Mike Moustakas signed a one-year deal with to remain with the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night, and there were reactions a plenty across social media.
As shown by the Mike Moustakas signing today, baseball’s free agency system is no longer designed to give middle-tier free agents their desired paydays. And that is a major problem.https://t.co/7LiXgJ418F pic.twitter.com/ryYx4GI8db— Patrick Brennan (@paintingcorner) February 18, 2019
Milwaukee declined a mutual $15M option for Moustakas for 2019 and then signed him for $6M less a few months later, incredible, it totally worked because literally every team ignored him, not suspicious at all— Marc Normandin (@Marc_Normandin) February 17, 2019
There are a ton of folks out there who believe that Mike Moustakas should have gotten a multi-year deal for millions and millions of dollars. I am not one of those people. I wrote a while back that I thought the Royals would be wise to avoid giving Moose a long-term deal. They did, as did every other team in Major League Baseball. In my opinion, teams made the right choice, but that doesn’t mean that the system isn’t still broken.
The current system is built to exploit mid-tier free agents like Mike Moustakas. There’s a crowd out there that believes Mike Moustakas belongs in the upper echelon of free agents, but that’s just remarkably inaccurate. Moose has been worth 13.2 fWAR for the entirety of his career (roughly six season’s worth of PA). That’s about 2.2 fWAR/season. Manny Machado has been worth 30.2 fWAR in about the same time frame. That’s just over 5 fWAR/season.
When you weigh these two players, you’ll find that Moose has been worth roughly 43.7% of the value of Machado. So, in theory, he should be looking at 43.7% of the money, right? Machado is rumored to have offers anywhere in the range of $240-280M over 10 years. That means Moose should get something like 5 years and $55M, right?
Wrong. For starters, there are a ton of things that separate Machado and Moustakas from being comparable on a linear scale. Moose is older, better in a clubhouse, while Machado is wildly more athletic, projects better long-term, can play SS, and is still 26. But there’s an even bigger problem that baseball faces that seemingly no one on social media is willing to address.
Major League Baseball saw record revenues in 2018 that surpassed TEN BILLION DOLLARS. Meanwhile:
8 cont’d) literally thousands of minor leaguers who make pennies an hour every two weeks. My first check in PROFESSIONAL baseball was $304. Luckily, I got a signing bonus. Other players weren’t so lucky and had to quit to pay bills. Minor league baseball players get wayyyyyy— Adam Wainwright (@UncleCharlie50) February 16, 2019
Over at Royals Farm Report, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with multiple minor league players. My former college roommate is a Minor League Baseball player. Multiple former teammates of mine play Minor League Baseball. I’ve had the opportunity to now coach kids who have played Minor League Baseball. The life that Minor League Baseball players live is often significantly below the poverty line. I’ve heard stories of guys sharing blow up mattresses with teammates in the living rooms of apartments. Three bedroom apartments housing six players.
There is no place for that in a $10B industry. That doesn’t even make sense. Recently, Major League Baseball even went so far as to ensure that the minimum wage laws didn’t apply to minor leaguers in Arizona during Spring Training. What in the what?
What’s more is the thievery taking place at the major league level. In what world does it make sense for Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, two of the brightest young players in the game, to make $575,000 this season? Acuna isn’t even arbitration eligible until NEXT off-season. This has got to change. There is no excuse for Major League Baseball teams to get away with exploiting minor leaguers in 2019. There is no excuse for the minimum salary in Major League Baseball to be less than $2M.
There are 256 Minor League Baseball teams rostering upwards of 7,500 minor leaguers. If each of these players were to receive a salary boost of just $30,000, that would cost Major League Baseball a grand total of $225M, or $7.5M per team. That’s it. $7.5M per team. That’s all I’m asking for. Let’s be even more conservative and say that number gets closer to $6M. You really think the Royals couldn’t afford to spend an extra $6M to adequately pay Minor League Baseball players for their services?
So, how does all of this relate to major league free agency?
Imagine if Minor League Baseball players were paid like normal people. Now, when they reach the big leagues, they expect big league pay. Move the minimum salary for a Major League Baseball player closer to $2M. Now, in order for teams to fill a roster spot with a middling prospect from AAA, it’s gonna cost them a couple million dollars. Let’s say that player reaches arbitration and now earns $7-8M per year instead of $3-4M. Now would you rather have Johnny Replacement Level, or Mike Moustakas for $55M over the next five seasons?
In any industry, the most difficult group of people to create is the middle class. Why do you think politicians shove it down our throat every four years? There's always going to be a small, elite group of people at the top of the food chain making way more money than everyone else (Stanton, Machado, Harper, Trout, etc.). There’s also going to be people at the bottom of the food chain willing to do the work cheaper than you just to have a job (rookie contracts).
Enter the minimum wage. Minimum wages weren’t just built to protect the poor. When set appropriately, minimum wages can help protect entire economies. They give the middle class legs to stand on. They force the people at the top to pay reasonable wages to those at the bottom. The problem Major League Baseball is facing now is not at the top. It’s not even in the middle for guys like Mike Moustakas. The problem Major League Baseball has is at the bottom. Teams have been exploiting players at the bottom of the food chain for far too long and then holding that over their head when they reach free agency.
Wanna fix free agency in Major League Baseball? Stop worrying about Mike Moustakas, and Derek Dietrich, and Mark Reynolds, and start fixating your arguments on the little guys.