budget is going to be about $6 million-$7 million a year. And that’s not a team that’s entirely about player development when you’re making $400 million-$500 million a year.

“It’s just something that has really taken one of the most important aspects of our game - which is scouting - and put it in the back seat for almost 12-13 teams, really, and the most successful teams. The consequences of that are really detrimental to the franchises that create a great part of the economic success of the game.

“Those 10 franchises make about 60 percent of the revenues. So we have to be very guarded about what they’ve done to restrict these franchises from doing the things they need to do.

“Because in the end, when you don’t have players in the minors leagues one year, two years, and three years in a row, you’re going to lose that depth and you’re not going to be able to pick up players in July. The other teams aren’t going to want to trade with you because you don’t have much to trade.’’

Teams like the Red Sox, who have been able to give large bonuses after the 10th round - in some instances to kids they’re trying to persuade to play baseball over football - may now not have that ability, unless they want to pay a steep price for it.

Cubs president Theo Epstein has acknowledged that under the new CBA, he will need more time to rebuild the team’s farm system.

You can see where, over time, this could thin out the minor league system. And you can see Boras’s point, that even with the desire to make more trades because of the new playoff format, you may not see them happen.


Why wait on these two?

The only opinions that matter on whether catcher Ryan Lavarnway and shortstop Jose Iglesias make the Red Sox are those of Bobby Valentine and his staff. But we asked a National League scout who watched the “B’’ game between the Red Sox and Twins Thursday and who has seen the two players extensively the past two seasons for an opinion:

“In the four or five innings we watched Lavarnway, we saw exactly what you’d see if you watched him over a 15-game stretch in Pawtucket. Outstanding righthanded power swing. Tremendous ability to hit the long ball with that short, compact swing.

“You also saw what you would see with him defensively. Had problems on his throws, boxed a couple of [Alfredo] Aceves curveballs. This is a kid you have to commit to if you’re going to have him catch and hope that with experience he gets better. But you have to be patient with him or decide to move him to DH or first base. But I think he’s a smart enough kid where he’ll improve.

“I think if Iglesias continues to have good at-bats like the three he had in that game, he’ll break camp with the team and be the starting shortstop.

“He looked to me like he did in Portland a couple of years ago before he hurt his wrist. He can hit doubles into the gap. Defensively, he made plays on two popups that I don’t think that either Mike Aviles or Nick Punto make a play on.’’

So patience and confidence seem to be the keys with both players. When will management display those things, unconditionally, with these two?

There are some Sox personnel very much in Lavarnway’s corner in terms of keeping an open mind about making the team out of camp. The Sox did bring in Kelly Shoppach, but general manager Ben Cherington said early on that he wanted to bring in a veteran to create competition for Lavarnway.

Jason Varitek was really raw when he started playing here,’’ said one Sox official. “He wasn’t the Jason Varitek we saw for so many years then. He grew into that. He got better and better because he was around the major league staff and just took the chance and ran with it.’’

The Giants had reservations about whether Buster Posey could handle a major league pitching staff. Guess what? He can.

Both Iglesias and Lavarnway have to force the issue.

The Red Sox are paying Iglesias $2.04 million per season. And there are people, again, who feel he will have more upside if he starts learning to hit major league pitching now rather than later. And, really, in a stacked lineup, what difference does it make if he’s batting ninth and hitting .235? His defense will be helping the pitching staff.


Apropos of nothing

1. Could the Mets be Terry Francona’s ultimate destination when he resumes his managerial career?

2. While there have been some reports of players getting lightheaded and dizzy after giving blood for HGH testing, Kevin Youkilis is skeptical. “Really?’’ he said. “Were they nervous or something? I don’t understand that.’’ I’m with you, Kevin.

3. With Mark Buehrle gone to Miami, the White Sox, who have been vulnerable to base stealers, might see a free-for-all on the bases. A.J. Pierzynski threw out only 20 percent of runners (24 for 118) last season, and the White Sox were stolen on 135 times, second in the AL only to your Boston Red Sox (156).

4. Not sure Paul Konerko could have gotten away with this in Boston, but he was at least honest about the White Sox’ chances after they lost Buehrle, Carlos Quentin, and Sergio Santos. “I hope I don’t throw anybody off with this, but this can be a very successful year without making the playoffs,’’ he said. He did elaborate, saying, “My point is if we go out and compete, you pick up the next year with momentum. I’m not conceding anything, but with all the young guys we have, you have to throw that into the equation.’’

5. If things had turned out differently, Dale Sveum might have been the Red Sox manager. While the Red Sox made the right choice in Bobby Valentine, Sveum may also have been the right choice for the Cubs. He arrives to the ballpark at 5 a.m. every day and has been emphasizing accountability and defense from a team that finished last in the NL in fielding last season.

6. The Astros have taken 200-inning starter Brett Myers and made him the closer. There seems to be concern that they are shooting themselves in the foot, because Myers is one of the veterans they have been trying to deal. Don’t teams need innings-eaters over late-inning relievers? Interesting to see what happens.

7. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Valentine placates Carl Crawford by batting him second. If so, how does the rest of the lineup go? Will you now have three lefthanded hitters in a row (Jacoby Ellsbury, Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez)? Do you drop Gonzalez to fourth and make Dustin Pedroia your third hitter? Do you really want David Ortiz hitting sixth?

8. Scott Boras on client Johnny Damon: “We’re taking the patient approach with Johnny, who has the eternal genetic pool that he doesn’t really need spring training. So that means he’s hitting, swinging, running, and ready. We’re kind of waiting for that fit to come. He was the third-best DH. I’ve got all the data. The game is funny sometimes because there are paths and routes taken, especially when you’re talking about younger players. They have that cycle sometimes to fit all that in a moment where it’ll come, but I don’t know when it will come because that talent is needed by a lot of teams.’’ Asked if Damon were “stressed out’’ by not having a job, Boras said, “Stress and Johnny Damon - they’re not two things that fit.’’

9. Boras on Ryan Braun’s overturned suspension: “From a legal perspective, there was no evidence [that he tested positive] to evaluate. It’s unfair to say that there was. There was no competent evidence. You have a process that’s defined, and procedures, and those procedures are not carried forth, so there’s no competent evidence. We have that in our criminal system in many matters. For someone to grade someone in a judicial measurement based on the evidence, there was no evidence.’’

Updates on nine

1. J.D. Drew, OF, free agent - According to Scott Boras, Drew has not announced his retirement. Drew had his worst professional season in 2011 (.222, 4 homers, 22 RBIs in 81 games), but he can still play right field at a high level, and many scouts still believe he can hit. Could Drew be an extra player off the bench for an NL team? Evidently, if it were close to his Georgia home, he would consider it.

2. Adam Jones, CF, Orioles - His name keeps popping up in trade discussions with the Nationals, but Orioles sources indicate that there’s very little chance the team would deal him. The Nats are trying to figure out center field, and for the moment they’re content with Jayson Werth playing there some, along with Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel. But they will be scouting Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Gerardo Parra, and Peter Bourjos a lot in spring training.

3. Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians - Amazing how many injuries Sizemore has had the past three years. Once considered one of the top stars in the game, Sizemore has played in just 104 games the past two seasons and has not had a full season since 2008. The latest is back surgery, which may keep him out three months. The Indians will try to fill in with Michael Brantley, but their scouts are looking for a center field option in the trade market.

4. Adonis Garcia, INF/OF, free agent - This 26-year-old power hitter is drawing interest from several teams, but the Red Sox, who have seen him, aren’t overly enamored, according to a team source. The Red Sox also stayed away from Yoenis Cespedes, feeling he was too much of a crap shoot for the investment involved. Cespedes eventually went to the A’s, who also have interest in Garcia, as do the Yankees.

5. Jose Molina, C, Rays - There are a lot of raised eyebrows about Molina - a perennial backup - becoming the starting catcher for the Rays, but it really is a perfect storm. Molina, 36, is a superb defender, and with what could be the best pitching staff in baseball, they couldn’t care less how much Molina hits. “I always wanted the chance to be a starter,’’ Molina told me last year in Toronto. “I never got it, but I love the game and I want to be happy with what I do. I think the pitchers have confidence in me.’’ Molina has caught 100 games in a season only once (for the 2008 Yankees); other than that, his high is 78. Now the Rays are looking for a backup - a spot that Boras might be eyeing for Pudge Rodriguez.

6. Zack Greinke, RHP, Brewers - Interesting that general manager Doug Melvin used Greinke to watch pitchers in the draft last year, had him accompany scout Craig Counsell to see Arizona State prospect Brady Rogers last Friday, and will invite him to take part in this June’s draft. Star pitcher turned scout? “I just like watching that stuff,’’ Greinke said. “It’s not like I was giving them any suggestions or anything. I just enjoy watching the younger guys. I try to get my own thoughts on it, and then I’ll remember three or four years down the line if I did a good job or not.’’

7. Roy Oswalt, RHP, free agent - It’s early in the Daniel Bard experiment. The jury is out on whether Bard will be needed more in the bullpen with Andrew Bailey showing signs of nagging injuries. Oswalt is still in play, and later in camp, the Red Sox could put on a full-court press for him.

8. Gavin Floyd, RHP, White Sox - He continues to be a focus of teams looking for one more starter. He could be in play for the Blue Jays or Red Sox. The White Sox don’t appear eager to move Floyd, but general manager Kenny Williams wouldn’t be shy if it brought him a decent bounty in return.

9. Pudge Rodriguez, C, free agent - Asked whether Rodriguez’s situation is similar to Jason Varitek’s, Boras said, “It’s a little different because he’s played for multiple teams, and he’s going to wait and see what happens.’’ It says here that Pudge will play in 2012.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “Paul Konerko has 396 total homers, with 351 as a first baseman. This compares very favorably to Hall of Famers Tony Perez (379 total, 225 at first), Orlando Cepeda (379 total, 310 at first), and Eddie Murray (504 total, 409 at first).’’ Also, “The new team in the College Futures League in Pittsfield has been named the Suns because Wahconah Park is one of two baseball parks in the country where the sun sets in the outfield. Because of this, from time to time there are sun delays.’’ . . . Happy 43d birthday to Lee Tinsley.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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