An eighth round pick with no big league experience probably doesn’t have a ton of money in the bank. So when he signs a deal that guarantees him $10 million and could net him $35 million despite the fact that he is three years from having any sort of negotiating leverage it’s not exactly a sad story.
But Jon Singleton’s story is an interesting one that goes to the heart of team-player power dynamics. As in, Singleton obtained that $10 million worth of security by giving up the chance to snag many times that amount of money if he’s even a slightly above average major leaguer over the next few seasons. And the Astros used their collectively-bargained leverage over him to maximal levels in order to get that deal. In essence, they told him that if he wants to be in the bigs now, he has to sign. He signed.
While all of that went down between two willing parties and was subject to the clear rules of the system, some people aren’t too happy about that. One of those people is Orioles pitcher Bud Norris, who thinks Singleton made a bad deal that could set a bad precedent for other players:
Sorry but this Singleton deal is terrible. Wish the Jon listened to the union and not his agent.
— Bud Norris (@BudNorris25) June 3, 2014
I get that sentiment. If one player takes a deal that saves the team a ton of money and could cost the player a ton if things break right there will be more attempts by teams to get players to take such deals. Over time, that lowers salaries and that’s not a good thing from the players’ and union’s perspective. And even for Singleton himself, if he comes up and puts up even one good half season before signing anything, he stands to make much more even on a deal that buys out his arbitration and one of his free agent years.
But even if I see all that — and even if I’d handle it differently for myself or advise Singleton differently if I were his agent — I’m having a hard time getting on board with Norris and any other players or union folks who have a problem with this.
For one thing, it’s Singleton’s life and $10 million over five years is likely to change it dramatically. If he got his arm lopped off by a dwarf with a battle-axe tomorrow, he’d have a cushion of cash on which to live. We talk about player and contract value in the quasi-abstract all the time and to some extent we become immune to how large these numbers we talk about are. This is Singleton’s life and Singleton’s choice and union politics aside, that has to be respected.
But more to the point: the Bud Norrises of the world (i.e. veteran players) are what subjected Singleton to the Astros’ leverage in the first place. It’s not written in stone that players don’t reach arbitration for three years and free agency for six. That was negotiated by the union. A union which, in recent years anyway, has frequently seen fit to bargain away the rights of amateur and minor league players in negotiations at the expense of things that better-serve veteran players. Why are there slotting and bonus caps in the draft now? Why do minor leaguers make almost zero money and live in deplorable conditions? It’s because no one with the power to help them out — be it the teams who control their destiny in the first instance or the players who could use their power to help them out in the second instance — gives much of a crap about them. Maybe if Singleton’s life in Oklahoma City was more comfortable he’d feel more comfortable waiting the Astros’ out and negotiating a better deal for himself. I guess we’ll never know.
Clearly this is a difficult issue — any gamble on one’s own future that could impact others’ futures brings with it some hard choices — but it takes a pretty entitled and narrow-minded person to not see that Singleton’s incentives were predetermined and his choices somewhat limited by virtue of a system that was set up long before het had to make his choice.