Jayson Stark’s hypothetical outrage

Reader Jason D. has a request:

Please write about how damn stupid Stark’s ESPN.com piece on draft bonuses is. I’m bored at work.


Stark’s piece is about Stephen Strasburg and draft bonuses. Take it away Jayson:

Fifty million bucks.

Roll that around your tongue.

Fifty million bucks.

That’s not this week’s Powerball jackpot. That’s the unofficial, early-line, insane price tag Scott Boras has theoretically slapped on the forehead of the surefire No. 1 pick in next week’s baseball draft, Stephen Strasburg.

Fifty million bucks.

What a farce.

What kills me about this article are not the prescriptions it offers — trading draft pics, hard bonus caps, etc. are all worth discussing — it’s that it launches into all of this based on a demand made by an agent that everyone already understands to have a somewhat delusional view of the world. I would not at all be surprised to see Scott Boras demand that his next client be given access to “three score and nine comely lasses” and “fiddlers three” as a condition of signing. Does that mean we need to ban chattels from being given as bonuses? There probably do need to be made some changes to the draft, but let’s not let Scott Boras dictate what they are. Hell, let Boras ask for the moon. If someone gives it to him they’ve got more problems than he does.

Not that Stark is the only one off point here:

“You should get paid for what you do, for what you’ve done,” said Howard’s teammate Jayson Werth, a onetime No. 1 pick himself, by the Orioles in 1997. “That’s what free agency’s for — to get paid for what you could do, for what you might possibly do. It’s not what the draft is for.”

That sound you hear is Werth being dragged to a union-run reeducation camp somewhere.

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  1. Travis M. Nelson said...

    Werth was not a #1 pick.  he was #22 in the first round that year. 

    And anyway, wasn’t the $900,000 or so that Werth got to sign with Baltimore in 1997 “getting paid for what he didn’t yet do”?

  2. Matt S said...


    Really, that is all that bother’s you? Almost everything besides “trading draft picks” bothers me about this article. It is monumentally insane, honestly I don’t know where to begin…

    How about the notion that you should be paid for “what you have done”? Well theoretically, you already got paid for that. Unless players like Griffey, Hoffman, and Abreu were playing for free? You get a contract/signing bonus based on what the team feels your value to the organization WILL be. Not what it has been. If the reverse were true Jayson Stark should be up in arms about the Giants not offering Barry Bonds 1 trillion dollars next year.

    Also, why are we devoting a column to an “unofficial, early-line, insane price tag Scott Boras has theoretically” made? Let us wait and see what happens, no?

    Perhaps Mr. Stark could also explain why, since Ryan Howard suffered (can anyone suffer with 26 million in earnings in 7 years?), Stephen Strasburg has to as well? AND while he is at it, maybe he should make a fair comparison. Howard was a fifth round draft pick, meaning 30 teams thought somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 players were better that year than Howard. Not really the case with Strasburg. Howard has proven himself in the big leagues, and will be getting a big pay day soon. Awesome. Strasburg, while not at the MLB level, has proven himself to have other-worldly talent. Why can’t he get paid for that too?

    I could go one for hours, but I will stop there.

  3. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Matt—agreed on all points. I just didn’t have the time to develop it this afternoon (too much legal work to do) so I just kind of threw it out there for general comment.

  4. Jeff Akston said...

    Why do people support salary controls in sports, but any other industry would be derided as commie bullshit?

    what if Harvard MBAs went to Wall St. and said, yeah, sorry, we’ll hire you, but you have to work here for 6 years, and we basically set your wage.  You have no input.  But after 6 years, then you can leave and get paid.  Laughable.

    Strasburg should get as much money as he can possibly get.  If Washington doesn’t want to pay him, don’t.  It’s that simple. 

    Stark has to know that if Strasburg was a free agent right now, he’d absolutely get signed for $50 million.

  5. Kevin S. said...

    Travis, saying someone was a number one pick means they went in the first round.  You’re thinking of number one overall.

    Yeah, I like how Jayson assumes that Boras is asking the Nats to just cut Strasburg a $50 million check.  Why else would he ignore the guaranteed money that Ryan Howard will be making on his current contract?  Lunacy.

  6. Andy said...

    Slotting isn’t perfect.  Weren’t there some complaints in the NFL draft this year that Matt Stafford wasn’t really worth #1 pick money?  But someone was going to get it anyway.

  7. Travis M. Nelson said...

    Kevin, maybe where you come from saying that any one of the 30 players drafted in the first round was a “number one” pick, but not me.  Number one is number one.  Number 22 is not number one.  Highlander would not have been content to be #22!  There can be only one!

    Seriously, though, I just think Jayson was a little lazy in writing that.  He should have said “a former first round pick.”

    And to respond to Jeff’s question, the reason this is different is that on Wall Street, the company hiring you doesn’t have to spend five years developing your talent at one of its subsidiaries before you’re of any use to the primary firm.  Similarly, the Wall St firm doesn’t have to pay you your salary even if you get hurt and never do anything to help them, so it cuts both ways.

  8. Michael said...

    Go Craig! My eyes were watering from laughter at the “three score and nine comely lasses.”

    Strasburg probably deserves a record bonus. That said, Boras is the same guy who tried to set a signing-bonus record with A-Rod (and failed) and J.D. Drew (and failed). Both times there was just as much outrage.

    It really only hurts the player to have to miss out on playing time out of his agent’s spite – Drew would probably be $10-12 million richer today if he hadn’t refused the Phils’ offer and sat out 1997.

    Of all the bad things you can say about A-Rod, he has never stood solidly behind Boras in any of his three non-free-agent contract negotiations, choosing his relationship with his team over his relationship with Boras. Hopefully Strasburg can learn from that.

  9. Jeff Berardi said...

    “Nathan Arizona: It’s widely known I’ve posted a $10,000 reward for the return of my boy. Now if you can find him, claim it. Short of that, what have we got to talk about?

    Lone Biker Of The Apocalypse: Price. Fair price. It’s not what you say it is, it’s what the market will bear.”

  10. Kevin S. said...

    Travis, “where I come from” is following all three major drafts fairly closely, and it’s convention to refer to first-round picks as “number ones, while the first pick is “number one overall.”  I get why you might be confused by it, but it’s a fairly common usage.  Jayson didn’t screw up that fact (perhaps the only one he got right, even).

  11. Greg Simons said...

    I wish I had the time and energy to pick apart Stark’s article one paragraph at a time, but that could take a while.

    @Travis – One of the reasons Strasburg will get whatever record bonus he gets is precisely because he won’t require five years of development time.  It’s possible he’ll be in the majors to stay before the summer is over.

  12. themarksmith said...

    Serious question – Are draft picks even in the union yet? Does the union even care? I would think they would be okay with it if it meant something good could come of it later (higher minimum salary or somesuch). Not that I agree with Werth. Players should get as much as they can, but I don’t think this is a union issue, is it?

    And all the Nationals have to do is say, “Here’s $20 million dollars. That’s it. It won’t change on August 15th. If he says no, no one will blame us. They’ll blame him. ‘He didn’t take a life-changing amount of money.’ Why would he turn that down? We just offered double the highest bonus ever. Take it or leave it.” And Strasburg will, and we’ll go back to being normal again.

  13. Nate said...

    Won’t the Nats get a theoretical #2 overall if he doesn’t sign? And wouldn’t that give them pretty good leverage to come to an agreement or threaten Boras by making it public knowledge that if you sign with Boras you aren’t getting drafted by the Nats?

  14. Michael said...

    Until Strasburg makes it to the show, and dominates, and lives up to everyone’s expectations of him – which are so high that I’m surprised no one’s talking about his frickin Hall of Fame chances yet – I don’t give a flying hoot who pays him what, or what the heck he does.

    I don’t care what Strasburg will make.  I don’t care what any draft pick will make, or any player whatsoever.  Let’s sit back, see what happens, and see what the kid can do.  Yeah, I said it – kid.

  15. Marcel said...

    themarksmith – players don’t become union members until the first time they are added to a 25-man or 40-man (I forget which) major league roster.  Prospects that sign major-league contracts straight out of the draft are members of the union (which, I believe, is why Boras was so intent on getting Alvarez a major league contract last year.)

  16. themarksmith said...

    So my question is—would the union oppose a strict slotting system if it meant that the union players got more money (higher minimum salaries for example)?

  17. Joao said...


    Actually, I have to agree with Travis on this one.  I rarely, if ever, hear anyone refer to a first rounder as “a #1 pick”.  I mean, really, I can’t recall a single time I’ve heard or read that before and I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I wouldn’t find it both jarring to my ears and and as erroneous as a simple matter of correct and precise writing.

  18. Zac T. said...

    “Why do people support salary controls in sports, but any other industry would be derided as commie bullshit?”

    Well, they’re kind of the exact opposite of ‘commie bullshit’ – they’re uber-capitalist, winner-takes-all mechanisms.  Sports team owners like them because it provides cost certainty and reduces competitive spending in the marketplace; unions hate them because they artificially constrain the players’ share of revenues.  Athletes make ridiculous money, but would we rather have a world where sports exist/are perpetuated solely for the staggering personal enrichment of a few dozen men (the owners)?  Salary caps are very much a part of that world.

  19. Steve said...

    Simply put, this is really about the draft. Either you have a draft to help balance the competition, or you don’t. If the Nationals cannot afford Strasburg and the Yankees can, how does that balance the competition? The Nationals are supposed to get the #1 pick. If team #30 (not the Yankees this year) signs the real #1 pick because the 29 other teams can’t match his asking price, then the draft idea is bull. If there are no controls on draft bonuses (and I’m not saying there should be) then get rid of the draft and let each team go after the prospects it wants, like it was before the draft.

  20. Petr said...

    Not to get poltiical, but what bothers me is how everyone is so up in arms about sports salaries when its simple supply and demand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being an advocate of capitalism, but if that’s the economic system you prefer then you are getting exactly what you asked for.

  21. Brad said...

    “That’s what free agency’s for—to get paid for what you could do, for what you might possibly do. It’s not what the draft is for.”

    Actually, I think that describes exactly what the draft rewards you for.  Actually, I think that describes exactly what every baseball contract rewards you for.

  22. Kevin S. said...

    Look, I’m not saying what a number one pick should refer to, I’m saying what it does.  Don’t get on my case because I relay what the convention is.

    If you want, we could as Keith Law or any other draft expert what a “Number one” pick refers to. wink

  23. Richard Dansky said...


    I’d even go a bit further than that. All the discussion – and you notice, every time the “what’s he going to get?” discussion simmers down there’s another one of these ZOMG $50M!!! stories that comes out – seems like a good way to get people used to the number.

    If you really want to go all gonzo Bourne on this, you could suggest that this is a face-saver for the Nats. If they end up paying $35M, they can now claim, with a straight face, they got a bargain.

  24. scatterbrian said...

    On a team level, a first round pick can be referred to as a #1. League-wide, it is incorrect. There is a number one pick, and then there are first round picks.

  25. Richard Dansky said...

    What kills me is all of the ESPN.com guys – Stark, Gammons, etc. – picking up the $50M number and running with it. They’re doing Boras’ work for him.

  26. Brad said...

    I have heard on many occasions players drafted in the 1st round referred to as #1s.  The difference lying in the lack of the “overall” added to that. 

    While it makes sense to some degree it seems lazy and confusing – and that’s the reason why I remember hearing it because so many times I can remember thinking, “There it is again.  Why are they referring to Jon Ogden and Ray Lewis as number 1s when they were drafted #4 and #26 overall?”

  27. Brad said...

    As far as the reason why caps and slotting isn’t referred to as commie bulls—-, I’d say it’s also likely that sports may suffer from certain teams annually dominating the league.  This is obviously open to debate but without some attempts to level the financial playing field many teams will be annual doormats.

    I’m not implying that wins perfectly correlate to payroll, but it obviously is positively correlated to a large extent.  As teams learn how to further exploit their market and squeeze more $$ out of it the greater the earnings disparity between large and small market teams.  This CAN be detrimental to the league and thus even the large market teams.  Absolute parity isn’t good for a league.  Leagues want greater success to be achieved by the larger market teams, but everyone needs hope and a chance to taste true success.

    It’s like a business balancing costs of capital between equity and debt.  There is a balance that will produce the lowest cost.  In a sports league there is a balance of success between teams (large and small market) that would generate the most revenues.

  28. MJ said...

    @ Richard

    What kills me is all of the ESPN.com guys – Stark, Gammons, etc. – picking up the $50M number and running with it. They’re doing Boras’ work for him.

    Exactly!  One person mentioned he might be looking for the $50M number, but nothing official has ever been announced.  And now Boras can just sit back and watch as everyone debates over what this kid should or shouldn’t get.

    Keith Law had two great comments in his chat yesterday regarding this very topic (in general, not just about Strasburg)

    That’s a distinction made by MLB, for the purposes of holding down how much they have to pay him. There’s no reasonable argument why an amateur shouldn’t be able to get a market salary or bonus. That type of restriction doesn’t exist outside of sports

    People who are opposed to players making market salaries and yet, if their son was in that situation, would switch to my opinion so fast their clothes would still be on the other side oft the fence.

    Semi-related note, how come everyone seems to be nonchalant about this Harper kid getting his GED then joining a JUCO to be eligible for the 2010 draft, but they are vilifying the basketball player for heading overseas to do the same thing?

  29. Travis M. Nelson said...

    Glad someone’s backing me up on the language of draft picks. There’s no confusin on my part, just a disagreement on how terms are defined. 

    Greg, no disagreement from me.  I was speaking of the great, uwashed masses, who generally take a long time to work their way through the ranks.  The reserve clause is in place to help the lower budget teams from losing their investment right away, and even moreso, to make sure they can getsome of the best years of the players’ careers at a price they can afford. 

    Even if Strasburg gets his $50M, he could be a bargain if he pitches as wel as they think he will while under contract.

  30. Evan said...

    It is very common to refer to someone drafted in the 1st round as a number one pick even if they were not number one overall.

  31. jpark said...

    Doesn’t the Ryan Howard example somewhat hurt Stark’s case here?  Part of the reason a talent like Strasburg can demand such a high bonus is that due to baseball’s labor restrictions, even if Strasburg lives up to the hype, he will be systematically paid BELOW market rates. 

    Howard has been massively underpaid over his career.  If Strasburg is as good as advertised, he will too for a while.  Why the outrage?

  32. Kyle said...

    wow, you guys are a bunch of idiots.

    all players drafted in the first round are number one picks, the very first player being the number one overall pick.

    the NHL and NBA have had their drafts slotted for years and it has worked out fine. Lebron James was seen as the next Michael Jordan, but he was still slotted to earn roughly $3mill/year over 3 years and there wasn’t one single complaint. Why? Because he hadn’t proved himself in the NBA yet. Once he finished his rookie contract and had proved himself, he got a nice raise, $20mill/year for 3 years.

    The NFL needs to get on board with the draft slotting as well. Signability should never have to be a factor when teams are deciding who to draft. How can the Nationals say no to whatever Strasburg demands? There is a reason they are picking first overall, THEY SUCK! THEY NEED ALL THE HELP THEY CAN GET! What would they tell their fans? “We suck, we know it, that’s why we had the number one overall pick, but we either didn’t pick the best player available because we couldn’t afford him, or we did pick him but can’t sign him because we can’t afford him.”

    I really hope the Nationals have the balls to pick Strasburg, then offer him a signing bonus that’s slightly higher than ones from last year (so ~$6.75-7mill) and then tell him to either take it or he can sit out.

  33. h said...

    The signing bonus is for what he has done (in college) as a predictor of future performance (which is a crapshoot, as we know). So the question is competitive balance. In theory slotting would help clubs like the Nationals get major talent at below market price (since they can’t pay market prices set by the yankees). However, it’s tough to tell Strasburg to take 40 mill less to further competitive balance. I’d scream bloody murder if it was me.

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