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Baseball Is A Business And Many Are Pot Committed

Yesterday, I wrote about what money means to minor leaguers.  Most non-40-man roster players in the Minors barely make enough money to pay their own bills, let alone others’ bills if they have to take care of a family.  But there are players who benefit from large signing bonuses upon entering their new organization’s farm system.  Those players not only have the advantage of having extra money to rely on as they make their way up the organizational ladder, they also have extra chances to excel due to the fact that those who drafted them do not want to be wrong.  Borrowing a term from poker, the executives are “pot committed.”  They decided that a certain player was worth a high pick and a substantial bonus, and do not want to fold on that pick before giving him every possible chance to succeed.

It is highlighted beautifully in the piece that I linked to yesterday (Minor League Baseball: Investing In The Future), in the section, On-Field Impact of Money.

Richie Robnett knows both sides of how money can affect things between the lines. Selected with the 26th overall pick of the 2004 draft by the Oakland Athletics, the outfielder commanded a reported $1.325 million bonus.

There were times with Oakland, he says, where his performance didn’t warrant the playing time he received.

“There’s times where I went through really bad streaks with hitting, and I got frustrated,” Robnett said. “And when I get frustrated, I just make it worse for myself instead of trying to fix the problem. But they’d keep throwing me out there, keep throwing me out there.

Part of that frustration was not being able to live up to the gaudy contract he signed. With that frustration came pressure. With that pressure came poor performance. All of it regrettable for the 26-year-old, who topped out at Triple-A.

“I felt like I probably put a little bit more pressure on myself, because I felt like I had to live up to (the contract),” he said.

“But at the same time, now that I think back to it, there really wasn’t pressure, because they show a whole bunch of interest in you and they’re telling you that they want you in the big leagues with them. That’s when it was time for me to relax, instead of putting added pressure on myself, like I’ve got to do more now because you’ve got to live up to the first round draft pick and stuff like that. But really, that’s when I should have stepped back and just focused on trying to get better.”

When Robnett started falling out of favor in the A’s organization, and even when he was traded from Oakland to the Cubs prior to the start of the 2009 season, he got an even better understanding of the impact that both the draft and the bonuses that players receive have on the game.

“The draft comes every year, so you’ve got guys with high draft status and they might have received big signing bonuses. Well, when teams do that, that’s their investment and they’ve got to protect their investment,” he said.

“A lot of times, regardless of how badly one of their big prospects is doing, he’s got to play because that’s who they put their money into. Even if somebody’s on the bench and does well, well he can’t play today because we don’t have anything invested in him. That’s where the whole business side of it comes into it. I’ve seen in my career where guys would even get released or sent down from a team because they’re outplaying the prospects and they don’t want that embarrassment and stuff like that, they don’t like that at all. I’ve seen situations like that before. But I think it’s really huge. Baseball is a business, and I understand from the business aspect, you’ve got to protect your investment.”

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.