Monday, March 29, 2010

Wherein I Side with Stan Kasten over the Players' Agents

Frequent FJB readers know that I have a strong bias in favor of the players in baseball's ongoing labor wars. It's not that I think baseball players are underpaid. I just that I think the players have a more legitimate claim on the enormous spoils of MLB than the corporate shills hand-picked by Bud Selig for entry into the monopolists' club of baseball owners.

So it may surprise you to learn that I really don't have a problem with the Nationals' front office choosing 12 vastly inferior pitchers for the opening day roster instead of Stephen Strasburg in an blatant attempt to keep their money out of his pockets.

Let's be clear. Strasburg is the best pitcher in the Nationals organization. It's really not close. Their best chance of winning games in 2010 is to have him pitch as many innings and make as many starts as possible. If there was anything like an open, fair competition to "make the team," he would have been a lock.

There are a number of reasons he's getting sent down. Clearly, one of them is that management wants to be cautious with the long-term development of such a valuable player. By letting him ease into the life of a professional, including, for instance, pitching every five days instead of once a week, they reduce the risk of disaster, either a mental breakdown or a physical one.

But the development rationale only goes so far. Money is the reason why Strasburg, like Ryan Braun, Matt Wieters, and so many others, will almost surely wait till around Memorial Day to come up. If Strasburg started with the team on opening day and stuck, he'd become arbitration-eligible in 2013 and hit free agency in 2016. By waiting till June to call him up, the team can push all that back a year, keep the player under team control for another year, and save millions.

Now, a lot of players and agents say this manipulation of the service time clock isn't fair. And they have a point. If you're the best man for the job, you deserve to get the promotion. You'd feel the same way if your boss passed you over for a deserved promotion in order to pay you less because of some obscure provision in your contract.

But ultimately in this case I think it's more important for management to make the best decision given the rules of the game as they are now to win long-term. And clearly if they don't spend an extra $18 million over the next 3-6 years to get an extra half dozen meaningless starts for a terrible team, they will have that money for other things (whether they actually spend that money on making the team better is an issue for another post).

So I say leave Strasburg down--it's the right thing to do for the long-term success of the team on the field. However, I wouldn't blame him for grumbling a bit (not that he is), and I think fans should appreciate his willingness to take his undeserved demotion in stride.


Positively Half St. said...

The side-effect of the decision which I really love is that the Harrisburg Senators will get a big boost, one that corresponds with the opening of a new stadium and the penetration of MASN into their market. If the combination of these factors can make a sizeable portion of the Harrisburg fanbase into Nats fans, that would make Strasburg's demotion all the more worthwhile.

Rob B said...

Your penultimate paragraph is the real issue.
I'm sure Strasburg will remember this, and it could actually be a positive if they use that money in a few years to sign a big-dollar guy who puts us into the contender field (hopefully we are at that point.)
On the other hand, if they pocket ticket sales instead of re-investing them in the team, I don't see how we could prevent him from bolting to NYC and one of their purchased championships when his team control expires.

Ben said...

I'm glad you were fair on Strasburg. He has been a real pro about it. Although, I'm sure that the negotiations over his contract and knowing Boras and Rizzo quite well have given him an excellent understanding of the business he's in.

James Bjork said...

To have Strasburg start the season in DC would be General Managerial malpractice, for the reasons you mention. I would rather the team be able to save millions in 2016 on Strasburg's salary to be able to go after another missing piece to take this team over the top.

What irritates me is that Rizzo was compelled to tell a bald-faced lie-- that money had NOTHING to do with it. Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.

The other factor is simply that SS will have his combined innings capped at around 160 this year anyway. Even if he came up in April, he'd have to be shut down after 25 or so starts anyway.

Finally, I agree that SS and Boras probably knew EXACTLY a delayed entry into ML service time was going to happen, and bargained accordingly.

estuartj said...

Not to open up a new argument, but in player vs owner monetary fights I think it's important to remember they are fighting over OUR money. We buy the tickets, we watch the advertising, we buy the $9 beers.

If anyone deserves to keep a bigger portion of the pot, it's the fans.

And no I don't think if players salaries went down that ticket prices would too, but it's no coincidence that ticket prices (and vending) have skyrocketed since Free Agency.

Steven said...

So I suppose you're for price-fixing and government regulation of free enterprise. You don't agree with supply and demand and the profit motive. Socialism!

estuartj said...

Just the opposite, it's like Republicans and Democrats fighting over who money for this that and the other thing and never paying any mind to who's money they are really playing with!