Terms of Employment – Here and There

At the end of another baseball season and with European soccer into its 10th game (out of a total of about 40) it can be instructive to compare the lot/fate of the highly paid young athletes employed in these sports in their respective countries… So similar and yet so different. As with people in general it’s the differences that are interesting and you may get a surprise or two from what follows and its implications for the Clubs that employ them. (The Brits, btw, cannot believe the 162 game regular season even after you explain the fundamental role of the starting pitcher, and that there are five of them, so they can rest. Do they have five wicket keepers too then, they ask? Why not?)

Rather than list the two different sets of rules and conditions that govern player employment and mobility it might be more fun to pick an example here that we’re all familiar with, Jason Heyward, summarize the situation he is in and what his options are : as they would compare were he a soccer player of similar age and seniority with, say, a major London club.

How did Jason get started in his quest to be a professional ball player? He was drafted, he had to be drafted, no other way in was afforded him, as in the great majority of cases. The whole concept of a draft is unknown in European soccer – to some people, if you mention it, it has military overtones, even. They cannot believe his choices are so restricted. He can’t pick the team he wants to play for, he’s told who it will be. And the better he is regarded as a prospect the more likely it is that the draft rules will result in him being picked by a weaker organization for whom he is likely to be committed to belong to for about 6 years – see Atlanta 2016. (On the other hand there are no European universities/schools pouring out a huge number of ambitious, talented young athletes each year – high schools even. Remember college sports across all Europe are almost totally devoid of any commercial dimension. Nada!)

But those days are behind him and Jason’s a free agent and thus close to the most crucial few weeks of his career, the choice he has to make. Jason can negotiate with whomever he wants, the Cards he is with now, anyone else he wants to and choose his best deal. That deal will likely come down to the quotient of the number of years offered and the salary for each year. Whatever he gets he gets, his agent apart, the Cards get nothing other than a compensatory draft pick perhaps. They have absolutely no say in his choice of club unless they choose to top the bidding themselves.

Once his choice is made, the length and the terms agreed to, you then have what is a guaranteed contract which may well run for say between 6 and 10 years in his case. If he were traded during that period those terms would survive, be guaranteed and be the responsibility of his new club. Who that new club might be, generally, he has no say in unless he had been able to include in the original contract any sort of no trade clause to particular clubs. If he had, that would usually cost him, effectively.

Yes, you knew that, but I doubt you knew this:

His EU counterpart may actually ‘sign up’ with his first club, very young, any club, whoever he liked that was prepared to carry him through his teen years till he became productive. In Spain they call them Nurseries and they can be very young and thus include normal schooling studies. Messi was 11 and in his native Argentina was diagnosed with a rare disease that inhibited his natural growth. Barcelona signed him through his parents approval and guaranteed his medical costs in Spain as long as necessary. They were the only club who would. He has been the best player in the world for several years now.

(…youthful prodigies are not the norm, obviously, but there are a thousand or two boys of school age in Europe at any one time being trained in their sport, educated in the school room, and the ‘property’ of the club for several years ahead by virtue of a contract signed by their parents. About one in ten make it to the big time. The great majority of would be players of course come from a more prosaic source – local youngsters who attract attention, scouts etc. You will be very familiar with that over here, but remember the essential difference – if he’s good enough, he can pick and choose.)

Messi has a contract with them still of course, so many years, so many dollars, but it was what underlies that and all soccer contracts that makes everything so different there.

First, he belongs to Barca, he is their property for the length of that contract. He is a depreciable asset on their books. If another club want him they make an, all cash, offer…there is virtually never another player offered in trade. The player himself gets none of the transfer fee. Offers these days for a young star player can go 50 Million up, Messi would be 100 plus…and these offers can only be made during two periods in the year of a few weeks each, unlike baseball’s trading periods.

In reality, there is one other major difference in play here and not in America. The star player effectively has to agree to the deal to go to the new club. He cannot be traded against his will. If he says no, it is very unusual for a player to be forced to go. On the other hand, if he does want to go, and his owners say no, he can and does occasionally resort to being a distraction unless he is let go.

For the transaction where both clubs agree on the transfer fee, there is one more large detail to be negotiated, the player’s salary and terms with his new club. Out with the old and in with the new, the original salary etc. die with his departure. And sometimes, not often, a deal will die for that reason, what are called the personal terms.

I think that about does it, in its very basic essentials. I apologize in advance if I have unwittingly misrepresented anything at the American end that you obviously know better than I. I do believe the contrast is a fascinating one and would really enjoy hearing your comments so please fire them in.

Who do you think gets the better deal and what circumstances have conspired to make that so?

And if you had a gifted athlete son, where would you prefer he ply his skills, under what system?

24 thoughts on “Terms of Employment – Here and There”

  1. For me, this is rather like positing on the income source for Premier Xi of China. I don’t have an interest in watching soccer (watching ants build a mound, maybe). Also, to take it one more level to sports money on soccer, is like wondering how bad is the toenail fungus on “Wanda the ugly woman.”

  2. Personally, soccer would be much more interesting if wild dogs were released during the last 10 minutes of the game. I would certainly watch it then.

  3. I always get extremely nervous with national sports systems that shunt a tremendous number of youngsters into “academies,” as in the Dominican Republic — it seems hard to believe that they’re getting any education at all. I would have no problem with my kid playing baseball in America. I would hope he’d stay the hell away from football.

    Also, over at Baseball America, they’re discussing the Braves farm system. There are a LOT of exciting guys in the system.

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/chat/?1445857207

  4. @3-That BA chat would be more encouraging if the guy’s rankings weren’t so clearly infused with wishcasting. Lucas Sims is at least six spots too low and Toussaint and Riley are each three or four spots too high. Those guys are both so far away that they are still complete wildcards. Hugely talented, but never sticking in the big leagues in any capacity is still a far too likely scenario for either. Allard is definitely the most talented pitching prospect we have had in a long time, but apart from the occasional generational talent, I can’t see ever making a high school pitcher with injury questions and no track record apart from a few innings in rookie ball a team’s top prospect. I’ll bet on a guy like Sims–no doubt #2 starter stuff, who has dominated high A and shown that he can work through adjustment issues and do the same at AA, while still being very young relative to his level.

  5. @8

    I think Sims is one of our most interesting prospect. There are people who are super high on him as a #2 starter and then others think he will be in the pen.

  6. Most of our interesting prospects are still teenagers. I don’t want to downplay how good they might be…but you gotta get ready to hurry up and wait.

  7. @12

    Great post. Definitely going to be a long offseason until we see the chips start falling. We started making our trades last year in mid-November, and the first week in December started the signings (Markakis signed on the 3rd). I wouldn’t necessarily say “exciting”, but it’ll be an interesting offseason because the Braves do have some money to spend and assets to trade, and how they make their decisions will really tell us all we need to know about what the Johns have been saying. It’s either BS, or they’re going to prove it otherwise. I’ll grab the popcorn.

  8. Matt Wieters is exactly the kind of player we need to sign to mire us in mediocrity for another 5 years

    From ESPN’s Rumor Roundup:
    Matt Wieters: Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported the Braves, Dodgers, Rays, Astros, and Mariners could bid for Wieters, who is a season removed from Tommy John surgery. Earlier this month, a CBSSports.com report said the Rangers could be interested, but only if the Orioles decide not to extend Wieters a qualifying offer.

  9. Why would Matt Wieters mire us in mediocrity. When healthy, he’s a top-10 catcher offensively. Are you saying he won’t be healthy for the life of his contract? Fair point, I’d reckon.

  10. How you feel about Wieters depends largely on how much you buy his defensive metrics in 2013, his last healthy season. (What is not in dispute is that his bat was terrible, as he hit .235/.287/.417 that year.)

    Per B-R, he was worth -13 DRS, and his overall year was worth 0.6 WAR. Per Fangraphs, he had +14.8 UZR, and his overall year was worth 2.6 WAR.

    The bigger problem, of course, is that he has a total of 394 plate appearances since 2013.

    I’d like the Braves to give Bethancourt another shot, but if they decide that they don’t trust him enough to do that, it might be worth signing Wieters as a potential buy-low — he has slightly more upside and comes at a much scarcer position than Markakis. But I wouldn’t want to pay a Boras price for him.

  11. So if the Royals win it all this year has Dayton Moore earned consideration for title of best GM in baseball? Amazing that as recently as 2013 he was widely considered the worst, not just by many casual fans but by writers and even (if you believe the kinds of quotes attributed to anonymous sources after the Shields trade) other GMs.

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