We are entering an unprecedented age of athlete bargaining power. Sub-.500 career quarterback Kirk Cousins is chilling on a $84-million-dollar contract. NBA superstars handpick their chosen teams like cliquey mean girls. Hell, even Jeopardy! James cleared over two mil this year. Everywhere you look, trade requests are being handed in and healthy players are being scratched from the Meineke Car Care Bowl. In other words, it's a pretty good time to be a professional athlete...unless, of course, you're a recently promoted MLB prospect currently tearing the big leagues a new outfield gap. Then you're screwed.
Due to MLB control rules, which stipulate that a player must play six years before scoring their first free agent contract, many up-and-coming MLB stars find themselves playing for well below market value for much of their prime. Aaron Judge is one example. After smashing his way onto the scene in 2017, winning the Home Run Derby, and becoming the biggest name in baseball (sorry Mike Trout), Judge made $622,300 in 2018.
Pete Alonso is another.
On Monday night, Pete Alonso—who became just the third MLB rookie to hit 30 home runs before the All-Star Game along with Judge and some guy named Mark McGwire—outlasted fellow rook Vlad Gurrero Jr. to take home the 2019 Home Run Derby crown. It was a great moment for Mets fans, who have had precious little to cheer about of late, and the MLB, who added another slugger to their swelling list of superstars, but mostly it was great for Alonso, who pocketed $1-million pre-tax dollars for a single evening of glorified BP. For those of you keeping score at home, that's NEARLY DOUBLE his entire 2019 salary of $550,000.
When you can make double in a single night what you earn all year and regularly outplay a division rival on a $330-MILLION-DOLLAR DEAL, it's safe to say that your employer has some wage structure issues to sort out. It will be 2025 by the time Pete Alonso hits free agency and even if America's ballparks aren't being used as field hospitals in the Great Alien Wars by then, that's still a veryyyy long time to wait for a kid who is ready for stardom right now.
So what's the answer? Is it to reduce service requirements to four years or add in "Supermax" exceptions like the NBA has done? Is it to start slapping teams who call up their rising stars for 171 of the 172 days required for a "full" MLB season on the wrist? That's ultimately for the MLBPA—arguably the most powerful union on earth, it should be said—to figure out, but one thing's for certain: Pete Alonso can't win the Home Run Derby every year...can he?