Hindsight is a powerful and dangerous thing. The human ability to envision the “what ifs” in life is something we are all victims of at various points in time. And on a day in which the Milwaukee Brewers’ front office staff are pounding their heads against a desk due to the inevitable backlash and consequences of Ryan Braun’s suspension, it is only further evidence of this.

Let’s face it, not every team in the Major Leagues has a budget like the New York Yankees, or Los Angeles Dodgers. The big market franchises in Baseball have for many years ruled the roost because they can afford to make mistakes, while the smaller market teams like the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Brewers and San Diego Padres have to be much smarter with their money, because their resources are far more limited.

4ee43553b985e.preview-620 A perfect example of a team who does this well is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s currently lead the American League’s Western division with a pay roll which is minuscule ($60,372,500) in comparison to the likes of the Texas Rangers ($112,939,500) and LA Angels ($127,896,250) who sit underneath them in the same division.

But for every team which becomes successful at managing a restrictive budget in the lower echelon of the league’s payroll table, there is another who suffers. And in today’s case, it’s the Milwaukee Brewers. Ryan Braun, even with the 65 game suspension that’s just been handed to him and the loss of earnings that brings, still leaves him with more money left in his current deal than any current NFL player.

Now, in an ideal world many would agree that this would be the perfect time to cut the guy; he has a damaged reputation and it’s uncertain whether he will perform to the same level without PEDs, but they can’t, so instead will have to, through gritted teeth, send him the remaining amount on his deal. This issue all thanks to the 5 year $105 million extension he signed back in April of 2011 which makes him a Brewer through the year 2020. The fear of losing franchise talent drives the prices for players up, making the stakes higher if the guy which you thought you would centre your franchise round, ends up unable to fulfill the criteria expected. Why? Because it’s all guaranteed!

jamarcus-russell Other professional sports leagues in America – like the NFL – seem to have it right, sure the amount the athletes receive is still astronomical compared to us mere mortals, but at least teams can prevent the likes of draft busts such as Jamarcus Russell from effectively “owning and dictating the team”. This is because much of the player salary in the league isn’t guaranteed, meaning you are only ever one horrible injury or season away from packing your things and leaving town.

It is important to stress that the Brewers are not the only team that has an issue with a star player being locked in until they are way past their prime. Just look at the Angels, the Yankees and even the Dodgers: These teams may not have any issues with cashflow, but it doesn’t mean it’s all happy families in the front office. The Dodgers are now seemingly stuck with Matt Kemp who seems to be permanently injured and the Angels have an unproductive Josh Hamilton who is passed his prime, along with an aging Albert Pujols who can barely run to first base due to his bout of plantar fasciitis.

Those are definitely examples of contracts which are hurting the team, but none are quite as abominable as the Yankees and the ongoing saga surrounding the Alex Rodriguez deal. A-Rod, who earned $30 million alone in 2012 arguably has the worst contract in the league, and in an era where pigs are more likely to fly before the Yankees miss the playoffs, this can be seen as surprising.

Sure, most long-time baseball fans will remember the outstanding performances Rodriguez put up in the early 2000’s for the Bronx Bombers, but what has he done since then? Been unproductive (see last year’s playoff numbers), injured and constantly involved in controversy on and off the field, be it substance abuse or even shady high stakes poker games.

What’s worse for the Yankees is that he is seemingly next in line for a blockbuster suspension due to the Biogenisis scandal which that famous Brewers outfielder has been involved in. Their inability to opt out of this contract has only made things worse, as rumors continue to swirl around that the Yankee organization is urging the MLB to ban him for life in a desperate attempt to void his deal.

This is not the way the sport should be, why can’t we just discuss the games rather than the bureaucracy surrounding them all the time?

It’s no secret that commissioner Bud Selig wants parity in the league, mirroring the likes of the NHL and NFL, but he wont get it unless systems within the sport like this, change. In the Brewers case, being on the wrong end of a contract gamble with Braun may potentially seal the fate of the team for the coming years, and this is a real shame, not only for the paying fans who turn up to Miller Park multiple times a year to see some quality baseball, but also for the league in general. Nobody likes seeing the powerhouse win all the time, that’s why the cinderella stories in the NCAA March Madness tournament are so celebrated.

145370155 Give the small teams a chance, and do this by not punishing them for signing players who are un-productive or just straight up lie to their face. Don’t force fans to watch guys like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez drive away into the distance each year with heaps of money which could be used to sign young, new franchise talents like Bryce Harper – who will put up big numbers and take his team to the promised land, instead of doing a “u” turn and travel away from it.

Does the current contract culture in Major League Baseball need to change? Yes. That’s a clown question bro…..

 

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  • Jay

    Another nice piece, Stephen. MLB contracts are insane and certainly cripple teams in many cases. Sometimes, teams can get the better end of the deal. But, your essay is right on the money. I do fear that NFL contracts aren’t too far away from the MLB model. More and more NFL contracts have guaranteed money. The whole contract isn’t fully guaranteed, but usually large chunks are. This scares me, because as you said, one injury and they might not be able to play any more. I’m sure each team has insurance on them, so it might not cost the team, but the salary cap hits would be extreme.

    Nice piece. Keep it up.