The sport appears without viable new markets -- ask Stuart Sternberg
and the very smart people who run the Rays -- so if the A's can't
move, they can become wards of the revenue-sharing system.
What Tampa has done in finishing ahead of the Yankees and/or Red Sox
three of the past four seasons is a testament to remarkable vision and
management, and with a core of exceptional young pitchers like David
Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. Think about the 2011 payrolls:
The Yankees were $216 million, Red Sox $174 million and the Rays at
$45 million, which means the spread between richest and poorest in a
very strong division was $171 million (or that the combined payrolls
of the Rays and Red Sox, second highest in the sport, was $4 million
more than the Yankees).
This winter the Yankees have been restrained, clearly relying on the
developmental system Brian Cashman has built. The Red Sox are
restrained, presently focused on remaining below the $178 million
Toronto has already shown restraint. Alex Anthopoulos is one of the
brightest, most aggressive general managers in the game, but from 2010
to 2011 the Blue Jays lowered their payroll 12.6 percent to $75.8
million, and indications are that there are further financial
restraints this winter.
Oh, the Jays will be good and competitive and fun, but in the long
cycle having a payroll a third of that of New York is a market
inequality that the new Draft structure will not address.
The money is on the coasts. The Angels are Los Angeles and they soon
will face the market challenge of the Dodgers. It is significant that
Frank McCourt can sell to whomever gives him the best deal, as opposed
to sales being coordinated by the Commissioner's Office and other
Whether it is Steve Cohen's group or the Mark Walter/Magic
Johnson/Stan Kasten group or a group headed by Dennis Gilbert, not
only is McCourt going to get market value, but the new Dodgers are
going to come charging. The difference between the NL West's highest
payroll, the Giants, and the lowest, the Padres, was nearly $80 million last year.
Where will that go? By Opening Day 2013, will the D-backs' payroll be
even half that of the Dodgers?
Look at the Angels with Pujols, with C.J. Wilson fitting in with Jered
Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, with the depth and/or market to
get a closer. Look at the Rangers, whether they make a run at Prince
Fielder, or not. If they sign Yu Darvish, a negotiation that likely
will go right to the wire, they will have a starting rotation that
would include 27-year old Alexi Ogando, 26-year old Matt Harrison,
Darvish, 25, Derek Holland, 26, Neftali Feliz, 23 and Martin Perez,
21. The Brothers Maddux will have a competitive staff for years,
Prince or no Prince.
Yes, Astros fans, this is a far different American League West than
when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito came along. Then, being
smart and creative could equate to competitiveness. Now, more than
half the teams have moved away from the bygone business principles
into the 21st Century; Tampa does it without capital, Texas is more
scary because it does it in a wealthy market. If the Rangers sign
Darvish and he turns out to follow the career path of Hideki Irabu
(which won't happen), they will survive, especially with their impending television deal.
If the Rays make the wrong calls on B.J. Upton or the wrong trade for
Wade Davis or Evan Longoria gets hurt, The Trop may look like a
foreclosed property. If the Indians don't compete in the next two
years, before so many of their best players are eligible for free
agency, who knows?
In the New Year, baseball would be enhanced by another glorious end to
the regular season and the postseason. It would be a great if the
Marlins, Nationals, Phillies and Braves were within two games of one
another on Labor Day, by which time the Mets finances were stabilized.
And even better if the Cubs, Reds, Pirates, Brewers and Cardinals were
all competitive in one Central, the Indians and Royals in the other.
The new season needs the Jays and Rays to challenge, the Yankees and
Red Sox to be within punching distance of one another, and for the
fans of the Dodgers and Mets to have hope.
Those are among the best-case scenarios, and there is legitimate hope
that in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Cincinnati, these are
brighter days, no matter if the days seem to be getting shorter.