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February 26, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Big Baby

by Dave Pease

Last week Gary Sheffield whined about his contract, griped about respect, and completely negated his team's ability to abide by his wishes and trade him by stating he'll only go to one of three teams, and that he doesn't want to be traded for a superstar. Now, Frank Thomas has gotten into the act, missing five straight "optional" workouts with the White Sox while publicly bitching about how underpaid he is in light of Alex Rodriguez's gigantic contract.

There are lots of people who don't get to play a game for a living who find this sort of thing obnoxious. Maybe someone should tell Thomas that.

Anyone who is paying attention is looking at the part of Thomas's contract he's already fulfilled:

Year      EQA     EQR
1998     .300     105
1999     .303      84
2000     .340     130

2000 is an argument in the Big Hurt's favor--he was one of the top three hitters in the AL. But in 1998 and 1999, considering the fact that he's a defensively challenged first baseman/DH, Thomas was not an extraordinary hitter. He was good, but there's quite an argument that he wasn't worth nine million dollars per year for those two seasons.

Funny how that works. When you aren't as good as the money you're getting paid, you keep quiet (unless you're Devon White, when you somehow convince your current team to trade you for a similar player who is guaranteed twice as much). When the market passes you by because of the long-term deal you signed, you bitch, you moan, and you expect your team to pick up the tab.

Before such a contract is signed, both the player and the team have to make some assumptions about the direction of the salary scale of baseball and the relative value of the player compared to his peers; the longer the contract, the larger the assumptions. Sometimes the player does a better job of this than the team--White's deal with Los Angeles is a great example of this. Hell, Sheffield's about the only player on the Dodger roster who hasn't run rings around management in this respect.

But for all the ways in which baseball's ownership is addlepated, you sure don't hear them doing as much whining about a contract they had full control over signing.

What's most annoying about this is that Thomas isn't delivering his statements with any discernable humility or acknowledgement of responsibility--"you know, I realize now that signing a long-term deal wasn't a great idea. I just had a good year for the White Sox, and I expect to have many more in my future. I made a mistake, and I'd like to renegotiate." Like most spoiled brats, Thomas wants it both ways: the long-term deal in case he tanks, and a renegotiation to bring his contract up to market value when he doesn't. And in addition to deserving it all, he's not about to take any responsibility for his current situation.

Giving Frank Thomas more money is probably a lost cause anyway, if how he's handled his affairs in the past are any indication. Un-D-Nyable Entertainment Inc., Thomas's eminently deniable record label, could use a quick infusion of cash: this time around, that fly-ass Chi-town rap scene is gonna break nationwide wit' a quickness that'll make Seattle grunge look like Zamfir, G. Thomas's label having the means to sign Bud Bundy of Married With Children's alter-ego Grandmaster B to a exclusive recording contract isn't something that needs to happen.

If Thomas has a problem with someone else, it should be with whoever represented him when the contract was signed (and that's making the assumption that he didn't sign against his agent's wishes, which is a story floating around Chicago). And why wasn't he talking about this with the Sox during the lengthy offseason? I don't know if something about a seven figure balance in the old bank account causes some people to lose all sense of perspective (and thanks to the mushroom cloud hanging a mile or so above NASDAQ, I'll probably never find out), or if brain-mouth detachment runs in Thomas's family. Whatever the case, I'm rarely on a team's side more than I am in this situation. I'd love to see the Sox refuse to renegotiate, and watch Thomas play out his current contract to the best of his ability while learning how to make do with nine million dollars a season.

After all, according to a contract he signed of his own volition, that's exactly what he's obligated to do.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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