Baseball’s new CBA: making things worse for small markets

Jane: That’s not fair, daddy. Lilly got a mango pop and I didn’t get one.

Louie: Yup.

Jane: Well that’s not fair.

Louie: I don’t even know what that means.

Jane: Why does she get one and not me?

Louie: ‘Cuz she’s a separate person from you. You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life, so you might as well learn that now, OK?

Let’s lay it out: baseball’s new CBA is not good for teams like the Pirates, who’ve focused all of their resources on rebuilding through the draft. There certainly seems like there will be some allotment for the teams at the top of the draft to spend more than teams at the bottom, which may mitigate things a bit, but it will certainly prevent a team from spending the way the Pirates or Nationals did in 2011 and it’ll probably rein the Pirates in at least some from the way they’ve been spending over the last few years.

The initial reaction yesterday, from me and from just about everyone, was that this thing will be a disaster for teams like the Pirates. It’s true that it might be, but it’s also true that if bloggers are trying to find loopholes, the Neal Huntingtons out there certainly are, too, and the smart GMs will likely find a way. Teams will probably have to find a way to improve their scouting departments and the way they evaluate amateurs (meaning that the draft is an inefficient process, even for the teams that reap the most benefits from it) and the teams that make bigger strides will probably draw an early advantage. The teams that it’ll be the biggest disaster for are the teams that will refuse to adapt: the teams that are the quickest to adapt will probably find a way, even if those teams have limited funds like the Pirates. 

Having the advantage that the Pirates had in the draft taken away from them stinks, but it’s not really what bugs me about the new system (to be fair, what really bugs me in this whole thing beyond baseball is the way that the kids from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are getting screwed). What really sticks in my craw about this is that I can’t look at the new draft rules as an attempt to keep the smaller market teams from finding success. 

Look, I’m not stupid. I understand that the Pirates do less for Major League Baseball than the Yankees and the Red Sox. I understand that they draw fewer TV viewers, that the bring fewer fans into parks, that they sell fewer t-shirts, that they spend less money on free agents. If the Pirates disappeared tomorrow, baseball would functionally be the same. If the Yankees disappeared tomorrow, baseball would become soccer in terms of national profile. I know this. The abstract concept of sports, though, doesn’t really work when you apply capitalism to it because they’re about sports and not business. Small teams need to have at least something resembling the same chance as big teams, which is why salary caps and luxury taxes and such things exist in US sports. Otherwise, why care about the Pirates? 

In the last ten years or so, the smaller teams have figured out how to exist: because they have less money to spend, it’s easier to cast a wide net on amateur players and develop that talent. They’ve had some success, too, and seeing the Rays make the playoffs three times in four years in the American League East gives hope to teams like the Pirates. But every time the Rays make the playoffs, the Yankees or Red Sox don’t. And when the teams with huge fan bases don’t make the playoffs, TV ratings suffer and baseball is weirdly obsessed with them, despite there being a million better indicators of the game’s health

Major League Baseball can say that this is about making sure the best players are drafted in the right place and making sure that money is spent on big league players instead of amateurs, or however they want to justify these new rules, but as the fan of a small market team all I see is an attempt to cut the small markets off at the knees. It hurts the Rays, who build through the draft. It hurts the Rangers, who’ve spent a ton of money in the international markets. I do believe what I wrote above — that smart small market teams will find a way even if it takes a while — but any time you narrow the playing field the way this new CBA does, you tilt it back towards the big markets. Baseball knows that, because that’s what they want. And that’s what hurts the most as a fan of the Pirates.

Baseball can’t come out and say that they don’t want a team like the Pirates in the World Series because they think it’d be bad for business, but they don’t really have to. Their intent at this point is clear. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.