This morning an interesting commentary piece by Rob Rains stumbled through my Twitter timeline. In the post, Mr. Rains argues that the Red Sox-Dodgers trade that was consummated this last weekend is unfair and illustrates what is wrong with the game. Mr. Rains states that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig should have blocked the trade with his super duper commissioner powers.
Let me start: I wholeheartedly disagree.
According to Rains, Selig didn’t block the trade because he loves his money and this is a way for baseball to become richer. Because he doesn’t care about competitive balance or the “integrity” of the game.
Do we remember this last NBA offseason when the league owned New Orleans Hornets were trying to trade their superstar player, Chris Paul, so that they could get a return on him before he walked away from the team in free agency? They had a three-team deal in place to send him to the Los Angeles Lakers. After being approved by both teams, the commissioner’s office stepped in to stop the trade after a number of league owners voiced their concerns to commissioner David Stern.
A week later, Paul was on the move anyway, this time to the other Los Angeles team, the Clippers, for a lesser return and deal that was much less attractive for New Orleans.
It can be argued that the league was acting as the owner of the team by stepping in to block a trade. However, I don’t see that argument as valid. No team owner is going to block a trade after all parties involved have agreed to it. If they’re going to squash it, they do that before it gets to that point. And other team owners asked the league to do something about it. It wasn’t until after this point that the league stepped in and blocked it.
The question, of course, now becomes at what point does the league step in to block trades in the interests of the small market teams? Why didn’t they block the trade of Dwight Howard to the Lakers this offseason? It was the same scenario. Howard wasn’t going to re-sign and the Orlando Magic wanted a return on him instead of letting him walk away.
When you utilize your power to block a trade, you need very clear and precise reasons for doing so because when you do, you will open a can of worms. Every trade from then on out will now be reviewed by the media and the fans to find any reason they think you should have blocked that one too. Just because you wield the power, doesn’t mean you should use it.
Furthermore, the idea of blocking a trade on the grounds of keeping a competitive balance in the league is specious. If you really want competitive balance, you should prevent American League teams from trading with National League teams. And winning teams from trading with losing teams. And well, probably even teams from trading at all. You wouldn’t want one team being able to pull off an advantageous trade.
There is very little competitive balance in baseball and there has never really been in any recent memory. The small market teams cannot contend using the same strategies as the large market teams. That’s why a team like the Tampa Bay Rays rely on their excellent player development system and keep only a few key players around. They can’t afford to drop $20 million a year on a free agent. A team like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, or Detroit can do that without much of a second thought usually.
Does this mean something is broken in baseball? That’s really open for debate. I feel there are changes baseball needs to make, but until they do, these are simply the economic realities of the game.
If Bud Selig had stepped in to block this trade, they would have had to weigh every other trade forever and determine whether to block it. It’s not like they dealt Adrian Gonzalez for a bag of peanuts and some cotton candy.
Rains says that Gonzalez would look really good in a Tampa Bay or Baltimore uniform. He would, but saying that ignores quite a bit about why this deal happened the way it did.
This trade was for Adrian Gonzalez the whole time. It was never about Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford. Mark Cuban, who is the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, was quoted as saying that when you trade your best player, you have to trade your worst contract along with it for it to make sense for you. The Red Sox did that.
Gonzalez wasn’t going to be traded without the Dodgers helping the Red Sox out with a few other high salary players. GM Ben Cherington was handcuffed by the budgetary constraints handed down by ownership and the contracts left him by Theo Epstein. He needed salary room to remake the Red Sox after a dismal season that showed the team needed to be broken up. Alone Crawford and Beckett weren’t going anywhere.
In return, it feels like the Dodgers got Gonzalez for a song. Their top pitching prospect Allen Webster, a few utility infielders, and about $60 million in salary this year and more than $250 million through 2018. Arguably though, that’s a lot of cash to blow through to get one player.
The Dodgers are banking on their future television contract to support this spending. The one that McCourt had worked out with FOX that was vetoed by Selig and Major League Baseball was valued as high as $170 million per season.
There is no doubt that the economics of baseball are screwed up. High dollar television revenues are becoming the key to success and the key to attracting talent in free agency. Their payroll has been artificially suppressed as well through the previous owners’ financial issues and fans electing not to suppor thim through it.
But until you solve the larger economic issues in baseball, it makes zero sense for Selig to block this trade. Because Selig blocking it doesn’t make it any more likely for Gonzalez to end up in Tampa or Baltimore or anywhere else. He ended up in Los Angeles because they could offer something no other team could,
The Dodgers will not win a Wild Card anyway. They will need to chase down the Giants, who started the season with $30 million more in payroll, for the NL West title. The Dodgers trail the second Wild Card by 1.5 games and the Giants by 2 games. Unless the Cardinals and Pirates collapse in the final 35 games of the season, their only hope is the division.
The Giants already gave them a gift as well, with the suspension of Melky Cabrera. Except the Dodgers haven’t taken advantage, instead being swept by the Giants and turning a 1 game lead into a 2 game deficit. The Giants are a good team. It’s going to take a good deal of luck for the Dodgers to win the division. And the Dodgers management will learn in a couple years that they can’t buy wins. Ask the Yankees. They’ve spent nearly $2 billion over the last decade and have one World Series win to show for it. Meanwhile a team like the Cardinals, in one of baseball’s 10 smallest markets, have spent half that and have twice as many titles.
Money doesn’t guarantee success. I won’t deny it helps, but it doesn’t guarantee it.