Yesterday, the Chicago White Sox sent Eloy Jiménez, probably their best player, to the minor leagues. While general manager Rick Hahn and manager Rick Renteria made unconvincing noises about how Jiménez needs to work on his defense and get his timing down, everyone knows that the team is sending him down because then they can pay him a below-market salary for an extra year.
The wised-up reaction here is to say that this is simply the way things are, and that it would be stupid of the White Sox to do anything else: Why would the team not keep Jiménez in the minors for two weeks if they can save millions of dollars years from now by doing so? This might be against the letter and spirit of the labor agreement between teams and players, the argument goes, and it may mean putting a worse team on the field, but a team is a business, a capitalist enterprise that exists to profit, and there’s no reason to expect them to—and no reason for them to—do anything other than seek advantage.
The problem with this argument is that it’s based on a set of false premises. First, as was true in the cases of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Kris Bryant, who were also famously held out of the majors so that their teams could fuck them out of millions of dollars, what’s at issue here isn’t two weeks of major-league service time. Last year, Jiménez, then 21, hit .317/.368/.556 in his first 53 games in AA, earning a promotion to AAA, where he hit .376/.423/.693 over his next 27 games. By July 31, it was obvious that he was perhaps their best overall player. In all, by the time the White Sox get around to promoting him, they’ll have deliberately gone without their best outfielder and probably best hitter for two and a half months, almost a full half-season.
More to the point, though, even if businesses are obliged to place profit maximization above all other concerns—a dubious and ahistorical claim—the White Sox are not a normal business. They get the benefit of huge public subsidies, and enjoy, along with the rest of Major League Baseball, a unique exemption from anti-trust law, because of the special role of baseball in American life and the belief that they are something of a public trust. In exchange for lots of free money and the privilege of not having to obey the law, they’re supposed to do their best to provide the public an entertaining team. Not holding up their end of that bargain—getting the advantages of not being a normal business without having to suffer the disadvantages of it—is wrong.
The wrong here, though, doesn’t just have to do with the team’s obligations to the public. Eloy Jiménez is a real person, a worker with next to no power, and it’s wrong for management to exploit a loophole in a labor agreement to fuck him out of money. Jiménez has worked diligently to be as good a player as he can be so he can help the White Sox win games; in exchange he’s supposed to get the opportunity to play at the highest level his talents will allow and to make as much money as the rules of the system will allow. He’s done his part. The White Sox, who are run by liars and cheats, haven’t.
Disclosure: The author of this piece has been provided Gordon Beckham’s used footwear by the Chicago White Sox, and has been sent a Hawk Harrelson alarm clock by a White Sox enthusiast. His opinions are his own.