We, as fans, have an interesting relationship between the franchises we support and ourselves. The bottom line of why we support these teams is usually because we enjoy doing so (although it seems like some Twins “fans” on Twitter don’t enjoy anything that has to do with them, but that’s another story). And this vested interest in the team leads us to want our franchise to acquire the best talent available in order to possibly win the championship at the end of the season. But, there are parameters set up by the team that we also must accept in the form of payroll. We understand the limitations which are laid out to us and then theorize events that can occur within them because our teams have shown us what the limits are. In MLB, not all franchise is created equal as there are consistent patterns of spending among the teams which split them up into either “big markets” who can land the big free agents and “small markets” who have to settle for less.
Now, let me get one thing clear, I am not whining about if this system is unfair as I personally believe it really is not much of a problem. Nor am I damning the teams such as the Twins who operate under stricter rules than others because I also understand that payroll is correlated to profit and this is a business after all. Teams who spend more generally have a better chance of making the playoffs but there is little to no correlation between spending and actually winning the championship. To put it simply, it’s pretty much just dumb blind luck whether or not a team wins the World Series once they make the playoffs. No, instead I want to comment on the fascinating position fans find themselves in when it comes to theorizing roster moves and creating scenarios in their mind with a certain limit that they must consider.
It’s easy for us to disconnect ourselves from the money that the players we root for are making, we don’t see the total in terms of “how much is that player making” as much as we see it in “how will how much that player is making affect the teams ability to make moves”. We squabble over how many millions can we reasonably offer to a free agent along with coming to terms with the fact that teams will keep MLB ready prospects down in the minors in order to keep them around for cheaper for longer. Hell, we just saw this happen with Byron Buxton when the Twins didn’t call him up when rosters expanded party because it would give the Twins an extra year of team control. Of course, the decision required more nuance than that, but the end result was that Buxton will now be stifled in the amount of money he will be making in the future because of the limits set up the team. In a perfect world, he would have been called up in September because it would not matter that the Twins would be forced to pay him more money sooner because it would not be an issue to do so, they could offer him whatever 6 year contract he pleased and both sides would go frolic in a garden somewhere, but that isn’t the baseball world we live in.
I rationalized this decision, like most others did, with the reasoning I laid out before, but in doing so I sided with the team and owner who is worth billions of dollars instead of the player worth a fraction of a fraction of that. And now, that doesn’t sit right with me. Along with this, I think of the numerous players who were non-tendered because their arbitration totals were probably going to be higher than how much their teams thought they were worth and those players were cut to save a few bucks. This would be fine if the teams spent more on free agents in return but this hasn’t been the case for a lot of teams as it seems some franchises aren’t aware that they are allowed to sign players right now. There’s also that statement that follows every question about whether a team should sign a player: “sure, as long as he’s cheap”.
The easy response is that these players, while worth way less than their owners, will still end up making far more money than any of us will and it becomes hard to feel bad for a player who ends up making only 3 million dollars instead of 4 million dollars because the difference is negligible for us. But again, we’re looking at their salary from the point of view of someone who has a vested interest in them making as little money as possible in order for our favorite team to have more flexibility for future acquisitions.
At the end of the day, should teams really be this concerned with cutting miniscule costs in the name of efficiency? Should how much money C.J. Cron is making affect whether or not the Rays DFA him? And should we be infuriated when Andrew McCutchen signs for 5 million dollars more than we think he’s worth? I don’t believe so, but hey, it isn’t my money.