I’m going to give you three players who produced a certain amount of WARP as a catcher until their free agency, and then we’re going to talk about how much they earned:
- Player A put up 37.5 WARP until free agency, got a two year, $17 million deal, put up 10.5 WARP, and then secured a five-year, $82 million deal.
- Player B put up 50.8 WARP, and secured a five-year, $85 million deal.
- Player C put up 28.1 WARP, and secured a one-year, $18.25 million deal.
Player A is Russell Martin if that wasn’t abundantly clear; Player B was Brian McCann, and Player C is Yasmani Grandal, who just signed said deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Something should be said for the Brewers just signing the dang player when so many teams could have used his services and balked at them, but the argument should be clear: there is something rotten in Denmark when a player like that gets a one-year deal.
Catchers were always going to be undervalued to be sure, but teams have known about framing for about a decade. It was always just a facade that they used arbitration-based valuation for catcher free agent contracts.
There was always some kind of scaling that made sense, though, where your Very Good Catcher could get something like a $15 million AAV over four or five years. Those days seem to be over.
There is growing consensus that the free agent system is broken, and we’re going to talk about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, for sure, but the Grandal’s of the world probably matter more. Because if Grandal was projected to get 3.5 years and $51.7 million by FanGraphs, then what happens to the first-time, small-time free agent who should have gotten one year and $5 million and got nothing?
Behind every whopper of a deal is a smaller deal right behind it, and one would think that fewer large deals make way for smaller ones, but instead the trickle-down effect is working across the board. Teams are spending less on payroll, period, and that is more troubling for each successive rung of the player hierarchy as you work your way down, all the way to minor leaguers, stripped of both a union and a livable wage.
People are going to point to Grandal’s missteps in the postseason as a reasoning for why he didn’t get the payout, but we can’t seriously believe that teams are that stupid in the year 2019. If they were, wouldn’t they be giving overpays as well? Dumb teams don’t only underpay, unless it is an overtly specific effort to do so, something we have yet to secure concrete proof of.
Grandal was a five-win player by WARP last season with a 115 DRC+ (and a career 110 DRC+), and he has been worth nearly seven wins in framing over the last three seasons alone. I hate to do the $/WAR’s here, but you get the idea; even if he was a walking framing machine and was replacement level otherwise, he would be worth higher than even his single year of average annual value.
How much more can be possibly said here, honestly? This is right on the heels of Kyler Murray likely choosing the NFL Draft because of the lack of money to younger players, and that will cost the talent pool something definite. Money is being drained out of younger players’ pockets and instead of the usual balance of putting them in the veterans’ hands, the choice from teams is to put it in their own pockets.
Say what you want about Tony Clark, and there are a lot of nasty things that can be said, but there is no stopping this train anymore; whether he likes it or not, labor peace is no longer a reality in the sport. When 2021 comes around the players are going to hold firm on so many of the vectors of player payout that are out-of-whack, and other than an overhaul that brings that balance automatically back, there will be a strike. We’re not, once more, getting the poison pill of 2016.