I appreciate the sack it takes to actually speak out on an issue that’s going to be met with resounding negativity after you say it. In an article in USA Today, veterans Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick expressed concern over the fact that many veterans who have proven capable are still unsigned. Even more veterans took longer than expected to get a salary in place for 2017.
“These are proven baseball players who can help a team win games, and yet they’re not employed. I honestly think it’s a flaw in the system,” says Michael Saunders, a 30-year-old outfielder who signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in January. “At the end of the day, if you can help a team win games, you should have a job.
“It’s a little alarming at this point.”
Across the clubhouse, Howie Kendrick knows the feeling. After reaching free agency after the 2015 season at age 32 – with a lifetime .293 average and .333 on-base percentage – he found the market cool for his services, due in part to the fact he was tied to draft-pick compensation. He eventually returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a two-year, $20 million deal with deferrals. “I didn’t want to be sitting home until June or July, looking for a job,” says Kendrick, traded in November to the Phillies. “A lot of guys are looking at it like, ‘Hey, I just gotta get out and play.’”
It’s no secret that what are considered the prime years of a baseball player’s career are slanting towards the mid-20s instead of late-20s to early-30s. But it’s also not a secret that every GM’s job is to put the most efficient product on the field. With efficiency comes cost consideration, and if I’m looking for a replacement level player like Michael Saunders or Howie Kendrick, you’re damn right I’m going to pay the league minimum instead of what those veterans have “earned.”
That’s the part older players don’t understand. You’re not getting paid for what you accomplished, you’re getting paid for what people think you’re going to do. In a business, which the MLB is, what you did in the past is worth doo-doo because there’s always a 23 year old looking to take your spot.
I can’t feel sorry for aging veterans who aren’t getting the opportunities that younger players are. It’s not a level playing field, on the whole veterans have to be significantly better than their younger counterparts because they cost more. The real crime in the MLB is that the league’s best players aren’t even earning seven figures.
Kris Bryant made just over $650K last season. That’s the same Kris Bryant that won the NL MVP. Yet Howie Kendrick thinks his 36 year old buddy Joe Blanton should be getting that million dollar contract. Get bent. Overpaying older players is exactly what gets teams in trouble, and taking advantage of entry level contracts for younger players wins championships. Mike Trout wasn’t earning a million bones until 2014, and by then he had already had one of the greatest seasons anyone has ever seen.
I get that the system is flawed. But it’s not flawed in the way that Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick think it is. The fix starts with younger players earning closer to what they’re actually worth. Beyond that, baseball players need to come to the realization that they’re going to become a depreciating asset quicker than they’re used to.