Outfielder Tommy Pham broke out last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, posting one of the best offensive seasons in all of baseball. And, as a pre-arbitration player, the Cardinals rewarded him … by renewing his contract for 2018 at $570,000.
It turns out that the two sides couldn’t agree on a contract for 2018, as the Cardinals were looking to sign Pham to a two-year deal, which would have covered his first arbitration-eligible season in 2019.
But Pham found the offer seriously lacking.
“If you look at what I did last year, I didn’t think there was a great amount of appreciation,” Pham told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the two-year offer. “The numbers didn’t add up to me and my agency and the union. Nothing made sense. I didn’t think. It’s business first and foremost. I didn’t like it. The numbers didn’t seem right. I wouldn’t sell myself short like that.”
The Cardinals were able to lock up a much younger (in age and service time) player in Paul De Jong yesterday to a $26 million deal, but they couldn’t get anything done with Pham.
Although I think it’s a bit dicey for Pham to be expressing this publicly the way he is, I do think he’s probably right about whatever the Cardinals offered him. For one thing, if he puts together a reasonable season in 2018 – not even the top 10 type season he had last year – Pham will pretty easily command upwards of $6 to $9 million in his first year of arbitration next year. My guess is the Cardinals offered him something like $5 million right now for 2018 and 2019, hoping that a near 30-year-old player would want to at least lock in that amount rather than bet on himself for another year.
But even setting that part aside – I don’t really begrudge the Cardinals that effort, nor Pham for declining it – the renewal price the Cardinals set for Pham this year is awfully lame.
Consider that the minimum salary this year is $545,000. Now, the Cardinals are not required to pay Pham, as a pre-arbitration player, more than that. But teams do tend to, especially for players who put together huge years. And $570,000 for a third year player coming off a year in which he was the 10th most valuable position player by WAR in all of baseball? That’s ridiculous.
To be sure, the Cubs are now known as especially generous with their young players, but they were giving guys with much less service time than Pham more than $600,000 last year when the minimum salary was $10,000 lower.
Think about how much goodwill the Cubs are engendering compared to the Cardinals by paying just a modest amount (relative to player value) more each year for their young players.
That said, the Cardinals have had a great deal of success locking up their young, pre-arbitration players to extensions over the past decade, whereas the Cubs have had virtually no success at all since Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo signed extensions back in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
We’ll see if that changes this Spring. In the meantime, over in St. Louis, Pham will be betting on himself.