As we prepare to begin another exciting season of major league baseball players are working hard to get into game shape; managers and GM’s are shaping the 25 man and 40 man rosters, and front office executives are tying up all the behind the scenes paperwork necessary to start a season. One of the responsibilities the front office must take care of this month is assigning salaries to pre-arbitration players; here in Baltimore this has set off a firestorm of debate about young Manny Machado, who was offered a salary of $519,000 up only $24K from last season. In addition to this salary Manny was offered a $100,000 bonus should he repeat as the leagues Platinum Glove winner (an award given to the best defensive player regardless of position; Manny won both the Platinum Glove and the third base Gold Glove in 2013). Many fans, writers, bloggers, and radio hosts have taken to the air waives voicing their displeasure and claiming this is another cheap move by a cheap owner…the owner who just ponied up 50 million for Ubaldo Jimenez, and 8 Million for Nelson Cruz after spending 91 Million to retain Adam Jones last year. A reason for this debate is this news about Manny’s salary comes shortly after the LA Angels offered their superstar Mike Trout a salary of $1 million to play in 2014; so the question is raised… is Manny underpaid and unappreciated in Baltimore? As always we need all the facts to know the truth; facts that will be left out by radio hosts who want to use anything they can spin in a negative way to self promote regardless of what effect it has on a team trying hard to re-connect with its fan-base.
First thing to understand in this debate is how baseball contracts work and how young players entering major league baseball through the draft are paid. The nature of MLB contracts can be very confusing and difficult to understand so i will paraphrase based on language pulled from the CBA and found on MLB.com. When a player is drafted through the first year player draft the team has the ability to negotiate a contract with the player; the player can sign with that team or not; players who do not sign are still eligible for NCAA athletics (this is not the case in football) so many players drafted out of high school or as underclassman choose to attend or return to college. With the exception of a few top picks (Dylan Bundy is one, Bryce Harper is another) most players sign to play for the league minimum; in 2014 this amount is $500,000. The primary incentive to sign top picks is a signing bonus; while some players will receive major league contracts, Dylan Bundy received a 5 year 6.23 million dollar deal, most players like Machado will receive a signing bonus, Machado’s was $5.25 Million dollars; Mike Trout’s signing bonus was $1.215. This first period of a players career is considered “pre-arbitration” and their salary is set by the team, they have no negotiating power. Once the player has achieved 3 years of MLB service time (Look up super 2 status for more exceptions to the rule in the interest of time I’m leaving it out but Manny will not be eligible for super-2 status) they enter the first of 3 arbitration years. In this period a player will be able to negotiate 3 separate one year contracts with their team; if an agreement is not made an arbitrator will decide the salary. The team and the player will each submit an offer and the arbitrator will decide which of the two the player will play for. Once the player completes the 3 arbitration years he will become a free agent and able to sign with whatever team he chooses. In the case of Manny Machado he is currently entering his 3rd year with the team, second full year; he has one more year before he is eligible for arbitration so he will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018. So now that we have looked into the basic (Very basic this can get far more complicated) overview of MLB first year player contracts we can take a look at precedent for Manny’s salary.
First we must dismiss the notion that Manny is Mike Trout; Manny is a very good young player and has one of the brightest futures in major league baseball; Mike Trout is the absolute best player on the planet. Despite being beat out by Miguel Cabrera for MVP in each of the past two years Trout’s youth, defense, and speed put him on top of the mountain. Manny at 21 years old is coming off of a solid year in which he totaled; 189 Hits, 51 Doubles, 14 HR, 71 RBI and a line of .283/.314/.432. In addition to this, as noted earlier, Manny won both the Gold Glove and the Platinum Glove and was voted to the AL All-Star team as the first reserve third baseman behind Miguel Cabrera. Now lets compare this to Mike Trout’s first full season in the majors at age 21; Trout playing in 139 games (to Manny’s 154) totaled 182 hits, 27 doubles, 8 triples, 30 HR, 83 RBI, a league leading 49 stolen bases while being caught only 5 times and a line of .326/.399/.564 with a league leading OPS+ of 168. This performance landed Trout on the MVP ballot in which he finished second to only Miguel Cabrera. This stand out year from Mike Trout earned him a big pay day right? Well sure if you consider $510,000 ($9,000 less than what Manny will earn a year later in 2014) to be a big pay day. To earn the bigish money and the million dollar salary Trout came back in 2013 and built on his impressive rookie year (oh year forgot to mention he won rookie of the year in 2012… AND was second in MVP voting) leading the league again in runs scored with 109, 190 hits, 39 doubles, 9 triples, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 33 Stolen bases, and a league leading 110 walks. His batting line for the season was an outstanding .323/.432/.557 and while his OPS+ didn’t lead the league in 2013 he improved on his 2012 performance with a stellar 179. Oh yea forgot to mention he was second in MVP voting again…. behind Miguel Cabrera again…and ahead of the Chris Davis guy who hit a few million home runs in 2013.
So now that we have dismissed the myth that Manny Machado should be treated like Mike Trout, despite the fact that he was treated like Mike Trout, we can take a look at how a few other per-arbitration players have been treated over the past few years. To compare and save time I’m going to use the stat total extra base hits; this will give Manny credit for his 51 doubles but also give credit to guys who may have hit 35 or 40 doubles and backed that up with 30+ home runs; in 2013 Manny had 68 extra base hits. The first name that is always mentioned when discussing young player extensions is Evan Longoria; in 2008 the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a contract extension that could max out at 44 million or 9 years depending on his service time despite the fact that he had played in only 6 major league games (they later doubled down on that deal locking him up for 15 years and 144 million dollars). People misrepresent this deal to say they paid Longoria big money buying out his pre-arbitration and arbitration years but the reality is Tampa structured the deal to build his arbitration into the first 6 years. Based on this contract Longoria was set to make $500K in 08, $550K in 09, $950K in 10, $2-2.5 Million in 11, $4.5 million in 12, and $6 million in 13, 2011 salary was based on if he would have been arbitration eligible or not. So they essentially paid him a slight upgrade in 10 then $2.5, $4.5, $6 million respectively for his 3 arbitration years; that money isn’t spectacular for a player of Longoria’s caliber, the only real benefit he received was the long term security of knowing he was guaranteed that money. For 2014 and beyond Longoria’s contract was set for option years, those were later extended in the second contract he signed but in the 2008 deal which is often referenced he was guaranteed nothing beyond 2013. This 2008 deal, which is so often discussed when debating extensions for young players, guaranteed Longoria 6 years at just under 15 million. So in his first 2 years how did he compare to Manny? In 2008 he has 60 extra base hits, 85 RBI, and posted a batting line of .271/.343/.531 with an OPS nearly 100 points higher than Manny as he won the AL Rookie of the Year. Not to mention that anyone who follows this team or any team in the AL east knows Longoria is far from a slouch with the glove, Manny he is not, but certainly a plus defender winning gold gloves in 2009 and 20010. So how was Longoria compensated following his rookie of the year campaign in 08? $550K……He did receive an upgraded salary of $950K in 2010 after racking up 77 extra base hits, 113 RBI, 100 runs scored, and a line of .281/.364/.526 and an OPS of nearly .900 for the second consecutive year. Longoria also received this compensation entering his 3rd full season at the age of 24; Manny is entering his second full season and is 21 years old.
How did some other players compare? Well sticking comparable players, quality defenders at third base with good power (gap power for doubles or home run power) and other intangibles such as leadership and work ethic how about we take a look at David Wright. In 2005 David Wright had just completed his first full season in the majors in which he scored 99 runs, had 70 extra base hits, had 102 RBI, stole 17 bases and posted a batting line of .306/.388/.523; his compensation in 2006 based on these numbers was $374K or the 2006 equivalent of Manny’s $519K. For another comparable player how about we take a look at the best short stop in baseball, Hanley Ramirez, Hanley came into the league with Florida (now Miami) in 2006 after playing in only 2 games in 2005. His numbers for 2006 include: 119 runs scored, 74 extra base hits, 51 stolen bases, and a batting line of .292/.353/.480. After he was paid a total of $402K the following season he followed up his Rookie of the Year season (yes another Rookie of the Year) with 125 runs, 212 hits, 83 extra base hits, 81 RBI, 51 stolen bases, and a batting line of .332/.386/.562. The following year he was compensated with a salary of $439K.
The reality is we can continue breaking down player after player who have been through this system in the past we will find over and over again that what the Orioles did with Manny’s salary this year was right on par with what every team does with their budding super stars. In fact the platinum glove incentive provides Manny the ability to increase his salary on a scale greater than players who came before him and accomplished more than him. Sure Manny is, in his own words, disappointed; we all get disappointed at times in our lives and in our careers. I was disappointed in 2012 when the Ravens went to the Superbowl and I wasn’t selected from the random ticket lottery to buy tickets. That doesn’t mean the Ravens did anything wrong or disrespectful; that doesn’t mean that as a good fan who supports the team and spends money on tickets and other products that I feel slighted by the team. It simply means that I was disappointed because I didn’t receive something that I thought I might. Time to stop misusing half truths and blowing this out of proportion… time to move on. Manny will get his pay day… he will likely get more than one pay day; in 2014 the Baltimore Orioles did nothing to disrespect Manny Machado.