The Cardinals came to terms with some players over the weekend, whether they liked it or not. I could imagine, for Jack Flaherty, something like the following conversation:
Michael Girsch: So, Jack, we’d like to get your contract locked down for this coming year.
Flaherty: Sounds great. What are you thinking?
Girsch: We are glad to offer you $572,100.
Flaherty: Excuse me, what did you say?
Girsch: I said, we’re offering $572,100. We feel that is pretty generous, given the minimum salary is $555,000. That’s over $17,000 that is coming out of the goodness of our hearts! Here’s the contract, you can put your signature right next to the X there.
Flaherty: What’s Fangraphs valuing a win at these days?
Girsch: Excuse me?
Flaherty: Last year, I put up 2.3 WAR. Only Miles Mikolas did better on the pitching staff. Last I knew, the ballpark figure was around $9 million per WAR for a free agent. Now, I’m not expecting that, but surely you can do better than less than 3% of that amount.
Girsch: Sorry, the budget is straining. I had to really fight just to get you that extra $100.
Flaherty: Straining. Really.
Girsch: You wouldn’t believe how tight. Mo’s not bought a new bowtie in weeks.
Flaherty: Assuming an average ticket price of $50, you bring in over $2 million every home game just in tickets. Are you saying that I’m not worth even half a night of tickets?
Girsch: You are worth so much to us. In fact, and this is out of my personal respect for you, here’s a card with $50 in Cards Cash. I was going to give it to my kids but if it’ll help get this over, it’s yours.
Flaherty: Thanks, but no thanks. Let’s get back to the money.
Girsch: Sure. Our offer is $570,100.
Flaherty: Wait, it was $572,100 five minutes ago.
Girsch: That was before I spent five minutes on negotiating. The cost has to be made up somewhere.
Flaherty: This doesn’t feel right.
Girsch: Oops, sorry, we’re at $567,100 now.
Flaherty: I’m out. Great talk, Girsch. Look forward to doing it all over again next year.
Girsch: So I can put you down for $562,100? Great. That’ll really help my performance evaluation.
There’s a reason that Flaherty says the system is “not great”. More and more we are seeing that teams are taking advantage of the production of young people by the front office. For instance, even in 2002, after his Rookie of the Year season, Albert Pujols got $600,000 at a time when the minimum was much lower. In fact, it was $300,000, so Pujols got double of what he could have been renewed for. It’s not always been where superstars got the short end of the financial stick just because they didn’t have any leverage.
Now, it seems a common occurrence. Tommy Pham last year was the first Cardinal that had had his contract just renewed in over a decade. This year, we see Flaherty and Jordan Hicks go that route. I have to figure it is in part because teams are doing more penny-pinching (you can look to Tampa Bay and Cy Young winner Blake Snell for more evidence of that) and in part because the young players these days are more in tune not only with analytics and their overall value but also they have been through the minors, they’ve seen and lived those conditions, and they’ve come out tougher for it. I feel like the next generation of player labor leaders is going to be resolved to get the best deal they can, which is good for them, even if it might put the sport in jeopardy for a while.
What bothers me the most about this situation, though, is the idea that there is a penalty for these players not agreeing to their contract. If you are willing to give a player X amount and he doesn’t take it, isn’t it enough to give him X amount even though he’s not thrilled with it? Why do you need to impose even more authority on him and penalize him for not going along with what you want? It seems ridiculously petty and overly controlling. Look, you have the ability to give him whatever you want to give him. Cutting that amount just because he didn’t jump when you said jump is a terrible look, if nothing else. Again, I know it’s not just the Cardinals that do this–the article about Snell above indicates it is policy for the Rays as well–but it’s ridiculous, it’s heavy-handed, and it’s not conducive to good will in the future. I could almost bet you that, if they don’t offer him a long-term contract next year, Flaherty again will not agree to a deal and have his contract forced upon him. And my feeling is that he’s not going to be all that generous feeling when it comes to arbitration. In other words, $10K today could cost you a million or so in a couple of years. Hope it was worth that.
Again, I get it, it’s part of the business and I’m sure it’s just a policy of the clubs. But it’s a stupid policy. If Flaherty feels like he’s worth more than $572K, giving him that amount isn’t going to make him happy, but giving him less than that certainly isn’t going to engender goodwill. The club has the whip hand. That doesn’t mean that they have to use the whip.
I feel like this is just another sign that the labor issues in baseball are working their way to a head. While the recent discussions between MLB and the union on non-financial items seem to be going better than expected, I still feel like there is going to be some tough sailing ahead when it comes to the financial aspects and this doesn’t make me terribly sanguine about how they may turn out.
There’s actual baseball going on as well but I’ve not the time today to write it up. You can hear Tara and I talk about some of that on last night’s Gateway (along with this issue) and Allen and I will be recording a new Musial tonight, so look for that!