Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Rays are going to renew Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell for $573,700 for the 2019 season. That means Snell will make only $15,500 more than he made last season. The minimum salary for 2018 is $555,000, up $10,000 from last year.
Such moves are not uncommon for pre-arbitration players like Snell. Players with less than three years of service time have no leverage whatsoever and the clubs can play them whatever they want as long as it’s not below the minimum salary.
That said, it’s also not unheard of for clubs to give pre-arb players higher salaries for exceptional performance. For example, the Cubs paid Kris Bryant $1.05 million following his MVP-winning 2016 season despite the fact he was not yet arbitration-eligible. Snell, of course, won the American League Cy Young Award in 2018, winning a major league-best 21 games with only five losses and posted an AL-best 1.89 ERA with 221 strikeouts and 64 walks in 180.2 innings.
The salary structure, as provided by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, gives total free agency to players with more than six years of service time, some moderate amounts of leverage to players with 3-6 years of service time thanks to arbitration, and no leverage at all to guys, like Snell, in their first three seasons. Yet, because teams have emphasized youth so much in recent years, it is lowest-paid players who provide the most value to teams through their production, upsetting the expectations created by the salary structure. It’s thus a broken system that the players must attempt to rectify through negotiation going forward.
But just because the Rays can be this stingy with their ace doesn’t mean that it’s right for them to do so. Nor does it mean that they should. It’s, quite frankly, a cheap and low-rent move. They should do better by their players, especially their superstars.