Rounding the Bases

Whoa. Really?

The two biggest stories of the week: the Rule IV Draft and Raul Ibañez hates bloggers. Hmmm …

– There’s been a lot about Stephen Strasburg and the $50 million dollars he’s seeking. Some are using his situation as a stepping stone to abolishing the draft. The idea being that being in a free-market state, the players are being deprived of basic freedoms.

First, this is not a free-market economy. If you’ve paid any attention lately, you know this isn’t. Demanding that we treat baseball or the draft as a free-market when the overall economy is much more a mixture is a bit odd and kind of cherry-picking. It’s like railing against monopolies but allowing the MLB to be one.

Second, these kids have a choice. They don’t have to be baseball players. We aren’t the Chinese government forcing these kids to do it (okay, that hasn’t been proven, but you get my point). Therefore, they continue to train, work, and aspire to be professional athletes (considering that the major sports all have drafts, limit signing bonuses, and kids still try to be professional athletes) regardless. I doubt any kids out there think, “I don’t want to be a professional athlete because the draft will keep me from making as much money as possible.” I doubt there’s a significant, even nominal difference, between how many kids aspire to be professional athletes depending on the draft. They just realize all the money they can make playing the sport. That tells me that the payout for professional athletes is nowhere near a breaking point of being fair or unfair.

Third, quit using, “But if my job did this …” arguments. It’s a bad one. The two situations are fairly different. Yes, you should work for all the money you can get and should have people working for you to get it. You make like $35,000 a year. These kids are arguing over hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars (much less so for the kids in later rounds, but people, surprisingly, only seem to care about the first-rounders, who need absolutely zero help). Yes, they should try to get as much as they can. I have no problem with that. I have a problem with people crying foul when Strasburg will still get at least $15 million. You need help and unions to fight for a living wage. Strasburg and others are fighting for luxuries.

Fourth, but isn’t it the point that they should have the option even if it’s not necessarily unfair? I wonder what the consequences would be. Free-agents aren’t going to start asking for less, and I doubt that the money teams spend on amateurs would change free-agent salaries. Owners aren’t just going to start paying out of pocket and lose profits, so spending isn’t going to increase. So where does that money come from? Does that mean that vendors lose their jobs? Concession workers? Janitors? The people who really need someone to defend them? In a way, I wonder if the real people who would suffer are the people like you and me.

Fifth, you’re being slightly hypocritical. Players need to make as much money as possible, but owners are supposed to be altruistic? They’re in this as business owners. Yeah, it would be nice if teams were just hobbies that owners just gave money to, but they aren’t. Owners look to make a profit, and according to the free-market approach, that should be just fine. I realize that they’re kind of the villains in all this, but they’re just people trying to make money.

But is this a level playing field? The owners have the inherent advantage, and wouldn’t it be better if the playing field was at least level? The players should sign whatever contracts the owners and players agree on. No renewals. No arbitration. Just straight free-agency. Here, I can see your point, and maybe this is the crucial one. Due to history, owners have the advantage, which has slowly eroded, but that doesn’t mean that they should have an advantage. Different eras and situations produced that disadvantage. Shouldn’t we correct it? Then again, they essentially gained that advantage through a free-market approach. The players just didn’t demand something different.

I don’t know. Personally, I don’t see the problem, or at least, I don’t see this as a pressing or significant problem. Again, players don’t care about the draft. Yeah, they may not be able to make as much money as possible, but they still make quite a lot. If you’re in the later rounds, the difference in market and draft value isn’t that significant (or maybe it is, but no one cares about them. Fans only care about the players that will probably help their teams because they want the players to stay instead of hating the teams for not giving them as much money from the get-go). The draft may infringe on some “American values”, but we do it all the time.

– The whole situation surrounding Ibañez and the blogger is ridiculous.

First, it is obvious that the people criticizing the blogger clearly didn’t read his post. If they had, they would realize that he made no unsubstantiated claims that Ibañez was using steroids. He was just stating that it is sad that the world has come to the point that great performances are called into question, using Ibañez as an example.

Second, “journalists” make unsubstantiated reports all the time. That’s what we call the off-season and the July 31st trade deadline. Sure, they hide behind their “sources”, but if they have bad sources and their sources are usually wrong, what’s the difference? Oh, and journalists have been making “this connection” for a while.

Third, I think it’s great that he, and others, bring it up. I was emailing with Jason after he put up his post on Ibañez (actually like a week before this whole thing came up). I made a comment that I didn’t think Ibañez was using, and Jason emailed me back, emphasizing that he didn’t say he thought he was (indeed, he did say the opposite of such in his post, which I noticed but felt compelled to comment anyway). In response, I said that I was happy he was bringing it up. We need to keep bringing it up.

Players get there money and their fame because of the fans. The fans show up to see them. The fans buy their jerseys. A big part of the draw to being a professional athlete (and, really, most jobs) is the pride in their work. If it is constantly being called into question. If we stop trusting their performances. Maybe, then, they’ll realize what they’ve done to the game. Because I think they still think what they did wasn’t that bad. Some of the blame has been displaced elsewhere. But if enough people call them out, maybe something will change. Maybe they’ll give in to whatever drug testing is necessary to clear them. Maybe they’ll let us into their medicine cabinets.

Is that too much of an invasion of privacy? Again, players have a choice. They know what the rules are, and by playing and continuing to play, they consent to follow the rules. If that is what proves their innocence, then maybe they should. It would, at least, put all the doubt to rest. And maybe, that’s what we all want.

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5 Responses to “Rounding the Bases”

  1. Bill Says:

    I wrote up my thoughts on this topic for tomorrow, but I wanted to address this directly. I'll explain tomorrow that I'm not really in favor of abolishing the draft, but I can see the points of those that are, so I'll just pretend I'm one of them for now. 🙂 Going by your numbered paragraphs:

    1. This is a straw man. Nobody is arguing for an economy that is freer than the one that persists in the real world. Right now, America's job market in particular is awfully close to a free-market economy, and the first six years of a baseball player's career exist in something awfully close to serfdom. The American faux-free market would be a pretty huge improvement.

    2. Sure, we all have a choice. I don't have to be a lawyer; I could sell coffee or work at a car wash. But the fact that I've made the choice to practice law doesn't make me any less free to shop around for the best legal job offer I can get (that is, at times when there are jobs to be had). Of COURSE kids are going to want to be ballplayers no matter what. A ML minimum salary is something like twelve times the most that most of them could hope to make anywhere else. That by itself is not any kind of evidence that the system is fair. An immigrant from a third-world country at war made a choice to come to the US; that doesn't mean it's "fair" to treat her like garbage, as long as it's just a little better than she'd likely to have been treated back home. There's just a logical disconnect there.

    3. How does the pay scale affect the morality of it? It's about freedoms that, in every other sector of our world, we care a lot about. And we only care about the first rounders because those are the ones who get the big bonuses the old timers cry foul about. We're reacting, not instigating.

    4. Free agents may not ask for less, but they'll get less (they didn't start out asking for less this past offseason, either). Teams need to start realizing how seriously they overpay for veteran free agents. But, yeah, ticket prices might go up…which they always are anyway. And they're still underpriced in a lot of markets, as evidenced by the thriving market for scalpers.

    5. Nope. I'm the last guy to complain about the owners trying to make a profit. That's why they're in this thing (most of them). But I do think they should have to play by more or less the same rules that every other business does (a lot of which do tend to make profits). At the most, all anybody is arguing is that a player should be allowed to play for whatever team is willing to pay the most money. And if they're willing to pay it, it's probably not going to bankrupt them, right?

    Totally agree about the Ibanez thing…

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    All fair points, but

    1) Fair enough.

    2) So if lawyers were promised at least $400,000 a year, you wouldn't give up knowing exactly where you worked? You knew going into it what the situation was. You deemed it was worth it. These players did the same thing. As for immigrants (which is slightly unfair to bring up in comparison), their situation is horrible. Players are not underpaid and working in horrible working conditions, however.

    3) As a lawyer, I'm sure you've had to give up freedoms. How many hours a week did (do) you have to work over the normal 40 hour work week, restricting your freedom to do what you wish? I care a lot about having off-time and wouldn't do a job that required so much of my time, but there are a lot of lawyers out there (not necessarily you) who give up that freedom. Players give up their "right" to choose where they want to go because they prefer the money, fame, etc.

    4) I very seriously doubt that free-agents lose any money because a few amateurs grab a few million more in their signing bonuses. If free-agent prices go down, it's because of the economy or because teams are starting to wise up (or collude again).

    5) You may not think that way, but a lot of people are very unhappy with owners. How many dislike the Florida owner? He's just making a profit.

    All of this said, I'm for players making the most they can. But I just don't think any of their "rights" are being taken away by the draft. They have a choice and do quite well for themselves.

    You know, the funny part of all this is that the players aren't even the ones complaining about the draft. A few might get miffed here and there, but it's not really because of the draft. It's because somebody told them they could get more than what they did. Take the million dollars. Geez.

    And I'm glad you at least agree with me on the Ibañez thing. 🙂

    But good points, and I'm willing to concede to some of them. I really wanted to write more about the Ibañez thing, but the outcry over the draft ticked me off a bit. Why do we care so much that player x isn't getting another million? I just don't see any rights being violated.

  3. Bill Says:

    I think 2. misses the point. If lawyers were promised at least $400,000 a year, but then a firm somewhere else was willing to pay a million a year, I'd be pretty ticked about being forced to take the $400K (especially if the average career of a lawyer was like 6 years or whatever it is for pitchers). You're right that the immigrant thing isn't a fair comparison, but my point is that the issue is the same regardless of the numbers involved.

    3. is more convincing. But the thing is that I still get to choose. People change jobs all the time because the pay or the hours are better somewhere else. And what you're talking about are changes in the levels of working conditions that exist for everybody. There's no analog to giving up your right to contract except with one firm or company, which wouldn't be tolerated in any industry except sports.

    You're right that a lot of people think the owners are just bad people (I hated having to defend Carl Pohlad from people who kept saying "he's the richest owner in sports!" like his own personal wealth had anything at all to do with it). But I don't think that's what's behind the draft thing. Again, the reason there's a backlash to this is that people know that, if the draft were abolished or changed, the prospects would get more money. The owners wouldn't be willing to pay that extra money if the prospects, on the whole, weren't "worth it." I don't see a scenario where this is making the owners do anything other than compete in the same system in which every other business owner does.

    The thing I pointed out in my blog this morning was this: sure, it's a million dollars here or there (which for a lot of these kids, whose useful careers will be essentially over by age 30 or so, is a HUGE deal). But what's the argument in favor of keeping things the way they are? Other than "that's the way it's always been," what's the argument for keeping that million dollars in the owner's pocket?

  4. Ron Rollins Says:

    The main problem I see with all of this is the overall budget. Each team works within a specified amount of money. With some teams, like the Royals, it's crap because Glass is putting as much money into his pocket as he can, and with others, like the Red Sox/Yankees, they have a lot more, but still set an amount every year.

    So what happens if Strausberg gets his money? Let's say $25 mil for 6 years, through his arbitration time. that amount of money will affect how much is left in the pot to sign other free agents to help improve the team, and they need a lot of help.

    And since Strausberg is making almost $5 mil a year out of school, how much is Zimmerman going to want when he's a free agent? Do you think the Nationals are going to be offering him $15 mil to stay? I don't, especially when they've already invested $25 mil in Strusberg, and will need to at least quadruple that when he becomes a free agent?

    His contract isn't about the first couple of years. It's about the future. If they invest $25 mil + now, they have to keep him as a free agent. If not, that money has been wasted. He's not signing for $25 mil for 6 years. His numbers will be $300 mil through his 32nd brithday.

    Boras and too many people seem to think the owners have an unlimited cash supply, but they don't. There are limits on how much they can spend. And even if Strausberg is the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, what wil happen?

    He'll keep playing with guys like Austin Kearns and Lastings Milledge because the Nationals won't pay for any quality to go around him. Or they invest lots of money knowing they're going to lose him at free agency.

    Strausberg and Boras get rich, while the Nationals, and their fans, continue to suffer. How is that good for the game?

  5. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Ron,

    If he's the best pitcher in baseball, then the $25 million is a bargain. As for keeping him, I guess the point is that the Nationals should stop spending money on Kearns, Dmitri Young, and others. If they were willing to spend on Tex and Manny, then they obviously have some money left to spend. But even if they can't spend that much (something tells me that in DC with a good team, they could be more than a mid-market team), they could make like the Twins and sell him off. Get the prospects and help their team that way. I'm not convinced that resulting market values would really influence the team budgets that much. Guys like Strasburg, Ackley, Teixeira might, but only a few might make a million or two more at most. Most will just get a few more tens of thousands or so.

    Bill,

    You know, I'm not sure that I have a good answer to that. But the money isn't going back to the owner's pockets. They are going to make a certain amount. The budget is pretty fixed, and as Ron mentioned, the GMs have to work around that. But if a team is willing to give the prospect that money … I guess at first the teams would overpay and then find a medium level.

    But the draft, I believe, helps competitive balance.

    A suggestion: keep the draft. Have an economist or team of economists paid independently assess a market value for a specific player. The team can't give them less than 10% of that value. Otherwise, the player can file a grievance that he isn't being treated fairly. He is then a free-agent (or possibly put on waivers).

    However, I think you've shot enough holes to make me come closer to your side, even if I still don't think any rights are being violated.

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