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Show me the money!

Show me the money!

By: Austin Alexander-December 17, 2006

As Major League contracts begin to go through the roof for marginal players, the baseball world is up in arms over the rise in salaries and the concern over where the market is headed. We’ll take a close look at some of the numbers.

The two names that have caused the most rage have been the free agent signings of Gil Meche and Ted Lilly. Meche (11-8, 4.48 ERA in 2006, 55-44, 4.45 for career) inked with the Kansas City Royals for $55 million over five years. Lilly (15-13, 4.31 ERA in 2006, 59-58, 4.56) signed with the Chicago Cubs at a four-year/$40 million clip. Neither pitcher has ever pitched 200 innings in a year, made an All-Star team or won a game in the post-season.

Others who have stirred up the line between mediocre talent and greatness include Miguel Batista (11-8, 4.58 ERA, 68-79, 4.46 for career) and Jason Marquis (14-16, 6.02 ERA, 56-52, 4.55 for career). Batista signed with the Seattle Mariners for three years/$27 million, he is 35 years old, has eclipsed 200 innings once has one October win on his resume. Marquis will be entering a three-year/$21 million deal in 2007 with the Cubs. Not bad for guy who was left off of the post-season roster this year by the St. Louis Cardinals, despite several key injuries to their pitching staff.

Here’s a name you know. Eric Gagne will command $6 million next season from the Texas Rangers. Sounds like a bargain, right? Think again. The 2003 Cy Young Award winner has appeared in only 16 games in the past two years. But why not take a gamble? The Rangers are still paying Alex Rodriguez to hit homeruns and win MVP’s for the Yankees!

To take it a step further, the Red Sox won a bidding war for the rights to negotiate with Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka. It took $51.1 million just to talk to a guy that doesn’t even speak English! At the eleventh hour, and when the smoke cleared, super agent Scott Boras worked the deal out for a six-year/$52 million…all totaled $103.1 million for a guy who has never thrown a pitch on American soil! Now it remains debatable if this deal is worth it or not but the fact that locals jokingly want to rename there famed stadium ‘Yenway Park’ suggests they expect several Cy Young’s over the next six seasons.

Most folks are screaming from the mountain tops about sky-rocketing salaries, including 70 percent of our Diamond Prospects readers according to a recent poll.

Experts say that a recent surplus has been identified in the industry’s revenue that has been generated by television deals, sponsors and the like.

What many casual fans see are the spike in ticket costs, price gauging at the concession stand and the overall expense associated with taking the family to the ballpark.

Is this good or is it bad?

Well, it probably depends on who you root for. If your team of choice is Boston, Los Angeles or either New York team, chances are you have no issue with recent trends. Fans in Pittsburgh, Tampa, Miami and Kansas City feel differently. Consequently, attendance is down in those cities as these teams generally round out the bottom of divisions in both leagues. Consider this though, eight of the top ten payrolls in 2006 failed to make the playoffs. The Yankees, with far and away the highest payroll, has not won a World Series since 2000.

So what does the future hold? Let’s take a look.

According to a recent labor agreement between owners and the players union, the minimum salary by 2009 will be $400,000…the minimum! That means the rookie who has never stepped over a Major League foul line will make thirteen times that of the average American. The minimum this year was $327,000, 20 years ago the minimum was $62,500. Want to talk about the average salary? In 1985 it was $300,000, next year it is expected to eclipse $4 million. To put that into context, the .265 hitter and 5.05 ERA pitcher will be making life-altering money in 2007.

For those of you who like more numbers, we’ll take a quick peek at the MLB draft and how it has changed over the years.

In 1965, Rick Monday was the first overall selection of the Oakland Athletics and signed for $100,000. The average signing bonus of the first rounders that year was $42,516. In 2005, Justin Upton put $6.1 million in his purse, not bad for an 18-year old! The average signing bonus in the 1st round of the draft a year ago was $2,018,000, pretty good payday for a successful amateur career.

This past draft featured two first round selections of names you know. Clemson’s Tyler Colvin went 13th overall to the Chicago Cubs and picked up $1,475,000, while Wren High School’s Jason Place fell to the Red Sox with the 27th pick and signed for $1.3 million.

Lot’s of numbers I know, and if you’re still with me, let me conclude by making sense of this.

Whether you agree or disagree with contract trends in Major League Baseball, true baseball fans will always recognize players as extraordinary athletes who provide us a nice diversion every summer evening despite the salary gap that may exist. The game is still good regardless of how many suits, jets and mansions these guys can now acquire.

While money in baseball has always been eye-opening, we’ve entered the period of pure shock. Makes me wish I’d been a better player! If you’re a young player out there, hopefully you play the game and work hard because you love the game itself. But if you need some extra motivation, re-read this article. Upon crunching these numbers, at least I feel a little more comfortable about cramming baseball down the throat of my toddler!

Long live our great game…

Sources: Baseball America-2007 Almanac, ESPN, Vineline-Monthly Magazine of the Chicago Cubs