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J.D. Davis and the Unjust Process of Salary Arbitration

There's been a situation in San Fransisco; J.D. Davis has been released. Let's give some background on what led up to this, going back a bit.


Davis has bounced around a bit in MLB after being a well-regarded prospect in the Houston Astros system that didn't quite meet expectations (to answer your question, yes, he was part of the sign-stealing scandal, which should tell you how heinous an act the Giants have done for me to defend such a player).


He eventually landed in Queens, playing some quality ball for the Mets over three-plus seasons. For most of his time there, he posted above-league-average hitting numbers and even topped out at 2.5 wins in 2019.


Davis went to San Fransisco in 2022, where he was again a solid, if not unremarkable, hitter and a poor defender. However, in 2023, he submitted a genuinely quality defensive season at third base while maintaining a decent hitting clip, totaling a 2.2-win season.


Going into the offseason, he was due for yet another round of arbitration. He submitted that he was worth $6.9 million, and San Fransisco said he was worth $6.55 million.


Davis won the case, so everything should be settled and over with, right? Nope. Because of a loophole in the new CBA, the Giants were able to release Davis in Spring Training, two weeks before the regular season, instead of non-tendering him in the offseason. This left him plenty of time to get a deal from another team, only having to pay $1.15 million to the third baseman.


The move was primarily motivated by the Giants' gluttony of infielders following the signing of third baseman Matt Chapman. So, let's get a few things out of the way before I start to get worked up.


One: Matt Chapman will likely be better than J.D. Davis this year. I'm not arguing against that.


Two: J.D. Davis might not be worth the $6.9 million he got in arbitration in a vacuum, but I'll discuss that later.


No, the real issue that I have with this loophole that teams have is that this will happen again to more mid-level players similar to Davis. They are not All-Stars, but decent enough players to maybe start somewhere at their respective positions.


The Giants initially agreed to pay Davis $6.55 million. Now, they get to pocket a net of a little over $5 million because the players' union likely had to make concessions at the negotiating table to ensure minor leaguers could at least hopefully make minimum wage.


Now, this is not meant to sound like some whiney piece sympathizing with millionaire players; no, instead, it's meant to be a critique of the billionaire owners who make a boatload of profits to pocket for themselves. These are the same owners begging for public tax dollars to fund new stadiums to make even more money, but that's another issue for another time.


The issue of arbitration has been contentious since it began in the 1970s, with teams winning around 57% of the cases and the highest difference between a player and a team filing being $5 million (set in 2019-2020 with the Astros and George Springer).


So, no, players don't win more, and no, they aren't commanding ridiculous prices based on their production (or lack thereof). The arbitrator does not rule some weirdly high number that he pulls out of a hat; he decides between the two numbers the team and player filed. Just to get any" But what if the poor team has to pay those greedy players way too much money? The players win so often!" arguments out of the way, "But what if the poor team has to pay those greedy players way too much money, the players win so often!" arguments out of the way.


The fact that teams can now do this signifies a massive problem for players. Maybe not the Mike Trouts or Shohei Ohtanis of the world, but the Average Joes who make up a decent size of MLB's population. If a team can go to arbitration and lose their case, then decide. to cut ties with the player at a lower cost than what they were willing to pay the player actually to play for their team to begin with, then shouldn't a player be able to negotiate in free agency if they lose their own arbitration case against a team?


And if your response is, "The union should've negotiated that at the bargaining table," please get owners' boots off your tongue.


If you want to compare this silly argument between rich people to an actual, real-life problem, in case you're still not convinced, this is a crappy thing for a team to do. The players should be more angry with the player's union; think of it like this (although before I set out this comparison, please know that these situations are still incredibly different and that there are actual people affected by this; I am in no way comparing an average person to a baseball player making "only" $1.15 million in a year). A group of workers want to get paid more for their essential services (especially compared to baseball players, whose money-making skill is hitting a round ball with a round bat).


They have a union that has to go to bat for them (ouch, sorry, bad pun) and try to earn higher wages. They aren't as successful as they should be because their union can only do so much without striking, and workers have families, lives, bills to pay, etc., so they can't afford not to get paid, even the criminally low wages they do receive.


So should the workers be angrier with their union for being unable to fight for more wages, or should they be angrier with the entity they work for because they don't value their services, or perhaps the people in charge even value their lavish lifestyles more than giving the people that gave them those lavish lifestyles, to begin with, a livable, decent living?


Again, this is a tough stretch, but if you're trying to argue that players should be more frustrated with their union than with ownership, what are we doing here? Teams aren't going to give you discounted season tickets because you defended their honor in a random conversation with your relatives or some weird Facebook comment section. But other people are going to see you sticking up for the rich.


So let's not do that. Let's realize that just because this thing that San Fransisco did is "technically right" doesn't make it defensible. It sucks. Players are at the mercy of ownership; if they wanted to try to fight this on their own, they could demand to be released or traded. That doesn't mean it'll happen.


And if they sit out and refuse to play after a team refuses those hypothetical demands, the player torpedos their free agency value when they hit the market, maybe to the point where they have to go overseas or take a minor league deal. Owners are an honest bunch; they wouldn't collude to reduce player salary to pocket more profits and send a message to the players to stay in line, right (don't look up "MLB Collusion" on Wikipedia; there DEFINITELY aren't subtitles of "Collusion 1," "Collusion 2," and "Collusion 3," and then a whole list of collusion allegations)? That didn't happen with an at-the-time 3-time All-Star, who'd eventually be an MVP and Hall of Fame member in the 1986 season where he had to essentially take the league minimum because owners refused to pay anyone a competitive salary?


But let's reevaluate the "J.D. Davis isn't worth $6.9 million" argument because it's bugging me. The original ZiPS projections, before the Chapman signing, had him as a 1.8-win player following his 2.2-win season last year. Obviously, the Giants don't value him at that, and he wouldn't be able to rack up those statistics in San Fransisco's role for him, but how is that his problem? The burden falls on the team to allocate their resources properly, not the player. The player shouldn't take a pay cut because "Well, yeah, sorry guys, I know you backed yourselves into a corner here."


Regardless, the original argument that J.D. Davis isn't worth that salary is mute because that's not the point, but it might be an invalid argument anyways; according to a Bleacher Report article on the subject of how much 1 "win" in a player should cost, it was around $5.7 million per win for a batter. So let's extrapolate that out to 1.8 wins, and you get... $10.26 million.


So, not only could you argue that Davis was worth the amount the Giants were paying him, but you could also argue that he was STILL underpaid.


Sure, those could be generous projections, so if you want to "stand your ground" and say Davis still is worth less, whatever, that's still not the issue. The issue is that the Giants AGREED to pay not just the $6.55 million they filed at. Still, they have established this arbitration system to value a player's worth more accurately, so they agreed to a third party deciding the player's salary.


And they reached $6.9 million. So that's what the Giants should have paid. Instead, they snuck out of it in a shady, dirty manner that only wealthy corporations seem to do and screwed over J.D. Davis.


If you want to argue that arbitrators aren't qualified to value player talent, sure, that's fine. Then, your solution would be to find another third party to dictate these things that the league can't buy. Because I can promise you they'll try (if they don't already, so do; players do still lose more of these cases than they win, but this is all speculation, although they have fired arbitrators in the past when they ruled against teams in too extreme of a manner).


While we're on the subject of valuing players, if that's what the problem is, then the whole system needs to be fixed; no more renewable years, pay a player what he produces right out of the gate. Shane McClanahan should not be making around the league minimum. Plenty of teams take advantage of this league minimum renewable contract system, and teams that do and remain competitive would not be able to do so if forced to actually play players what they're worth.


If you bring up the union argument again, please reread earlier in the post. Thanks. All in all, the only hope to fight against this type of thing is that players realize this and refuse to sign with teams that commit to this practice because that's their only valid response at this point.



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