Tampa Bay reinvents Old Ballgame By Rich Herrera
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The Rays announced this week the deal to extend the contract of Chris Archer to a long-term deal that locks him up for years to pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays. While hardly earth shattering news around the baseball world, it was great news for Rays fans who no matter what they say on the outside always live in fear of going back to the second division of baseball and becoming a farm team for the Yankees and Red Sox.
Archer’s deal is like many that we have seen in baseball lately. The Angels made headlines by locking up Mike Trout for years to come. During the same week the Tigers gave Miguel Cabrera a long-term deal that was questioned by many in the game. The Halos like many teams in baseball followed the Rays blueprint for success while the Tigers went old school locking up a huge slugger for huge money. What is that you say, a big market club like the Angels taking something for the playbook of the penny-pinching Tampa Bay Rays. Yes it is true. You see around here we pay so much attention to the frugal ways of the Rays, and to be honest we have to when you are walking into the most expensive store in town and all you have is penny saver coupons and lint in your pocket. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest from the trees when you are right in the middle of all of it. The innovations of what the Rays have done is more than just getting blood from a stone, it’s taking a long-standing system looking at it and seeing if there is something that everyone else missed. That’s what they did by going new school and rewarding players before they have to.
Old School thinking is I have a player for 3 years before he hits arbitration and 6 years before he hits free agency. After that the player has the hammer and can demand a king’s ransom. So most clubs used the first six years of a player’s career as a hammer to keep their costs down at all costs, including underpaying young superstars, and causing resentment amongst young players. Teams would then finally agree to a long-term deal for star players just before they can walk after 6 years, or some would even let them hit the open market and replace them with younger cheaper talent from the minor leagues and the cycle begins again.
The Rays looked at the system and said we know the rules and they time frame and when players will walk. They also realized that younger players were at a disadvantage in the system where players were not necessarily being paid for their talent and impact, some were making more than them simply because of time in the big leagues. Imagine a 2nd year player helping win a World Series and he gets paid less than a quarter of what a veteran bench player makes just because he had more than six years in the bigs.
So Rays did the unthinkable, they gave a raise to a player that couldn’t demand one, they gave money to a player that hadn’t earned it yet according to the system and locked them up for longer than anyone had ever thought of. They offered the player wealth before they had the right to ask for it. Gave them the money and security up front, and take a chance that a very young player would blossom into a super star. For the player taking the early payday meant asking the question that anyone who wins the lotto has to ask themselves. If I have the winning ticket 300 million dollar ticket do I take a one time lump some payment of 230 million leaving money on the table or do I wait and take a chance that inflation won’t eat up the value of the 300 million paid over 20 years. It’s the old one in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Players like Mike Trout took the money up front and if he reaches his potential he will be under paid by the time his deal is done, if he doesn’t become a Hall of Famer we think he will be his family will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. If the he leads the Angels to the World Series while they are having a parade down Main Street in Disneyland, Angels fans can thank Rocco Baldelli and Andrew Freidman for inventing the deal that kept him in a Angles jersey for years to come.