Monday, March 24, 2014

Major League Baseball and the nature of reality (part two)

Jack Moore at Sports on Earth has a post about how the Detroit Tigers have reached an impasse in talks to extend their contract with pitcher Max Scherzer. Mr. Scherzer won the American League Cy Young Award last season and is a big part of the Tigers' hopes on winning the American League Central Division and more this season.

Both Mr. Scherzer and the Tigers apparently did not want to negotiate a contract session during baseball's regular season. This is because both sides believe that it is too distracting for the player and the team. I tend to doubt there is any empirical evidence to support the belief. After all, it is not the like player is sitting down with his coaches to hammer out a contract extension. The player is represented by an agent and the team has a general manager who actually do the negotiating. How stressful can that be? One would think that the uncertainty of whether the player will still be with the team would also be distracting. How was it determined that in-season negotiating was more distracting than the uncertainty of not knowing whether the playing would still be with the team?

Despite the above paragraph, this post is not about comparing levels of distraction. Instead, I want to talk about Mr. Moore's point that the Tigers have shown their irritation with Mr. Scherzer by letting the media know that they were offering Mr. Scherzer a six-year contract that would pay Mr. Scherzer $144 million. Assuming that Mr. Scherzer has another good season, it seems highly likely that he could earn more than $144 million when he becomes a free agent and can sign with another team.

Mr. Moore writes,
The tone the Tigers have taken here — the implication that Scherzer is greedy or ungrateful for the “substantial” offer, the idea that the Tigers are the good guys for this extensive effort they’ve made, the attempt to take the high ground by ending negotiations when Scherzer said last month he would not be negotiating during the regular season — reads like a strange attempt to place blame on Scherzer or aim fan ire in his direction. 
I would remove the word "strange." It is a flat out attempt to do blame Mr. Scherzer and if you read the comments section of Mr. Moore's post you will see that it is succeeding perfectly. Every single comment takes issue with Mr. Scherzer's decision and suggest implicitly or explicitly that Mr. Scherzer (and his agent) are greedy and ungrateful. I suspect that some Detroit fans will start booing Mr. Scherzer as soon has he has a rough outing.

It should be noted that the offer the Tigers made would not make Mr. Scherzer the richest pitcher in baseball. In fact, it would not even make Mr. Scherzer the highest-paid pitcher on the Tigers. That honor belongs to Justin Verlander. Mr. Verlander just signed a deal that will pay him at least $189 million and perhaps as much as $202 million if a vesting clause in the contract takes effect. It should also be noted that baseball players, like virtually all professional athletes in team sports, do not get to decide who employs them. Instead, players are drafted, developed, and sometimes traded, by whichever team picks them and the players cannot decide where they will work until they acquire enough service time to become free agents.

$144 million is a lot of money and if someone offered me that much to play baseball I would take it. Of course, no one will offer me that much money to play baseball so maybe I should not look at it from that perspective. I do not know Mr. Scherzer and have no idea whether he is a greedy person or an altruistic one. Perhaps he simply wants to work for an employer who will pay him what the market suggests is a fair wage is for his skill set. Lots of people do that or want to do that. That does not make them greedy. Perhaps Mr. Scherzer thinks he is as good at his job as Mr. Verlander is at his and thinks that their mutual employer should pay them the same or similar wages. Lots of people think their own employers should do that.

What do you think Mr. Torvik?  Should people empathize with the sports team/employer rather than the player/employee? Do the enormous sums that pro athletes get paid mean they should take lower amounts than the market would pay for their services?

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