The Tale of Two Salaries
OK, first I should tell you: We will have a big announcement here at JoeBlogs on Monday. Well, OK, “big” might not be exactly the right word, I mean it’s not the moon landing.
I’ve actually been thinking about what are the 10 biggest news happenings of my lifetime that were GOOD NEWS. The terrible news events come easily to mind, right — remember exactly where you were when 9/11 happened, when the Space Shuttle crashed, when various famous people died, when Stringer Bell was gunned down.
But unconditional good news that everybody in the whole county loved? Think about it for a minute. The moon landing is Secretariat at Belmont — no other event is even in the picture.
And what’s No. 2? The U.S. hockey team beating the Russians?
The release of The Empire Strikes Back?
This is harder than you might think because many of the really good news things either (A) Are just the end of really bad things, like V.E. Day or the release of the hostages in Iran or (B) Only good news for a percentage of people. The Cubs winning the World Series didn’t make EVERYBODY happy.
Anyway, I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of stuff I’m not thinking about. I’m sure you’ll remind me in the comments.
Point is: I’m not saying that my news on Monday will rank in your lifelong Top 10. I’m just saying that I think it’s pretty good news.
A friend of mine pointed out this rather fascinating comparison:
Pitcher A (age 30): 119-91, 3.11 ERA, 121 ERA+, 4.84 K/W, 1.109 WHIP, 32.4/31.2 WAR
Pitcher B (age 31): 110-57, 3.18 ERA, 130 ERA+, 5.00 K/W, 1.087 WHIP, 31.5/36.3 WAR
Now, from that, you certainly could argue that Pitcher B is slightly better than Pitcher A overall. But I would say that difference is more than made up with this fact: Pitcher A is one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history while Pitcher B (though he has been fantastic in three postseason starts) is most famous for one year of NOT pitching in the postseason.
And if ya don’t know, now ya know, Mr. President:
Pitcher A is Madison Bumgarner.
Pitcher B is Stephen Strasburg.
OK, so let’s get to the money, right? The headline talked about money.
Madison Bumgarner has made $57 million in his career and, like it or not, is about to go into one of the worst free agent climates in forever.
Strasburg, meanwhile, has made double that, $110 million and he has another guaranteed $100 million coming his way, and he has a choice whether or not to double down and become a free agent.
Now, let’s stipulate up front that we’re talking about cartoon bags of money. Nobody is going to to think that someone who has made $57 million and will undoubtedly make millions more is a charity case. The point here is not to cry “poor Maddy.”
No, the point is: How does this happen? How in the world did Stephen Strasburg make twice as much money than Madison Bumgarner with 100 million guaranteed dollars ahead? I mean, forget the last couple of years because they had already made their financial beds before those years. Look at their paths:
They were both high first-round picks and mega prospects. They both made their first big marks in 2010 — Strasburg came up that year and was a brief phenomenon before blowing out his arm, Bumgarner pitched in his first World Series game at age 20 and threw eight shutout innings.
In 2011, Bumgarner pitched well enough to received Cy Young votes. Strasburg missed almost the whole year.
In 2012, Strasburg returned from injury and pitched well enough to make the All-Star team. Bumgarner pitched in his second World Series game and pitched brilliantly again.
In 2013, Bumgarner made the All-Star team and finished ninth in the Cy Young voting. Strasburg pitched better than his 8-9 record indicated.
In 2014, Strasburg led the league in strikeouts. Bumgarner, meanwhile, won the World Series almost singlehandedly. He was named Sports Illustrated’s Sports Person of the Year.
In 2015, Strasburg got hurt again. Bumgarner went 18-9 and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting.
In 2016, Strasburg got hurt again. Bumgarner finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.
So you tell me how in the world Strasburg did so much better financially?
Let’s break it down. Strasburg got a $7.5 million signing bonus as the first pick in the draft (and one of the greatest pitching prospects in baseball history) and officially signed for a four-year, $15.1 million deal that took him through 2012.
Bumgarner did get a not-insubstantial $2 million signing bonus, but he played for basically the minimum after that. Through 2012, he was already $12 million in the hole, having made just $3 million or so total.
Then Bumgarner, in an effort to capitalize on his youthful success, signed what he hoped was a good deal with the Giants. It was meant to be one of those “both sides win” sort of deals, where the player gets security and up front money and the team pays some financial maneuverability (hint: They pay less). The deal was five years, $35 million PLUS two option years for the team.
Those team option years are absolutely brutal, and it’s astounding that agents still give them away.
Anyway, the deal was sold as a REWARD by the Giants.
It was not a reward. Strasburg went year to year instead. And, even though he was oft-injured, he ended up making more money every single year than Bumgarner. So much for security.
Then, after the 2016 season — with Bumgarner stuck for three more years at well-below market rate — Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million deal with the Nationals, one that allows him to opt out after this year or 2020 if he sees more money out there to be had. And, considering he’s putting up a Cy Young caliber season, there very well might be more money out there for him.
Bumgarner, meanwhile, heads into the an uncertain free agent fate. He’s having an OK season but it seems eerily similar to the year Dallas Keuchel had before going into free agency last year. Keuchel then turned down a one-year qualifying offer (as Bumgarner is likely to do) and sat around and watched as teams passed him over. He eventually signed a one-year prorated deal with Atlanta for $13 million.
That’s the nightmare scenario Bumgarner faces.
So what’s the difference?
I don’t think it’s oversimplifying things to say that the difference, plainly, is Scott Boras.
This is not to say Boras is perfect — he doesn’t win for every player — but his record with Strasburg is quite remarkable. When Strasburg was drafted. Boras took negotiations down to literally the final minute before getting a record-breaking deal. In 2012, when Strasburg’s health was vulnerable after Tommy John surgery, Boras made sure Strasburg did not pitch in the playoffs. In the following years, Boras made sure to fight for every dollar for his client. When Strasburg was about to head into free agency, Boras read the tea leaves, saw how things were going, and Strasburg signed that huge $175 million extension with the opt-out clauses.
Bumgarner, meanwhile, is with his third different agency since he signed that now-regrettable extension with the Giants.
I don’t think there’s another sport where two terrific players as similar in value as MadBum and Stras can make such wildly different salaries. Baseball fans love to hate on Scott Boras — and I sense Boras loves to be hated in that way — but you have to say that with baseball owners making so much money (and with most fans utterly unmoved by players’ natural desire to make more money) the players deserve a fighter to make sure they get their piece of the pie.
When it comes to Scott Boras, I can’t help but think about the Danny DeVito line in Other People’s Money: “I’m not your best friend. I’m your ONLY friend.”