In the world of baseball, there is one word that usually stands out above the rest. One word that will dictate how fans will view a player who comes to their team. One word that will either gain a player the respect of the fan base, or will see them be hammered with the never ending wrath of those very same fans.
That word is expectations.
In the wake of the Chicago Cubs trading Alfonso Soriano, there has been a lot of talk about whether or not he ever really, truly lived up to his contract. There are many fans who say that he has lived up to his end of the deal, while there are several on the other side as well. Fans who said he stole money because he was unable to live up to the expectations that were thrust upon him upon signing his eight year, $136 Million deal with the Cubs before the start of the 2007 season.
In his six plus years with the Cubs, Soriano put up some impressive statistics,. He hit .264, with 181 HR to go with 526 RBI. That breaks down to just under 30 home runs and around 81 RBI a season. But, 30 home runs and 81 RBI a year, to some fans is not worth an average of $17 Million a season. Perhaps they are right, perhaps they expected more from a player who was making that much money.
Fans may believe that his offensive numbers failed to live up to their expectations, but were those expectations set higher than they should be? Did Soriano actually live up to the deal that he was given? Or, like so many fans have suggested, did he steal money from the Cubs, by not living up to his end of the contract he was signed to almost seven years ago?
While not everyone does not buy into the whole Advanced Metrics wave, they are able to give you a reasonable look at the players value compared to others around the game of baseball. One of my favorites is the Wins Against Replacement (WAR) category. Simply put, WAR tells you how many wins a player is worth above your average replacement level player. You can also figuring out, roughly how much each of those wins are worth, and what a player should be paid.
So what does Soriano’s WAR say about him? Thanks to Bleacher Nation, we can see exactly what his WAR was and how much he should have been paid, based on his performance.
Soriano with Cubs: 17.8 WAR through 2012. At $/WAR of $5.5M, that's $97.9M of value. He was paid $97M for those 6 seasons.
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) July 26, 2013
Looking at that, you can easily see according to WAR and WAR value, Soriano not only lived up to his end of the deal, he surpassed what he was supposed to be making. However, most fans likely still believe that more was expected of him, than what he was able to deliver.
Perhaps that is true. Fans see the rather large dollar figure and have certain expectations. More often than not, a player will fail to live up to the impossibly high expectations fans set upon them, based on the contract they were signed to. The question I have, is who is really to blame for his failure to live up to the almost impossibly high expectations that the fans have placed on the player?
If I told you that the player himself was the least to blame out of the three main culprits, you would probably laugh at me. After all, he is the one who is supposed to be performing. He is the one who ultimately decides how well he does, or does not perform. So, if he is ultimately the one who is to decide where his performance winds up, how can I possibly say that the athlete in question is the least to blame for his failure. Let’s take a closer look at who is ultimately responsible for the expectations placed on an athlete.
The expectations that are thrust on a player ultimately falls on two separate entities.
On one hand, you have the ball club themselves. A team takes a look at a player, they see their talent and try to predict what that player will be able to do over the next several years. Based on their predictions, they come up with a price tag and extend an offer to the player. The team places certain expectations on the player based on how much money they are giving to a player. This is basic baseball knowledge and I am positive that I am not telling you anything you do not already know.
The other culprit would be the fans in the game. Because baseball contracts are public knowledge, fans see the contracts a player receives, and based on the dollar amount a player is signed to, they expect certain things out of them. They expect them to earn their money by putting up stats they feel will be of equal value to the money they were given.
Hypothetically, is a General Manager offered Ben Zobrist (currently with the Tampa Bay Rays) a contract that paid him around $16 Million a year for five years. Fans would tend to expect far more from him than the statistics he is currently putting up. Since getting full time at bats, Zobrist averages about 19 home runs and 83 RBI. Now Zobrist is a very good hitting who is in his early 30s, roughly the same age Soriano was when he came to the Cubs.
If he signed that deal, fans would expect more out of him than the usual statistics he is known to put up. I am not sure how fans could expect more out of him than what he is known to do. Would Zobrist be worth $80 Million for five years? Based on his averages since becoming a starter, you would not find many who would say he was worthy of such a deal. Yet fans will always blame the player for failure to live up to expectations.
They expect a player to earn the money they are given. If they do not, fans say they stole the money and should give some back. Yet, who would ever turn down a contract offer they knew was higher than what they may be worth? Who in their right mind would say to a potential employer: “Thank you for offering me $136 Million, but I will settle for $100.”
No one. So yes, a player accepting a deal that vastly out pays their worth does make them partially responsible for the typically unrealistic expectations that are placed upon them. If baseball players were paid based on performance, instead of collecting every cent no matter what they do, I guarantee you there would be very few players who would earn their entire contracts. In fact, I would go as far to say that none of the mega deals that are handed out are ever truly earned.
Thankfully, we can say that Soriano did earn his money. Even if he did not meet the fans every expectation.