Last season Blake Snell was voted into the first All-Star Game of his career, led the majors in wins, ERA and ERA+, and won the AL Cy Young Award. For his efforts and historically great performance, the Tampa Bay Rays rewarded him with a $15,500 pay increase, $10,000 of which came from a league-wide minimum salary hike. He will now earn $573,700 for the upcoming season—a bargain for an owner worth $800 million.
The current CBA in baseball allows teams to set whatever salaries they want—within certain parameters—for major league players until they reach their third season of service time, which is when those players are eligible for arbitration. What often happens is that teams use this allowance to create an internal salary structure that plans for those players to get paid relatively low wages that are only slightly increased until that third season. The teams obviously don’t have to do this, but they do it anyway. Players also don’t have to accept the salary increase if it’s a rate that they don’t agree with—though the degree of choice is a bit more narrow there. In fact, you could argue that it’s not so much about what the players choose to do, but more about how the team goes about choosing what to offer their players, as Snell himself said.
Per the Tampa Bay Times:
“The Rays have the right under the collective bargaining agreement to renew me at or near the league-minimum salary. They also have the ability to to more adequately compensate me, as other organizations have done with players who have similar achievements to mine. The Rays chose the former,” he said in statement from Adam Karon and Tripper Johnson, his agents at Sosnick, Cobbe & Karon. “I will have no further comment and look forward to competing with my teammates and field staff in our quest to win the World Series in 2019.”
The other players that Snell is referring to include Tim Lincecum and Corey Kluber. Lincecum was a Cy Young winner in 2008 with a $405,000 salary. That was raised to $650,000 when the minimum $400,000. Kluber was making $514,000 when he won in 2014 ($500,000 min.) and was given a raise to $601,000 ($507,500 min.). Shortly after the initial raise, about three weeks, he was offered a five-year, $38.5 million contract. If the number of comparable examples seems light, it’s because there aren’t many players who have been this good at this point in their career.
Unfortunately for Snell, he happened to end up on the team with the league’s most rigid salary structure—of which the motto is pretty much: pay as little as possible for as long as possible—that doesn’t make exceptions for anyone, not even Cy Young winners. It seemed like a standoff like this for someone as talented as he is was going to be inevitable (there were talks about a long-term contract back in 2016 but they weren’t more than preliminary in nature, per Chris Cotillo).
It should be noted that it’s not like Snell is asking for a contract like David Price’s or Max Scherzer’s, he just wants a fair raise that shows that the Rays are willing to reward someone for being one of the top players in their position. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, but Tampa Bay certainly thinks so—or, as Snell points out, the franchise chose to think so. This plan could very likely bite the franchise in the ass by the time next offseason rolls around given how inspired Snell appears to be in taking as much money from the franchise without recourse in way that sounds like a coy way of dancing around a revenge plot point in a story.
“Hopefully [the renewal] pushes me. Arbitration will be the business side, and that’s what I’ll tell them. I think fair is fair. It all comes around in the end anyway. At the end of the day, you get what you put in. I’ll be motivated.’’