Archive for the ‘Strasburg’ Category

Strasburg Redux

June 16, 2009

A couple times last week I wrote in passing about Steven Strasburg and how silly I think it is that people (mostly writers and “experts”) are so riled up about the amount of money he’s apparently going to demand before ever throwing his first professional pitch.

To one of those posts, Ron commented like so (unabridged but compressed for space):

Strausburg hasn’t proven anything. They’re asking $50 mil who might be the biggest bust of all time, and he’s not worth the money. I hope the Nats lowball and him, and Boras has to make the decision of taking less money or having him sit out the year. No college or high school ‘deserves’ that kind of money, no matter how good they were at a previous level. Players today get big arbitration and free agent contracts by putting up numbers at the major league level. Last time I checked, Strasburg had 0 professional wins, 0 professional strike outs, 0 professional shutouts, etc. How is he worth anything more than a basic contract and a chance to prove himself?

And over at his own site yesterday, tHeMARksMiTh chimed in with somewhat similar sentiments phrased in an entirely different way.

I replied to Mark’s directly over at his site, but here, rather than tackle either of these arguments head-on, I’m going to try to explain my own position a little better.

1. I’m not saying Strasburg should get $50 million. Only Boras and Conlin have said that, as far as I can tell, and only Conlin seems to actually believe it. I don’t believe anyone is worth that kind of money, and there’s no way the Nats or anyone else would pay it. He should, however, get something approximating what the highest bidder would be willing to pay him. And:

2. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a kid hiring a representative to zealously advocate for him. Otherwise it’s just the kid against the zealous advocates on the other side, and that’s how you get the reserve clause and collusion and all that. Strasburg might be a bust. He might throw out his arm this fall and be back in school (for real this time) by spring. But that’s exactly why he should be trying to get every penny he can, right now. And the Nationals should be willing to give him a lot of it, because:

3. Strasburg has proven plenty, thank you. He’s probably the best college pitcher in history. He throws 100 miles an hour with control for 100+ pitches. Scouts say he can step in right now and hold his own in the majors. Scouts can be wrong, but many of them are very, very good at their jobs, and they all seem to agree on this one. His skills have a value apart from any statistics, professional or otherwise, you might want to tack onto them. And that value is a very, very large number. If you graduate at the top of your class from Harvard Business School, you’re (even in this economy, I think) going to get your choice of a number of prestigious and lucrative job offers. You haven’t written a single professional report or given a single professional presentation, but there’s plenty of evidence you can do your job well. And you’ll be making a lot more money than the guy who graduated at the bottom of your class, and more than a lot of other guys who went to Muncie State and have been writing reports and giving presentations for a less prestigious company for 20 or 30 years. That’s the way the world works, and there’s no real good argument for treating baseball as though it were any different in that regard. All that said, though:

4. I’m not really in favor of abolishing the draft. This has been something that’s been discussed a lot lately, and I have to admit that the revolutionaries (like David Pinto) have a lot of great points, and probably make a stronger rational/economic case than the traditionalists do. But baseball is different, and there’s a lot to be said for the (theoretical) best players going to the worst teams. However, there’s a lot that needs to be done to make this fairer to the kids. Get rid of the ridiculous slotting system entirely (though it’s increasingly being ignored by most teams anyway). Make draft picks tradeable, so that a team that doesn’t value (or have the cash for) the top pick can immediately get value from a team that does. And so on. On the other hand,

5. We already know what a draft-free world would look like. There’s no draft for overseas players. Any team is free to bid on any player. And you know what? The Yankees and Red Sox don’t have anything like a monopoly on the best international talent, and never have. So I can’t quite go so far as to endorse it (yet), but the world without the draft might not be such a bad or scary place.

So anyway. That does a slightly better job of explaining where I come down on this thing than I was doing last week. No, Strasburg shouldn’t get $50 million. Nobody should, and nobody seriously thinks he will. But he should be able to get something like the top of what the market will pay for his services. And if the nature of sport prevents that from happening (which the international market suggests it probably shouldn’t), the constraints on the draft should be loosened or lifted to get as close to that as realistically possible.

Lastly (maybe most importantly): there are a lot of arguments against amateurs “deserving” this kind of money and against changing the system. And I think most of them are shockingly weak, but I get where they come from. But what are the arguments in favor of keeping the system as it is? Why do we want to continue artificially shifting wealth from the kids to the(ir) owners? I’m all ears (er, eyes)…

I agree with Bill Conlin, dammit

June 12, 2009

Well, okay, that’s not true. Just the opposite of that is true, as you’ll see. And it will probably never be true. But I do agree with his headline:

In desperate times, Nationals must throw cash at Strasburg

The article itself is a meandering, incomprehensible mess full of contradictorily ridiculous assertions (which qualities could fairly be summed up by calling any article like this “a conlin”; in fact, I think I’ll use that from now on), so you can’t really coherently “agree” with the meat of it. If you thought I was crazy for saying that Strasburg is worth considerably more than $11 million, you’ll love this.

In a perfect world, owner Ted Lerner would transfer about 500,000 Benjamins to the account of Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras. Then the new face of the franchise would make a couple of starts before full houses and go off to the minors to learn about pitching every fifth day for 6 months.

But cf. Conlin, a few paragraphs later, after rambling about a huge top prospect he once covered who in the end could only manage to be Lew Krausse Jr.:

Nationals owner Ted Lerner can only pray he gets a little more bang than that for the 50 million Stephen Strasburg bucks Scott Boras is about to pry out of him.

So I find the first quote almost offensively stupid. Conlin’s “perfect world” is essentially a system of something like indentured servitude. I know, it’s hard to sympathize with a 21 year old kid making half a million dollars, but focusing on the figures involved just obscures the brain-exploding wrongness of this line of thinking.

I’m not going to get all philosophical about what would really be a “perfect world,” but there’s certainly no arguing that in the most perfect version of our own capitalist system, everyone would be free to obtain the highest price his or her services could bring on the open market. For Strasburg, that’s a hell of a lot more than $500,000. It’s a lot more than $11 million. And it may be even more than $20 million. You could draw a lot of frightening conclusions about Conlin, if you wanted to read that much into it, from the fact that his “perfect world” involves robbing a young man of something like 98.7% of the value of his services (and transferring that cash directly to the young man’s billionaire bosses).

That’s a little unfair, since one presumes that by “perfect world” he means the perfect world in Ted Lerner’s head, not a utopian society. But if that’s the case, why stop at such a ridiculously low figure? In Lerner’s “perfect world,” wouldn’t every player just play for free?

In my opinion, it’s because of the effect I alluded to on Wednesday (more directly discussed in the comments): writers like Conlin and former players like Harold Reynolds just don’t want a kid making that much money. It offends their delicate sensibilities, which in turn mangles their capacity to reason (if Conlin ever had that capacity, which I kind of doubt). They get this figure in their head of what a young player “deserves,” and what he’s “earned” by his play on the field. These ideas have nothing to do with concepts of value and everything to do with their own preconceived notions of merit and hard work and the value of a dollar (dagnabbit).

But Conlin’s ultimate point (apparently, though I think he forgot to actually make it amidst all that pointless blather about Krausse) is that, as offensive and horrible it is, the evil Strasburg and the eviller Boras have the Nationals over a barrel, and they have to pay him as much as he wants. To Conlin, that means paying him $50 million, a pipe dream of a figure that Boras kind of alluded to in a roundabout way in comparing Strasburg to the bidding on imports like Dice-K.

Saying he’ll get $50 million is, in a way, even dumber than saying he should be getting 1% of that total (and the fact that he said both those things in the space of one article is what makes him Bill Conlin). Boras consistently has incredible success at getting his clients hilariously huge amounts of money, but when has he ever gotten the top figure he’s asked for? And he hasn’t even asked for $50 million; that’s just a pie-in-the-sky number he floated in an interview, hoping to make the $18 or $20 or $25 million Strasburg will eventually get sound more palatable by comparison. Conlin is the only dude I know of who has even considered for a minute that $50 million might even be somewhere on the far-right, fading-to-zero tail in the bell curve of possible outcomes of these negotiations.

As Mark noted in the comments to the Wednesday post, Strasburg isn’t really in a much better position than any other draftee. Yeah, it would look terrible for the Nationals to fail to sign him, but Strasburg’s alternative is to play independent ball for a year for almost no money and hope he doesn’t blow his arm out (and inevitably watch his draft position slip in ’10 even if healthy, since the Nationals are pretty much locked into the top pick in that draft too). It’s an alternative I don’t think he’ll hesitate to take if the Nationals really lowball him, but it’s not exactly an attractive one.

So I guess it’s just kind of an army of straw men Conlin has set up here. Strasburg should be getting half a mil, but Conlin has resigned himself to the fact that, in this modern world gone mad, Strasburg will be getting $50 mil. It’s just lazy, bad, brainless, worthless writing. And it makes it just a little harder to feel sad about the impending death of the newspaper industry.

Also, Conlin once said he wished Hitler were still around so he could kill all the bloggers. Essentially. So, you know, there’s that.

BLACKBERRY EDIT: ha! As Mark points out in the comments below, I’m not nearly as up on my mid-90’s lingo as Conlin is. Of course “500,000 Benjamins” is just a really lame way of saying “$50 million.” So while I have no interest in being “fair” to a guy like Conlin, I guess I should axknowledge that he’s only dumb about one of these two things. The rest only applies to almost every other newspaper writer out there…