Jayson Stark: Owners :: Cheese : Hot Pockets

I think I’ll pop my THT and FJM cherry in one shot. Take it away, Jayson.

Stephen Strasburg may be — whoop de doo — a Washington National now. But you can bet every centavo of his signing bonus on this:

Don’t say parlay. Parlays never work.

The draft that made that miracle possible will never be the same…

Agreed. Strasburg should be granted fair-market value, the same as any other laborer in any other profession. If the Nationals are not willing to come anywhere close to matching his demands, then they should not be granted his exclusive rights. I agree that it’s a miracle that multi-billionaire owners are able to pinch pennies while having the public sympathize with them at the same time. I like where this article is going.

But wait. Didn’t Strasburg get “only” $15.1 million out of this deal? Not $20 million? Not $30 million? Not $50 million?


So did he really get enough to implode the entire draft? Uh, you bet he did.

So how gigantic an amount is it?

Well, it’s approximately half of what he’s worth , according to some really solid work done by Vince Gennaro and Maury Brown.

Think of it this way:

Oh, you weren’t really asking me how big it was. You already know. Misunderstanding on my part. Go on.

Only five starting pitchers on the entire free-agent market got packages bigger


than that last winter: CC Sabathia

Jayson, wait—

A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe,

Now hold on J—

Ryan Dempster,

Jayson, you’re making a foo—

and Oliver Perez.

JAYSON, and I do mean Jayson. I’m beginning to think that you’re going to blindly argue that veterans should earn more than prospects, without even considering other factors, like, I don’t know, what both classes of players deserve to earn…

• And Strasburg is guaranteed slightly more money than Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz were guaranteed for this season put together. Those guys own a combined nine Cy Young Awards. Strasburg has thrown a combined zero professional pitches.

Jayson, determining a baseball player’s value is much more nuanced than simply a glance at the amount of experience and success each player has had in the Major Leagues. All the pitchers you just listed have had solid Major League careers, but you cannot sit there and tell me, or allow me to transcribe words that you wrote last month while presumably sitting down, that Perez, Johnson, Pedro, and Smoltz are more valuable than Stephen Strasburg. I just won’t have it.

As of the timestamp on this article, Oliver Perez had just moments ago completed his second-to-last start of the year, a five inning gem in which he walked fewer than two batters for the first and only time all year. Raising his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 62-56. As of the timestamp of this article, it was public knowledge that Randy Johnson may well have already thrown his last pitch in professional baseball. As of the timestamp on this article, Johnson, Pedro, and Smoltzy were an average of 7643 days older than Strasburg. That number actually remains constant regardless of the timestamp.

But it’s not just him.

Good. I would hope that multiple players, most of whom have yet to scratch the surface of their potential, are paid more than are paid more than Old Hoss Radbourn is currently making. Radbourn did admittedly go 59-12 in 1884, so I can only imagine how much he should be making at the moment when you take interest into account.

The Mariners showered a package on their top pick, Dustin Ackley, that can be worth between $7.5 million and $10 million. That’s more than Bobby Abreu,Orlando Hudson or Ken Griffey Jr. signed for last winter.

Are you not even going to mention that the Mariners control Ackley for six years, while the three guys you listed were signed to one-year contracts?

The Tigers threw a package at high school pitcher Jacob Turner that could pay him nearly $7 million. That’s more than they guaranteed their three major league free-agent signings –Brandon Lyon, Adam Everett and Matt Treanor — combined last winter.

Ah, I see. You’ve read the Fielding Bible. I agree, Adam Everett is a tremendous defensive player who deserves greater recognition and has likely been undervalued throughout his career. But what’s it got to do with Turner, Jay? How are these related?

The Rockies — a team that had to trade away Matt Holliday over the winter and a club that could afford to sign only one major league free agent (Alan Embree) — tossed almost $4 million at another high school pitcher, Tyler Matzek…

So what would you suggest that the Rockies have done? Let’s say we had it your way, and that amateurs were paid by the hour. Then the Rockies would be tempted to spend more money on Free Agents and less money on prospects? What? Pricey prospects are preventing teams from signing cheap Free Agents?

Is this point of view in some way criminal? I’m not even talking about the crime against players that the MSM and owners are perpetrating by portraying indentured young baseball players as greedy freeloaders who, along with the help of villain Scott Boras, steal money from owners. No, I’m talking about the crime against logic. In what way does this even make sense? Can we set up an appeals court for logic? Is there one already? I don’t even know what an appeals court is.

“So the big loser,” said an official of one team, “is Bud and his slotting system. It got crushed. Some of these signings are off the charts. Look at some of this stuff in the later rounds. There’s carnage all over the map.”

I hate not being able to exploit workers! It makes me so angry I could take my shirt off!

We mean change is coming. This draft isn’t working. It hasn’t for years. And now Selig’s informal slotting system is being so widely ignored, you can bet this topic is heading for a bargaining table near you in 2011…

OK. I’m in favor of them fixing some of the problems of the draft. I don’t see why teams shouldn’t be able to trade picks, and I think we should pretty much have the same rules for all players who are not yet part of the MLBPA—college, high school, Dominican, Japanese.

Here are some of the topics that have to be addressed:

• SLOTTING… We’ve polled a bunch of them. And big league players want those $15 million deals going to them, not to kids who have never played a professional baseball game.

No kidding.

• TRADING PICKS — Now here’s a concept the union is in favor of. So it seems just about inevitable that this is a new draft wrinkle that’s coming soon…

• WORLDWIDE DRAFT — We’re not sure if this on-again, off-again idea will ever fly. But it’s gaining momentum again, because it needs to. A system that allows the Yankees and Red Sox to outspend everybody on any player they really want, with no limits whatsoever, doesn’t serve anyone except the Yankees and Red Sox…

In all seriousness, these two points deserve a fair amount of thought. While a free market might be the fairest solution, competitive balance is a necessary part of sport, and implementing a worldwide draft, as well as allowing the trading of picks, seem like efficient ways to level the playing field.

These are just some of the ideas being collected by a committee, headed by the esteemed John Schuerholz, which is studying ways to “fix” the draft. They won’t all fly. They won’t even all make it to the bargaining table.

But file them away for future reference, because many of them are going to happen. They have to happen — because any system that’s paying an 18-year-old amateur more than a five-time Cy Young winner needs more repairs than a 1962 Volkswagen.

And any writer who says that future earnings should be entirely based on past production needs more repairs than an overcooked pot roast.

—-Food Metaphors

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  1. Nick Steiner said...

    Cool, Greenhouse is writing here now (I really liked that stuff thingy you did at BA recently). 

    Ya know, I love insulting Jayson Stark as much as the next guy (especially in an FJM style), but I would disagree with your conclusion. 

    I agree that past performance shouldn’t matter in terms of future earnings, and you should be paid based on your ability going forward.  However, the two are clearly intertwined. 

    Stuff and projectibility are only one part of the puzzle; performance is obviously the other part.  Without any past performance, at least at a reasonable high level, the data used in your projection (whether it be observational or statistical) is bound to be incredibly granular. 

    IOW, say you had 2 pitchers, one a veteran and one a draftee, and they were both projected to be worth 10 million next year.  The veteran would, in all likelihood, have a narrower range of probable performance, thus would be less of a risk. 

    The draftee could very well be the best pitcher in the game that year, but he could also end up being Carlos Silva (obviously the same thing is true for the veteran, but it’s a lot less likely). 

    I can see where owners are coming from when not willing to give out so much money for a somewhat risky player.  It’s similar to guys coming back from injury.

  2. Jeremy Greenhouse said...


    Glad you’ve liked my analysis at BA.

    I actually tend to like Stark. While he doesn’t use sabermetrics, he’s at least been open to the field of analysis. His random useless trivial fact pieces are often fun. I just very strongly disagreed with the principles in his article.

    I don’t follow what point I made that you disagree with. My point is that assessing value is much more nuanced than simply looking entirely at past performance at the Major League level. Isn’t that essentially what you’re saying as well?

  3. Nick Steiner said...

    Oh, er… yeah.  I thought that you were saying that draftee’s should be entitled to be paid as high as a veterans, giving a similar level of projected performance, but I guess I misinterpreted your point. 

    I don’t really read much of Stark, but his recent piece on blowing up the Mets (IE, trading away Jose Reyes for some reason) seemed rather devoid of logic.

  4. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    OK. That wasn’t the point I was trying to make, but yes, given a similar level of projected performance, then I do think that there should be a similar level of pay. This applies in any field of work. Keep in mind, projected performance must, by definition, incorporate risk. Things get trickier when you consider that two players are projected to be worth $50 million, but they have varying levels of risk. For example, one has an even chance at being worth $20 MM or $80 MM, while the other is worth $40 MM half the time and $60 MM the other half. I tend to prefer the former, while I’ve found that most everyone else tends to prefer the latter.

  5. Mike said...

    Jeremy, while I agree with your argument in principal, you unwittingly give thwe counter argument.  “…competitive balance is a necessary part of sport…”  Strasburg was the consensus best player available, yet there was much speculation on whether or not the Nats would draft him.  The concern was not over whether or not somebody else was a better pick, but whether they would (not could) meet his price.  fair or not, allowing him to drop to a big payroll team while they took somebody more signable not have been in the interest in competitive balance.  Essentially, it makes him like an undrafted foriegn player but with a little less leverage.  Instead of only being able to negotiate with Boston, New York and a few other teams, he would have been negotiating with only one of the teams on that short list.

    A few years ago, Mark Prior was the consensus best player available.  The Twins felt they could not afford him (right or wrong) and took Joe Mauer instead, letting Prior fall to the Cubs who met his price.  Paid him more than Mauer who was taken ahead of him, I believe.  Now obviously this has worked out just fine for Minnesota but at the time, they felt they were settling for something they could afford, not something they had earned through futility.

    So much as I appreciate wour argument and the fine work done to establish the value and return on draft picks, there is still the chance that these kids will never through a stirke or take an at bat at the major league level.  That risk is much smaller for free agents.  they may be bad, may not even perform at replacement levels.  But who was the last free agent who didn’t even contribute one inning to his team?  there have been numerous high draft picks who didn’t.

  6. Alex Poterack said...

    Nice article.  I do agree with your point generally, although I feel the talk about “exploiting workers” is a bit overblown.  The system is, of course, set up so that players are drastically underpaid for their first 6 years of service.  However, it is worth bearing in mind that when we analyze how much a player is “worth”, we do that in terms of how much he would get as a free agent on the open market, and the amount that teams are able to pay for free agents is higher than it would be if they weren’t able to underpay younger players for 6 years.  That is to say, if teams had to negotiate for all players as though they were free agents, they wouldn’t be able to afford $4.5 million/win to all 25 guys on the roster, and this would drive down salaries.  Basically, I would argue that in the same way younger plays are underpaid, free agents are *over*paid, and so it’s more nuanced than just a system of exploitation.

    Also, you make an important point when you say: “For example, one has an even chance at being worth $20 MM or $80 MM, while the other is worth $40 MM half the time and $60 MM the other half. I tend to prefer the former, while I’ve found that most everyone else tends to prefer the latter,” in the comments.  You’re absolutely right that most everyone else tends to prefer the latter; the former is considered much riskier, and risk implies a discount.  This explains a lot of why the system is set up to underpay young players; because they are, generally, riskier, something needs to be done to encourage teams to take on the risk of trying them out.  Making them available at a steep discount provides this encouragement, and may actually be to their advantage, in that they might not otherwise be given a chance.  Granted, perhaps the current system underpays them too much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the optimal condition for a young player would be a system that underpays them some amount when they’re starting out.

    Sorry if none of that makes sense, I was kind of thinking it out on the fly.

  7. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    Alex, you put it well in the first paragraph. Marvin Miller sold out players who were not part of the Union so that he could gain great concessions for the veterans who made up the union. That is not fair at all, though. It doesn’t *even out* since younger players have never agreed to this being part of the system. I really do think that the players who are not yet in the union and are subject to the amateur draft are receiving much less money than they deserve. I also don’t think that the risk of younger players has much at all to do with how the draft is set up.

  8. garik16 said...

    Meh, the only thing currently wrong with the baseball draft are the following two points:

    1.  That teams cannot trade picks…a rule that makes no sense and would benefit small market teams greatly (as well as large market teams….who does this hurt exactly?  Aren’t more options could for everyone?) 


    2.  Some teams refuse to spend proper value on drafted players and let them go unsigned.  (COUGH, NEW YORK METS, COUGH)

  9. Chris said...

    For example, one has an even chance at being worth $20 MM or $80 MM, while the other is worth $40 MM half the time and $60 MM the other half. I tend to prefer the former, while I’ve found that most everyone else tends to prefer the latter.

    It depends on the team. For a team that’s projected to win 95 games, smaller variance is better – the extra wins on the high side don’t give nearly as much of a benefit as the extra losses on the low side will hurt you.

    For most teams, however, having a decent amount of variance actually improves their odds of making a run at the post-season. There’s an optimal point somewhere, but it’s usually on the high-risk side.

    (And, of course, for mediocre teams there’s a second benefit to high variance: if you really hit, you’re in the playoff hunt, and if you really miss, you get a better draft pick. Either of those might be better than a guaranteed 7_ win season.)

    Going back to draftees, the teams drafting early are exactly those teams that often should be embracing risk, because they need the variance to push for a playoff spot in the foreseeable future. Unless you’re higher on the Nationals’ overall (pre-Strasberg) talent level than most, $15M for Strasberg is probably a better investment than $15M for a pitcher with the exact same expected value but lower variance.

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