Let’s stop beefing about the fact that Melky Cabrera got a contract


I’ve seen a dozen of these sorts of sentiments from baseball writers since Melky Cabrera signed with the Blue Jays last week:

Melky Cabrera was rewarded with a two-year, $16-million free agent contract by the Toronto Blue Jays. Cabrera’s deal came less than two weeks after the Oakland Athletics gave pitcher Bartolo Colon a pay raise and a one-year contract that could be worth, with incentives, $6 million. Steroids win again, in other words.

I railed against this last week, but let’s put it in simpler terms:  if you are upset that Melky Cabrera got a contract to play baseball, you must necessarily believe that PED users should get lifetime bans, yes? If you’re not willing to make the latter argument, you are being intellectually dishonest if you make the former. The guy has served his time, has been penalized significantly in terms of dollars and shame, and has a right to continue his career, does he not? If not, make your case for him being banned for life or shut the hell up (I know many of you in the comments section and many casual fans will do so, but I direct this specifically at baseball writers who, unless they are trying to traffic in some easy outrage like this, never independently make the case that PED users should be banned for life and never seriously would).

Even if you discount Melky Cabrera’s past two seasons as 100% fraudulent and without an ounce of actual baseball talent underlying them — which is itself silly given what we know about how PEDs work — an eight million dollar a year deal for a normal 27 year-old outfielder who has played in nearly 1000 games and can play some center is not by any stretch of the imagination a “reward” compared to what other players like him get paid. Coco Crisp is going to make just a bit less than that over the next two years and he’s five years older than Melky. Coco Crisp is a nice player, but it’s not like he’s making crazy elite superstar bucks.

Heck, even if you pretended that 2011 and 2012 didn’t exist at all, I’d then ask you to go back to 2010 and value a 21-25 year-old center fielder who is able to stick in the lineup of two winning teams and show some occasional power. Not a great player by any stretch of the imagination, but someone who has shown some flashes of quality mixed in with his erratic play and who, by most accounts, just needs to dedicate himself more in order to become a useful, everyday player.

What does that guy make when he hits the free agent market? I submit that it’s much closer to $8 million a year than $8 million a year is to whatever Cabrera would have made this winter if he had not been busted for PEDs.

But please, go ahead and continue arguing that Cabrera got away with something and that “steroids have won again.”

New tax law could affect MLB trades

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Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.