You may have noticed a few recognizable names among the transaction blurbs in your local newspaper, be it the Bee or the Times-Courrier-News-Inquirer-et al. Mark Quinn, Benny Agbayani, Kevin "Kid" Orie, Willie Banks, Bruce Chen, Osvaldo Fernandez, Wayne Gomes, Mike James, and Rob Bell all were once established major leaguers if not stars. Now they are all unemployed.
Yesterday was the final day that players on the 40-man rosters could be released for only 30 days' worth of termination pay (then it will be 45 days' pay). So teams started looking to their marginal players to determine if they are still worthy of their contracts.
Bell gets "only" $71,721 of his $437,500 salary.
Banks: $122,951 of his $750,000, one-year contract.
Agbayani: $100,000 of his $610,000, one-year contract.
Quinn receives $81,967 in termination pay from his $500,000, one-year contract. He was supposed to be the Royals' starting right fielder. He had hamstring problems and was 1-for-8 in only a handful of games this spring.
Manager Tony Pena was sympathetic:
"We said coming into spring training there were going to be no gimmes," manager Tony Pena said. "Somebody would have to earn it. At that point, everybody believed he was not going to help this ballclub. That was the decision."
Though there were rumors initially that the Royals would re-sign Quinn after he cleared waivers, but now it appears they are going in another direction (i.e., Michael Tucker and/or Dee Brown).
Here is yet another indication that baseball teams are doing whatever is necessary to pare down salary. They non-tendored contracts en masse earlier this offseason, swamping the free agent market. However, those were mostly million-dollar players that they teams felt would not be worthy of such an investment. Now they appear set to cut salary for those making near the $300 K league minimum.
Maybe teams are starting to realize that, as Stephen Jay Gould first articulated in his .400-hitter study, the general improvement in play has made many major-league players expendable. Why pay Benny Agbayani twice the league minimum as an average outfielder when someone can be had for half that that is almost as good?
For years the baseball men would demand that veteran players be brought in to fill certain roles because they were known commodities. Now, the pendulum is starting to swing the other with the money people demanding a rationale to pay the extra money on veterans. Actually, in this market they have been able to acquire those veterans for less, pleasing both the money and the baseball camps.
Indeed, a few of the players released will catch on with another major-league club but probably for less money. And there'll be no more "gimmes".
Of course, this a great basis for an argument to expand by more teams. If there is such a large pool of talent that players can be dropped to shave off a few hundred thousand dollars, then maybe it's time to add a team or two to offload the excess talent.
Of course, there's always the con argument that states that teams are bleeding cash and no further expansion is practical in our economy today. However, the proposed Dodgers sale, which basically doubles the value of the team in five years, five post-expansion and post-strike years, puts the kibosh on that argument.
However, the cartel that runs major-league baseball isn't about to add more teams to their ranks to suckle from the baseball teat until they see some direct benefits from doing so: usurial expansion fees and/or removal of Congress from their collective backs. The truth is baseball is more likely to contract, which they are free to do after 2006 according to the new CBA. Contraction is much more attractive now given the benefit of extorting a new stadium or better concessions from the locals by threatening to move. In the early-to-mid-Nineties baseball was much more interested in collecting those excessive expansion fees.
So what does the future hold? It will be extremely interesting to see what sorts of new contracts replace the long-term deals that will expire over the next few years. They will probably be both shorter in duration and for less money. That is, unless the players can prove collusion. Money will continue to be one of the main considerations in any trade that is made. Baseball will make a tidy sum on the Expos sale.
When 2007 rolls around, the owners will determine if the continued extortion of the local municipalities outweighs the ridiculous sums they can demand for an expansion team or two. If extortion is the way to go, expect a Florida team or two to go bye-bye. If not, say "Howdy" to San Juan, Portland, D.C.-basically whatever cities do not get the Expos. Count the number of new stadiums completed by 2006 and that may be a good indicator. Also, if the average salary falls under the Mendoza Line ($2 M), the owners may be more willing to welcome new boys into their clubhouse.