Sunday, March 28, 2010

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By David Saltzer - Senior Writer

How much would you pay to see the Angels play their Triple-A team from Salt Lake? $5? $10 at most? How often would you go to see the Angels beat up their Triple-A team? Once? Twice in a year? How much would the fans for Salt Lake pay to see their team lose consistently to the Angels?

Clearly fans for either team wouldn’t pay as much or go as often to see the Angels beat up a Minor League team as they would to see their team play against another team with a more equal level of talent. Part of the joy of going to a ballpark to see a game live is that you never know what the outcome will be. While you hope your team will win, there’s always the chance that they won’t. If you knew that the Angels would win every game, you would quickly lose your interest in the sport because it would cease to be any sort of competition. Without competition, there’s no one to play, and the sport ceases to exist.

Last week, two good things happened for Major League Baseball. The first was that Joe Mauer signed an 8-year, $184 million dollar deal to remain in Minnesota. The second was that Major League Baseball made a minor tweak to the playoff format and removed one of the many off-days during the League Championship Series.

When the Joe Mauer deal was announced, it was an eye-popping number: $184,000,000.00 over 8 years for 1 player. Eye-popping numbers like that are reserved for one team—the Yankees. Without getting into the merits of how much athletes are paid, the Joe Mauer deal was a good deal for the Twins because most analysts believed that Mauer is one of the top-5 talents in the game right now and would become the Yankees’ next $30 million/year player had he become a free agent.

What makes this deal such a good deal for baseball is because the deal wasn’t with the Yankees. Had the Yankees signed Mauer, it would have been one more nail in the coffin for Major League Baseball, especially for the small and mid-market teams. It would have perpetuated the belief that there are only a few teams in the league worth following (the large market teams) and the fans of every other team are just watching an extension of the Yankees’ minor league system.

By keeping Mauer away from the Yankees, the Twins kept hope alive for their fans that they will have the talent to beat the Yankees. They made a bold move and showed that if a team treats a star well and offers him a fair contract, they can keep him. They preserved some competitive balance in the sport, which in the long run, is what will preserve the economic health of the game. Without hope and competition, the economics for the sport will crumble.

At the same time, the length of time for the post-season has also become a concern for the competitive balance of the game. Teams, such as the Yankees, can load up on 3 premium starters (at an exorbitant cost) and can dominate in the post season without having to rely on depth. It rewards those who can spend the most on the front end of their rotation and punishes those who have to spread their resources more judiciously. Last year, when the Angels only played 8 games in a 20-day span, it worked to their detriment because their payroll was spread across a deeper rotation, whereas it benefited the Yankees who weren’t as deep, but were able to ride their stars through the post season.

While Major League Baseball only withdrew one day off for this year’s post-season schedule, they opened the door for future changes. The special committee appointed by Bud Selig to study these problems has started a dialogue that even the Player’s Union is having with all of its members. There’s no doubt that altering the post-season schedule will be negotiated in the next Basic Agreement with the players.

Overall, the past decade has seen a surge in revenue for baseball. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any problems that need addressing. Maintaining competitive balance is critical for baseball, especially if it hopes to weather the current economic downturn.

I hope that the rest of the Major League teams look at the Joe Mauer deal and recognize that small and mid-market teams can and should develop and sign key stars. Fans don’t want to think of their team as a “minor league” club for the large market teams. They want to have their hope renewed every spring that this year could be the year. Baseball works best when all teams have talent and stars. Certain players should remain with the teams that drafted and developed them, not always lost to free agency. Can any of you really imagine Tim Salmon in pinstripes?

In order to best achieve the competitive balance, the large market teams will need to limit their payrolls and the small markets teams will need to be forced to spend a minimal amount. I would set the limits at $150 million as an absolute ceiling and $75 million as an absolute floor. That would only limit the payrolls of a few teams while forcing many more to raise their payrolls. The players would benefit with the overall increased dollars spent on payroll and the owners would benefit from a more competitive balance in the game. The value of their product would be greater and they would sell more tickets.

To make this happen, revenue will need to be shared, but, the shared revenue shouldn’t go to line the pockets of the owners. It should go towards keeping the stars in the game spread evenly throughout the game so that the overall health of the game is maintained. Any team that does not meet the floor or spends above the ceiling would forfeit all revenue from Major League Baseball (including all national TV deals, merchandising deals, etc.) and would forfeit any share in the ticket revenue from visiting another ballpark. The money forfeited would get redistributed to all the remaining clubs.

What do you think? Was the Mauer deal a good deal for the Twins? Was it a good deal for Major League Baseball? Should the post season be shortened? How should baseball revenue be shared?
Love to hear what you think!


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