I was writing up some notes on Tuesday evening for my next MLB round-up column and it was a relatively modest list of news items. Knowing that I might need a distraction from the England friendly, I decided to leave writing it to Wednesday evening.
I was very glad I had made that decision when I looked at MLB.com over breakfast on Wednesday morning.
The Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins have agreed a blockbuster trade that will greatly raise the spirits of Blue Jays fans and further demoralise a Marlins fan base that has been kicked in the teeth time and time again.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick summed it up perfectly: “The franchise that knows no shame — and has a long and illustrious history of slashing and burning — has sunk to new and previously unimaginable depths”.
There is a place for considered rebuilding by teams that don’t have the highest payrolls. Sacrificing a few years to build up a collection of good young talent is a sensible strategy and we’ve seen recently how it has turned around the fortunes of the other Florida team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
However, what the Marlins are doing is little short of disgraceful from a sporting perspective. They are making a mockery of being called a Major League team in a way that is especially distasteful considering their circumstances.
What sort of an organization moves into a new $515m ballpark, in part paid for with $360 million in public money, and then completely blows up their roster – the Marlins have now dealt pretty much all of the estabilshed players earning more than the MLB minimum salary – less than a year after it has first opened?
Attendances didn’t rise as much as hoped in the first season of the new Marlins Ballpark, but it wasn’t simply the poor facilities in their previous home that were putting people off. The owner and Front Office have alienated many potential fans and the team often wasn’t performing on the field, giving fans an excuse to spend their money elsewhere.
The underlying problem here is that whilst we can all lambast the Marlins, because of the way MLB works they are exploiting an understandable strategy.
There is no penalty whatsoever for owner Jeffrey Loria and his Front Office to act in this way. They’ve got their ballpark and they’ll continue to rake in millions of dollars in revenue sharing money. If they didn’t think their team would really be competing for a playoff spot over the next couple of seasons, why bother to spend the money on the Major League payroll?
You could say they owe it to the fans and the integrity of the competition, but since when did such thoughts get in the way of making money?
It doesn’t feel right and it’s not right, yet MLB aren’t going to do anything about it so why should Loria care?
The safeguard against such behaviour in football is the threat of relegation. You cannot punt a season or two because if you go down your revenues plummet over night, as does the value of the business. With no true pyramid from which to promote another team, that’s never going to be an option in MLB.
I suspect there may be owners among the larger spending teams that would be quite happy to see some of the pooled money taken away from teams like the Marlins that are doing precious little to contribute to the pot, but we all know that’s not going to happen any time soon either.
The only potential way to stop a team acting in this way would be some sort of contractual clause that effectively forced an owner to sell the team in certain circumstances, such as lowering the payroll below a specific level. Whilst the MLB Commissioner’s Office does wield some power, for all intents and purposes it is there to do the bidding of the 30 ownership groups. The owners would have to approve such a clause and that’s as likely as a Norfolk Bronze turkey buying shares in Bernard Matthews.
MLB did effectively force former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to sell the team against his wishes recently but that sorry saga showed exactly how unfair the system can be. McCourt was a complete and utter embarrasment during his ownership and no sane person would let him run a bath, never mind one of the most historic sports teams in the world.
McCourt’s ultimate punishment was to sell the team, that he bought for $430m, for $2.15bn. Just like Loria, he’ll happily take all the negative publicity on his shoulders whilst trousering all the money.
One team’s blow-up is another team’s opportunity though and, to end on a positive note, the bounty received by the Blue Jays will make the AL East even more interesting in 2013.
Only a few days ago I was being a bit rude about General Manager Alex Anthopoulos in likening his signing of Maicer Izturis to buying a toaster. In fairness to myself, I didn’t know at the time that he was buying a toaster to complement a brand new fitted kitchen.