If you’ve been on the baseball sphere of the internet at any time over the past four months or so, odds are you’ve seen someone railing about Major League Baseball players, specifically Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, being spoiled, greedy babies who don’t know how good they have it. When it comes to salaries, people love to mention that “they’re playing a kid’s game” and they should be happy they’re getting paid at all. It’s worth noting that this take isn’t just limited to angry Twitter eggs, even Nick Markakis openly said this when asked about his reduced salary for the 2019 season. Before I dive any deeper into exposition, let me get to the point. This idea that the players are greedy and should be getting paid less than they are is nothing less than uninformed rubbish.
As you probably already know, being a professional baseball player is an extremely hard and impressive thing to do. Surpassing the minor leagues and making it to the majors is even more insane. Even beyond that, lasting six full seasons in the majors and being granted free agency means that you are one of the most skilled baseball players to ever walk the Earth. Back in 2007, a study concluded that the average career length was about 5.6 years once you made the majors. Of course, with that study being over 11 years old and the studied subjects being between 1902 and 1993, it’s safe to say things have changed since then. With the immense influx of pitchers and position players being used over the past decade, one would assume that that number would go down slightly if the study were done again. Also, even if that number stayed the same, it is dealing with actual years, not added up service time that the MLB uses to calculate when a player can hit free agency. For example, Dominic Smith has played two years in the major leagues, but is still at less than a year of service time. That means that in order to become a free agent, Smith has to play eight years in the majors, assuming that all of the other six seasons feature him on the roster for 172 of the 187 days of the major league season. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be for a player to accumulate one season of service time, let alone six.
For the first three service time years of a player’s career, or two if you’re a super two, player’s earn about $540,000 per season. This comes after however many years of earning sub-minimum wage in the minor leagues without rent, cars, and gas being paid for or any sort of benefits being given to the player. Former first round draft pick Adam Wainwright went on twitter and said that in the minors he was earning less than $2 per working hour. He was probably lucky that his signing bonus could keep him afloat for that time, but some players aren’t so lucky. Finally, after three years of a little over half a million dollars and three years of being criminally undervalued by the arbitration system, a player can finally hit free agency. In his seven years in the major leagues, Manny Machado, through the end of 2018, made almost exactly $1,000,000 per bWAR. At the going rate, a win above replacement is worth somewhere around seven million dollars. So, assuming that he should’ve earned that per win, which isn’t entirely accurate but whatever, Machado has produced about $238,000,000 worth of value for the Orioles and Dodgers while only making $34,000,000. Now you may be thinking “Well, that’s way more than I will make in my life why is he complaining?” and on one hand you’re right. On the other hand, you’re not a world-class athlete at the top of his game who is in the top .00001% of what he does. You also probably aren’t helping your boss rake in hundreds of millions of dollars per year while you’re making about a seventh of what you’re probably worth. It’s also a bit odd that people don’t take that same logic and apply it to theater or the rest of the entertainment industry. I don’t recall anyone saying that Leonardo DiCaprio was asking for too much to star in The Revenant and should be replaced with Stephen Baldwin, so why should you say Bryce Harper is asking for too much and act content with Greg Allen starting in the outfield for the Indians?
The real complaints shouldn’t be directed at the players who just want to get what they’re worth, instead, they should be directed at the owners of the teams. In 2017, the least amount of money that a team made was the $210,000,000 by the Oakland Athletics. The most was the Yankees at $619,000,000. According to Sportrac, the Yankees’ payroll this coming season is just about $198,000,000. Just for fun, the Tampa Bay Rays pulled in about $219,000,000 in 2017 and are only spending a little more than $51,000,000 this season on their payroll. At the current moment, Major League Baseball has set a new record for revenues for over 15 consecutive years. In 2017 the sport amassed over $10,000,000,000 for the first time in history. But despite that news, salaries aren’t going up in relation to the money brought in. Actually, they’re going down as you can see in these very nice graphs from Forbes. As much as teams would love to pull out their pockets and cry broke, they are as far from it as they have ever been. Every single team in baseball can afford to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and still have plenty of money to dive into like Scrooge McDuck. In fact, most teams, if not all, can probably sign Machado and Harper and still have enough money to buy a small country.
It seems wild to me that in this situation people could root for the owners to increase their profit margins. If the players aren’t getting paid, the savings aren’t being graciously passed onto you, the humble customer. Those profits are going straight into the owner’s pockets and will never be seen again. Your concession prices aren’t going to dip and your tickets aren’t going to tank because your team passed on Bryce Harper in order to give Curtis Granderson an invite to spring training. Even though it’s the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons slashing their concessions and still making a killing at the stadium should be more than enough evidence that the only reason food and drinks are so expensive is because the team wants them to be. Even if all 25 players on the roster decided to take the average MLB salary of just below $4,100,000, the owners would do nothing but reap the benefits and saunter their way to the nearest yacht dealer.
One figure that’s been thrown around in recent months to support the notion that players are greedy is Bryce Harper turning down a $300,000,000 offer from the Nationals before becoming a free agent. While, yes, he did technically say no to the Nats’ $300M offer, it goes a bit deeper than that. Recently, it came out that the offer was for $300M, but as much as a third of the contract, $100M, was actually in the form of deferred money which wouldn’t be paid until the end of the contract over a decade from now. So in terms of him being paid while playing, the Nationals offered him less money than Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder.
If you’re going to root for anyone in contract negotiations, you should be rooting for the players to get as much as they can since they’re the ones actually providing you with entertainment. Derek Jeter could be saving his weight in gold by selling off every valuable asset the Marlins have, but it won’t make his team any less of a horrible mess to watch. The real point of this is that you shouldn’t vilify the players for just wanting to get what they deserve. Lowballing, or not even submitting, an offer to any of the top tier free agents gives the average fan no benefit while robbing them of the ability to see some of the best players that this great sport has to offer. If Bryce Harper and Manny Machado want $300,000,000 to come to your favorite team, instead of bemoaning their demands, you should be praying to the benevolent baseball gods that you get to watch them dominate the sport for the next half dozen years.