Even before the Winter Meetings began on Monday in Nashville, Tenn., the big money was flying for free agents. The Red Sox agreed to pay David Price $217 million over seven years, while the D-backs committed $206 million over six years to Zack Greinke.
Those contracts are just the latest example of baseball’s rising salaries, which have gone up along with revenues, pushed by a wave of massive television contracts. Bottom line: Teams are paying up because they can afford it, and because players such as Price and Greinke have earned that money through exceptional performance.
But as free-agent contracts have grown rapidly, one thing that hasn’t changed much is that young players are paid relatively little. That’s the imbalance in the system. Stars tend to be vastly undercompensated early in their careers, before reaching arbitration or becoming free agents. Then they tend to become overcompensated when they slip into their decline years, sometime after hitting it big through free agency.
To illustrate just how wide that gulf in earning power can be between a veteran on the open market and a young, club-controlled player, here’s a fun game. The deals for Price and Greinke both exceeded $30 million in average annual value, joining recent ones struck with Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. So what would happen if you got $30 million total to build the best 25-man roster possible?
For context, that would be less than half of the lowest team payroll from last season. But since this is just for fun, any player from any club is up for grabs. The only rule is that their 2016 salaries must add up to less than $30 million. As it turns out, putting together a high-quality roster in this scenario is not terribly difficult, thanks to the great wealth of talented young players in today’s game who have yet to sign their first significant contract.