On Tuesday, I took a look at all of the pitchers in baseball that signed contracts that took them from their arbitration years into their free agency years. Basically, those pitchers signed away free agent years at below-market prices — they left money on the table. Why?
First, let’s re-iterate the premise. Justin Verlander is signed for just over $20 million this season, which would have been his first as a free agent. Is there any doubt that he couldn’t have done better if he hit the open market his year? Dan Haren has been in his free agency years for two years now and is making $13.7 million a year. He should be making more than $13 million a year.
But look at Matt Moore, who just signed a contract that could go for eight years, and things become more clear. If Moore is as good as he’s projected to be — he’s the top prospect in baseball on some recent lists — he’ll be worth much, much more than the $9.5 million option he gave the Rays on his first two free agency years.
On the other hand, Matt Moore is 22 years old, doesn’t have a college degree, and has only thrown 169 Major League pitches. He could suffer a shoulder injury and his job prospects would suddenly look very different. Now he doesn’t have to worry about his contract for five years, and his worst-case scenario has been covered. If his shoulder goes all Mark Prior, he’ll still have some earnings in hand.
It’s easy to look at these contracts from the outside and denigrate them. Jokes about the agent and the player flow naturally when you look at James Shields‘ $10 million salary. And it does make sense for athletes to push to get as much money as they can out of their short careers, so maybe some of the criticism is fair.
But you also have to think about these athletes as people. Their families may have sacrificed heavily to help them become who they are, and the player may want to reward them. Or perhaps they value money differently and don’t think the difference between $20 million a year and $25 million a year is worth the acid reflux it might take to get there. Maybe they even feel loyalty towards the organization that drafted them and helped them hone their skills. Maybe they’re on a competitive team and want to stay there.
We can’t know why some pitchers have valued security more than a few more million dollars a year, but we should be careful not to hold it against them. Celebrate their achievements and their ability to come to a long-term agreement with their team instead.