Baseball On My Brain


Ryan Howard’s new deal

In case you missed it, Ryan Howard got paid today. Yet again, I wish I would have become a big-league ballplayer.

But that’s not the point. After reading Jayson Stark’s article, two things stuck out at me:

A) How much this will cost the team (that means how much more fans will have to come up with) over the coming years, and how other teams will find themselves in the same bind.

B) The inner workings of the arbitration and salary process.

The first part is fairly easy. The Phillies are now on the hook for an extra $3M than they probably budgeted for, and now someone (the fans) has to come up with it. They drew 3,108,331 fans last year (according to ESPN.com), so you might see a $0.96 “arbitration surchage” on your ticket this season. Maybe not, but it will show up somewhere.

The second part is the one that is much more intriguing to me. Stark mentions that if the Phillies had seemingly done their homework on previous arbitration cases and offered more than Miguel Cabrera got last year, things would have worked out in their favor since that’s who the panel was comparing Ryan Howard to.  Now not only will this decision cost them more in 2008, it will cost them more for several seasons to come, particularly if they want to lock him up for a long-term deal.

With player salaries continuing to increase and owners always concerned about where to find more revenue from, it seems hard to believe that the Phillies didn’t see this one coming. But then I again I don’t know who’s running the show there – I’m just supposing it’s league average ability folks.

For instance though – do you ever wonder why teams sign a veteran to a one-year deal  when they have a guy seemingly ready to go in triple-A? Often times it’s because that they can delay his arbitration eligibility date by delaying his MLB debut. If you know you’re not going to be in the pennant race this year, why accelerate the time table to the day you’re going to have to give the next Ryan Howard his big paycheck? Save him for half the season, in which case you’ll effectively get a free (or at least discounted) season out of him. Kind of a smart thing to do.

(BTW – the MLB Players website is really a great resource. Lots of good info on it.)

What has happened is that the game has changed, the road map isn’t as handy, and the idea for who the model is has changed. Ryan Howard is certainly an accomplished ballplayer – he may have put in the books  the most impressive first two years of an MLB career ever.

But with salary discussions having one foot rooted in the past and the other in the future – I have to wonder how the next Ryan Howard will be dealt with, and how that will in turn filter down to the fans.  While it’s in your team’s interest to invest money in talented players – that will ultimately come at a cost to you — a higher cost of experiencing a Major League ballgame.

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