Sheridan’s entire argument is as follows:
* The Phillies should lose their arbitration hearing with Ryan Howard on purpose, because…
* Fans will like it
* It will improve their relationship with Howard
I hate to trot out the old appeal to authority, but the truth is these are the words of someone who’s never worked in a baseball front office and doesn’t understand how the business works. Anyway, let’s get at the meat of his “argument:”
They win on public perception. You could do a master’s thesis in sociology on why so many sports fans get upset about the idea that a player like Howard – or Brian Westbrook, to cite another recent example – might be underpaid. Most fans, after all, could work a lifetime without earning what Howard will earn for playing baseball this year – even if he loses the hearing.
I have news for Mr. Sheridan: What fans think doesn’t matter. A GM who gives a shit what his fans think about a player’s salary is going to be out of work in fairly short order. What matters is winning. If the team wins, the fans don’t care how it came about. And paying a player more than you are required to pay him pushes you further from winning, not closer. So if you want to make the fans happy, beat Ryan Howard in arbitration and take the $3 million saved and try to put it towards the pitching problem.
Best of all, they can change the entire dynamic of their relationship with the best young power hitter they’ve ever had. Until now, for reasons ranging from the presence of Jim Thome to the Phillies’ own apparent inability to recognize Howard’s potential, they have paid very little for a lot of home runs, a rookie-of-the-year season, and an MVP season.
Yeah, again, this is what someone says when he doesn’t understand how the business works. He is correct that Howard’s pay did not match his performance during the last three years. So what? That’s the system. And there is absolutely ZERO evidence (not that Sheridan concerns himself with evidence here – the entire article is fluff) that overpaying a player at some point during his pre-arb or arb years buys you anything down the road. It doesn’t get the team a hometown discount on a long-term deal. It doesn’t make the player less likely to leave as a free agent. It just transfers money from the player budget to one player. The Cardinals gave Albert Pujols $900K in his last pre-arb year, and he still held their feet to the fire on a long-term deal twelve months later.
But here’s the worst part of all, the part that Sheridan doesn’t mention when he says, “Lose tomorrow and the Phillies make their fans happy, appease a superstar player, and set themselves up for a better relationship with him for years – all for $3 million.”
This just shows that he doesn’t get the system, because the cost is far more than $3 million.
You see, arbitration isn’t just about comparables, but it’s also about raises. If the Phillies lose their case against Howard – and they might lose anyway – then the baseline for his arbitration case next year becomes $10 million, rather than $7 million. This works against the Phillies simply because players always get raises in arbitration, even if they have awful years. (The only exceptions I know of are players who missed entire seasons and received the same salaries in the subsequent years.) Howard’s agent (Casey Close of CAA) will also be able to argue for a higher raise by looking at the raises comparable players received in percentage terms. For example, Alfonso Soriano received a 38% raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility. If Close argues for a 38% raise for Howard, then that’s $9.7 million if the Phillies win this year’s hearing but $13.8 million if the Phillies lose. The effect of a loss this year is cumulative.
No, losing an arbitration case on purpose is never a good idea, and I hope the Phillies put on a good show in a hearing where the cards are slightly stacked against them. Mr. Sheridan is going to have to show us at least one situation somewhere in baseball history where his idea didn’t come back to bite the team on the ass and leave it with a case of gangrene.