Major League Baseball has a unique player salary structure. Every player, from Mike Trout to Ehire Adrianza, earns the league minimum salary ($500,000 for 2014)1 for their first three(ish) years in the league and is then eligible for salary arbitration2 for three years before becoming a free agent.
Well it seems some agents took up arms over Jon Singleton forgoing this minimum salary and salary arbitration structure for what is considered a team-friendly deal.
Singleton deal is five years, $10M guaranteed. Three options years worth $20M more. Incentives for ASG and more can take it to ~$35M total.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 2, 2014
First text I got from an agent on the Singleton deal: "Agents are pissed." Perceived team-friendly deal hurts all players in same situation.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) June 2, 2014
No player has EVER signed a new contract before earning a single day of service time before. Singleton signed his new contract with the Houston Astros on June 2 and made his MLB debut on June 3.
Many people remember Evan Longoria signing a team-friendly, early extension with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. However, Longoria made his debut on April 12 before signing a 6-year $17.5 million contract with Tampa Bay on April 18. Close but not quite.
Why are agents upset by this deal then? Singleton is earning roughly $1.5 million more in each of the first three years than he would under the standard rookie wage scale.3 After year three, Singleton is not subject to salary arbitration4 and is guaranteed to earn $2 million.
Agents are upset because they see this as setting a precedent for players signing before earning any service time, a possible new vogue thing to do from a team perspective. This certainly gives Singleton some security and more money than he would earn very early, but if he succeeds, this is an obvious team-friendly deal. IF he succeeds.
There is the normal issue of whether a prospect, never having even one at bat in the majors, will live up to his potential. But, on top of that risk, the Astros are assuming the risk of Singleton’s drug past. I won’t take a stance on the need for suspensions based on the use of marijuana, but there are suspensions and that’s all that matters right now.
Singleton has already been nabbed twice for smoking weed, making him a high risk for a possible 75-game suspension if he is caught again. Currently, you can’t be suspended just for smoking weed, the suspension comes from disobeying your treatment program.5
Houston clearly feels good about giving their first-baseman of the future a contract, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hedge their bet by offering a lower salary than his skills alone may deserve. Losing one of your possible best hitters for 75 games for one more indiscretion is a risk that likely went into the decision of Singleton to accept this salary.
Agents would be smart to include this line of thinking when they enter negotiations with clubs on contracts prior to any service time being accrued. That will likely give their players a better bargaining point when teams use Singleton’s deal as the model going forward and could help set a more even precedent in the near future.
The team and the player essentially argue with a third party present to decide what the player should be paid based on basic stats like batting average and RBIs ↩
A process that is not usually kind to first basemen that aren’t considered the most elite. ↩