Tools of the Baseball Trade

MLB Salaries: Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone

John F Kennedy, who should know since he took a bullet to his head driving down a street in Dallas one day, once remarked that life is unfair. His understatement is not immune to salaries paid to MLB players these days. But so what?

Is there one of us who is willing to take a pay cut so the company we work for can hire another person? Is there one of us, who if offered a position with another company for significantly more money, would turn it down because of loyalty to the company we work for now? Is there one of us who have been in the workforce twenty or more years, who hasn’t changed jobs at least three times in that span? Then why do we get so up upset with MLB players who behave the same way we do?

In the same way, would any of us have to think very hard if asked to name three people we work with who do not earn the salary they are paid? Or three more who are overpaid for the job they are paid to do? Life is unfair. And to see just how unfair life is in MLB here’s a snapshot:

MLB Biggest Contracts
Cot’s Baseball Contracts

The checkmarks are where I’ve gone in to accent the nine (only nine) players who, in my opinion, earned the money they were thought to be worth when a team signed them. Double-check me on this. And even a few who are doing well so far, like Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, and Giancarlo Stanton, they still have a way to go before they prove worthy of a checkmark in my book.

While teams may feel they need to reduce players to a collection of numbers they call analytics, we need to caution ourselves against making the same mistake.

So, this proves that most MLB players, and nearly all of the most elite, are overpaid and legally stealing money, right?

Except it’s not that simple. For one thing, remember it takes two to tango, and someone in MLB ownership had to co-sign each contract. A player who meets up with an owner with bulging pockets and a bigger ego and willing to pay him a salary more than another owner with the same traits is not going to walk away from the money.  In the same way, none of us would either.

From the list above, let’s take Chris Davis as an example and ask, does even Davis himself believe he is worth $161 million for hitting .215 with 26 home runs and only 61 batted in last year while leading the majors in strikeouts two of the past three seasons? Probably not. But Chris Davis is undoubtedly providing for his family, and why shouldn’t he have taken advantage of an overzealous owner so he could do that? Anyone of us would have done the same thing, no?

Life is unfair.

Which brings us to the next thing about MLB players that irks many fans. And that’s loyalty, or the lack thereof when it comes to a player’s jumping ship to another team. Alan Trammell and  Derek Jeter both get points for playing their entire career with one team, but they are the freaks in the business, not the norm.

What we have is a tendency to forget sometimes that baseball reflects and is a part of our culture. As much as we’d like to believe, MLB is not this pastoral “thing” that exists of its own making and design. So, for example, when our culture picks up speed in the way we live our lives, baseball (too) seeks to mimic that change with pitch clocks, mound visit limits, etc., all designed to speed up the game.

In the same vein, people today cover a lot more geography that previous generations did. The “home-town” boy is no more. Most of us don’t stay where we grew up. So why is it a problem when a ballplayer does the same thing? We didn’t get to choose where we were born, but remember, an MLB player doesn’t get that choice either. He is drafted by a team he may or may not want to play for, and his career goes on from there. Just like us.

Life is unfair, but we make it even more unfair when we put MLB players on a different plane with expectations different from our own. Justin Upton had an interesting take bringing the same thought a step further when he spoke with Pedro Moura of The Athletic:

I had a stretch in free agency where, within a week, every team called and offered me a one-year deal. After eight years of pretty good baseball. In my mind, that’s really, really, really sketchy and weird. Teams don’t value players as people anymore,” Upton said. “They value them as a number on a sheet of paperPedro Moura, The Althletic

While teams may feel they need to reduce players to a collection of numbers they call analytics and call it fair,  we need to caution ourselves against making the same mistake.

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