The Ozzie Albies Exension, Or “How DARE A Baseball Player Consider Anything Important Other Than Money?”

The Atlanta Braves announced a contract extension with second baseman Ozzie Albies guaranteeing the 22-year-old third year players a total of $35 million  from 2019 tp 2025. He’ll earn $1million apiece in 2019 and 2020, $3 million in 2021, $5MM in 2022, and $7MM annually from 2023 through 2025. The contract includes two  club options reportedly valued at $7million each; the first one comes with a $4 million buyout. If both are exercised, Albies will earn  $45 million over the next nine seasons .

Executives, players, stat-heads and scouts are all  condemning the Albies extension, alternately calling it a terrible deal for Albies, unethical exploitation by the team, and selfish betrayal by the player.

Here’s NBC Sports…

Front offices deciding, seemingly simultaneously, to stop spending on free agents in their 30’s stagnated the market. Then, because of the stagnated market they created, the owners get to collectively save billions of dollars in the coming years by nudging their young players into signing extensions well before their primes, before they have established leverage with which to negotiate. Free agency is then further stagnated because these players will be reaching it at 29 and 30, rather than 26. …In these young stars and potential stars signing away their arbitration-eligible seasons, they will fail to help set higher and higher bars at each step of the arbitration process.

That last part is the crux of the outrage. The Players Union—why are sportswriters advocates for the players rather than the fans, who want stable rosters and an affordable form of entertainment?—want every player to get as much money as possible, so the salaries levels will keep ratcheting up. I heard multiple commentators on the MLB Channel on Sirius say that as a union member, Albies had an obligation not to sign away his free agent years, when he might make far more money, because his actions hurt the earning power of his fellow players.

Now there’s an illustration of how unions are anti-democratic and anti-individual freedom if I ever saw one.

There are two ways of accessing Albies’ future. One is so-called similarity scores, which places Albies  position, and total career stats into a computer program that picks the most similar players in Major League history. That list, for Albies, is an undistinguished collection of journeymen, mostly with short careers.The other list comes up with very different collection of players. What players had the most similar stats after two season of play at age 22?  That list contains ten excellent players, five of whom are in the Hall of Fame. This because Albies was in the majors at the tender age of 20,  and such an early arrival is a strong  candidate to develop into an outstanding player.

The problem is that nobody knows what lies ahead. There are many players who have a promising season as a young man, and  then, for any number of reasons, never reach those heights again. Others, get better and better. What is the prudent course? Albies is four years away from being a free agent, when he can auction off his services to the top bidder. Maybe when he reaches that stage Albies will be like Manny Machado  or Bryce Harper, in line for long contacts worth 300 million dollars or more.  Maybe not. Waiting is a gamble, no matter what the statistical projections say. Taking a long term deal now is also a gamble, risking  much greater but still speculative riches  in order to have guaranteed income at a level that is, for most mortals, more than satisfactory.

This one is simple. Albies has every right to decide that the combined virtues of financial security, knowing where he will be playing for the foreseeable future and doing so with a team and in a community where he is happy and comfortable. Only he can say whether it is a good deal for him. He knows, as of this moment, at the age of 22, that he will earn at least 35 million dollars by the time he is 28, and if all goes well, will still be in a good position to earn much more after that. In what universe is that deal “bad”? Explain to me what Albies won’t be able to do that he would ever want to do because he’s “only” earning 35 million for six seasons of a half-year’s work?

The working class hero sportswriters and fellow players who are complaining want to establish a working culture based on greed. and greed only. Writes one of those sportswriters, NBC’s Craig Calcaterra,

If players in Albies’ situation are unwilling to at least attempt to get closer to arbitration or to push for better deals than Albies and his agents did here, they are going to be stuck with this stuff. Be it in arbitration, free agency or anything else, comps are what matter. While any one of these deals may make great sense for the player in question, if a bunch of guys are risk averse and take low-dollar deals like this one, guys who come to the negotiating table later don’t have much of a leg to stand on when seeking better deals. Players’ power only comes via solidarity and shared risk and they’re all running for safety now, looking out for number one. They’ll get nowhere if they keep doing that. That’s just Labor 101.

Really? My Labor 101 didn’t cover workers who earned many millions of dollars. Are CEOs told they shouldn’t accept less than their maximum salaries to work with a company they like because it won’t push other executive contracts into the stratosphere? I’ve never heard of a star actor being criticized for agreeing to do an indy film he or she cares about for a bargain rate. Why are baseball players the only rich workers who aren’t allowed to decide, “You know what? I’m rich enough. I want some security and stability.” I could argue that Albies’ deal is good for players, because it may show them that they need to consider other goals in their lives, despite what their agents and union leaders tell them.

In a free country, citizens can align what matters to them according to their priorities and needs, not the dictated edicts of some collective. Baseball, the traditional National Pastime, should stand for that principle.

22 thoughts on “The Ozzie Albies Exension, Or “How DARE A Baseball Player Consider Anything Important Other Than Money?”

  1. This is why I stopped following major league sports. When the love of money outweighs the love of the game it is merely a job. Who simply wants to watch a guy merely doing his job?

  2. Just gonna through this out there, but the last time I checked the average $/WAR for field players was around $5 million. Albies was a 3.5 WAR player last season and is on pace to be a 6 WAR player this year (I know it’s a small sample size for this year), but let’s assume he averages 2 WAR per season, I think that is WAY conservative as he has offense and defense contributions that will likely not diminish in his early to mid 20s. So 2 WAR per year for 7 years is 14 WAR at a rate of $5 million should put that contract in the $70 million range. His was half that, I blame his agent as that option is ridiculous.

    Now I understand two of those years are pre-arb and he’ll make 550k regardless of what he does, but those two club year options on the back end are worth way more than $7 million per year. Seven years at $35 million is low but reasonable for Albies, it guarantees some money and lowers his risk, but the 2 club years on the back are ridiculous. There is no way around that, and I’m not a pro-labor type of person, but MLB is literally a government sanctioned monopoly, a situation where unions are actually needed to avoid abuse.

    The current labor agreement combined with the better use of analytics which shows a significant dropoff in production in the late 20s/early 30s year seasons means a lot of players will not get paid what they are worth. The prior bargain was players got locked up until their 27/28 year seasons on club friendly deals, then they can hit free agency and make back some of what they lost out on, not a perfect agreement but one where each side ‘won’ some portion of the contract value game. Now that clubs realize giving 28 year olds 7+ year free agent deals is stupid the players don’t make the money up on the back end.

    I understand the union and the teams signed the last labor deal, so I’m not sitting here saying it’s unfair, or the owners are screwing anyone, although Albies needs a better agent. However, the new labor deal has to recognize that the performance window for these players has shrunk, and they need to either figure out proper arbitration for players in year one, e.g. with post-season bonus based on performance (WAR) or some other agreement, or shorten the locked up window and allow free agency after 3 years. I will finish by saying that Atlanta was penny-wise and pound foolish on this deal, it will be exhibit one on the players getting screwed side, a little comity I think would have gone a long way. and I’m 99% of the time but MLB is literally a government sanctioned monopoly

    $/WAR: https://community.fangraphs.com/on-war-its-linearity-and-efficient-free-agent-contracts/

    • “it will be exhibit one on the players getting screwed side, ”

      To me, this is the crux of your post, notwithstanding an obligatory nod to the other side; which I’d consider more of you mentioned the guy from the Orioles that Jack posted about.

      Or every other high profile, high paid guy from Alex Rodriguez on down who didn’t have the “ethics alarms” ring in regard to performance that was well below the dollars they were paid, and doing something about it.

      How many up and coming guys could get paid while those guys loaf on their monopoly money millions?

      • No employee who is being payed more than a million bucks a year is being “screwed.’ The average MLB salary is over 4 million a year, far, far higher than any non-sports entertainer salary The “screwed” argument is untenable on its face.

      • Even Lee Iacocca saw this for what it truly was, ego. One of the only things I remember from reading Iacocca’a autobiography was his realization in his later years about how top salaries are about ego, not just compensation. In his book, he recounts barging into Henry Ford, Jr.’s office and demanded a raise. Iacocca was President of Ford and Ford had outearned GM that year. Iacocca had learned that the President of GM was making $1 million/year while Iacocca was only earning $500,000. He recalled that he felt used and insulted at the time. By the time he wrote the book however, he had come to realize that this was just about ego. In the book he wrote about wondering why earning more was so important. He pointed out that it wasn’t like he couldn’t afford his mortgage or feed his kids on $500,000. He remembers that $500,000 was so much money, he couldn’t even figure out how to spend it all, so why was it so important to have more? It was all about ego, having more than the other guy. He pointed out that ego is why the top executives make so much more today (compared to the average worker) than they did in 1975. Remember, $500,000 was only about 20-fold more than the average engineer at Ford was making. For comparison, that would correspond to the President of Ford making about $1.6-$2 million today. The President of Ford actually makes $12 million a year today (not counting bonuses). He is the 5th highest paid employee of the company and makes 199 times the average employee’s salary.

        Any argument about how a mulit-million dollar salary is insulting based on ‘well this other guy makes…’ is an argument based on ego.
        https://religionnews.com/2018/02/23/billy-graham-made-sure-integrity-never-question/

    • Once salaries are at a level so far, far above reasonable human needs, all of this is just labor posturing. The WAR= dollars is the epitome of a fake stat, and that’s even assuming WAR is an accurate stat, which I doubt. So is the assumption that there is any set % of total revenue that players deserve. The clubs aren’t obligated to pay a long term salary risking millions to anyone, and no individual player should ever be stopped from saying, “You know what? I’m rich already. I just want to stay in Y and play for X.”

      Yeah, yeah, I know: it’s a monopoly. Tell it to Ralph Nader. Tell me which of the traditional predatory practices and consumer-harming activities this sui generis monopoly results in, and no, the fact that Craig Kimbrel can’t con someone into paying him 20 million a year to pitch 60 innings a year. The minimum wage for an MLB baseball player is more than a half-million a year. You’ll never convince a significant number of fans to shed tears that they don’t get more, not with their pensions and other income opportunities (which really are WAR dependent: the income from endorsements, appearances, etc. should also be figured in. What is it worth to have a job that allows you to make money for just signing your name for the rest of your life?

      • I don’t understand the criticism of dollar per WAR. The article shows a strong correlation between WAR and contract value, are you saying it’s a spurious relationship? So pay does not correlate with performance? WAR is not perfect, it’s not the end all be all, but it happens to correlate well and allow for linear regressions that estimate value. All I’m saying is Albies contract, on that basis, is very, very, very low compared to league wide averages. I don’t fault the owners per se, I think given their recurring negations with labor and the significant power the union has, it would be beneficial for them to not drive too hard a bargain, thats classic repeated play game theory. Greed impacts judgement, c’est la vie, however I have a problem with Albies’ agent, it was a bad deal, he could and should have gotten a better deal, his client is worth more than he is being paid.

        I’m an orioles fan, I have no issue with ownership deciding to forgo large free agent deals with players in their late 20s… 0 for 54, lowest batting average ever, -2 WAR, I could go on cough cough . Like I said, my issue is that front office decision making has moved quickly and rapidly ahead of where they were when the last labor contract was negotiated. I applaud them for it, it was about damn time they hired some statisticians, but it’s changed the game, there is no argument there. The prior labor agreement no longer works for how baseball operations are run today, and Albies’ contract is the best example of that so far.

        I’m a free market guy, let the market determine his value, I think Machado’s deal was decent for both sides (I’m an O’s fan remember :), I think the Phillies are crazy for the Harper signing, but that’s my issue with the Albies deal, he will never reach free agency and have a market based salary. Instead he’s stuck with pre-arb league min and 3 years of arbitration. That system worked when players have 10-12 years of playable time, but they don’t anymore. I’m arguing for shorter locked up contracts so players and clubs actually create market based contracts for these players, players that create tons of value and rightly deserve to be able to test the market for their worth.

        • $ per WAR is used to show actual value to the franchise based on player stats. That’s a con. It presupposes a link between actual wins and team revenue which is so polluted by other factors that it’s ridiculous. Tampa Bay and Cleveland are going to have the same crappy attendance no matter how many games they win. The team context of a player’s performance makes all the difference. Personality, community relations, marketing, tradition, culture and other tangibles and intangibles also affect franchise revenue and value. The 4 per WAR bit is a contrivance to attribute a disproportionate value to the players in the complex operation and success of the franchise. It’s one more example of reducing to figures what cannot be qualified objectively to give the illusion of precision where none is possible.

          Bill James was exaggerating only a bit when he said that you could eliminate every player and MLB would continue and be back to full strength in short order. The same, by the way, is true of professional actors.

          • I’m confused here, there is no supposition that record is linked to revenue in order for players to be paid for their performance. All their needs to be are a handful of teams trying to win a World Series, for any reason ranging from ego, pride, status, or maybe greed. For those teams performance matters, and they create a competitive market for performance, again the $/WAR correlation shows ex post that a relationship exists. Yes individual team factors also affect the value they place on performance, but it’s not the largest or most important in the context of the larger market, and once you start looking for alternative explanations, like ‘team context’ or ‘other intangibles’, you also have to look at structural factors like labor agreements.

            • In other words, junk stats. If a WAR win is actually “worth” X dollars, than one should be able to show, legitimately, that a team’s revenue is reduced by X dollars when a 4 WAR player has a 3 WAR season. There is no such data. Hence it is a junk stat.

  3. Major League Baseball died in 1994.

    When the very real potential of one of the most historic achievements in all the sports world was on the precipice of occurring, most of the players decided money was more important than the game.

    I largely consider it MLA, and go through stages of following the bigs; I haven’t had a passion for “the highest level” of the game since ’94.

    I am more than happy to watch the Pecos league, and, given they don’t make anything, should go more to put money in the coffers.

    While Bryce Holdout waited for $300M…

    I have a hard time believing that men with enough passion for the game to pay to be on a team (as was reported at one point) would kill a .400 season at the highest level of the game for money.

    Makes me wonder where those that did come from.

      • Tony Gwynn was at .394!
        He was on fire last half of the season.

        Was a Dodger fan as a kid (NOBODY was better at calling a game than Vin, what a treat and a treasure), and Angles stadium was closer in my teen years (Brian Downing was swinging the bat pretty well at that time…).

        No guarantee, but Mr. Gwynn was hot, had a chance, and one of the best hitters in baseball’s long history. It was well possible.

        Expos fan? Those exist? 😉

        • Of course, we’ll never know. But most .400 hitters and pretenders have faded in the second half. Gwynn never hit .400 from August-September any other year. Ted Williams never dipped below .400 after August. Gwynn had to hit better than .400…about .410…to elevate that .394.

          • https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/did-the-1994-strike-cost-tony-gwynn-a-400-batting-average/

            This is an interesting article regarding Gwynn’s chances. It always seems far-fetched for a player to break a long-standing record; especially one which requires such high-level performance over an extended period of time as Ted Williams. One thing seems for sure, Gwynn was unlikely to beat Williams on an avg basis, as Williams actually hit .406. If anyone has ever been capable of getting to .400, though, it was Gwynn.

            One of the things noted in the article is Gwynn’s unusually high batting average on balls in play. Normally, when a player has an unusually high average on balls in play, we expect a regression to the mean because, under most circumstances, once you get the ball in play there is an element of randomness to whether or not it goes for a hit. With Gwynn (and likely with Williams, though 1941 was long before my time), balls in play did not have this element of randomness that we are so used to seeing. Unlike many modern hitters, no “shift” could ever work for Gwynn, who had such amazing bat control that he was able to direct the way he hit the ball with a precision unlikely to ever be matched, and Gwynn had used this bat control to master the ability to hit the ball through the hole between the SS and 3b (what he called the “5.5.” hole), allowing him to exploit low outside pitches which were well outside of most hitters hitting zones, and to fight for hits off good pitches by great pitchers. Gwynn’s mastery led to some of the most amazing numbers I have ever seen, such as:

            • He hit .400 or better against eight different Cy Young winners — Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Bret Saberhagen, Vida Blue, John Denny, Dennis Eckersley, Mark Davis and Doug Drabek — and batted at least .300 against seven more.

            • He racked up 39 hits off Maddux (39-for-94, .415), 32 against Smoltz (32-for-72, .444) and 30 against Tom Glavine (30-for-99, .303).

            • And none of these pitchers ever struck him out: Pedro Martinez (35 AB), Hideo Nomo (25 AB), Mike Hampton (33 AB) or, incredibly, Maddux (in 94 AB).

            (Pointer here to http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/11092617/mlb-late-tony-gwynn-incredible-hitting-numbers.)

            I had the privilege of meeting Gwynn while he was still playing. My dad had won at a charity auction a hitting coach with then-padres batting coach Merv Rettenmund. Although I was young at the time (probably 12) and consequently my dad gave the lesson to my older brother, I went with them and watched the lesson, which occurred in the batting cages at Qualcomm Stadium. About half way through, Tony Gwynn strolled in and asked if we “minded him taking a few cuts”. What followed was one of the most amazing demonstrations I have ever seen. Gwynn walked into the cage and Rettenmund teed up about 15-20 balls for Gwynn. Gwynn hit every single ball hard on a line into the exact same spot on the batting cage net (about ten feet away, right where you’d imagine the “5.5” hole would be if the ball were allowed to travel), within a spread of probably 6-10 inches. The control and consistency it takes to accomplish this is simply unheard of in the modern game, and I have never seen anything like it since.

            So, in short, I will never say that Gwynn was going to hit .400 in 1994. However, I think every MLB fan missed out on what would have been an amazing chase, and would have resulted in more fans having exposure to Gwynn, who, because of his career in the small-market Padres, was never properly appreciated on the national stage.

            P.S. – Gwynn’s inclusion in this thread is appropriate, as Gwynn, like Albies, prioritized security, stability, and happiness (Gwynn played college baseball and basketball in San Diego, and had established a life and family here) over fame and fortune. Gwynn, according to baseball reference.com, made about $47m over his career from ’82 – ’01, which included: 16 all star games, 7 silver sluggers, 5 gold gloves, and of course, a first ballot election to the hall of fame. As fans, it seems ill-conceived to be portraying these choices as anything but admirable.

    • It wasn’t just the players, it was also the owners. If the owners had stood up in 1994 and said “This game is for the fans, and that has been lost on us and the players. To fix this, we are going to lower our regular-seating ticket prices to be the same as a movie. Likewise, we are going to lower our concession prices to be in-line with local fast-food outlets. Our TV revenue is sufficient to cover the salaries, the tickets and concessions will be priced to cover the upkeep of the stadium. To do this, the salaries will have to fit within our TV revenue. This is our position and we will implement it throughout the MLB as a resolution to this salary dispute.”, what would the response of the fans have been? That strike reminded me of the Teddy Roosevelt quote about negotiating a labor dispute. I tried to find it but couldn’t. It was something along the lines of “I would have believed the union leaders were the most arrogant, greedy, and ignorant people I had ever met, had I not previously met with the owners”.

  4. If memory serves, didn’t the Astros and Jose Altuve do something similar to extend his contract? I realize that the numbers were bigger (he is a genuine superstar), but he and they avoided him reaching free agency and the team locked him up for a good fair while.

    I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with Albies’ deal — as far as I know, no one put a gun to his head. Of course, I also tend to think a deal like Harper’s is likely to be self-defeating for the club. It puts so much money on a single player that it makes it harder to get the rest of the talent you need to have a championship team — there is no such thing in baseball as one player being enough to win a World Series.

  5. One of the most humble professional athletes, Dirk Nowitzki, took significant pay cuts multiple times during his recently ended career (https://www.spotrac.com/nba/dallas-mavericks/dirk-nowitzki-2279/cash-earnings/). He publicly stated that he liked the team, the town, and the ownership and wanted the team to have the money to make the team better. He’s made a quarter of a billion dollars over his 21 year career, what’s an extra $20M – $30M in comparison?

    He also knew to retire when he wasn’t as useful to the team even when the owner and fans would have gladly had him play a few more years. Maybe it’s just old man ranting, but I think professional sports needs more players with his attitude.

    • The baseball union literally will not allow a player to do that. In 2002, the Red Sox had a deal worked out to trade for Alex Rodriguez in a deal where he would agree to renegotiate his astounding Texas salary to get out of Texas. The union blocked it. (Not that this didn’t work out great for the Red Sox…)

  6. (said Jack) “The Players Union—why are sportswriters advocates for the players rather than the fans, who want stable rosters and an affordable form of entertainment?—want every player to get as much money as possible, so the salaries levels will keep ratcheting up.”

    Are sportswriters’ income fortunes somehow indexed to players’ incomes?

    True: the fans want stable rosters and an affordable form of entertainment. So, if MLB ticket prices keep ratcheting up (as they will have to, if the players’ salary levels keep ratcheting up), then MLB will be ratcheting down its fan base gradually, as fans turn to other brands of baseball that are affordable. $12 for a personal sized pizza inside the park?! Plus $20 to park a half mile away from the ball field?! (I am just talking Houston prices; I’m sure they are much higher in many other cities.)

    The day of reckoning is coming; the MLB Players Union had better wake up, fast: fix the affordability problem, fast – or else, fix yourselves a “concert tour” type of schedule, if you players (and agents) think you’re worth that much to be watched (in which case, your thinking is wrong, if not now already, then eventually).

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