Baseball returned to Progressive Field this week. And while it was exciting to see fans in the stands again, the Cleveland Indians lost 3-0 against the Kansas City Royals and the team was filled with new faces.
Cleveland’s former star shortstop Francisco Lindor was shipped to the New York Mets who signed him to 10-year contract extension worth $341 million, a very specific number. WKSU Sports Commentator Terry Pluto says Lindor’s contract is about the game within the game.
Competing for the dollars
Major League Baseball players aren’t just competing for the MVP award or the best batting average against their fellow brethren. Among the upper echelon of superstars is the competition for the highest salary and largest contracts.
“[The players] match their salaries, and what Francisco Lindor and his agent David Meter wanted to do was get the highest contract possible. And recently, Fernando Tatis Jr. from the San Diego Padres had signed for $340 million. 3-4-0 over 14 years,” Pluto said.
Pluto says when the Mets and and Meter began working on a Lindor extension, Meter’s proposal was for $385 million and the team at $325 million. They then were able to find a compromise just hours before Lindor’s opening day deadline.
“They settled at $340 [million] for about five seconds. Then the Lindor camp said, ‘We want 341 so we can say we got more money than Tatis.’ This is the No. 3 biggest contract in baseball. Mike Trout is No. 1; Mookie Betts is No. 2; and now Lindor is No. 3,” he said.
“See, that’s what these big-market teams do, is sometimes they pick up the dumb contracts from the other places because they actually have the cash and there’s no salary cap. They have all the cable TV money to absorb this.”
Bigger contracts for players, more clients for agents
When a player get his big payday, other players take notice of the agent who helped craft the deal for his client, almost like bragging rights and attracting potential clients to see what might be possible for them.
For Meter, who isn’t necessarily the typical baseball agent, it definitely helps boost his profile.
“When David Meter, who’s a more of a boutique-style agent—he doesn’t have a ton of clients—is going out and says he’s competing against a guy named Scott Boras who has all, just about all, the big names, he can say, ‘My guy’s No.3,'” Pluto said.
It’s not only agents who get into a player’s ear about money and helps to drive home the dollar competition, but friends and family who say someone is worth more than another player.
“That’s another element that comes into play here is that the player himself is hearing from people around and that you need to get more than that guy,” he said.
“I’m not saying any of this as emotionally or psychologically healthy. I’m just telling you what’s going.”
Will Lindor be a ‘Met For Life’?
With Lindor signing his deal in a large market like New York, it’s more likely he’ll finish out his long-term deal in Queens.
“He’s more likely to last there because it’s a big-market team than most others. But in many cases like San Diego, I would be stunned if Tatis is with them after seven or eight years, much less the full 14,” Pluto said.
With Tatis signing his 14-year deal with the small-market Padres and the recent trade of former Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s far less likely those superstars finish out their contracts with their original teams.
“See, that’s what these big-market teams do is sometimes they pick up the dumb contracts from the other places because they actually have the cash and there’s no salary cap. They have all the cable TV money to absorb this,” he said.
“So that’s why the Mets and Lindor were in effect kind of a match made in an agent’s heaven.”
The NBA contract model in baseball
Looking around baseball, small-market teams have to be shrewd to contend and build a roster, with star players often going to the highest bidder as a free agent or traded away for some value. The economics of the game are broken, and the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.
With lengthier and richer contracts hampering the ability for small-market clubs to sign their premier stars, Pluto suggests MLB looks to the NBA to structure player contracts.
“In the NBA, most contracts cannot go more than four years. There’s a couple exceptions where it could go more than five. They’re very expensive, but at least you’re not paying for the great-great- grandchildren to go to college,” Pluto said.
There are times in baseball with the current economic system that players will take a “hometown discount” to stay somewhere they’re comfortable. However, the Players Association will always push its members to take the biggest deal, for a few reasons, one of them being paid dues.
“What it does is they look at the high tide raises all boats. The higher [the salary] goes, the salaries go up for the next guy,” Pluto said.
“Of course, you’re really talking about what 3% of all the players are in this kind of stratosphere, so that’s what’s going on. It’s why early on I was very, very sure the Indians had zero shot at keeping Lindor.”