Commodification of Roster Spots
One of the side-effects of spending a fair amount of time talking to someone who works in finance and has far more econ degrees than I am entirely comfortable with is that you start to actually periodically think of things in economic terms. And sometimes that means you end up spending your Sunday evening with your bluetooth headset stuck in your ear like a douche as you prod someone for more information and type (and re-type and re-type) furiously.
By which I mean that all credit/blame for this entry really goes to the wonderful and endearingly frustrating Andrew MacAlister.
One of the phrases that I’ve used a lot and that I’ve seen used by a lot of other Giants fans and bloggers in relation to the Rowand and Zito situations is “sunk cost”. The money is spent even if it hasn’t been paid out yet, so take the money off the table as a consideration in further decisions. So if the money isn’t the consideration, then what is? Well, in short, the roster spot. It doesn’t matter that Aaron Rowand will make six times what Andres Torres will this year, they’re competing for the same spot. The roster spot has become the commodity (in the Marxist sense), purchased with the payroll, that Bochy and Sabean and the rest of the FO have to decide how to use.
So if we go along with the idea of the roster as the commodity that’s being purchased or traded in the Spring Training roster “market”, the question of whether the item is fungible (and can truly be considered a commodity in the modern economic sense) has to be answered. Are all 25 roster spots an equivalent, exchangeable item or is there some disparity? If the roster spot itself, and not the player that will eventually fill it, is what we’re calling the commodity, then I would argue that yes, they’re fungible. There are 25 spots that can, in essence, be used however Bochy and Sabes and Co. decide. Go with five starting pitchers immediately or stick with four and then have that extra spot to use somehow else? Cut a bullpen spot for an extra utility infielder? Both legitimate options at your disposal if you’re the one calling the shots, because those 25 spots are indistinguishable. If you’re dealing with gold as your commodity, a single hunk of gold can just as easily be turned into jewelry as used to make a high end audio cable. Same concept. It also doesn’t matter what you paid for that gold. Maybe you got a really good deal on one piece and a really fairly shitty deal on another piece. If the gold is capable of being used to similar purposes, which it should be as a fungible commodity, then it doesn’t matter. Should you feel obligated to use the gold you paid more for for the jewelry and the cheaper gold for the cable? No, because they’re indistinguishable to anyone other than you who has only associated higher value with the more expensive gold because you know what the cost was.
Hopefully by this point you can see where I’m going with this. When it all comes down to it, any roster spot is an equally valuable, equally useful item, whether you drop someone making $12M or $2M into it. The players themselves though are about as distinct a commodity as you can get. That’s where the focus needs to be. Who is the best use of the commodity at the team’s disposal? Our votes have been cast pretty clearly already, so I’ll just leave you with this.
“I feel like I deserve to be here. The years before I just tried to make the team. I’m going to keep it the same, keep working hard, keep doing my best. I’m not going to take anything for granted.”
– Andres Torres