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  1. Didn’t the Italian league team Juventus get punitively relegated a few years ago? That could make an interesting case study, especially in fan reaction. Although soccer’s bigger there than baseball is here AFAIK

    Comment by tbad — May 5, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  2. That would be pretty awesome. Like demote the Pirates for the Royals AAA team.

    Comment by PJ — May 5, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

  3. There’s actually a way to pull off realignment and relegation at the same time without destroying the major league-ness of a franchise: 5 divisions of six teams each.

    There would be an NL East, NL West, AL East, and an AL West. These four divisions and 24 teams would compete as normal, with the division winners and second-place teams entering the playoffs. Then there would be a Relegation Division composed of the six worst teams from the previous year. This Division would still compete in the major leagues against the other 4 divisions’ franchises, but would not have the opportunity to go to the playoffs or pursue a World Series championship.

    The mechanics of this are fun to ponder. Do you try to maintain geographic sanity with the “West” and “East” divisions? How do you apportion relegation so that it doesn’t unduly punish sort-of bad teams in really tough divisions, or reward really terrible teams in mediocre divisions?

    My one-hour thought is to have the Relegation Division populated the same way as the playoffs, albeit in a bizarro upside-down way. The worst team from each official division go down. The two teams with the worst records in the Relegation Division remain down. The other four teams from the Relegation Division ascend to the most appropriate upper division.

    This way, a team would have to really suck for an extended period of time to stay in no-playoffs jail for several years running, and there’s a real incentive to win games year-in and year-out. Obviously this could potentially screw with AL/NL divisions unless some strict rules were put in place to keep an even number of AL/NL teams in the Relegation Division, and promote evenly as well. And do you give the crappy teams a DH or not? (My vote, make them play by the rules of whatever league they’re facing, and do without a DH when playing within the division.)

    Anyway, this solution, while still completely not going to happen, seems at least more feasible from a business sense than true soccer-style relegation, and seems like it would promote a similar level of parity to what we currently have.

    (*Bonus thought: Revenue sharing is withheld from Relegation Division teams.)

    Comment by Chris Magyar — May 5, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  4. Yes, Juventus was relegated as punishment.

    It wasn’t for sucking, though. It was because Juve players were involved in a match-fixing scheme.

    Comment by Criminal Type — May 5, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  5. Or you could just fix the problem by leveling the financial playing field like every other major sport.

    But no, lets come up with a ridiculous system where a team gets dropped a level and their players are no longer in MLB. I bet Ryan Zimmerman and Andrew McCutchen would love being minor leaguers again. The players union would love that idea.

    You can talk all you want about cheap owners, but there is no way in any scenario that the Pirates can spend $150 million on payroll with the current structure. The deadspin books clearly show that even with increased ticket revenue you’re looking at a $70-80 million max in the market.

    The best thing for competitive MLB baseball would be to relegate the Yankees and Red Sox, not eliminating the bottom teams. Those two clubs skew competitive advantage more than any.

    Comment by PiratesHurdles — May 5, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  6. Women should be “relegated” to the kitchen and not work in MLB…..amirite Alex?

    Comment by Joe Blow — May 5, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  7. A simpler way to punish, or at least not reward, the skinflints would be to turn revenue sharing into a matching contribution system.

    For a low-revenue team, add up every player’s salary, less the league minimum. Of that sum, rich teams contribute a fraction determined by the team’s revenue. Maybe it’s a smaller contribution for arbitration-eligible players than for free agents, because they’re still somewhat cost controlled. Or the contribution could be greater for multi-year deals.

    Result: if the Pirates spend nothing, they get nothing. If ownership wants to be competitive, they get help.

    Comment by Greg — May 5, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

  8. I like your use of “byzantine” as an adjective.

    Comment by ms — May 5, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  9. “Bud Selig might not have the legal authority to tell the Nationals, Royals, Orioles or Pirates that their major league team is going to play in the minor leagues.”

    No, but he could tell the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants, etc. that they get to play in a better league, couldn’t he? Instead of demoting bad teams to the minors or a newly created second division, promote the good teams to a newly created premier league. Maybe well into the future, we could see a premier league made up of the best teams in the entire North American region.

    But more down to earth, maybe the very worst teams should be force to forgo revenue sharing payments in favor of extra draft picks. No money for the worst eight teams, but they get the first eight picks in the draft, and THEN start the first round. (So the worst team would pick first and ninth.) Or some similar system.

    Comment by Sam B. — May 5, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  10. Over the 18 years of the Pirates you mentioned they have lost for many many reasons. If you recall, they had tried to spend money on certain players. At the time, the Pat Meares contract was rather large for a shortstop, and once upon a time the Pirates made Jason Kendall (KENDALL!) the highest paid backstop in all of baseball. The problem wasn’t so much that the Bucos wouldn’t spend, it was a matter of what they were spending ON.

    I notice you didn’t list the Marlins. They are perennial spend thrifts and have even had MLB take a look at their fiscal ways. Now obviously, the Marlins can widely be considered a successful run organization. They’ve gone through peaks and valleys but ultimately they are a club that makes the playoffs with relative consistentcy and even have a couple WS appearances under their belt.

    Money doesn’t guarantee sustained success (Cubs and Mets anyone?) and ultimately for small market teams like the Royals and Pirates, a poorly conceived deal can set them back years. These teams can’t recover from a bust like the Yankees can.

    To say that the Pirates and Royals don’t win because they don’t spend money is a very narrow and short sighted statement. The Marlins are proof that money spent wisely can justify the means, just as the Mets are proof that money spent poorly can cripple. It’s all relative.

    If we really want to see teams that sit yearly at the bottom of the standings improve, then demanding that they spend large sums on things that actually build and SUSTAIN a successful club (scouting, drafting, player development, etc..) would likely have the greatest effect. Sometimes the only way to see a club improve is to save them from making franchise crippling mistakes. All this being said, I will agree that sometimes a team needs to ‘go for the gold’ to punch through to the next level.

    Comment by Ryan S — May 5, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

  11. This sounds like a good idea when you only reference the teams that are habitually at the bottom. At this point, the Pirates could disappear and four people would notice. However, there are regularly teams that finish last one year that aren’t bad, they’re just rebuilding or have a bad year, a bunch of injuries, etc…

    Relegation as punishments sounds fine until you realize that every year more than the teams referenced finish in last place – and some of them are decent organizations that spend honestly.

    Comment by Not A Moron — May 5, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

  12. Leveling the financial playing field like every other major sport? Not sure what sport youre talking about.

    Comment by Brent — May 5, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  13. Wow. This is a very interesting piece: a lot of very intelligent thought and analysis, and a lot that misses the mark by a wide margin.

    I think there’s a hole in your thinking: you are lumping together two kinds of teams that you need to consider separately. There are teams like the Mets and Dodgers that are high revenue teams and are widely regarded as poorly run. Then there are teams like the Pirates and Marlins that are low revenue teams, but are VERY WELL run, assuming that the goal of a well-run team is to play the existing revenue sharing system to make the biggest profit possible.

    Relegation is one answer to teams like the Pirates. Relegation says that you don’t get to make big profits if your team underperforms year after year. Of course, there’s an easier way to accomplish the same thing, which is to pay less in revenue sharing to underperforming teams, and more to teams like the Rays and A’s that overperform relative to their resources and market size.

    Relegation is no answer to the mismanagement of teams like the Mets and Dodgers. All relegation would do to a team like the Dodgers is to force the team into insolvency faster than the team would reach insolvency on its own. Also: consider that (oddly enough) the Mets and Dodgers fund a good portion of the revenue sharing money that reaches deserving teams like the A’s and Rays. Dump the Mets and Dodgers into the minor leagues, and you’d substantially diminish baseball’s revenues overall.

    So … I like your piece, but I think it needs more thinking out.

    Comment by Larry@IIATMS — May 5, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

  14. Make two leages. A “Premier League” of the 16 largest market teams, New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Texas etc. No salary cap, no revenue sharing, just big spending.

    Take the 14 remaining teams, and add two expansion franchises. Against small market competition, new teams in San Antonio, Vancouver, Carolina, or New Jersey could hope to succeed.

    Two 16-team leagues, divide each into 8, pit the division champs against each other in a championship, just like the old days.

    More competitive balance, more cities with baseball, and a better playoff format.

    Comment by tcnjsteve — May 5, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

  15. I rarely go this far, but this article is just dumb. It’s not even close to a good idea, nor one that should happen.

    First, of course, you have the whole problem of relegation simply being impossible in MLB. You can’t promote minor league teams, because the players on those teams are “owned” by the MLB franchise, and if it got moved to the majors then all those players wouldn’t be allowed to play for that team by the franchise because it means more competition. Not to mention that it’s completely unfair to a team that builds a good farm system to take their players away because they did so well accumulating a good crop of prospects.

    None of the independent teams have the infrastructure or talent to replace any MLB franchise either, so relegation can’t happen simply because to do it would mean either replacing a bad team with a worse one or MLB taking a bunch of good players from one franchise because another one is so bad it needs to be demoted.

    But worse is the idea that this is somehow going to fix the payroll imbalances. Where this thought is coming from, I don’t know, but any further ideas from there ought to be squelched. You mentioned the Mariners, Nats/Expos, Pirates, Royals, and Astros as teams that have been bad for awhile. But this has nothing to do with a lack of funds and everything to do with a lack of good management. The Marlins consistently have an incredibly low payroll, as do the Padres, Rays, and A’s. All of these teams manage to find success anyway. The talent evaluation teams have makes them good or bad; all money does is allow you to make mistakes and bet on less risky players. It’s undoubtedly powerful, and the payroll discrepancies in MLB need to be dealt with, but the fact that some owners are cheap and others generous has far less to do with how well their team does than how good their front office is at finding good baseball players.

    Comment by quincy0191 — May 5, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  16. This whole article is rather silly, isn’t Alex? 1. Not going to happen. 2. We probably don’t want it to happen. I think it would actually have the opposite effect, because good free agents would avoid teams that have recently been struggling out of fear of being relegating to the lower division.

    Other ideas, such as salary floors and stricter rules on use of revenue sharing funds would probably work better than this punishment system. There is already a big revenue incentive to win, somehow I don’t think adding an even greater incentive would actually make these teams try harder.

    Comment by Brent — May 5, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  17. You say that you’re more interested in relegation as a punishment or disincentive than to promote parity. I would think a less convoluted way of doing what you propose would be to just contract franchises. Small market teams have to be remarkably efficient and execute personnel decisions with little margin for error in order to be competitive. With relegation, not only would the margin for error become narrower (the Pirates, Royals and Nationals already have to overbid to get free agents…imagine if they were in a lower subdivision), but self-perpetuating cycles of failure would take hold, where teams would lose a lot of games, franchises would lose significant value, have a harder time getting and keeping talent, revenue would shrink, teams would continue to lose games, and on and on.

    I don’t know why I just spent the time typing all that out. It’s just a terrible idea.

    Comment by Calogero — May 5, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  18. I don’t think any relegation system where a team has a 0% chance of making the playoffs is going to float. You mind as well disband the team before you do that. In my relegation system (linked to above in the “might”) you relegate into three tiers (1, 2, 3=worst). You then take the top five teams from tier 1, the top two teams from tier 2 and for the 8th and final playoff spot you have a one game “play in” game between the two top teams from tier 3. Then you seed the teams from the higher tier ahead of the teams from the lower tier, with record being the seeding tie-breaker for teams in the same tier. You then move the bottom two teams down and top two teams up.

    This type of relegation basically sets up a quota system where one smaller market team is likely to play in the post-season and you still have your 5-7 other really good teams.

    Comment by Xeifrank — May 5, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  19. Why not just take the teams away from the owners? Draft contractual language that says MLB can recind at fair market value (or something) the team if the owner just clearly sucks. If the owner is cheap, he loses the team. If the owner is a moron who keeps making bad decision, he loses the team.

    There always seem to be plenty of people willing to buy a team, let’s give THEM a chance.

    Comment by MrKnowNothing — May 5, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

  20. English soccer got rid of their salary cap, and the NFL is basically an open question at this point, but in America, the NBA, NHL, and MLS all have varying types of salary caps. But I think most people agree that it’s pretty much a pipe dream in baseball. The MLBPA is probably the most powerful union in America, and there is nothing that they oppose more firmly than a salary cap.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

  21. Forbes’ estimates for all teams’ revenue, income, and expenses are here: http://blogs.forbes.com/kurtbadenhausen/2011/03/23/baseballs-most-valuable-teams/.

    First off, the Yankees are ALONE at the top. Their revenue for 2010 was $427m. The next five teams are $272m, $258m, $246m, $239m, and $233m. The Red Sox are 2nd for the first time in a couple years. They’re up and down among the Mets, Dodgers, Cubs, and lately the Phillies in the 2nd-5th range over the last few years.

    I strongly agree with the article, that there’s no incentive to compete harder. You’d think the bottom rung teams would spend what they have to move up the ladder, but the bottom five teams, by revenue, earned incomes of $23m on average. None were below $10m. Contrast that with a team like the Red Sox, which lost about $1m. Most clubs across the whole spectrum were profitable, and only seven failed to earn $10m. Three clubs lost money: Sox, Mets (-$6m), and Tigers (-29m).

    Here’s my biggest beef: the teams with the lowest expenses to revenues ratios, a who’s who of profiteers in baseball.

    1. Padres, 77%
    2. Nationals, 81%
    3. Pirates, 84%
    4. Orioles, 85%

    League average is 92%. These teams have little gate revenue because they’ve lost a lot of fan support already, so their total revenue is more predictable than contending teams. Most of their operating budget stems from TV contracts, merchandise, and revenue sharing–all are well known in advance–yet these teams don’t spend nearly as much as the average team does.

    The Padres and Nationals lead the league in net profit at $37m both. Either could have easily spent another $25m with almost no risk of losing money. $25m can go a LONG way. How about drafting some over slot guys like the Sox are lauded for? How about keeping Adrian Gonzalez for the last year? How about signing internal talent more aggressively? It’s not all about getting the $20m/year free agents.

    It’s the bottom-dwellers that routinely earn more net profit than playoff teams that need to improve their ways.

    Comment by Dan — May 5, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

  22. Does anyone really think the NBA, for instance, has a level financial playing field? There is a reason Melo is in NY, and Howard is going to end up in L.A., as opposed to, say, Indianapolos…

    Comment by Brent — May 5, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  23. I didn’t list the Marlins because they won the World Series in 2003, but they have certainly been taken to task for pocketing revenue sharing money and not spending enough on their team. The 2003 victory was essentially a fluke — it was also a team that had largely been assembled on John Henry’s watch. Since Jeffrey Loria took over, the team has been consigned to poverty and mediocrity.

    It is true that the Bucs have spent what little money they have in stunningly stupid ways — the Matt Morris and Derek Bell contracts both come to mind. Dave Littlefield and Cam Bonifay were truly bad GMs, entirely aside from being hamstrung by ownership. But until the Neal Huntington era, when at least they’ve spent money in the draft to acquire top prospects like Pedro Alvarez and Jameson Taillon, the team was not known for spending much money on anything — even though the little money that they spent was spent badly, they have still had some of the lowest payrolls in baseball for most of the past two decades, since Bonds and Bonilla departed. They’ve been in the bottom seven every single year, except for 2001 and 2003, when they were 18th and 19th in baseball. (This is all per baseball-reference. Payroll numbers are a bit fuzzy, so you may find slightly different numbers elsewhere.)

    In 1992, the last year the Pirates made the playoffs, they had the 10th-highest payroll in baseball.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

  24. I just don’t think it can work. What happens if the Yankees get relegated? Maybe you don’t believe that’s possible but what about the Cubs, Mets or Dodgers? Do MLB and FOX want to lose those TV dollars if those big market teams aren’t playing in the top league? What if both the Cubs and White Sox got relegated. No MLB in Chicago.

    Think bad teams have trouble selling tickets now, wait till they can’t even advertise that they are part of MLB. What happens to Royals ticket sales if the Yankees and Red Sox never come to town, even if it is only 6 or 8 games a year. They also lose the interleague games.

    MLBPA will never, ever, ever go for it either. It hurts the earning potential of players on teams that get relegated.

    It’s an interesting idea and handled well in the article but I see these problems as insurmountable.

    Comment by MikeS — May 5, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  25. I agree with you that minor league teams can’t be promoted — I actually wrote that in my piece:

    The affiliated minor leagues can’t host relegated teams or provide teams to be promoted, because player promotion and demotion is strictly controlled by the clubs who own the respective teams, and because a promoted farm club would be owned by one of the other 29 teams.

    I’m essentially only exploring relegation, not promotion.

    However, you seem to be arguing that the Pirates’s constant failure, every year for the past two decades, has nothing to do with the fact that their owners have refused to spend money on the team. I strongly disagree.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  26. It wasn’t a large-market small-market issue with Carmelo Anthony. The reason Melo is in NY is that he intentionally dogged it and demanded a trade. He’s from there, he wanted to play there, so he basically did what Hideki Irabu did: told his team to trade him to New York or else. The Nets wanted him bad, but Carmelo just didn’t care.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  27. 1) Since it wasn’t contractual language when all of the current owners bought their teams, they’d presumably all have to agree to it now after the fact, which they’d never do.

    2) Even if they were excluded, current owners would never want this to become common practice for prospective new owners. If you’re concerned about financial performance, this is going to drive down franchise values. If you’re concerned about winning, this is going to create tougher competition.

    Seems like the ideal path to fix the problem (to the extent it actually needs fixing) would be to alter the revenue sharing system to stop rewarding teams that don’t reinvest the funds they receive.

    Comment by Head Bee Guy — May 5, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  28. Relegation has nothing to do with the disparity of wealth in European football. That is related to the Champions’ League. Teams have been relegated and promoted for a hundred years, the English cartel is recent.

    Comment by John — May 5, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  29. I’m not saying that relegation should be an automatic thing. I’m saying it should be a tactic only to be used in extreme cases. There’s basically never going to be a reason for MLB to relegate the Yankees: their owners are always going to spend buttloads of money. However, some other teams clearly need a stronger incentive to spend.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

  30. I don’t know nearly as much as I’d like about association football. But regardless of whether relegation promotes disparity, it certainly doesn’t prevent it.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

  31. Obviously, fixing revenue sharing is the key to all of this. If there’s a way to fix the revenue sharing system so that it doesn’t disincentivize spending money on a winning team, then there’s no need to explore harsher correctives, like the threat of relegation.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  32. I’m not sure that free agents would strictly avoid relegated teams. Jayson Werth just took $126 million to play for one of the worst teams in baseball, a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in three decades. As long as these teams are willing to spend money, they’ll be able to attract top talent. They may have to pay a surcharge — as the Nats did, or as the Mets did when they signed Pedro Martinez — but they’ll be able to get players.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

  33. Like I say, I don’t think relegation should be done every year — I only think it should even be considered for teams that have missed the playoffs for over a decade, whose owners are clearly gaming the system. That’s why I mentioned the Pirates, Royals, Orioles, and Nationals, and then said, “If any team were to be relegated, it would be one of them.” Relegation should be a last resort, not an automatic trigger.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  34. I would love baseball and all American sports to be run like European soccer league. Instead of having MLB teams owning minor league franchises, they would compete against them in a competition similar to FA cup. It would give bad teams incentive to get good.

    Comment by Jeff — May 5, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  35. The NFL salary cap never really did much to add parity to the NFL, anyway. Most teams never got even close to the salary cap, so there’s still a great financial disparity. The NFL does a much better job of providing the illusion of a level playing field, mostly because there’s a greater risk of significant injuries that remove key players, and because the season is short enough that random events have a huge impact.

    And you still have the Patriots, Colts, and Eagles in the playoffs basically every season while the Lions and Bills have been terrible for a long time.

    Comment by Bronnt — May 5, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  36. The only way something like this would work (as mentioned above, sort of) is by adding a bunch of teams. Putting teams in places like Vancouver, Oklahoma City, New Jersey, Buffalo, Sacramento, Portland, etc. in a second division, and then threatening the worst few teams in MLB with relegation to that second division, with commensurate promotion, might actually work. Push the bottom feeders to compete rather than rake in revenue sharing, and give the second division teams a chance at the big time. Salaries would have to be set at a AAAA level for those teams as well.

    Still, there would be a ton of problems. Who gets to draft first? What about the talent dilution? How to handle trades between 1st and 2nd division? What will MLBPA think? How mad will relegated team owners be now that their asset is worth a fraction of its previous value? How are revenues shared?

    It would be fun, but it’s just not likely ever to happen, even though placing a whole bunch more teams in a AAAA level would conceivably boost revenue substantially.

    Comment by NSCEGF — May 5, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

  37. “Self-perpetuating cycles of failure” already occur, though. And contraction’s harder than it looks. In the modern baseball era, no franchise in either the NL or the AL has been successfully contracted. (I’m excluding the teams in the Federal League, which only lasted one year.) But I think you and I both agree that some sort of drastic measure has to be considered.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  38. Good point. But I’m not interested in more parity; MLB has plenty of parity. I’m interested in punishing teams that game the revenue system.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  39. Or the Royals for the Royals AAA team

    Comment by Andrew — May 5, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  40. The Mets have done okay in the past decade, with one playoff appearance and multiple winning seasons. Extend that to 2000 and you have a World Series appearance. Pretty lousy compared to what they spend, but at least they compete sometimes.

    The Dodgers have multiple playoff appearances in the last decade and their troubles only started recently. With any luck, they’ll be in a new owner’s hands soon enough.

    Hardly extended underperformances on the level of the Pirates, Nationals, or Royals.

    Comment by Greg — May 5, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  41. Going back to your Littlefield/Bonifay comment.

    Doesn’t teams being constantly bad have so much to do with previous GMs? Look at Huntington in Pittsburgh or Zduriencik in Seattle. Both came into General Management in terrible positions because of how worthless their predecessors were. (In Zduriencik’s case I am only referring to Bavasi). In many cases they are left rebuilding for several years just to get back to a place of mediocrity.

    If MLB would ever relegate these teams wouldnt it be be unfair to people like Huntington and Zduriencik who are stuck basically trying to build a franchise from the ground up? Wouldn’t relegation just promote a push for a quick fix or short term success instead of building a team that can compete for many years, instead of just one?

    Comment by Joe — May 5, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  42. That would be a nice change from the old days, when the KC Athletics were the Yankees’ AAA team.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 5, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  43. There’s another way to use it?

    Comment by Justin Bailey — May 5, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

  44. As the name of the eastern half of the Roman empire that survived until 1453 whose overly complex and sometimes self-defeating political machinations is what the adjective used here derives it’s meaning from?

    Comment by ms — May 5, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  45. The whole motivation behind this is article is fixing the revenue sharing system, specifically for the small market teams that pocket the cash. It makes sense for small market teams to save money and refuse to spend on players in rebuilding years, then increase payroll in a year when they feel their team is ready to contend. This has been true for teams like the Rays, Indians, and A’s; they’ve gutted payroll some years, but spent when they felt the team was ready to contend.

    Instead of having the big market teams give the small market teams money, they could give the money into a large pool to MLB. Ths small market teams would be granted a yearly “small market exception.” So if revenue sharing says a team gets $10 million, they get a $10 million exception for one year. This exception could be used for any of the following:

    1. Signing a free agent
    2. Acquiring a player in a trade
    3. Signing a draft pick

    The exception can also be broken up into several pieces (sign a draft pick for $4 mill, 2 free agents for $3 mill). Any money unused in the exception would get returned to the teams that put money into revenue sharing.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Comment by Bascinator — May 5, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

  46. Thank you for taking the time to respond. These posts are meant to stimulate conversation and it’s important for writers to let their readers know they are willing to back up what they write.

    I’m not sure how you can fluke a world series win though. With the way the divisions are set up you can certainly fluke into a playoff spot, but you gotta have some talent to win it all.

    And your points about spending money=wins is, when taken at snap shot, is correct. But when you start inserting variables (market size, length of competitiveness, wins per dollar spent and proportionate risk) it becomes rather blurred.

    Buying Cliff Lee, Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford this past off season would certainly provide some wins and maybe a shot at the playoffs, but you also tie up hundreds of millions of dollars for several seasons with no guarantee that the team can win. (Houston is a PRIME example of a team making huge signings that lead to a few years of sustained success and a bleak future). Plus it makes it difficult to retain homegrown talent in the short term. Teams like the Sox, Yanks and Cubs can take those kinds of hits and continue forward regardless of how they pan out.

    I’m not going to defend a team like the Pirates for being fearful of spending money (ultimately you need good players to win, and good players cost money) but I disagree when someone says “team x will never win because they don’t spend”. It’s a two way street and teams like the Marlins/Rays and Mets/Cubs prove it.

    The road to winning is different for every major league club. Nothing is etched in stone.

    Comment by Ryan S — May 5, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

  47. As this is a stats blog, and baseball generally values its stats and records quite a bit, I’m surprised nobody’s asked what relegation would mean for stats. Say the Royals got relegated back when they had Grienke. Against AAA competition, Grienke has the greatest pitching season of all time (of all time!), striking out like 900 batters and racking up 100 WAR. How do we look at that? What happens after he’s finished his brilliant career and he’s up for HoF consideration? “Yeah, Grienke had 300 WAR, which is completely nutso, but 255 of it was against AAA competition while the Royals were relegated for 3 years.”

    Obviously an exaggeration. You could see similar issues if baseball were split into a “first” and “second” division (blah blah blah AL East blah blah blah replacement level is already different between leagues blah blah blah).

    Under the European football system, as I understand it (not well), Grienke would probably be “loaned” to a first-division club instead of toiling in AAA with the Royals… I have no idea what the mechanics of that transaction are… but I have this vague notion that loaning serves a similar purpose to minor-league call-ups in promoting good players out of obscurity…

    I’m pretty much just rambling at this point, but… is it really fair to fault small-market teams for failing to succeed at MLB? It’s hard to make money when rebuilding, and rebuilding can fail even when you make the right moves. Given that we have the minor-league system, isn’t the real solution to all the problems that are actually problems to allow teams absolute freedom to move wherever they want? Split the NY market up like 6 ways instead of 2, let the As move to SJ, etc? I guess this wouldn’t really make KC/Oak/Pit fans any happier.

    Comment by Al Dimond — May 5, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  48. In our conversation, Leo Martin raised one other caveat: fans of relegated teams might permanently defect to other sports.

    I feel bad for European sports fans. Futbol is more or less the only major team game in town. And in the premier league, what, only 5 teams or so have come in the top 3 in the past 20 years? You either have to root for the Lakers/Celtics/Yankees, or root for a mediocre year.

    Comment by Travis — May 5, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

  49. I would love to know what made you think Melo “intentionally dogged it and demanded a trade.” He did neither. He was a pending free agent and refused to sign an extension, that is all. The only team he would sign an extension for was the Knicks, and that is his right. In fact, it is remarkable how little he commented on the entire situation, so I have no idea what made you say those ridiculous, untrue things.

    Comment by Alan — May 5, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

  50. You mean…Byzantium? Byzantine IS an adjective.

    Comment by Oscar — May 5, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  51. Actually I don’t agree at all. One very small, not drastic or even controversial method could probably solve everything – just slightly change the rules regarding use of revenue sharing funds, like by introducing a floor or some other mind-numbingly simple change and viola.

    Comment by Calogero — May 5, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  52. “They’ve been in the bottom seven every single year, except for 2001 and 2003, when they were 18th and 19th in baseball.”

    But haven’t they been in the bottom seven in revenue, too? And it’s not like there’s been any year that they would’ve made the playoffs if only they’d shelled out for some free agents; the only year they were in contention was 1997, when they weren’t eliminated until the last week, and when Albert Belle made more than the whole team put together.

    I’m not seeing the argument that a team that’s at the bottom in revenue shouldn’t be close to the bottom in payroll.

    Comment by matt w — May 5, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  53. “apropos of Major League Baseball’s takeover of the Los Angeles Dodgers — as well as the impending sale of the Houston Astros and part of the New York Mets, teams owned by two of the worst owners in sports — it’s worth re-examining the tools that baseball has to ensure that clubs remain competitive and well-run.”

    So the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros have awful owners — criminal or near-criminal in the first two cases — and your solution is to relegate the Pirates, Nationals, Royals, or Orioles. How is this not a crashing non sequitur?

    Comment by matt w — May 5, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  54. oh, so the team that just grossly overpaid for Jason Werth and has made similar offers to players but been rejected nearly every year they have been around does not spend enough? I have never read a more wrong article in my life!!!!

    How about you stop complaining and actually go and look at the real problem. If you are a small market team you can make errors in judgement on players that negatively affect you for years. If you are a large market team you can’t. Assuming luck with players is stochastic (and by all evidence it seems to be) then small market teams can simply through trying to spend money then getting unlucky once make themselves serious losing teams for a decade. Would you take that risk with your own money? It is not a fair playing field. Teams with less money have to be much better than large market teams to win period. It can happen with some luck and skill, but it wont happen that often.

    Comment by kick me in the GO NATS — May 5, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

  55. What about this idea: Rank teams from 1-30 on average cost per win, and then split the revenue sharing based on the rankings (i.e. most efficient team gets the biggest cut). Sure, this hurts big spending teams, but do they really need big revenue sharing paychecks in the first place?

    Comment by Nolan — May 5, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

  56. Indy isn’t a small market for basketball.

    Comment by BlackOps — May 5, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

  57. It was a rhetorical question, ms.

    Comment by Justin Bailey — May 5, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

  58. Mets have had their best period of sustained success in franchise history in the last ~5 years and they still didn’t make the world series. Speaks more on how hard it is to win rather than “money isn’t the be all end all” of baseball. Obviously it isn’t, but teams with high payrolls are almost always in the top half of the league.

    Comment by BlackOps — May 5, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

  59. “assuming that the goal of a well-run team is to play the existing revenue sharing system to make the biggest profit possible.”

    The idea is that it isn’t. The goal of posts like this is to make baseball more competitive, and going into it you have to think success = winz, not profit.

    Comment by BlackOps — May 5, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

  60. i see what you did there…

    Comment by fredsbank — May 5, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

  61. so a team like tampa gets to beat the crap out of the competition in the lower league, while the upper league muddles around .500 baseball for too-fierce competition?

    Comment by fredsbank — May 5, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

  62. Alex, while there is no doubt that the MLBPA is a powerful collection of people. The national Teachers Union is the most powerful union in America, hands down.

    Comment by TLD — May 6, 2011 @ 12:05 am

  63. In the short term this may inspire teams to spend more, but in the long term it would likely hurt teams that dont compete every year instead. Wins and attendance clearly have a direct correlation. But what would happen to attendance numbers if fans already knew in advance that their team had no chance?

    Comment by TheGrandslamwich — May 6, 2011 @ 12:25 am

  64. “And the Mariners probably wouldn’t have wound up on the above list if Bill Bavasi hadn’t been seduced by Erik Bedard.”

    I don’t buy this statement. The Bedard trade, as bad as it was for the Mariners, was NOT what has made the team terrible for most of the last five years. It was all the other stuff Bavasi did, the bad drafting, trades, and free agent signings that has led to where they are today.

    Comment by MGP — May 6, 2011 @ 12:41 am

  65. now you’re not basing this on the Forbes’ data are you? That would be quite an error in forming you argument.

    Here’s a start……TV money.

    Comment by hans — May 6, 2011 @ 12:58 am

  66. Did Jayson Werth have to consider the possibility that the Nationals may be relegated during the duration of his contract? Answer this and then reread the original comment to witch you are responding.

    Also, your last couple of sentences is a untrue. The Nationals can continue to be “willing” to spend money but without the money available now that they have signed Werth they will not be able to attract top talent, even if they are “willing” to pay a surcharge….because although they are in Washington and you might think they can print money there, they can’t and they won’t be able to sign the next Jayson Werth.

    Comment by hans — May 6, 2011 @ 1:10 am

  67. Sure, it’s his right. But he was a seasonlong distraction in Denver till he finally got traded. I’m not saying he broke any rules, but I certainly don’t have to admire him for it.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 1:37 am

  68. Adjusted stats are supposed to be able to take into account the level of competition, though. So Greinke’s 100 WAR in a Quad-A league should be translatable to the majors, where we could see that he would have only earned about 6-7 WAR if he were on the Royals or Brewers.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 1:41 am

  69. You’re right, I should have made this more explicit. But, in my view, the difference is this: in the case of the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros, the horrendous ownership situations may well be resolved by new ownership. If the problems continue — and the teams lose for 20 more years — then relegation might be worth considering. In the case of the Pirates, Royals, Orioles, and Nationals, teams who have sucked for well over a decade, that breaking point has already arguably been reached.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 1:44 am

  70. Fair enough — but the Bedard trade was arguably the worst trade in the raft of bad trades that Bavasi made over those years. (Though I won’t dispute you if you say the Choo trade was worse.) It was very representative of Bavasi’s extreme inability to properly value players — and his inability to understand that the 2007 team was much more lucky than good.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 1:46 am

  71. Relegation, yes, but not relegation for whole seasons at a time.

    Relegation works if it is designed as an in-season fixture. I’ve thought and written extensively on the topic, but giving you a Readers’ Digest version, you would have 4 months of in-league play that would serve to determine the 10 best NL teams and 10 best AL teams… the other 10 who do not make the cut go into their own pool and are relegated to play the last two months in games against one another, with the best record winning some recognition of some kind… it, at least, gives them something to play for… then, August becomes a one-month pool and another 10 teams follow the same, though separate, path of the first 10 cut… leaving the top 5 NL teams to vie against each other and top 5 AL teams to vie against each other for a top 2 position and the right to play in the League Championship Series. Then, make the LCS a best 5/9 and the WS a best 5/9.

    Comment by _sturt_ — May 6, 2011 @ 1:53 am

  72. Alex, I don’t think English soccer (or any European / South American league) ever had a salary cap. The reason finances have skyrocketed recently is because of, among other things, the Bosman ruling, which basically eliminated European soccer’s reserve clause.

    Comment by David — May 6, 2011 @ 2:05 am

  73. I don’t know. The richest team in England is Queen’s Park Rangers (their largest shareholder, Lakshmi Mittal, has a net worth of $31.1 billion), who play in the 2nd division – they only just secured promotion to the Premier League last week (well, pending the Faurlin hearing, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion).

    On the other hand, Arsenal (who are currently in 3rd place of the EPL, and were fighting for the title for most of the season) are one of the most frugal teams in the league. In fact, they are the only team in England that have made a net profit on buying / selling players over the past 5 years. In contrast, Manchester City spent a net total of over $1 billion over those years and will be happy to finish in 4th place.

    Comment by David — May 6, 2011 @ 2:16 am

  74. Hey, I’m a fan of the Redskins, Wizards, and Orioles, and I defected to a team in the English Premier League. You shouldn’t feel bad for European soccer fans – they might only follow 1 sport, but there are 5 extremely competitive, high-quality national leagues, along with the Champions League, and national team competitions that actually matter.

    And actually, fans of teams in the English lower leagues are fanatically devoted. Newcastle, for instance, got relegated two years ago but still sold out their stadium almost every game they played in the 2nd division. I’m pretty sure there are soccer teams in England that get more supporters in a year (~25 home games) than my Orioles get over the course of 81 home games…

    Comment by David — May 6, 2011 @ 2:21 am

  75. I’m guessing the Orioles are only on that list because Peter Angelos owns MASN, the TV / radio network that covers Orioles and Nationals games. We have actually spent a lot of money (unwisely in my opinion) on free agents in the past, including Belle, Tejada, Sosa, Ramon Hernandez… the problem is that we have not had a GM, until Andy MacPhail, who had the brain to actually go through a serious rebuilding phase (and even now, when we should still be restocking the farm system, we spent $30 million on Lee, Vlad, and Gregg).

    Comment by David — May 6, 2011 @ 2:25 am

  76. As someone who’s a rather big fan of the EPL, Arseanl

    Comment by Jovins — May 6, 2011 @ 3:08 am

  77. As someone who’s a rather big fan of the EPL, Arsenal spends more money then all but 3 teams on salaries. Their transfers are generally profitable, but they still spend more money (and have higher revenues) then almost any other team.

    Comment by Jovins — May 6, 2011 @ 3:09 am

  78. Comparing the World Series results to the Premier League championship results isn’t apples-to-apples. The WS comes from an 8-team playoff crapshoot, while the Premier League title is a straight top-of-table regular-season title. The list of regular-season “champions” in MLB since 1995 consists of the Yankees, Braves, Indians, Cardinals and then a few one-season performers like the Mariners and Angels. That’s not a particularly broad swath, despite being aided by revenue sharing and the amateur draft. For what it’s worth, the most comparable English football title is the FA Cup, which features the same familiar cast but adds Liverpool as a recurring champion and Portsmouth as a recent one-shot.

    Of course, any attempt to compare MLB to the Premier League gets absurd very quickly. The scope and rewards of English football could hardly be more different. For example, MLB teams exclusively play each other in the regular season, followed by the playoffs. Premier League teams, on the other hand, will concurrently:

    1. Play a 38-game home/away regular season schedule, with the winner crowned the Premier League Champion.

    2. Play several (occasionally as few as one) matches in the single-elimination FA Cup competition, which is a true Open including every pro and amateur side in England.

    3. Play several (possibly as few as one) matches in the single elimination League Cup, which involves all the teams in the top four English pro leagues (ca. 92 teams).

    4a. The top four finishers in the previous year’s Premier League play in the UEFA Champions League, against other elite European pro teams. This is six games in the Group Stage alone, followed by more if the team advances to subsequent rounds. The rewards for participation in this extracurricular league are huge, including prizes for winning individual matches: “As of 2010–11, UEFA awards €2.1 million to each team in the play-offs round. For reaching the group stage, UEFA awards €3.9 million, plus €550,000 per group match played. A win in the group is awarded €800,000 and a draw is worth €400,000. In addition, UEFA pays teams reaching the first knockout round €3 million, each quarter finalist €3.3 million, €4.2 million for each semi-finalist, €5.6 million for the runners-up and €9 million for the winners.”

    4b. The fifth through seventh finishers (or the FA Cup and League Cup titlists, if not already included) in last year’s Premier League participate in the UEFA Europa League, basically a second-tier version of the Champions League.

    5. In addition, most pro footballers declare eligibility for their home nation’s international side (actually sides, since each nation fields regular, Under-21 and Under-19 teams). There are several gaps built into the English pro schedule to accommodate this. At lower pro levels, matches are often rescheduled when a team faces international “call-ups.”

    So English football involves a much broader variety of competitive activity, in a less regulated league environment. It’s really an ecosystem of teams and players within a larger international ecosystem, rather than the insular and tightly controlled cartels we see in American pro sports. Because their revenue opportunities interact across so many league and national boundaries, they’ve tended to “let a thousand flowers bloom” in terms of organizing and controlling their sport. So there’s no salary cap in the Premier League, and also only about four realistic contenders for the title each season. On the other hand, the story of Man United’s recent successes is arguably deeper and richer than that of the Yankees. Man U. participates in a far wider range of competition as a team, while its individual players also participate in a wider range of competition. So both the team and its players have a much greater international profile, and are competing as sportsmen in a very different way. Even a team facing relegation, like West Ham United, is far more interesting than the Astros–they’re playing critical games right now, and will have tough decisions to make whether they “stay up” or not. For me, raising the stakes like that makes the question of competitive balance in their sport less important, or even moot. I find that the more I pay attention to English and international football, the less I care about competitive balance issues in baseball. It has taught me to enjoy teams other than “my” team, and to develop interest in achievements beyond winning championships.

    The best opportunity for relegation in American pro leagues is probably the MLS/A-League structure, but current and prospective MLS owners expect a guarantee of participation in the top league. All the other major leagues provide that guarantee to investors, so forgoing it would make it comparatively difficult to raise capital. That’s a bridge too far for a league that already faces significant challenges to establishing and growing its stable of teams.

    Comment by Jim — May 6, 2011 @ 3:16 am

  79. Wouldn’t the Rays have been included on that list if you had written this article, say on May 5, 2008? Franchise fortunes can change.

    Comment by Joel — May 6, 2011 @ 3:37 am

  80. Oh, I must have missed that part. I did think it was odd you didn’t consider it, since this problem actually isn’t something I came up with on my own; I heard someone else use it as an objection.

    Anyway, I would imagine that eventually you’d need promotion, since you’d keep eliminating teams. Also, MLB teams need MLB-sized revenue to keep them financially viable so they can get back to the proper level of play. Relegating them to a separate league means even less money coming in and I doubt owners would be too keen on spending a lot once teams got relegated, especially with the kind of losses they’d incur.

    Perhaps the point was less valid for the Royals and Pirates, but the Nats/Expos, Mariners, and Astros are not teams that have suffered from a lack of cash. Their payrolls are consistently high. The problem is that Bill Bavasi ran the M’s, Omar Minaya ran the Expos, and Ed Wade is running the Astros (to be fair, he was great in Philadelphia). And the Royals’ problems have had more to do with Dayton more than David Glass, just as the Pirates’ problems had more to do with Dave Littlefield than money. Would more money help those teams? Absolutely. But the reason the Padres, Marlins, Rays, and A’s are successful isn’t because of payroll, it’s because they have great management. The Mets have $150M in payroll and can’t break .500 because of what Minaya did to that team.

    The ultimate point is that while money helps, only an infinite amount (or absolutely ridiculous amount, past the Yankees’ payrolls) will guarantee success. On the other hand, good talent evaluators can wring wins out of ridiculously small payrolls. These teams need to be employing the right front office people, not necessarily spending more. The problem is, of course, that it’s nearly impossible to accurately rate GMs and such – until a few months ago, Brian Sabean was one of the worst GMs in the game. One playoff appearance and championship later, everyone is applauding his drafting and midseason moves. The Pirates languished under years of horrible management, much of which was not identified as such until we could point to a history of terrible moves with the benefit of perfect hindsight.

    I mean, yeah, teams should spend more money, particularly low-payroll teams. The owners shouldn’t be using revenue sharing to turn a profit. But bottom line, the bad teams could be much better with no more money, and they could be just as bad with an extra $100M. It’s not about how much you have, it’s about how you spend it.

    Comment by quincy0191 — May 6, 2011 @ 3:37 am

  81. Mariners fans know that MLB is littered with quality Bavasi-era discards right now. It makes paying attention to other teams a little bit painful.

    Bavasi never had a 24-hour disaster on the scale of Woody Woodward’s 1997 deadline (Jose Cruz Jr. to Toronto for Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to Boston for Heath Slocumb), but he steadily emptied the organization in smaller deals.

    Comment by Jim — May 6, 2011 @ 6:53 am

  82. wrong, the players didn’t do anything, it was Moggi ;)

    Comment by BavarianYankee — May 6, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  83. Well said, only on a baseball website would such a lunacy be promoted. I mean it is interesting to think about, argue or whatever, but there are people who actually believe this should happen. Baseball always has to be different. “We don’t need a salary cap, we don’t need a level financial playing field, we already have parity. Look at the NBA/NFL, only 5 teams win every 20 years, see financial parity makes parity on the field worse, blah, blah, blah, the quality of product goes down, yada, yada, yada.” The Yanks have a payroll 4x as much as the Pirates, there is no logical way you can tell me that is fair.

    You want to find a way to kill baseball in every “relegated” market, then implement this policy. But my guess is that anyone who actually wants this to happen doesn’t live in Pittsburgh, KC, Washington, etc. Why any of the “fans” of the big market teams cares in the least how much money the Pirates/Royals/etc make is beyond my comprehension. And why they care how much money the Yanks/Sox/Cubs share is also beyond my comprehension. It isn’t your money, why are you so worried about it?!

    And if you’re so worried about the owners pocketbooks you should be in favor of a salary cap, the Steinbrenners will get to keep millions more. But my assumption is that no one cares about owners paying luxury tax, and other owners “stealing” money. They just want their teams to keep their comparative advantage. It would be refreshing to once hear a Yanks/Sox/Cubs/etc fan come out and say it, because we all know it’s true. Why else would people come with such crazy ideas as “relegating” teams?

    Comment by Justin — May 6, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  84. It’s also fair to note that the Nats have a pretty big market, can potentially spend a lot of money in future years and have a really good, young core of players both in the majors and coming up through the system. They’ll probably be competitive in 2012 or 2013, whilst Werth is still more or less in his peak.

    I’m not really convinced their historical crappiness is particularly relevant to Werth deciding to play there in the future. I’d say, in terms of potential success in the next 5 years, they’d be in the top half of MLB.

    Comment by Felonius_Monk — May 6, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  85. The biggest factor in the disparity of QUALITY in European football is the transfer system and the lack of a draft.

    Comment by Felonius_Monk — May 6, 2011 @ 8:59 am

  86. “in the case of the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros, the horrendous ownership situations may well be resolved by new ownership. If the problems continue — and the teams lose for 20 more years — then relegation might be worth considering. In the case of the Pirates, Royals, Orioles, and Nationals, teams who have sucked for well over a decade, that breaking point has already arguably been reached.”

    But think about what this means for your argument. With the teams in large markets with large revenue streams, their problems are due to mismanagement by current ownership and can be solved by new ownership. If the problems with the other teams came from their ownership, it could also be solved by forcing changes in ownership. It doesn’t matter how long the problem has been allowed to fester; if ownership is the problem, then the problem can be solved by changing ownership. Relegation is still a non sequitur.

    And maybe it would be a good idea to force Angelos or Glass to sell; I don’t know. But the Pirates, as I’m sure you know if you’re writing this article, were sold in 1996, and changed their principal owner again in 2007 when Bob Nutting became principal owner, forced out Kevin McClatchy, and appointed a new president and GM. And obviously the Expos/Nats have had changes in their ownership.

    So if the problems continue under different ownership, then ownership isn’t the problem. And there’s no point in seeking to punish the owners by relegating the team. You could say that if a team can’t be competitive no matter what its owners are, then you should relegate them, but then you wouldn’t be able to make a moral argument about misbehaving owners.

    In any case, bad owners give you no argument for relegation; they give you an argument for forcing sale of the team.

    Comment by matt w — May 6, 2011 @ 9:09 am

  87. This would have been awesome for the Rays in 2008. 97 wins and you don’t even have the opportunity to make the playoffs.

    Comment by Drakos — May 6, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  88. By the way: “They’ve been in the bottom seven every single year, except for 2001 and 2003, when they were” so deeply in debt that the league office forced them to trade Aramis Ramirez (a trade that really crippled the team, though partly because Littlefield was an idiot and botched the return).

    You can’t really argue that the Pirates’ low payroll is due to stingy ownership under these circumstances.

    Comment by matt w — May 6, 2011 @ 9:17 am

  89. David, I think you may be right. However, there was a maximum wage in England for soccer players till about 50 years ago.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  90. I live in Washington, and I have a lot of family in Pittsburgh. I care about the Pirates and the Nationals — not nearly as much as Jonah Keri cared about Les Expos, but still — and I want to see them thrive. I think a salary cap, or forcing an owner who isn’t already insolvent to sell a team, are just about as far-fetched as relegation. But there are teams who have been horrendously served by their ownership, and it’s worth talking about what could possibly be done to help them.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  91. In their entire franchise history, the Rays have never had a playoff drought as long as the Orioles, Nationals, Royals, or Pirates.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 10:14 am

  92. Matt, I hear what you’re saying, and you’re making a good point — changes in ownership have not raised the Pirates’ success. But that’s precisely why I’m proposing changing the financial incentives. In the present system, a new owner of the Pirates is faced with the same financial choices as the last: if he pockets revenue sharing and spends no money on the field, he can make a profit. Until that’s changed, changes in ownership won’t necessarily fix the problem.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  93. Relegating would give the bad teams a HUGE incentive to get better i.e. spend their money better. I don’t think relegation is a solution for improving parity (I think it would probably worsen it actually), per se, but it should improve the lack of efficiency. Do you think if there was relegation since the 1950s that people still would not have realized the importance of OBP until the 90s? Another way to improve efficiency would be to remove government funding for stadiums.

    Comment by imabookie3 — May 6, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  94. Lots of great comments. Here is why a floor doesn’t work:

    should KC really be signing random free agents and blocking their prospects’ access to MLB just to reach some floor? If they can’t realistically compete this year, shouldn’t they bank some money and then use it on signing bonuses next year or the year after when they are more likely to compete (not that I see evidence of teams or companies or governments doing this….)?

    Comment by mike wants wins — May 6, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  95. Yes the NBA has a level financial playing field, and I can give one great big example that no one can dispute. The San Antonio Spurs have 4 championships, the Dallas Mavericks have 0.

    Comment by TJ — May 6, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  96. I do disagree with the fact that you strictly claim that the Pirates failure has do with the fact that the owners have refused to spend money. Honestly if you are owning a team, and you have it on the brink of bankruptcy, then why would you put your team further in debt by buying all sorts of high priced free-agents that will do your team no good. That is not good business sense for the long term and is how teams like the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros mess up their financing and have to sell off parts or all of their teams.

    The Pirates seemingly have been trying to stabilize financing, build a core to compete with, and then spend money when they can compete. What is the point to spend and extra 10 million for a 2 WAR pitcher and go 70-92 when you can spend 6 million to hopefully get a future ace. Their dialogue and hopefully sometime long term extension with players like Cutch should hopefully show that they will spend money when it makes sense to. Spending money to simpley spend money is not a sound business strategy.

    Comment by Andy — May 6, 2011 @ 11:21 am

  97. Not that I favor actually doing this, but you have outlined an awesome plan for doing it. That must have taken some real thought. At the same time, your plan would solve the unbalanced leagues problem (i.e. 14 and 16).

    Comment by GiantHusker — May 6, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  98. The name of the empire based in Constantinople for more than 1000 years was “The Roman Empire.” “Byzantine” is something historians came up with for some bizarre reason.

    Comment by GiantHusker — May 6, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  99. Even if the Nationals stay in the basement for the next 7 years, Werth knows he’ll be playing against the best. Roy Halladay, Tommy Hanson, and Josh Johnson are going to make a lot of starts against even their weakest divisional rivals. I doubt Werth would find it as fulfilling to spend the rest of his career going up against AAA pitchers, even if that pushes his numbers up.

    Comment by Greg — May 6, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

  100. The floor could be structured similar to the luxury tax. A team could remain under the floor for a set number of years, but if they do not start reinvesting more back into player salaries they could incur revenue sharing penalties.

    Just an idea. Im not sure if I advocate it myself though.

    Comment by TheGrandslamwich — May 6, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  101. “disincentivize”? If I had a dictionary with that word in it, I wouldn’t know if I should just throw it out or if I would be compelled to burn it.

    Instead of “a way to disincentivize owners…” try “a disincentive to owners…”

    Comment by Barkey Walker — May 6, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  102. Base revenue sharing money on current value * (number of wins – 48) * 3%.

    You might want to alter the formula to take competition difficulty into account, but pay for wins, not for existing!

    The all replacement team should be able to win 48, given the draft any competent general manager can do better than that even with rather bad luck. But the wins are what you’re paid for, not existing, and not otherwise gaming the system to look like you’re making more than you are.

    Comment by Doug Lampert — May 6, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  103. You’re right. It was one of his worst moves. But at least the M’s were getting a quality player back. The Choo trade looks terrible now, but for my money the worst was the Horacio Ramirez-Rafael Soriano trade.

    Comment by MGP — May 6, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

  104. What about a salary FLOOR? Kind of like “You must be this tall to ride this ride”, but instead, “you must spend X number of millions each year to own this team”? At least by setting a floor of, say, $70-75 MM, it (theoretically) encourages parity AND forces cheapskates like Loria to actually spend their revenue sharing bucks on the teams. As much as I loathe Peter Angelos as an owner of my Birds, the guy is much more willing to spend than ownership in Pittsburgh, KC, Oakland, Tampa, and Florida/Miami. Unfortunately, this makes him more inclined to meddle. Reminds me of my OTHER favorite team’s owner, Dan Snyder.

    A lot of people may cry foul and complain that that sort of payroll is unsustainable for smaller-market teams, but let’s be honest: contraction should be on the table. Especially now that MLB is pretty evenly split between AZ & FL for spring training, AND the sport is played in two of the hottest states during the warmest months of the year, it seems almost redundant to have big-league teams in these states. Why are the Suns/Heat/Magic/Cardinals/Dolphins popular? Because they play during the winter OR indoors. Expanding into both of those states at the big-league level diluted the talent pool AND the revenue streams for more established franchises.

    The D’backs, Marlins, Astros, Rays, and A’s have THREE World Series championships, SIX pennants, and a few Division titles since the Orioles’ losing streak began in 1998. And Baltimore still draws more fans to Camden Yards than most, if not all, of them. I’m not saying they “deserve” contraction any more than the Orioles do—the fans that DO go to the games deserve better than that.

    I just think a salary floor, combined with a balanced schedule and the dissolving of Divisions to allow the 4 teams from each league with the best record to advance to the playoffs is the easiest way to maximize both parity AND revenue for everyone involved.

    And I know some people will say that getting rid of the divisions will in some way weaken rivalries, but can anyone HONESTLY imagine a scenario where Cards fans don’t hate the Cubs and vice versa, or Baltimore fans don’t hate the Yankees, or Yankees fans don’t hate Boston, or Mets and Phillies fans aren’t at each others’ throats? These rivalries didn’t just spring up in 1995.

    Comment by Matt — May 6, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  105. Fantastic comments. Appreciating accomplishments beyond championships is exactly right.

    Last year I ended up stuck in Germany due to the volcanic eruptions grounding most air travel, so I had almost a full week of free time to burn in Frankfurt. I got tickets to a Bundesliga match against Berlin. Berlin sat in last place and Frankfurt held about 10th with about 3 weeks to go–in other words I was the equivalent of a Mariners fan attending an Astros-Nationals game in late September. Or perhaps a Dolphins fan watching a Raiders-Lions game in Detroit since that analogy fits better.

    I paid almost $40 to sit in the nosebleed sections at one end of the arena, and the place was just about packed. I’ve been to few louder games in any sport. Partly that’s about passion, but it’s also because many more matches matter. Berlin did get relegated a few weeks later despite earning a draw, and Frankfurt still had an outside shot at a Europa League berth. The match is one of my favorite sports experiences of my lifetime.

    It never feels like gunning for 3rd place in your division in MLB is any sort of accomplishment, but for many European football clubs, achieving a 9th place finish in the league is a good accomplishment. The fans truly care about each rung of the whole ladder.

    Comment by Dan — May 6, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  106. I’m sorry to offend your sensibilities, and I admit it’s an unwieldy construction, but I believe it is a real word.

    http://www.oxfordadvancedlearnersdictionary.com/dictionary/disincentivize
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/disincentivize
    http://www.google.com/search?&q=disincentivize&tbs=dfn:1
    http://www.jargondatabase.com/Category/Business/DotCom-and-New-Economy-Jargon/Disincentivize
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=disincentivize

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 6, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  107. Pretty sure that’s how the Yankees still view the Royals… :)

    Comment by Jason B — May 6, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

  108. “The NFL salary cap never really did much to add parity to the NFL, anyway.”

    Yeah, this. It’s sort of common wisdom that NFL has this awesome parity for some reason, but often pointed out that baseball has had more and different playoff teams and champions than the NFL over the recent past. Just one of those myths that kind of took hold and the refutation hasn’t been forceful enough to get it disspelled.

    Comment by Jason B — May 6, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

  109. The Yankees don’t really trade with the Royals that much. They used to do it a good bit in the ’50s, dumping their crappy players and getting the Athletics’ good players, like Roger Maris.

    Comment by Alex Remington — May 7, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  110. Only in descriptive dictionaries (where it is a word because people use it). Not in places like American Heritage where a word is a word if good writers use/approve of it (their “usage panel”)

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disincentivize

    For sports writing, I think you are free to use whatever words you want. Obviously, even if it were not in a dictionary, the meaning would be lost on none, so I think you’re okay to use it from that perspective.

    Many consider the usage panel snooty, so I guess I’m a snoot. On that note, I apologize for having bothered you.

    Comment by Barkey Walker — May 7, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

  111. I hear Japan is having trouble hosting some of their games. Why don’t we fill the gap with Japanese teams instead of supporting the bad teams here. Just a thought.

    Comment by Sofla Baseball — May 12, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  112. In 1994 the Expos were the best team in baseball. It’s not their fault that there wasn’t any postseason that year.

    Comment by gonfalon — May 19, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  113. What an ignorant article. Since you’re so concerned about the Pirates’ spending, exactly which free agents should they have signed last offseason? The Pirates needed a starting pitcher, an upgrade at short, and a power bat, and ended up with Kevin Correia, nothing, and Lyle Fecking Overbay. Are you really suggesting that the Pirates should have pursued Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, and/or Adrian Beltre, and that there was any chance those players would sign with Pittsburgh at any price?

    In addition, you don’t mention where the Pirates have been spending their money lately, on amateur talent. The Pirates have spent more on the draft in the last 3 years than any other team, including many later-round overslot bonuses, and also spent well over $3M on Latin American players last year. When you are a team that probably can’t ever go above $80M in payroll, due to the size of its local TV contract, you have to be careful where you spend money. Without a league salary cap, building through a youth movement is the only way the Pirates can realistically ever hope to compete, and after years of mismanagement they are finally doing just that.

    Comment by gonfalon — May 19, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  114. I used to kind of like Fangraphs, but this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read on a legitimate baseball site. It would have been relevant 4 years ago, but since Bob Nutting took over the team, they’ve paid Pedro Alvarez, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia, no to mention being the highest bidder for Miguel Sano. They’re spending as much as or more in amateur talent acquisition as big market teams. They didn’t use to, but now they are, and your column is idiotic. At some point they’ll win, but even if they don’t, they’ve made an effort.

    Comment by DW — May 20, 2011 @ 10:27 am

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