Posted by Steve
Fans seem to have strong feelings when it comes to player salaries. Many chastise a player for holding out for more money and celebrate the one who re-signs long-term. I can see why, because when most players make more in a year than the average person makes in a lifetime, people are bound to be put off.
On the slim chance that anyone actually cares, here are my thoughts on the matter. Yes, baseball players are paid obscene amounts of money. No, they aren’t as important as firefighters, doctors, teachers, plumbers, etc. But let me ask this. Are millions of people willing to pay 30+ bucks a pop to go watch those people work? People are willing to pay that to watch baseball players. That’s why I can’t agree with those who hold salaries of professional athletes against them. The demand for their profession is huge, and simple economics say when something is in high demand, cost goes up. Aren’t you going to collect your money if you win the lottery? These people won the lottery with their talent.
I also don’t understand changing feelings about a player based on his decision to sign long-term somewhere. Players are taking calculated risks by signing or refusing those extensions. A few years ago, the Brewers approached both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder with extensions. These offers were team-friendly, but also made sure the player got paid big money much earlier than if he’d have gone through the three-year pre-arby pay scale.
As we all know, Braun signed his deal and Prince did not. Braun was lauded and Prince was grumbled about. Some even interpreted it as Braun liking Milwaukee and Prince wanting to get out. I’d be shocked if things were that cut and dried. What it more than likely came down to is this: Braun decided financial security was important to him, while Prince instead wanted to hold out for a bigger payday.
Here’s the interesting part. A couple years later, with the huge benefit of hindsight, Prince Fielder looks a lot smarter than Ryan Braun. Prince put up massive numbers and is poised to receive at least double what the Brewers offered a couple years ago. Meanwhile, after Braun’s great 2009, think of what he could demand now if he hadn’t signed his extension. It would literally be several million dollars more. I’m not saying Braun made the “wrong” move, because of course he didn’t have the benefit of hindsight that we do now. If he had known he’d stay healthy and put up two monster seasons, maybe he wouldn’t have signed his extension. He chose security in case of injury or drop in production. Neither has occurred yet, but you can’t blame him for protecting himself–just as you can’t blame Prince for taking a gamble that has paid off in a big way. I’ll certainly have more to say on Fielder’s contract situation as the season goes on, as the possibility of making a much larger offer has become a big issue once again.
Alright. So now that that’s out of the way, how does this apply to the Brewers’ current situation, namely, Corey Hart’s? Hart is another player who turned down an extension a couple years ago, and unlike Prince Fielder’s, Hart’s decision has not paid off. His production has dropped pretty severely in the last couple seasons, to the point where many teams would no longer consider him a starter.
Hart is of course making headlines currently due to his “record-breaking” arbitration case taking place today. I say record-breaking because he is the first Brewer to actually reach arbitration since Doug Melvin has been GM. Every other player over the years has been able to reach a middle ground with the Brewers and avoid the undesirable outcome of the team listing off all the reasons he doesn’t deserve the money he’s requesting.
Players who go through arbitration generally receive raises no matter how they performed the previous season. It seems strange, but it makes up for their first three seasons of league-minimum salary. Last year, Corey Hart made $3.25 million. In arbitration this season, he filed for $4.8, while the Brewers offered $4.15. In my opinion (and the Brewers’, obviously), $4.8 is too huge of a raise for a guy who missed time last season and didn’t hit well when he was healthy (.753 OPS). Hart rejected a raise that was likely more than a million dollars (the Brewers meet in the middle of those two figures to avoid arbitration, so somewhere around $4.4 million is what Hart is likely turning down.) Like I said earlier, I don’t blame a guy for asking for more money, but Hart is overstepping his bounds here. He’s coming off two consecutive poor seasons, and he’s saying a million bucks isn’t enough of a raise. He’s not going to win his case, and he’s going to have to sit through all the reasons why before the panel chooses the Brewers’ offer (there’s no settling in this system; the panel chooses either the team’s figure or the player’s figure).
I guess all this rambling (boy, that was a lot of rambling, huh?) goes to show that you just never know what the right choice is when it comes to these pre-arbitration extensions. They’ve paid off for the Brewers in the cases of Ben Sheets and Ryan Braun, but they’ve been burned by Bill Hall, and they would have been burned had Hart not rejected his. Picking their spots for extensions is one of the most important thing for smaller market teams to do. If it’s done right, you can get long-term production at a great value. If it’s not, it can strap a team for years.