|Young Players Create New Paradigm||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on August 10, 2008
And there must be a lot of owners left shaking their heads. Why did they force the Players strike of 1994 if not to make sure that things like this couldn’t happen? Each of the players listed above got themselves a big fat pay raise, on the order of millions of dollars before they were even arbitration eligible and at a time when the team could have paid nothing more than league minimum for their services.
Yes, the men above are talented beyond the Major League norm and are players you can build teams around, but that never changed their rights, or the team’s right, to control them for the first three years of their career at a nominal cost, and the next three at an arbitration eligible salary. The owners pushed for this deal to control free agency and rocketing salaries and to make sure that teams had at least some ability to hold onto their talented youngsters before they sold their services to the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, or any other large market team who could outbid the team who developed them.
If you look at the list above, what you’ll realize is that none of these players is playing for a big market team but in fact most play in the smaller markets in the game. That’s the small market teams and middle market teams fighting back and gambling big time, mainly to the benefit of agents who have convinced the elite class of young players that making a mere $400,000 a year for playing baseball means that “the team isn’t treating them right.” It’s put small and middle market teams in an awkward place where either they give the player a large pay raise for at least the team’s period of control or risk alienating the youngster, or them developing a bad attitude (although plenty need no help) because they aren’t being paid top dollar in their non-arbitration eligible years.
Now, no doubt, many of these teams are hoping to retain these core youngsters for years or even decades to come and want team players who retain their enthusiasm, skill and ideally have a true love for the game. But they write big contracts at big risks to themselves. For example, the Colorado Rockies committed themselves to Tulowitzki for six years, five of which they were guaranteed to him. And the Rockies so far have looked like total flops since that deal, dwelling largely in the cellar of the National League’s weakest division while Tulowitzki has spent most of his season on the Disabled List.
So what are these contracts really worth? What if the player gets hurt badly enough that they can’t play anymore? That’s a hard question to answer. Certainly teams insure young players as assets, and have a degree of protection in case of injury, but that’s additional expense associated with a big signing, something not counted in the dollar value that the player receives, but protects the team to degree.
But who protects the teams from the Scott Boras’s of the world, agents who put money first and how the team treats the player at a much lower level? How many of these guys will walk away from teams who’ve tried to court their favor and paid them fair market rate at a time they weren’t yet entitled to it?
That’s the real question and one which still hasn’t been answered and might not be until this first spate of big speculative contracts comes to term.
The answer might be the players themselves, lead by big names like Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez who say “Enough! This is where I want to be.” And while neither of them ever addressed the issue of playing for the love of the game, they expressed it for money and a chance to earn themselves a World Series ring.
How well these teams are able to contend might well be the deciding factor in if these teams wrote smart contracts, or stupid ones. We’ll know in just a few years.