Jake Peavey, Union Altruist

In what has to be the best PR stance ever taken, San Diego Padres' ace and 2007 National League Cy Young winner Jake Peavey had the following to say about his expected contract extension negotiations (after spending his entire career in the Padres organization Peavey is set to become a free agent after the 2008 season):

I'm certainly not after a big dollar amount. That's not what it's about. I want to be here, period. And we'll see what comes of it. But I've got to do what the market says I should do, or what's close to that. I'm certainly not going to drive this market down and do anything to upset the balance where my peers would look down on me.

Poor Jake Peavey, caught between not wanting to make additional millions and the cruel peer pressure to do so that supposedly hurts fans. Seeing as Carlos Silva is going to sign a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $44,000,000 for four years of work, if I were Jake I wouldn't worry about driving down the cost of starting pitching in the major leagues.

Depending on your view of it, the brillance of the free agency system negotiated by the Players Union is that it restricts the number of free agents that hit the open market (Marvin Miller pushed for such a system over letting all players become free agents at the end of each Major League season for precisely this reason). Because the available talent pool is restricted by teams controlling the rights to players at minimum salary for their first two-to-three major league seasons and the arbitration system that kicks in for the three seasons after, fourth starters like Silva make second starter money once they hit free agency.

The money that would go to the underpaid youngsters stuck in MLB's five-to-six year term of indentured servitude in a completely open market gets piled onto the trickle of veterans that reach free agency each offseason. The only players that should take issue with Peavey's payday are baseball's young stars, provided they don't think their own shot at a future inflated payday offsets the undercompensation early in their careers.

Still, it's kind of nice to hear a union member talking about the need to use market prices for the greater good. Kind of. The problem is, most teams devote a fixed percentage of their gross income to player payroll and are going to spend that amount each season regardless of the particular distribution. There are always holes to plug and young talent to lock in longterm, so if the Padres get a discount on Peavey, those savings will still get spent on player contracts.

I'm not the world's biggest Andrew Zimbalist fan, but this reminds me of his critique that proponents of public financing of sports stadiums are wrong when they claim that new stadiums boost business for their metropolitan areas. Zimbalist argues that as entertainment dollars are a fixed part of people's budgets, if people spend more at the ballpark, it's because they're spending less on restaurants, movies, bowling allies, etc. A similar situation applies to the Padres.

There are only two things proven to draw fans to the ballpark over an extended period of time (there is a three-to-five year honeymoon period for new stadiums, after which attendance returns to old stadium levels): winning baseball and free stuff. The Padres (and every other team) know this and are going to spend all of their payroll budget to try to put the best team on the field they can. Peavey is actually helping San Diego fans if he takes a discount, because assuming the Padres spend the resulting savings wisely, it should result in a better onfield product.

Elsewhere, being well aware of the political leanings of my fellow Minnesotans as a whole, I'm pretty sure I've just burned half my bridges in the Twins blogsphere.

On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know what happened to the Liberty Belles?

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