Compared to you (probably) and me, young star Manny Machado makes a lot of money playing third base. His contract with the Baltimore Orioles will pay him $519,000 in 2014, about 4 percent above the major league minimum of $500,000. He'll also get a $100,000 bonus for being named the best defensive player in the American League in 2013. And yet, Machado says his salary is "disappointing" because it's not relative to his performance.
Here's how Machado was quoted by the Baltimore Sun:
“I’d love to be an Oriole forever. I love the organization, I love the fans here. I love everything about this, and putting the uniform on every day,” said Machado, who hit .283 with 14 home runs, 71 RBIs and a league-leading 51 doubles in 156 games in his first full major league season. “I just want to be treated fairly. That’s it.”
Machado, without saying the word, is calling the Orioles cheapskates. How can a guy making more than half a million bucks playing ball, who got a $24,000 raise when it could have been $5,000, believe the O's are being skinflints?
"Disappointing" isn't going to endear Machado to some fans (and perhaps media) who are of a mind that Major League Baseball players should be happy with getting paid at all to play a kid's game that less fortunate folks would "play for free." Of course, nobody does play Major League Baseball for free — for one reason, because there aren't that many who can do it.
And that's why Machado is right. Owner Peter Angelos is taking full advantage of his leverage. Players with Machado's service time in the majors — a year and two months — have no leverage regarding contracts. Their teams own them until free agency (six years) and have nothing to make them pay more until a player is eligible for salary arbitration (three years). Angelos is within his legal right to pay Machado $519,000. That doesn't mean he has to.
It's Machado's union's fault for not caring to look after players like him. Then again, even the arbitration system that escalates salaries doesn't reward performance as much as it does service time. Everyone with less than three years of time is an indentured servant. The money is good, relative to a cable TV repairman or a baseball blogger. But compared to some of the other great players in MLB, it's not fair. Yes, $519,000 can be unfair.
The Oakland Athletics just did a similar thing to third baseman Josh Donaldson after he had — by far — the best season of anyone on his team. They renewed his contract for the league minimum after Donaldson rejected an offer that probably looked something like what Machado will be paid. The thing is, Donaldson made $492,500 in 2013. His "raise" to $500,000 is only because a rising tide lifts all boats. The A's actually cut his pay $2,500 — and Donaldson was an MVP contender. "Moneyball" just doesn't seem to pay unless you're Brad Pitt.
The Los Angeles Angels took care of Mike Trout this season, giving him a big raise for 2014 in advance of a long-term contract extension everyone is expecting, but a year ago they did the same thing to Trout that the O's did to Machado and the A's did to Donaldson. They paid him no more — or almost no more — than they had to. But after Trout put up another MVP-like season, the Angels couldn't very well renew him for the league minimum and be seen as fair.
The O's probably are waiting to move on a contract extension because Machado is recovering from offseason knee surgery. That shouldn't be preventing them from saying "Here's a million dollars for being one of the best young players in the league," however.
If the Orioles don't give Machado a contract extension soon, there's a chance he's going to grow bitter about earning the salary of a 25th man, rather than an irreplaceable cog. And just like it's the O's prerogative to pay Machado barely among the league minimum, it will be Machado's prerogative to say "sayonara" once free agency comes. Of course, it's already going to be Machado's prerogative to choose free agency, which is one of the reasons Angelos is being cheap. He's going to squeeze every ounce of Machado's performance as he can while Machado has this much value.
Penny wise and pound foolish. It's a cynical way of doing business.
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