Matt McBride's call-up

Posted by Jason Wojciechowski on April 27, 2016 at 10:56 PM

Let's talk about Susan Slusser's report that Matt McBride's call-up came in the face of an offer from a Japanese team and McBride's contract that would have let him opt out of his deal with the A's to pursue that offer. We have to first acknowledge that the money involved in all of this is a mystery. I think it's fair to assume that McBride is making the major-league minimum in the big leagues (i.e. he wasn't a big enough deal free agent to negotiate a contract that paid him more in the event he was called up). Outside of that, though, we don't know two key figures: does his contract call for higher pay than the CBA's minimum for time spent on the 40-man but not in the majors? And what was the Japanese team's offer?

What's obvious is that the Japanese team was going to pay McBride more than he was making when he was not on the 40-man, or else there wouldn't be any reason to make the offer. And it seems likely that the offer was for more than the high-five/low-six-figures minimums set for 40-man players in the CBA, because \$90,000 or \$120,000 or what have you just isn't the scale on which the major professional leagues work. The average salary in NPB is quite a bit lower than in MLB, but that average is itself quite a bit higher than the minor-league salary set in the CBA. But a key question that remains is whether the Japanese offer was for, say, $750,000, such that the A's calling McBride up actually cost him money. Based on this table at NPB Tracker, and deflating McBride's Triple-A numbers a bit because he's spent so much time at Colorado Springs, he seems to fit clearly in the \$400,000 to \$1,000,000 band, maybe even toward the high end of that given that he can catch. (One wonders whether the language barrier mean he'd be an outfielder in Japan, however.)

So while we don't know for sure, it seems entirely plausible that the A's are in fact costing McBride money by calling him up. This will be magnified if, as is likely to happen at some point this year, maybe soon or maybe not, he is optioned back to Nashville and thus reverts to the sub-MLB minimum salary. McBride's somewhat tepid response to the question about how he felt being called up may support this idea, though I'm quite likely overreading things and trying to discern tone from text where there's none to discern.

But this does still leave us with a third fact: is he actually happy about being called up vs. going to Japan? Was the offer so much greater that it's worth disrupting his life and family and moving somewhere with an unfamiliar language, culture, style of baseball, and so forth? Is McBride one of those guys who would actually wholly embrace the experience, learn the language, treat the whole thing like cultural enrichment rather than a burden to be borne? We don't know, and we're not going to know. Even insiders aren't likely to know because he's surely smart enough not to burn any bridges by complaining.

But let's suppose that he would rather be in Japan. Have the A's done anything wrong by calling him up? Obviously they have not violated any rules in doing so―McBride had a contract with the A's that obligated him to play for them if he wanted to get paid and permitted the team to assign him throughout their system, including to the majors if they wanted to. The opt-out was negotiated with some specified terms, and the A's made their decision to call him up knowing what those terms were.

As you know if you know me at all, though, I don't think that's the end of the story. I think we should absolutely hold the A's to some standard of fairness beyond the simple black-letter rules, particularly where we're talking about a player who is not, even in a tight division, going to make the difference between the playoffs and sitting at home in October (if he were such a difference-maker, he wouldn't be on a minor-league deal), one who the rules of baseball kept from getting the fair-market value of his labor for many years, one who is running out of chances to build himself a little financial cushion before he has to move on to the next phase of his life, a phase for which the last 10 years of his life have not really prepared him, given that the skill he has been working on this entire team is just baseball.

Even if you don't think the A's opt-out-motivated decision here is some kind of moral monstrosity (and I don't think it is, in the scheme of things, and considering that McBride will make $500,000 per year while he's in the majors, not to mention that sweet meal money), I hope we can spare a thought for McBride and all the fringe guys like him, and recognize that he's had to deal with a lot of things we'll never really comprehend, had his career defined by his employers in a way that those of us in normal jobs that we can quit whenever we want to find the same job with a different employer haven't experienced.