Snell’s comments show lack of perspective during time of rapid change


Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) works against the Toronto Blue Jays. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Self-assessment is an important trait in navigating life and an essential one in negotiations. Blake Snell is lacking it.

He’s a very good pitcher but he’s not someone who unilaterally impacts the profit margin of his MLB team or the league as a whole. So, the suggestion that he won’t play unless he makes his full salary is misguided, misinformed and out of line with what’s going on in the world around him.

On his Twitch channel Wednesday, Snell made his feelings clear. Citing the elevated risk of playing in this atmosphere, he said taking a pay cut “is not happening.”

“I gotta get my money,” continued Snell, who’s slated to earn a $7.6 million salary in 2020. “I’m not playing unless I get mine, okay?”

The 2018 AL Cy Young winner went on to say “Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go, for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof. It’s a shorter season, less pay. I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, okay? And that’s just the way it is for me.”

“Like, I’m sorry you guys think differently, but the risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that? Like, you know, I’m just, I’m sorry.”

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark has recently pointed out that owners agreed in March to pay players a prorated portion of their 2020 salaries. A lot has changed since March.

If that agreed-upon plan goes through, Snell would get around half his salary for half the work. Owners are seeking a further reduction since those games will almost certainly be played without fans.

Plus, MLB owners are looking at additional expenses during a season in which big-league rosters are expanded to 30 per team and many additional logistics must be taken into consideration. When you factor in the additional costs of COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment, and additional accommodations, you’re adding an inordinate expense to your business without adding any additional guaranteed profit.

Under the owners’ proposed plan, players would get more if revenue somehow goes through the roof. Is a better alternative MLB owners deciding they can’t afford to pay salaries without ticket income? In that case, they could close shop and mitigate their losses for a year or more. How many players in their prime would be calling the owners cheap and greedy in that scenario? How many fans would be outraged?

To be fair, Snell is right: he is risking his life. And if he chose not to play due to the health concerns, I would get that and would be 100 per cent supportive.

Fellow player Sean Doolittle articulated the nuance of that risk well and the concerns are valid.

But Snell is conflating two separate issues here. If it isn’t safe to play, the players are not going to be playing – that’s a non-starter. These negotiations are happening under the assumption that it is safe to play.

When Snell signed his five-year, $50 million contract last spring, there was no accounting for the health risks he’d face in a global pandemic. This is not danger pay. So, for him to say he should get his full salary because of a health risk is nonsensical because that health risk had nothing to do with his willingness to accept the number he signed for.

What did impact it was his understanding of the revenue the team and league was making off of the labour of the players. Well, that revenue is inevitably now going to go down. And if you don’t believe it’s going to go down? If you don’t trust the owners? That’s why you tie salaries to revenue. Then you’re partners in the highs and lows.

It would be one thing if he said a 50/50 split isn’t fair because players are assuming 100 per cent of the health risk. That I’d understand. The owners can watch from the comfort of their homes while players risk their health. But he didn’t say the revenue should be more tilted to the players. He said he wants the contract he signed for. Well, the reality is we don’t live in that world anymore.

With that in mind, there’s already outside pressure for players to take less.

“I’m disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for high salaries and payments during a time when everybody is sacrificing,” Governor of Illinois J. B. Pritzker said recently.

Even former player Mark Teixeira isn’t holding the company line.

“You have people all around the world d taking pay cuts. Losing their jobs, losing their lives, frontline workers putting their lives at risk these are unprecedented times and this is the one time that I would advocate for the players accepting a deal like this,” he told ESPN Tuesday. “A 50/50 split of revenue is not that crazy.”

What Snell fails to understand is the privilege he has, even after a relatively modest season in which he posted a 4.29 ERA in only 107 innings. Almost everybody in society has had to make some concessions the rest of the world is making. Really the rest of pro athletes are. MLB teams are laying off employees and Snell is upset he has to split profit with the organization?

Some will argue Snell has a skill and he should be paid what the skill is worth on the open market. I agree. Anyone should leverage their power to secure as much economic wealth as they legally can. But Snell isn’t just making his salary due to his skill. Part of the reason Snell makes as much as he does is due to the fact he pitches for an MLB team. Over the course of generations, MLB teams have built up infrastructure and marketing that helps bring in revenue.

Snell could ask to be let out of his contract tomorrow, yet he’s not going to be paid more money to pitch overseas than he is in the MLB. The KBO’s Doosan Bears or Kia Tigers could sign him tomorrow and he’d make max $1 million a year, the top salary for the three foreign players any team is permitted to sign.

The players’ distrust of the owners is real. And I get it. But this is a time in our history where everyone is being asked to think collectively and not individually. Is it better for the health of baseball if the players hold their bargaining chips but sit at home? The 1994 strike badly crippled baseball and that was at a time when the North American economy was booming.

Again, I’m not arguing a 50/50 split is fair or correct. But it’s not like the idea is insulting. Marvin Miller fought hard and wanted a free market system with no cap and no floor. But if that comes at an expense of a World Series again, that’s not an opportunity either side will be able to recoup in the future.

Traditionally players take the heat, and generally I’m pro player in labour negotiations. The common man has more in common with the player, who is an employee than the owner who is an employer. I don’t often side with billionaires against millionaires.

Yet if players aren’t willing to concede at all in talks with the league, we’ve got a bigger issue on our hands and we likely won’t have baseball this year.

And then what will Blake Snell do then? Not something that’s going to pay him millions.

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