Chris Davis just had a seven-year, $150 million offer pulled off the table by the Baltimore Orioles. That he did not immediately jump up and down, clap his hands gleefully, and pull out a pen to affix his John Hancock to a brand new, mega-deal has many calling him a greedy, good-for-nothing, human being. Same goes for Johnny Cueto, the right-handed pitcher who turned down a $126 million offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks and now sits twisting in the breeze waiting for someone else to pick him instead of a mid-tier arm like Mike Leake perceived to come with fewer question marks.
Already this offseason, the record for biggest contract handed to a starting pitcher has been shattered by David Price. His $217 million just barely surpasses the $215 deal signed by Clayton Kershaw prior to the beginning of last season. Zack Greinke, another starting pitcher, did not quite top Price in terms of overall value with his six-year, $206.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks (the same team Cueto shot down), but did shatter the record for average annual value, checking in at a healthy $34.4 million per season. Price and Greinke combined now earn more annually than the GDP of most small Pacific island nations. By themselves, Price and Greinke both come close to the $38 million GDP of Tuvalu, so a big props to agents Bo McKinnis and Casey Close.
As for Tuvalu, step your game up. Fish more fish. Attract more tourists.
These players are far from the greedy rat bastards that many in the peanut gallery wish to paint them as. Professional sports operate under the most free-market of free-market principles. Each player has a unique set of skills of which he is the sole purveyor and proprietor. Chris Davis is not in the Baltimore Orioles business. He is in the Chris Davis business. If Davis values his ability to hit 50 home runs a season (the only player to do such a thing over the past five years of a drug-testing-induced offensive slowdown) at $25 million per season, then that is his right. Mark Teixeira signed an eight-year, $180 million contract prior to the 2009 season and Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Davis is a better home run hitter than Big Tex, and certainly comes with far less risk of breakdown and decline than the roly-poly Fielder.
It’s a little hard for most of us plebeians to comprehend how someone can willfully turn down $150 million dollars. I would happily sign up yesterday for that kind of money, but that is unrealistic. I am blessed with many skills, including an ability to string words together about baseball and design steel bridges, but neither of those skills have been deemed million-dollar skills. So, let me try and put this whole greedy player debate into terms that most of us can relate to.
When you begin going to your first job interviews upon college graduation, most companies present you with a nice little stack of paperwork. You begin filling it out with all of the relevant information like your name, available start date, degree, GPA, etc. Then, you come to an exciting little blank that causes your heart to beat a little faster. I am, of course, talking about the lovely little line next to the prompt for desired starting salary. Well, there it is! Your chance to tell the world how much you are worth in a tidy dollar amount. You think back to the numbers and figures that were put in your head by your institution of higher learning’s career services department, and you fill in a number. If you’re honest with yourself, you will admit to bumping that number just a smidge higher than the average number you’ve researched for the job title. If the average starting salary for a bridge engineer is $55,000, you will most likely, write $58,000 on the blank.
That’s the way business works in the real world for those of us not blessed with supreme athletic talents. Feel free to begin jumping down my throat for attempting to compare an average worker and a professional athlete now! The comparison holds whether you are a business systems analyst or are in the business of hitting baseballs. We all want to be paid as much as the market is willing to give us.
Shockingly, this whole process works very similarly in the baseball world. When you apply for a job and receive an offer, the starting salary is based on many things. Your GPA, previous experience, and the college you attended weigh heavily. If the employer offers you $52,500 to come work for their company, but you feel you are worth $54,000, you send back a second offer. If they low-ball you too much, you walk away. Guess what — that’s exactly what Chris Davis is doing. He’s sent in his resume, with his home runs, batting averages, RBIs, and OPS+. The Orioles have decided they are very much impressed with his body of work and would like to include him in their future plans. He’s been given a job offer, and now it’s time to mull things over.
At the end of the day, Chris Davis has considered the offer and he is not blown away. So he asks for more. We all value our abilities and want to be fairly compensated for them. Most of us would not jump for joy and do cartwheels upon finding out that a co-worker with similar abilities makes $5,000 more than us. A ballplayer feels the same way, the comparisons are just magnified by the fact that the dollar values are in the tens of millions of dollars. An apples-to-apples comparison cannot be made to the way things work for the rest of the workforce. When it comes to professional athletes, we’re not them, and they’re not us. If Teixeira was worth $180 million, well, Chris Davis might be too — in a free-market economy, anyway. It’s highly unlikely that any professional athlete contributes $25 million worth of value to humanity on a yearly basis, but that’s an entirely different can of worms to be opened at a much later date (probably best not to think about it. I’m much happier just buying tickets, t-shirts, and beers).
Call Chris Davis and Johnny Cueto greedy if you want. I’ll not deny you the right to find someone who turns down $150 million to make $180 million greedy if you choose to see it that way. Athletes operate in an entirely different financial stratosphere, and do not have to sign an offer just because it is for a really, really, really big sum of green. There are different considerations to be made for these men. These contracts truly offer life-changing sums of money, and every contract could be a player’s last. We’re talking about sums that can change the fortunes of an entire family, not just the direct Davis family unit of wife and child. If he so desires, Chris Davis can set up a trust fund to send his cousins, nieces, nephews, and even grandchildren to college. His foundation can continue to perform great charitable works. He might even be able to buy his parents a sizable tract of land down in the heart of Texas. The money is his to do with as he pleases, but he must get it right. Certainly most of those things can be accomplished with $150 million, but there are other principles at stake as well. No one should have to take less than what they are actually worth at the risk of being called greedy.
I’ll leave you with one final question, and implore you to think long and hard about it — $150 million or $175 million. You decide.