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The Chicago White Sox signed OF Eloy Jiménez to a six-year, $43 million contract with team options that could take the total value to eight years and $75 million. [3/20]

This is a trivial deal to “analyze,” which one supposes is the purpose of this long-standing Baseball Prospectus feature. The White Sox signed their top prospect to a contract that covers all six years of their collectively bargained major-league control. There are two free agent years tacked on with an option/buyout structure. At the time of writing, we don’t have a breakdown of yearly salaries, but it seems unlikely that Jiménez would have beaten his now guaranteed arbitration-year payouts—likely around $40 million—unless he’s a star outfielder.

Of course, he may very well be a star outfielder.

Jiménez was sent to minor-league camp last week to avoid any risk of a pulled hammy on the major-league side that might allow him to accrue service time on the injured list, or if you believe the line oft-repeated in various snowbird cities every March, to “work on his defense.” Jiménez will likely now break camp with the White Sox as an Opening Day starting outfielder. He also gets … well, at least $43 million. It’s the most money ever given to a player with no major-league service time. That’s a nice fun fact for his agents to include in their marketing materials, but it’s functionally irrelevant, since you can count the number of these types of deals on one hand.

It is of course more money than I, and the vast majority of BP’s readership, will see in our lifetimes. It gives Jiménez financial security, and the White Sox an opportunity to accrue a whole lot of surplus value. And he woke up today the same baseball player he was last week. Jiménez is an MLB-ready elite prospect who could hit .280 with 30 bombs as soon as this season. This was probably also true last July, but reader, don’t dwell on it. You should just be excited to see him on the South Side, and now we can all put any previous unpleasantness in the past. Once the games start, all of this becomes mere background noise, quickly dissipating off into the middle distance.

I could easily pad this out to 500 or 600 words now. Give you some more background on Jiménez as a prospect, maybe discuss how he fits into the White Sox’s plans as they attempt to “cycle up” into contention in a winnable division. I’m going to take a different tact.

I don’t remember how I found Baseball Prospectus for the first time. The most plausible scenario in my mind involves someone posting a link to PECOTA projections in the baseball discussion section of a pro wrestling message board I frequented in the mid-2000s. Probably to complain about them being too low on their favorite team. Wild, I know. I was a quick convert and spent days scouring the old courier font player pages. I learned the differences between WARP1, WARP2, and WARP3. Read Prospectus Daily as my millennial morning newspaper. I’d like to think Christina Kahrl would appreciate my use of a Foucault quote in the TA title.

And there’s no zealot like the convert. I bought Baseball Between the Numbers and argued about bunting at the dinner table, in airport lobbies, at strangers’ weddings. That era of Baseball Prospectus would have seen this deal as an unabashed good thing, a smart baseball deal made possible by applying the correct screws. A decade later, I just feel uncomfortable.

This is my ninth season writing about prospects, and it’s exhausting to conjure up 1,000 words of tut-tutting every time something like this happens. Uncomfortable stuff happens a lot. We move on quickly to the next thing, or more often, the next thing moves upon us. You want to know who the next Eloy Jiménez is now, anyway. We don’t want to stop to think about his journey, and all the things that happened along the way. It might be instructive for that next guy, though.

Jiménez started out as a kid playing baseball in the Dominican Republic. He was identified as one of the top Dominican prospects in the 2013-2014 class by the time he was 14. He had the misfortune to be in first class of J2 signings under a new rules package driven by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf that successfully limited bonus expenditures to top international amateur players. He was subject to all the exploitation of Latin-American children that casually goes on in that market, those little things that we silently assent to every time we hear about a 14-year-old “agreeing to terms” years early.

Jiménez got a check for $2.8 million from the Cubs and almost failed immediately. The Cubs sent him stateside for his pro debut, to the Arizona Summer League. We view those assignments as positive, a sign that the organization believes in the player. We don’t comment on the human toll of sending a kid from a different culture to Mesa, Arizona with a lacking support system and seeing if he sinks or swims. Jiménez survived the social Darwinism, but just barely so: he hit an empty .227 and almost quit baseball along the way.

We rarely talk about the kids who don’t make it out of the low minors, and we rarely talk about fixing that system. We don’t talk enough about how to improve the support system or day-to-day conditions to actually develop these teenagers into high-performance athletes. The fixes aren’t particularly complex and are trivially expensive within the larger economic ecosystem of the sport. But a lot of those decision-makers had to ride the bus and bunk five to an efficiency apartment, so Jiménez’s generation will too.

Over the course of the next few years, Jiménez settled in with the Cubs and became one of baseball’s top prospects. In July 2017, we ranked him as the eighth-best prospect in baseball. A week later, the only organization he’d ever known sent him packing. I wrote that Transaction Analysis too. It wasn’t centered on the impact this might have on Eloy Jiménez the 20-year-old person, or the three other young men sent along with him. I didn’t point out how unfair it was that he could just get called into the manager’s office one day and be told that a new group of people—led by the same Jerry Reinsdorf who has been trying to drive down labor costs in baseball and other sports since years before Jiménez was even born—had control of the next 10 years of his life. It was, of course, about whether Jiménez was too much or too little for the Cubs to give up to get a cheaply-signed José Quintana.

Jiménez excelled even more once traded to the White Sox, and in a baseball league based on merit, would’ve made the majors last summer. Yet, as discussed earlier, if he had not signed this contract, he’d have opened the 2019 season back in Charlotte to “work on his defense.” Everyone involved knows how much of a sham that is. Jiménez knows, his teammates know, other players know, everyone in the White Sox front office knows, everyone in the league office knows, and everyone at Baseball Prospectus knows. But we’re all forced to play along because the 2017-2021 Basic Agreement is ambiguous on whether a team can send a player down for business reasons and how the union would go about contesting that, and the Major League Baseball Players Association has as of yet been unable to convince jointly appointed neutral system arbitrator Mark Irvings to step in.

Perhaps Jiménez would have been called up in three weeks no matter what, and perhaps the White Sox will send him down for a short refresher course on something or another to maintain the narrative (and also maintain control over his 2025 rights if he would have more surplus value in his final arb-eligible year than he would on the first option year of his new deal). Yet we’ve been casually assuming that this would’ve been a short detour, when there was functionally nothing keeping the White Sox from holding him back until after the Super-Two date passed or even until 2020, other than perhaps a sense of discomfiture sorely lacking in baseball front offices and executive suites nowadays.

And in the interim there was a chance, albeit remote, that Jiménez dives into the stands like he did in his coming out party at the 2016 Futures Game and separates his shoulder, or steps on a misaligned sprinkler head in a far flung International League park and blows out his knee. The risks for him are far less substantial than a pitching prospect—there’s a reason Michael Kopech didn’t get this contract before his call-up—but one needs to only look across the clubhouse from Jiménez on the minor-league side to realize that there are risks involved, ones Jiménez is in a far lesser position to absorb than the team.

Okay, sure, on the continuum of strong-arming this is closer to “if you want the cash-back incentive for this luxury SUV you have to agree to waive your right to sue us in favor of binding arbitration” than “nice dry cleaners, would be a shame if anything happens to it.” So there’s rarely more than a smattering of public outcry at these kind of actions. It’s “good business.” One supposes the business of baseball teams is winning baseball games. But many baseball fans and large swaths of the media—to paraphrase Ronald Wright—think of themselves as temporarily unemployed financial advisors to billionaires.

They will cheerfully ignore that Reinsdorf is unlikely to supplement Jiménez’s below-market extension with premium free agent talent. White Sox upper management sure was indignant about how they couldn’t believe they got outbid by another baseball team—oh my stars—on Manny Machado. And as has been pointed out by many, many people, the largest contract the White Sox have ever given out remains José Abreu’s $68 million deal, signed in 2013.

The saddest possibility is that Jiménez’s under-market contract will just be a selling point to beef up the next haul of prospects the White Sox get in four years. The long-term security implied by this deal is not inherent, but illusory. The contract is a highly valuable and highly flippable asset, just like Jiménez the prospect. If and when is does happen, we will argue on Twitter about whether the team got a fair return or how much stock to put into Jiménez’s bad 2021 defensive metrics.

Maybe I’ll write another TA lamenting how Chicago had to sell off after not being able to put enough talent behind a tremendous young core of Adam Eaton, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana Jiménez, Dylan Cease, and Nick Madrigal. Then I’ll debate whether it was too much or too little for the Red Sox to give up for a cheaply-signed Eloy Jiménez.

Here’s the full quote I reference in the title, by the way:

“The suffering of men must never be a mere silent residue of policy. It grounds an absolute right to stand up and speak to those who hold power.”

I wasn’t there at the beginning of Baseball Prospectus, but I do feel like the guiding hallmark of the site has always been an outsider banging on the castle walls. Writing in often impolite terms that there is, perhaps, a better way of building a baseball team. That’s changed, but it also hasn’t. I hope the next person who follows me maintains that spirit, in whatever form it takes.

Thank you for reading

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Adrock
3/21
Strong piece. Is BP planning to analyze the Blue Jays' decision to significantly increase compensation across its minor league system?
Jeffrey Paternostro
3/21
I would suspect Jarrett or I will write something on it at some point. I had a brief reference to it in an earlier draft of this piece but ended up centering it as much as possible on Jiménez
drdaley
3/21
I wonder how much the failure to get Machado ( also loss of Kopech for season ) played into this so as to keep the fans excited about the contiiinnnnuuuuueeeIed rebuild ( what year is it in??) which probably is still way past the end of the tunnel. I sensed an upbeat tick for 2019 in the Chicago press & fans when management said they were going all in on Manny ( plus getting his close friends Jay and Alonso ) and for sure "Na na hey hey good bye" was sure to be played often. Failing, management had to do something, and what better than make up the amends of not bringing up Jimenez last season ( to him and the fans ) than to throw everything towards him this.
Maureen mielke
3/21
Ah who cares (from a fans perspective). Reinsdorf a cheapskate erryone knows that but at least the White Sox will have something to watch this year.
Michael McKay
3/21
this remains, as it should, a castigation of the current MLB free agent system, that massively exploits players with <3 years of service time. Should minor league players be paid more? YES! Should <3 year service players be paid more? YES! Should free agency happen before 6 years of MLB servitude? YES! Do the players need to negotiate a better deal? YES!
John Johnston
3/22
And I would answer every one of those questions with a resounding NO! Baseball players are obscenely overpaid as it is.
Llarry
3/22
Compared to what? Entertainers in other fields earn large amounts of money, and no one questions it. Athletes generate huge sums for the team owners, and everyone seems to think it is better to leave those dollars in the hands of the billionaires instead of giving them to the players that generate them.
John Johnston
3/23
The idea that all teams are owned by billionaires is myth.
John Johnston
3/23
Larry, when you work for a business you are entitled to a salary. Nothing more. MLB players are already being paid over half of all baseball-related MLB income, which is obscene, yet they are still unbelievably greedy enough to want more. It makes me sick. By the way, the only poll I ever saw on the question “Are baseball players overpaid?” was at MLB Trade Rumors. Almost 75% have voted “Yes” the last time I looked. The majority is on my side.
john johnson
3/22
Well said, and the issue needs to have additional light shone on it. The simple equation is that the value of MLB franchises is rising at a rate that surpasses the rate of increased labor costs. These are money making machines disguised as team logos. And there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. It is a controlled free market, after all, with little risk of failure at the franchise level. It's built in, too big to fail, and all that. So, yes, this is a new stage in the labor/management contractual relationship. To pay young high performers more than the contract will let you get away with is undoubtedly the right thing to do. But what of the 98% of his playing peers who aren't special talents ? An actual hourly minimum wage instead of flat salary appears, on the surface, to be fair. But will the business model support it ? I suspect it would be a slight blip in overall franchise profit margins. The next contract negotiation will be a landmark for the industry. How it gets to be a win-win I have no idea.
John Johnston
3/22
I don’t see any way there’s not a strike. Even though the players are getting over 50% of the purely baseball revenues and the average MLB salary is over $4 million a year, the players have been convinced that they are underpaid and out upon, which is absurd. They will demand more than the teams can afford and there will be a strike. In the end, the teams will lose, the players will lose, the fans will lose, and baseball as a whole will lose.
John Johnston
3/22
Put upon, not out upon. Sheesh.
John Johnston
3/22
“But many baseball fans and large swaths of the media—to paraphrase Ronald Wright—think of themselves as temporarily unemployed financial advisors to billionaires.” And most baseball writers these days seem to think of themselves as labor organizers and that’s killing my lifelong interest in the sport.
John Shaw
3/22
I think Eloy hit the jackpot. He and his family are set for a couple generations assuming he semi smart with his money. I know lots of the new age baseballs writers like to lament when a player doesn't "bet on himself" but I say good for Eloy. I bet Greg Holland wishes he had chosen differently.
John Johnston
3/22
I agree. A young man gets a guaranteed $43 million, and perhaps $75 million, contract and a baseball writer writes about it like it’s somehow a bad thing? This is a jackpot. The sense of overentitlement this article represents is staggering.
ofmontreal
3/22
Yeah, overentitlement isn't a word friend.
John Johnston
3/22
I’m not your friend and your knowledge of the English language isn’t what you think it is. https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/overentitlement
ofmontreal
3/22
Just to be clear, a wiktionary entry with no real example of usage doesn't qualify as proof.
John Johnston
3/23
LOL, your response to being proved wrong is to insult a dictionary? Pathetic.
ofmontreal
3/22
Really good piece Jeffrey. It's hard to remember that these are people and that they DON'T get to choose their employers except as (in the case of IFA's) teenagers. Money doesn't buy happiness and at least the NBA is trying to address it. Regardless of the John Johnstone's of the world, to underestimate the level of risk and commitment that young players go through to make the big leagues is arrogant & 20th century thinking. Thanks for the Foucalt too.
John Johnston
3/22
What’s arrogant is thinking that $43 to $75 million dollars is somehow NOT ENOUGH for a young athlete. I live across the street from a world-class scientist who has a cancer care in testing. He sacrificed and spent far more time learning his trade than Eloy did but makes in the low six figures. Tell me how underpaid Eloy is again so I can laugh at you.
John Johnston
3/22
Cancer cure, not care. Need more coffee.
ofmontreal
3/22
Well, if that's all you're trying to get at, then no worries. He's not saying that at all. He's saying it's a sick system and that this extension does not mean joy in Mudville. And he's pretty clearly implying that the White Sox could keep him in the minors for 'however long they wanted to' in order to keep him under control, which is greedy and bad for everyone. Projecting you're own ideas of value onto system that is independent of you will lead to poor conclusions. Should your neighbor earn more? Society says probably. But MLB isn't society, it's entertainment, and entertainers earn more than just about anybody. So let's keep scale in perspective. And if you're a White Sox fan, you have my condolences.
Llarry
3/22
The point is not that he is now underpaid, but rather that he has finally escaped that stage in the system where he was just a ledger line to his masters, and where they could manipulate his status freely, with transparent counterfactual excuses.
Patrick
3/22
And he might not really have escaped that stage, since he (and his potentially undervalued contract) may be valuable trade chips later. Or, as Jeffrey mentioned, he may be sent back down if his final arbitration year would be less expensive than his first option year.
John Johnston
3/23
Every employee is “just a ledger line.” Employees don’t own the business they work for, by definition. They are nothing but hired hands.
Shaun P.
3/27
I am late to this discussion but to me, when someone asks you if the exploited kid from the Dominican with huge upside and major league ready baseball talent or the world class scientist with the cancer cure in testing should get paid, the clear answer is, both, you fool! (To paraphrase the great Dayn Perry from these pages long ago.) In any case, for someone who claims to profess a clear belief in free markets, your fervent attempts to distract from the issues that Jeffrey raises by pointing out that someone in another market is also underpaid is almost as much a red herring as if you had made the school teacher argument. OF COURSE your neighbor should be paid more! But that’s not the point. The point is, young baseball players are put through a gauntlet system that could easily be improved by spending a bit more of the owners’ obscene profits, and then when the few that make it, actually make it, they are exploited even more. Yet we - and here I think Jeffrey is including writers, not just fans - don’t acknowledge these clear facts, don’t analyze them. We just focus on the value of the contract and what it means for the team. And we are doing a disservice to the game by casually ignoring these things. In retrospect, with your zealous focus on how baseball players are greedy and overpaid, and anyone who suggests otherwise is a fool, you’ve basically proven Jeffrey’s point. If you want to actually engage on the issues that the article raises, instead of your own ideology and complaints about ballplayers’ character and salaries, then I think we could start improving things. Until then...
Ross Fortner
3/22
Personally I like Mr. Paternostro's writing...and I see what he is saying here. I also see the points of the Johnstons of the world. But what is really important, what really matters.........is that I literally own Eloy everywhere, in literally every league. I'm all in. I'm ready for him to rake-
Anthony Colangelo
3/22
Here, here, baseball IS NOT a petri dish for the world's goodness or ills. I'm in a NL only league- does this mean Juan Soto or Victor Robles is next on the extension block?
Michael Cappucci
3/22
This is a provocative piece, so I commend you for that. But I am struggling to fully grasp the thesis. What is the suffering that we need to speak up against? If it's the system that chews up and spits out teenage Caribbean players, then I am fully on board. Some of the stories you read about how they are treated are truly terrible. But if it's that the White Sox somehow pulled one over on Jimenez and his agent by pushing an "under-market" or "below-market" contract on them, then you've lost me. That presumes that a kid who has never taken an at-bat in the major leagues turns into an above-average regular. It's easy to forget what a big IF that is. For every Bryce Harper or Mike Trout (BP's top 2 prospects in 2011), there is a Jesus Montero (#3), Domonic Brown (#4), Jeremy Hellickson (#9), Matt Moore (#10), John Lamb (#11), etc. The list gets worse after that. Many of those players were just as good prospects then as Jimenez is now, and won't make $40 million over their entire careers. Jimenez's contract will still allow him another big payday if he is indeed performing at the level of a star outfielder in his late twenties. So I fail to see the injustice.
Robert Grace
3/22
" I hope the next person who follows me..." This isn't your last piece for BP, is it? (I hope not; love your stuff.)
Ronald Cox
3/23
Great article. The owners benefit from an entrenched cartel system that allows them to rake in profits they do not deserve and to super-exploit minor leaguers by effectively paying them below the minimum wage for many years, codified by Congressional legislation that demonstrates the power of the billionaire owners to buy politicians—granting these owners the privilege of being able to super exploit these players indefinitely. A revolution in minor league pay and living conditions is long overdue. I will shed no tears when it happens at the expense of the greedy, ossified ownership class. I don’t go to the park to see the owners play, and they are unnecessary.