As has become a tradition the last few years: Several MLB owners have publicly announced that they either cannot add payroll in the future or will have to cut back from where they currently stand.
The Houston Astros may not re-sign one of the best pitchers on the planet, while Boston Red Sox owner Tom Werner wants to slash payroll by about $40 million. With teams acting like the competitive balance tax is a hard salary cap — with no matching salary floor — that’s rubbing MLB Players Association union chief Tony Clark the wrong way yet again.
“After another year of declining attendance, it seems odd that several clubs rushed to announce that they plan to sit out the free-agent market before the first pitch of the postseason had even been thrown,” Clark said, via The Athletic.
“The Hot Stove season has traditionally been about ticket sales and fan engagement. Yet several clubs are laying the groundwork for more of the same, even as franchise values skyrocket and central revenues continue to increase. These blanket proclamations send precisely the wrong message to fans, and undermine the competitive landscape that fuels interest in the game from Day 1 of spring training through the final game of the World Series.”
A lack of spending is hurting baseball
The frustration is easy to understand, and players have been outspoken about it as well. Teams are plainly choosing to save money while the league is making record revenues rather than trying to win, and it’s hurting the sport.
Sure, baseball saw four 100-win teams for the first time ever, but that’s in part because there were so many non-competitive teams giving away wins. Four teams finished with 100 losses and another six lost at least 90.
With only six viable American League teams for much of the second half, there wasn’t a ton on the line for most teams, and attendance shrunk to a 16-year low, down 1.7 percent from 2018. The Astros and Chicago Cubs may have bottomed out before building World Series champions, but too many teams are following that path now, leading to some unwatchable baseball.
Owners are actively choosing not to spend money
The strangest part about this whole development is that owners clearly have the money available to spend. Yes, sports are ultimately a business — and few businesses are as consistently profitable as sports — but it’s disappointing to see owners with more than enough money for generations to come not trying to compete.
Take, for example, the Colorado Rockies, where owner Dick Monfort announced that the team would not “have a lot of flexibility this year.” This, despite landing a new TV deal worth potentially $40 million just days earlier and the team finishing sixth in the league in attendance.
The Astros have never dipped into the luxury tax but may have to do so to re-sign Gerrit Cole. They are World Series favorites at this point, and it would be wild to see them let the team fall apart for what amounts to 1/300th of owner Jim Crane’s net worth.
Boston’s sudden frugality is even more disappointing, considering it could cost them Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez. Less than a year after winning a World Series, ownership is signaling that they care more about lining their pockets than putting together a winning team.
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