Tuesday, January 27, 2004

How Much Is Enough?

Yesterday Aaron Gleeman wrote a post asking why Ivan Rodriguez would even consider going to Detroit for financial considerations when he probably already has more money than he could ever spend in his lifetime. Well, I’ll think there are a lot of good reasons why he would consider going to Detroit.

Some readers have already e-mailed Aaron to remind him that people pay taxes in the U.S., so Pudge actually received much less than $66.5 million his contracts to date have been worth. I would also add that his agent probably took a nice commission on each of those contracts.

Nevertheless, Pudge still has a lot of money and won’t be going hungry anytime soon. But Gleeman makes another point that I would question. He says that for a person making $30,000 a year, a $20,000 raise is a huge deal. Well for a person making $100,000, cutting his salary to $50,000 is also a big deal. Our two hypothetical people would be making the exact same amount of money but one would be thrilled while the other would be devastated. So while Gleeman may think money is only relative to poor people, it can also have a huge impact for people who are already well off too.

This is because people usually spend a lot of what they make, a fact my brother likes to refer to as the “golden handcuffs”. So while I have no idea how Pudge spends his money, it is not absurd to think that taking a 50% decrease in salary, from $10m to $5m may require some lifestyle adjustments.

A few years ago Frank Thomas got into a contract dispute when a majority of his salary was going to be deferred because of a “diminished skills clause”. I don’t want to get into the wisdom of signing such a contract, but there was no way Big Frank could pay his bills under the new terms of his contract. Now Frank’s base salary was going to decrease much more drastically than Pudge’s, from about $10m to $300K, but I think the point remains.

But enough about relative wealth, the amount of money in absolute terms is enormous. Were not talking about $1m per year, were talking about $15 to $20 million over 4 years. It doesn’t matter if you have $0 in the bank, or $40m in the bank, $20 million is a lot of money. Now surely Pudge will never have to work after baseball, but if he signed with Detroit, maybe his kids will never have to struggle either (or hell, even his grandkids). I’m sure that’s something he will think about when making his decision.

But I guess Gleeman might believe that some players are so well off that none of these financial considerations should matter. The Detroit contract would still be a viable option. Why? Well Pudge might be happier, all things being equal, as a Cub. But it is not certain he would be happy being paid less than market value. It is human nature to want to be paid what one is worth, no matter how well off you are. And if you're competitive you would surely want to be one of the highest paid at your position.

Finally, the last reason Detroit may not be such a bad option. They play in the AL Central. Getting to .500 may have them competing for the AL Central title two years from now. Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, Aaron Gleeman is one of my favorite writers and I’m sure I’ll be able to read him in a major newspaper one day. I just hope I never have to read a column asking “why do ballplayers need so much money?”. There’s enough of those out there already.