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Explaining Dom Brown's Contract to a 7 Year Old . . . Along With Other Mysteries of Baseball Economics

I was driving my son home from diving practice this week, and we got talking about how to improve the struggling Phillies. We soon got into baseball economics, and it just made no sense to him. Here's a rough transcript.

Dom Brown and his $500,000 swing.
Dom Brown and his $500,000 swing.
Hunter Martin

My son has diving lessons twice a week. The weekday lesson is on Tuesday nights, and (as long as there's no West Coast game) the drive home has developed into a ritual of listening to the Phillies game. He's transfixed, and I'm thrilled to listen to baseball with him (not to mention not having to listen to his pop station).

This past Tuesday, we were listening to the game and started talking about how much the Phillies are struggling this year. He suggested they trade for someone better. The following discussion ensued (all contract info from Cot's):

Son: The Phillies should trade for a good player.

Me: They may in the next month or so, but they may also trade away their good players.

Son: The Phillies should trade Humberto Quintero, because we don't want him since he's not that good.

Me: No one wants a bad player in a trade. We have to trade someone good in order to get someone good.

Son: But then we won't have the good player we traded and that would hurt us.

Me: Sometimes teams trade players who are young, in the minors, cheap, and will be good later for good players now.

Son: Is Quintero cheap?

Me: Yes. He probably makes $750,000. [Actually, it's $900,000.]

Son: THAT'S A LOT OF MONEY! That's not cheap. Do you make that much money?

Me: No, not at all. But for baseball that's cheap.

Son: How much do other players get paid? If Quintero is that low, Dom Brown [his hero] must make so much money!

Me: He probably makes less. Maybe $600,000. [Really $500,000.]

Son: What? But he has the second most home runs in the National League. And he's the best player on the Phillies.

Me: Yes, but that's not how the contracts work. He's new in the majors, so he doesn't make much money.

Son: So how much does Jimmy Rollins make?

Me: Around $11,000,000. [Got that one right!]

Son: What?! I love Rollins, but that's so much money! How about Ryan Howard?

Me: You're not going to believe this, but he makes $25,000,000. [Actually, $20M this year, $25M the next three.]

Son: But he strikes out all the time, can't field, and has only 8 home runs. That's not fair to Dom Brown!

Me: Money in baseball isn't about this year being fair.

Son: What about Chooch? He's only played 10 games this year. [Actually, 18.]

Me: He makes probably 6 or 7 million. [Actually, $5M.]

Son: For not playing at all? That's amazing. So Roy Halladay? He may not play again this year, right? Does he still make money?

Me: Over $20,000,000 this year, even if he never pitches again. [Exactly!]

Son: Seriously? For not pitching? Why?

Me: He's been one of the best pitchers, if not the best pitcher, in baseball over the past 10 or 12 years. That's why he makes that much money.

Son: So if he's the best in baseball, he makes the most on the team out of the pitchers?

Me: Well, no. I'm pretty sure Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels make more. [They do - $25,000,000 for Lee; $20,500,000 for Hamels.]

Son: But I thought you said Halladay is the best? And Hamels has won only 2 games this year! The team always loses when he pitches. Why does he make more than Halladay?

Me: That stuff doesn't matter for how much someone is paid. It's based on how they've done in the past and how good they should be in the future.

Son: So if these guys make all this money, that guy you told me about who was your favorite player when you were a kid and played third base and was the best Phillie ever and was the best third baseman ever, he must have been paid so much more money, right?

Me: You mean Mike Schmidt?

Son: Yes, him.

No: He made less than Michael Young makes now. Maybe even less than Michael Young is making this year in his entire career. [Close, but wrong - Young is earning $16M this year; Schmidt earned a little over $17M for his entire career.]

Son: But you said he was the best ever.

Me: Money changes how much it's worth over time. But that's a whole different conversation. Mike Schmidt made a lot of money when he played compared to the other players.

Son: Dad, I want to be a baseball player when I grow up. That, or a mathematician.