Friday, December 09, 2011

Bigger Picture

As I have read the accounts and analyses of the Albert Pujols divorce from the Cardinals and marriage to the Angels, I'm reminded of what I have always thought is the larger issue...Major League Baseball doesn't provide a level economic playing field for its teams.

Some scribes, especially a few who cover the Cardinals regularly, are grousing about the Cardinals' failure to get a deal done and a less-than-enthusiastic approach by management to the negotiations. A few seem to blame Pujols for spurning the opportunity to join the group of Cardinals Hall-of-Famers on Mount Redbird. Perhaps a little too close to the trees? Bernie Miklasz refuses to vilify anyone and points to the reasoned approach on both sides...essentially saying it's just too bad that something couldn't get done. I look at it this way...if the Cardinals really wanted to keep Albert, and why wouldn't they?, they should  not have had to be as concerned about a larger-market team with more resources being the major issue.

For many years now MLB has had their group of  "haves" and "have-nots". The Cardinals, only because of their fanatical fan base, fall somewhere in a gray area. They are a smaller market team that can walk a large-market walk only because they can rely on 3-million plus fans per year buying tickets. They don't have an enormous television deal, or any other of the myriad of revenue-producing options that would be available to them in the big 3 markets. (The Miami Marlins and their "funny money" offers were just an aberration in this market place.) Did anyone expect the Royals, Twins or anyone else not in New York, Chicago, Boston or Los Angeles to put a quarter-billion dollar offer on Albert's table? Nobody can prevent some teams, and their management groups from being stupid. (See-Mets; New York, Cubs; Chicago) But MLB's business model essentially says to the smaller market owners..."Welcome to our club. Oh, by the way, there's our mega-team cigar lounge over there that maybe someday you'll be able to use. Good luck."

The NFL, NBA and NHL have their salary caps. While cumbersome and annoying at times, they at least give the teams in their business a chance to compete fairly for players no matter the market size. MLB has a payroll tax. Who really thinks that stops the big boys from spending as much as they want on a roster? If the Yankees, Red Sox, and a few others want a player, and he fits their needs, they sign him. There's not much thought given to whether it fits the budget. What budget? But when Mr. Selig and his management boys figure out that some of their teams have absolutely no chance to compete, at least regularly, for the championship maybe something will get done to fix the imbalance. But I doubt it.

I admire Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak for putting an offer on the table to Albert that was reasonable, given their market conditions. I can't hate the Pujols/Lozano team for taking a better offer. The Cardinals had to do what made sense for their situation going forward, and I tend to think they knew there was a good chance that Pujols would go elsewhere. Whether the actions of Angel owner Arte Moreno and GM Jerry DiPoto are smart will be determined a few years down the road. But both of these teams are operating in a crazy economic set-up that needs to be fixed for the long-term health of the sport and so the Cardinals, or any team in a similar situation, and its super-star player shouldn't have to go through a long, drawn-out, and ultimately heart-breaking, process like this one. Competitive balance--a phrase MLB should get to know.

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