I wrote this a couple of years ago and I still like the idea. If you don’t want to click the link, it’s basically my outline for discouraging tanking. It still hasn’t caught on and after seeing the revenues reported recently, it probably won’t any time soon. I’m not exactly sure how that $10.3 billion gets divided up between the 30 teams, but I doubt it is equitable. My guess is that local revenue is kept by the local team but the national revenue is split. Even then, since baseball doesn’t have to share the information, I’m not sure each team gets the same amount. Taking all of that into account, each MLB team makes a lot of money.
Along the same lines as there being no disincentive for losing, there seems to be no incentive for trying, for trying to make a team better through free agency. What was once a hot stove is now a pretty cold hearth. For two off seasons now, and a deep dive on the trend, teams have been standing pat when it comes to free agents. There are some valid reasons for this; better understanding of performance, the years that define “peak” seem to be skewing younger and teams finally learning a lesson or two about splashing a lot of money on a player who might soon be in decline.
Having said that, the folks at Deadspin make this excellent point. Pretty much any baseball team at this point can afford to sign pretty much any player. Teams however, don’t want us to believe that. As fans, we’ve pretty much accepted that. In short we don’t demand that teams invest all of that money back into the product on the field. Instead, we give 3, 4, 5 year reprieves to teams, a window to not even try while they still make money hand over fist. Something seems amiss in that logic.
Last year when spring training rolled around, a number of baseball writers played around with free agent rosters that looked like they might be competitive. It looks like we are headed that way again. Instead of money being invested in a winning, or at least watchable team, franchises are more than happy to just sit on their piles of money. What’s worse, even if fans were fed up with such a state of affairs (they don’t seem to be) there really isn’t much recourse. Attendance isn’t nearly the factor it once was and television and other revenue streams are locked up for years. We could stop attending and watching and MLB would still make money, at least in the short term.
When spring training starts in about a month, I’ll be excited like I always am. Opening Day is always on the radar, even if it’s a last minute decision. But, knowing that close to a third of the league, by design no less, has no interest in winning my excitement fads pretty fast. By June, especially as a fan of one of the bottom feeders of recent years, I’m already checked out and baseball doesn’t seem to care. Instead they fret over pace of play and defensive shifts. Even if rules are put in place to outlaw shifts and a pitch clock is brought in, when one or both teams aren’t really trying all the rule changes in the world won’t make the games more compelling. I mean, if teams aren’t going to try, why should I care?