The “ethics” of Kris Bryant’s inevitable disappointment

Recently seen in the (free) "Hey Bill" section of Bill James Online:

Topical question: as a fan, it sort of bothers me when a young super-talent is indisputably one of a team’s 25 best for Opening Day, but gets sent down for three weeks to retain an extra year of club control. Is this an ethical issue, in your judgment, or perhaps the rules should be re-written to avoid this annual controversy? The clubs and the union might negotiate (for example) to prohibit teams from calling up such (7th-year FA eligible) players for 60 days past Opening Day in order to discourage the "baseball decisions" to send super-prospects down for 15 days out of Spring Training. Or not.

Asked by: jemanji

Answered: 3/26/2015

If the player uses the rules negotiated between the union and MLB to maximize his income, is that unethical? Of course it is not. Why, then, would it be unethical for the team to use those rules so as to maximize their return? It would raise an ethical issue if the young player was being exploited in some way, not given value for his contribution. But a player who has a STARTING salary of $500,000 a year cannot reasonably be seen to be exploited.

I don’t know that this is popularly thought to be an ethical issue, but I have noticed that when I write, for example, about the draft, someone’s always going to jump in and say it’s unethical to limit a player’s choice.

Yes, maybe it is. It’s also unethical for the Cubs to pretend that Kris Bryant’s service time isn’t on their minds at all. 

Well, I’m sorry but people behave unethically all the time. Is cheating on your taxes unethical? I think (or hope) that most of us would agree it is. But how many people don’t report income? How many people pay their nannies or their gardeners under the table? Hey, at least Theo Epstein has the excuse of being accountable to a vast organization and its fans; when we hire workers off the books, it’s almost purely from personal greed.

My point? There are ethics, and there are ethics. In an absolutely perfect world, maybe every single baseball player could choose his employer and get paid whatever the market might bear. But it’s an imperfect world, and on a list of its imperfections, a young man earning a minimum of half a million dollars per year is way, way, way down the list.