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Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As major league teams renew the contracts of players not yet eligible for arbitration or free agency, a disturbing trend seems to be developing.
If you are a player with less than three years of service time, you pretty much have to take whatever the team offers. There is no recourse until you are eligible for salary arbitration. Sometimes, the team offers up a little bit more, but most of the time the player is renewed at the league minimum, or a little bit more, based on a games-played scale. That is just the way it is.
But, this year it seems players are growing more and more critical of the entire process. Philadelphia southpaw Cole Hamels, Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, and Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder are just three of the latest budding superstars to speak out.
Hamels, an All-Star last season, was renewed at $500,000, but was apparently seeking close to $700,000 after going 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA. Was he overshooting? Well, New York Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang was renewed at $489,500 after winning 19 games the year before he was eligible for salary arbitration, so you decide. It sounds pretty fair to me.
"I know what I want to do, and I know what I can do," Hamels said. "When it gets in my favor, it will be nice. I did [renew] just because I felt like I wasn't equally compensated. For all the efforts I go out and do, you want to have that sort of respect. And I feel like it wasn't there."
Hamels' griping is troublesome, but it is that of Papelbon and Fielder that is sticking in my craw the most. Both of them will also be eligible for arbitration next year, but wanted to be paid the way Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was in his third season.
Meaning, of course, they want $900,000, or in other words the highest amount ever paid to a player in his third season. Well, Papelbon has yet to renew, but Fielder will have to get by on $670,000, or about 50-percent more than what the Brewers were required to pay.
"I feel like I've gone to bat for them, and now it's time for them to go to bat for me," Papelbon told Boston papers earlier this week.
Papelbon is an ingrate. The Red Sox paid him $425,500 last year, or $45,500 above the 2007 major-league minimum of $380,000, even though he was nowhere to be found at the end of the 2006 season thanks to season-ending shoulder surgery.
"We can move on, but at the same time, I feel a certain obligation, not only to myself and my family to make the money that I deserve, but for the game of baseball," Papelbon added. "Mariano Rivera has been doing it for the past 10 years, and with me coming up behind him, I feel a certain obligation to do the same."
So, now Jonathan Papelbon is comparing himself to Mariano Rivera?
"I feel like, with me being at the top of my position, I feel like that standard needs to be set. I'm the one to set that standard, and I don't think that the Red Sox are really necessarily seeing eye-to-eye with me on that subject right now, but hopefully we can get somewhere."
While Papelbon hurts the young players' cases with some stupid comments, the players probably do have a beef. At the same time, this is the way it has been for years. Far better players than the ones who have been complaining had to go through the process. Deal with it. The hammer will fall into your hands at some point.
Take Howard for example. He went to arbitration this spring and won his case with the Phillies. Howard will make $10 million this coming season, as the two sides work towards a long-term deal that will likely take him into the $100- million stratosphere.
Moral of the story - pay your dues and your time will come.
Would it kill the teams to give these young players a few extra bucks to save them the trouble down the road? Of course not, but the players will be the ones eventually holding all the chips, and believe me, they will take full advantage of it.
So, the next time a player holds out for an extra year in fee agency, remember the way they were treated their first couple of years in the league. Bottom line: It is a business, from both standpoints.
I know people complain about their salaries in every workplace in America. You should walk the halls of The Sports Network sometime. But it is a little tough to take from these players who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars and will one day be making millions.
If Papelbon, Fielder, and Hamels think they have it so bad, maybe they should give Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton a call. After hitting .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI last season for the hapless Rays, Upton was renewed for $10,000 less than he made in 2007.
Then there is New York Mets' right-hander John Maine, who had perhaps the best quote of all after he was renewed at $450,000.
"I'm not really worried about it," Maine said. "It's still good money. I'll be able to pay off my cell phone bill."
And in the end, that's all that counts.
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