Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

How’s that anit-trust exemption looking now?

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A couple of interesting “leaks” have occurred this week, and enterprising investigative baseball reporters like Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan (though writing for Sports Illustrated online here) have summarized a couple of startling baseball economics issues that might have some serious impact on the baseball landscape, the upcoming Union negotiations, and owner relationships in general.

First, the Passan article.  In essence, he criticizes the Marlins (and by proxy the Nationals for doing mostly the same thing) for browbeating the town of Miami into mostly funding their baseball stadium.  His criticism lies with the essense of the Sheehan article, namely that the Marlins claimed to be losing money while actually earning a TON of money and thus not spending as much as they “could” have to help with the ballpark financing.  The Marlins arguments are not helped by reports such as this one, or the release of Forbes baseball team valuations, or the fact that MLB and the players union basically told the team they had to spend more money in the spring of 2010.

The Sheehan article points out a fundamental flaw in baseball’s revenue sharing system; specifically that teams who want to make money can keep payroll low, be non contenders and take in millions in revenue sharing.  He singles out the Pirates, who made a large showing of deliberately trading away all its vets in the last two years, trading away near-arbitration eligible players and flat out releasing Matt Capps last year to save $500k in anticipated arbitration salary increases.  And it is hard not to argue with him.

What should be done?  First and foremost, you have to think that some owners are going to have something to say to their fellow owners.  Why should the Yankees be writing checks to Pittsburgh that are going straight into their owner’s pocket?  I agree 100% that revenue sharing money should be spent on the team.  No ifs ands or buts.  I can see this argument spilling over into an NFL-esque revenue sharing issue (where the wealthy teams like Washington, Dallas and New England are tired of evenly splitting revenues with other teams that don’t market as aggresively).

Relocation doesn’t seem to be an option.  A recent article in the St. Petersburg Times discussing the Rays possibilities of moving highlighted the issue: When the Expos moved to Washington, the last remaining obvious baseball market candidate was filled.  The next largest  major market without a major league baseball team is Portland, which is far smaller in terms of households and population than Tampa, Pittsburgh, and other so called “small markets.”  Frankly it would make more sense for a relocating team to move to Brooklyn, Riverside or even back to Montreal than it would to move to a place like Charlotte, Las Vegas, Portland or San Antonio.  Even Sacramento is a better option (and no one ever talks about moving a team there, not with the issues the Oakland A’s are having).

Honestly there is no good answer, just as there is no good answer on a salary cap/floor.  Get better owners (oh wait, the good ole boys club of Bud Selig prevents that too, resulting in shadier back room deals every time a team is sold.  See the Loria transaction in acquiring the Marlins in the first place).


Written by Todd Boss

August 25th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

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