By: Holly Horning
What do Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Chris Davis, Clayton Kershaw and others have in common?
Really big, long-term contracts. That and the fact that those contracts have been a lightning rod with fans as these players have gotten older, injured and ceased to perform as they did earlier in their careers.
So it should come as no surprise that this topic should rear its head again with the newest members to join this group – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Expect the two of them at some point down the road to go under the microscope and incur some fan wrath, too.
But as we look at these contracts, the only thing that really should raise our eyebrows is that some of these players are surprised that fans are angry. And really, they shouldn’t be. They should have expected it.
They should have seen this coming as a byproduct of their massive contracts. And they should have been properly prepared for the expected blowback by their agents.
Historically, we all know by now that long-term expensive contracts are not a good idea. They tend to work out over the first 3+ years but as the player ages and/or gets injured, complications set in. We also know that stats show the players who receive these contracts are rarely the catalysts who help bring world titles to their teams.
But there will be owners who are desperate enough to make these signings because they want that ring so very badly. Some will say that owners have the right to do this and add that it’s their money. And in a way, it is.
But also understand that the costs of signing these players is passed down to the fan base in the form of increased ticket, food, tv, merchandise and parking prices. Owners are successful business people afterall.
Miguel Cabrera was recently quoted as not being apologetic about his contract. His rationale was based upon baseball owners having profitable organizations and a lot of money. Yes, he has no need to be apologetic and he is also partially correct about owners swimming in money.
But Miggy conveniently ignores the fact that the owners aren’t paying the majority of these huge contracts.
Does he really think that owners like the Ilitch family are personally fronting his salary without a plan to increase revenue and pass along the costs?
All you need to do is compare the price of Tiger tickets from 2005 until this past year. During that time, the Tigers doubled the average price and more than doubled the cost of premium seats. Add in some of baseball’s most expensive food, parking and merchandise and your wallet is going to be much thinner when all is said and done.
And the sharp rise in prices happened in a time period when the Tigers were signing costly free agents on a yearly basis.
In all of MLB, for over the past decade, the Tigers have consistently come in as the second most expensive team overall for those wishing to attend a game. And the reason why is because of all those expensive contracts they gave out.
Yet, given Miggy’s flawed rationale, no one should blame him for signing the contract he did. It was offered and he took it. We would all do the same thing.
The only problem is that Miggy – and most of his brethren listed above – didn’t fully understand that with these contracts, come increased obligations and expectations. Something that those within the Front Offices and sports agencies should have addressed with them before they signed their contracts. They should have prepped their clients about the baggage that comes with these salaries, especially down the road as performance starts to fade. And they should have continued to emphasize this regularly throughout the years.
As a result, these high-profile players are lashing out, committing social media suicide and acting surprised that they are being criticized.
The bigger the contract, the bigger the pressure. An increased level of scrutiny, more visibility – and more responsibility. Also the bigger the expectations by fans – and presumably also by the owner.
And when the player’s performance starts to go down, or when he had a bad year, he has to understand that some fans aren’t going to be happy. They’ll feel they’ve been let down. It is their money that is ultimately paying for these contracts. They’ve invested a lot in these players – both figuratively and literally.
And when the player is seen as not taking care of himself, coming to a game or spring training unprepared or not being serious enough about contributing or winning, he needs to know that fans aren’t going to see this in a positive light.
And he needs to understand that the fan has this right. He’s earned the right by paying the eye-popping prices to attend a game or buy a jersey.
Simply put, the fans aren’t going to care as much about diminishing performance from the guy making MLB-minimum or even a couple million as they are about the guy with the contract that can make or break the team.
An elite contract comes with obligations for both sides. It is a two-way street and that’s where one can find fault with the players. Not for signing the contract but for not understanding the obligations and reality that come with it.
And players like Miggy shouldn’t be surprised when teams take a turn for the worse and go into rebuilding mode. When fans see that his contract takes up just over one-third of the team’s entire payroll and serves as an albatross to the rebuilding process.
And it’s all because the team is losing now. And it’s especially because Cabrera hasn’t had a good year since 2016. When you’re winning (no, not like Charlie Sheen), well, winning takes care of everything.
No one cares about a contract when the player is performing well and the team is at the top of their division.
People start really caring about the contract when the return on the investment starts to tank and when it is seen as an impediment to the growth and development of the organization. And when your GM repeatedly talks about the continued need to cut payroll and ends up essentially gutting the team in order to get it done.
You can ponder the merits of owners offering long-term contracts. And you can’t blame players for accepting these contracts. But you can blame them for thinking that these contracts don’t come with strings attached. Because they do.
And the worst thing they can do is to blame or criticize the fans. The same fans who are really responsible for paying their salary.
What they really should be doing is letting their bats and gloves do the talking. And staying quiet.
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