Dec 31

2020 can’t be gone too soon

The Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988.

That’s it. That is the only good thing that occurred in this miserable year in which over 345 thousand Americans lost their lives to a pandemic, nearly 20 million Americans have been infected with the virus, and the amazing speed with which vaccines were designed, tested and rolled out was not matched by actual shots in people’s arms. Only some 3 million Americans have been vaccinated in the two weeks since Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna started shipping vials of the product.

On the baseball front the Padres have been loading up in an effort to catch the Dodgers. In three days in December the team acquired “Blake Snell from Tampa Bay. By Monday morning, they had a four-year agreement with top Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim. Several hours later, they ended a weeks-long pursuit by scoring Yu Darvish and his personal catcher, Victor Caratini, in a trade with the Cubs.”

In labor news MLB showed that it believes profit should always come before people, destroying the minor league baseball structure as it had been for decades because it didn’t want to pay so many employees.

There will be 40 fewer minor leagues farm teams next year than there were in 2019. Those cutbacks hit hardest in the South and Midwest. West Virginia lost all four of its minor-league franchises. The entire Appalachian League got the boot. (It has been reconstituted as a summer league for unpaid college athletes.) The minor leagues—which rely on in-person interactions like concessions and ticket sales—were hit hard when the pandemic forced the cancellation of their 2020 seasons, but that’s not why these franchises got kicked to the curb. Plans to dramatically reduce the number of minor league franchises and players were in the works long before that, because Major League Baseball is filled with insufferable ghouls.

You don’t have to speculate about why big-league clubs decided to reduce their minor-league affiliates by 25 percent. They brag about it. In a 2019 piece at FiveThirtyEight titled “Do We Even Need Minor League Baseball?” baseball insiders argued that the minors were an inefficient way of grooming players to become major leaguers. There were more effective ways to, say, add velocity to a teenager’s fastball or improve a hitter’s launch angle than playing games—this kind of work could be done at closed-door facilities, and any time of year. And there were just so many minor leaguers. Why pay all those prospects, when only 10 percent of them will ever get to Chicago?

[snip]

Paying lots of people to play baseball was a problem, in developmental and financial terms, to be solved by paying substantially fewer people to play less baseball, in substantially fewer places. It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.

[snip]

What little leverage minor league franchises might have had disappeared with their 2020 seasons, although some, like the Staten Island Yankees, are pursuing their options in court. This month, after the realignment became official, the league offered a tepid helping hand to the franchises it had consigned to the scrap heap. Some of them will be absorbed into MLB-sanctioned summer leagues for college baseball players or “draft leagues” for players looking to showcase their wares for scouts—which is to say, they will be replacing rosters of low-paid workers with unpaid amateur volunteers. Others are abandoning the farm system entirely to try their luck in the independent leagues. Nearly two dozen franchises are still figuring out what, if anything, they’ll do next.

Thanks to WBBsAs for the pointer to the minor league story.

Nov 30

The Hot Stove needs stoking

The uncertainty over the pandemic’s scope and duration is having an impact on baseball’s off-season. There haven’t been very many trades or free-agent signings since the World Series ended the last week of October. While MLB has roughly $2 billion per year in revenue from TV rights (Fox, TBS, ESPN), it derives close to $3 billion from gate receipts (tickets, concessions, parking). A sports industry analysis company called Team Marketing Report created a data set showing truly horrific business results for 2020:

TMR annually produces what it calls the Fan Cost Index, a calculation of the average cost for a fan to attend a game for teams across sports. For the 2020 MLB season, TMR produced a data set looking at how much game-day revenue each club missed out on with the absence of fans. The projection draws from TMR’s 2020 MLB Fan Cost Index and uses what each team saw for attendance across its full 2019 slate of games to approximate the spending that didn’t happen for home games in 2020 because fans weren’t in attendance.

The result: More than $5 billion in lost revenue across the league, according to TMR’s calculations. The New York Yankees topped the list, with an estimated $437 million in game-day revenue lost compared to what the Yankees might have drawn with fans attending a traditional 81-game home schedule. The Miami Marlins were on the other end of the scale, at No 30, with $37 million in game-day revenue lost.

See the projected game-day impact for each of MLB’s 30 teams through the gallery above.

If a COVID-19 vaccine or several vaccines become available to the general public by April the season might conceivably begin with fans in the stands, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s also no guarantee that enough of the public will actually get vaccinated, a requirement before any form of herd immunity can be assured. Failing that, baseball may start its season with cardboard cutouts in the seats again with a resulting loss of revenue.

No GM is going to commit a lot of money to a free agent pitcher without having some idea of how much money he or she is going to take in during the years of that pitcher’s contract. I wouldn’t expect a big surge in player contract signing or movement before spring training begins, or even until it’s close to ending. The US may have a better feel for how its vaccination program is proceeding by then.

Jun 20

The owners propose, the virus disposes

From the Washington Post:

While MLB and the union haggle over the terms of the season and the money each side receives, the virus ultimately will decide how much — or whether — baseball will be played in 2020.

[snip]

MLB is left to decide whether it wants to impose a mini-season, leaving itself open to a potential $1 billion grievance the union would almost certainly file, or use the spread of the virus across the game’s ranks as a reason to punt on 2020 entirely.

At the same time, the players have the choice between accepting MLB’s latest proposal for a 60-game season — which would come with an expanded postseason and an agreement to waive potential grievances — or rejecting the proposal and accepting whatever imposed schedule, probably in the 50-game range, MLB comes up with.

For the first time I am not hopeful that there’ll be any season worth thinking about. Fifty games is ridiculously short, as is anything short of 81, as far as I’m concerned. A fifty game season would require the mother of all asterisks in the record books. But trying to squeeze 81 games plus playoffs by the end of October is impossible, particularly when you have the most visible and trusted public health doctor in the country suggesting MLB really should wrap up the year by the end of September.

We’ll see, but I feel about a 50-game season the way Juliet felt about falling in love with Romeo so quickly:

“I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”

Jun 05

Impasse?

From the LA Times: Owners don’t want to pay players for more than 50 games if there are no fans in the seats. Players say that’s nonsense, and we’ve accepted all the pay cuts we’re going to in this situation.

I don’t know who’s right, but the chance of baseball in 2020 isn’t looking promising.

From The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

“This threat came in response to an association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.”

The players believe they already took one reduction when they agreed their 2020 salaries would be paid on a prorated basis, based upon the number of games played. MLB maintains the March agreement allowed it to pursue additional cuts based upon language concerning the “economic feasibility” of playing without spectators and suggests the union misrepresented the March deal to players by saying no further negotiation was necessary. The union’s bottom line is that nothing forces the players to accept another reduction.

Mar 21

Labor strife ahead?

Magic 8-ball says yes.

As late as March 1, scores of free agents were still unsigned as front offices divest from players who are 30 or older — All-Star outfielder Adam Jones is 33, Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is 31, closer Craig Kimbrel is 30. At the same time, teams manipulate the service time of big-league-ready young players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. by leaving them in the minors. Teams do this assured in the knowledge that while these veteran and rookie players could obviously help a team, the public condones the anti-labor practice of tanking. Many teams simply aren’t trying to win, and fans don’t care.

[snip]

But today’s player, across sports, was born into a country that has demonized labor so thoroughly that some of them do not even believe philosophically in the principles of unions and more quickly turn on one another. It should forever be remembered that when the owners squeezed veterans in the NBA and NFL, the players responded by attacking younger players, advocating for a rookie wage scale.

[snip]

Baseball’s ownership is now reaching a brazen point. The new generation of Ivy League GMs, with their own metrics and measures for paying players (how is it not collusion if everyone is seemingly using the same methodology?), have crossed two lines:The first is their philosophy of no longer paying players for what they’ve done, only for what they are projected to do. The second is controlling players for six full years and then refusing to pay them once they reach their free agent seventh. The modern player, richer than ever, is faced with a question: Is a punitive free agent market, and a culture that threatens any player over 30, enough to shut down the game?

So far, the players aren’t looking like Curt Flood, while the owners are looking like Charles Comiskey (the reason the Black Sox threw the Series was because their owner was such a cheap man). The players seem to be opting for the security of multi-year contracts, which is rational seeing what’s happened to the stars who’ve hit free agency and received no offers at all.