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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, April 29, 2002
The Owners Have Hand
Chris thinks the owners don’t appreciate what they have.
with input from Dan Szymborski
I’ve been thinking about the upcoming CBA discussion. Okay, there hasn’t much discussion, but I have been thinking about it anyway. It’s interesting (to me) to note that the players association, as usual, is willing to stick with the status quo. My question is: why wouldn’t the owners want to keep the status quo? I mean, I know they are imbeciles, but they really have an excellent set-up with respect to maximizing the use of players. Why? One giant reason: Debut Age.
Of the 1914 players that debuted from 1991-2000, the average age was 24. Okay, it was slightly higher, but I didn’t update all the new Latin American players’ ages. This does include the occasional 32-year old.
Here’s the breakdown:
18 - 1 (ARod)
The average age of players when they start professionally is 20. If a player signs after high school, he’ll play Rookie, A, AA, AAA and hits the bigs when he is 23 or 24. If the player signs out of college, he’ll usually see A or AA and AAA. He hits the majors at 23 or 24. That gives an owner 6 years of (relatively) cheap labor. Players peak from the ages of 25 to 29 by and large. If owners make even a slight attempt to identify the players that will continue to perform into their thirties, every team should be able to build a successful franchise - one that competes year-in and year-out. The owner controls a player’s debut age, and that means he should be able to maximize his use of the player.
What happens when a team does produce an actual stud? Each team can afford a superstar player or two. The Expos have Vlad Guerrero. The Pirates have Brian Giles and Jason Kendall. Are there any poorer franchises? If these two can afford to identify and hang onto good young players, any franchise can. What the team then has to do is recognize that a player’s minor league performance, properly adjusted, does as good a job of predicting his major league performance as his previous major league performance. If teams do this, and sign the actual budding superstars, competing is a walk in the park.
This isn’t a hidden secret and was the modus operandi of John Hart and Dan O’Dowd in the early 1990s with the Indians.
The only real trouble comes when a good young player reaches free agency. Unless the player is Alex Rodriguez, he’ll be on the downside of his peak and you’re buying a declining product. Oakland, one of the small market "can’t afford players" team, offered Giambi enough cash, but wouldn’t give up the "no-trade" clause. Not re-signing Jason Giambi really won’t hurt the A’s in the long run given that he may have already put up his best years and his playing style is a perfect example of what Bill James meant by "old-player skills."
On the other hand, a player like Eric Chavez is young enough and good enough that the only risk in a long-term contract is injury, as it is with every long-term contract. Players often sign for money early to guard against injury themselves. It cost a little more than league minimum, but teams can almost always under-pay.
Small-market teams have competed in the past, can compete in the present, and will always be able to compete in the future. All it takes is the willingness to objectively evaluate the abilities of the players on your team and to make the difficult decisions.
Owners simply don’t know how good they have it. What a shock.
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