Selig speaks

I was complaining yesterday that the absence of Hank Steinbrenner makes the Yankees kinda boring, even if his absence is actually a very good thing for the Yankees. I feel the same way about Bud Selig’s stubborn refusal to say silly, indefensible things in recent years. He was interviewed at length today, and didn’t say much of anything to angry up my blood.

Hey, who wouldn’t like a salary cap, but we tried and failed and it’s probably not essential anyway, he says. Yeah, a lot of rich teams are doing well this year, but that doesn’t always happen, and things are generally cool on the competitive balance front. While the Mets and a few small market teams are making themselves look foolish this year, there isn’t anybody out there these days who is totally running their franchise into the ground, he says. Obviously we can quibble with all of the generalities Selig offers, but we’re well past the days when he used to declare that black was white and then get outraged when he was trampled at the next zebra crossing. It’s almost enough to make me pine for 2002.

The one thing he does offer — and which he has offered repeatedly since the middle of summer — is that the owners are going to push for an international draft and a hard slotting system during the next round of CBA negotiations. I’ve gone on about this elsewhere, but my view is that the international draft is a theoretically defensible idea that, in practice would be very bad , and which might be hard to implement because foreign countries and teams that have spent a lot of money developing their international operations wouldn’t welcome it. At the same time, the hard slot is a theoretically bad idea that in practice may work out OK, and that will be much easier to implement because the players would probably welcome it. I predict that Bud and the owners will bat .500 on this one.

So there we are. The state of the game is generally OK. The economy sucks, but it didn’t seem to hit baseball quite as hard as people were predicting last winter. There is some labor stuff ahead, but mostly we’re going to sit back and laugh as the NFL tears itself apart next year.

It’s boring, but I’ll take it.

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  1. KR said...

    “Obviously we can quibble with all of the generalities Selig offers, but we’re well past the days when he used to declare that black was white and then get outraged when he was trampled at the next zebra crossing.”

    Does that mean that my trilogy of books, “Where Bud Went Wrong”, “Some More Of Bud’s Greatest Mistakes”, and “Who Is This Bud Person Anyway?” are no longer needed?

  2. Pete Toms said...

    @ KR – Me not a Selig hater.  MLB has had labor piece since 94, quite a notable accomplishment.  Bud has to get a lot of the credit for that.  Labor peace has come with record revenues, again Bud gets a lot of credit for that.  Ultimately anybodys opinion of Bud is determined by how they see the role of commissioner.  If you see the commissioner ( the position) as a COO, it is hard to quibble with Selig’s track record.  If you see the commissioner (the position ) as a guardian of the national pastime, whose role is to act “in the best interests”….well, that is a different thing.

    As for competitive balance….Coonelly and Attanasio both remarked last week that increased revenue sharing is necessary because of growing competitive disparities.  Yes, the big payroll (I think big market is sometimes a misnomer) clubs are largely dominating this season….but how much can we conclude from one season?  Only last season, TB was in the WS, the Brewers made the playoffs and IIRC, wasn’t it also the first season in many sans a 100 win or loss franchise? 

    Draft expansion to Latin America?  (this is really about 1 country, the Dominican Republic)  MLB is spending a LOT more on international free agents than it was only a handful of years ago.  The imposition of the draft in the DR is about MLB attempting to control player developments costs.  Same reason mandatory slotting is coming.  Both are a fait d’accompli (sic?).  MLB has known about fradulent ages, crooked buscones and rampant steroid use in the DR (and other countries, but the DR produces the most players easily) for a long time.  They’ve made it an issue with the press and the chattering classes because they’d rather not sully themselves by admitting that expanding the draft isn’t about the money they are paying these boys.

    And MLB is fine.  Yes, I don’t like a lot of it either (inter league, the WC even still the DH) but it is great entertainment and the best baseball league in the world.  The only thing we like more than baseball is complaining about baseball.

  3. Bob Tufts said...

    “We lived through a lot of [labor] trauma because we tried to get a salary cap. A lot of people are critical that we didn’t get one….”

    Bud, thanks for taking responsibility for the 1994-95 strike and MLB’s attempt to violate federal laws by imposing their own rules.

  4. Greg Simons said...

    @Pete – I believe KR’s comment was at least partly in jest so he could make a Douglas Adams reference.  Huzzah on that, BTW, KR.

    And it was 2007 that no teams won or lost 100 games.  Actually, no one broke 96 W/L, so everyone’s winning percentage was between .400 and .600.  Yep, competitive balance in baseball really needs fixin’.

  5. Mark Armour said...

    One of the things I have never liked about Selig is that he has spent a lot of his time as commissioner complaining about the game.  His reason for doing this was generally the next labor negotiation, so he had his reasons, but a lot of his statements (“most teams’ fans have no hope of the playoffs,” “the Red Sox will not be able to compete playing in this ballpark”) tend to hurt the problem more than help.

    This interview was good.  The fact that he focused on the positive portends well for the future, I think.

  6. Homophone Patrol said...

    “MLB has had labor piece since 94.”

    The NFL could use some of that piece, but everyone seems to want a bigger peace of the revenue pie.  They need an all-out piece festival, with bongo drums and hand-holding, Woodstock style, but with better hygiene.

  7. Connecticut Mike said...

    You know what would be nice?  The trading of draft picks.  In a lot of ways, it would mitigate the need for hard slotting.

  8. Pete Toms said...

    @ Greg – thanks for the correction, I wasn’t certain. 

    @ Homophone – I don’t think the NFL dispute is about revenue %, I think it is about owners’ ROI.  NFL owners (and I don’t feel sorry for them) are putting up a lot more of their own money and financing a LOT more debt to build new stadiums.  Govts and lenders aren’t as easy to do business with as they once were…..sooo, that doesn’t impact directly on the % of revenues the players are getting (it does boost revenues, which is also part of the issue) but it is a big issue for the owners.

    As for MLB, again the issue isn’t gonna be that the union members are getting too big a percentage (demand for free agents is in decline), it is that “rookies” (drafted & international free agents) are getting too much.  The veteran players are jealous and they will easily sell out the next generation for some short term gains.

    Piece out.

  9. J. McCann said...

    There is plenty of competitive balance in the NL, and not so much in the AL.

    It annoys me when owners complain how hard they have it that they have to give all this money to the greedy players.  But it sounds like hard slotting in the draft is on the way.  Of course, I don’t see how they could sign the truly talented 2 sport players then.

  10. Chris H. said...

    “Hey, who wouldn’t like a salary cap”

    The players, for a start.  As Klaw often points out, a salary cap is just a wealth transfer from the players to the owners.  It’s why MLB players make so much more than NFL or NBA players; notably, this wasn’t always the case in the NBA when the so-called “Larry Bird” exemption existed and Jerry Reinsdorf could pay Michael Jordan $36m for a year.

    In any case, I think a salary cap misses the mark.  If there’s one thing the sport has started learning over the last few years or so, it’s that by the time many players get to free agency and are ready for the big payday, they’re already approaching career apogee.  You simply cannot build a long-term competitive team via free agency.  Oh sure, you might build a powerhouse for a few years, but then your guys with 5-6-7 year contracts hit their decline phase, just when they’re costing you the most.

    I think if you look at most low-revenue teams that haven’t succeeded, you might find that an inability to sign big free agents is neither the primary nor secondary cause of their woes.  If you can’t scout/draft/sign amateurs/develop prospects well, you will have a tough time being competitive for any period of time regardless of payroll.

    I’m not saying money doesn’t help; it does.  It lets you buy your way out of problems, sign that ace, whatever.  I just don’t see the benefits of a cap outweighing the negative aspects.

    Same with the draft.  I don’t want hard slotting, nor do I want an International draft; in fact, I’d just as soon abolish the whole draft.  The whole point of the draft is to keep salaries down, as a draftee can only negotiate with his draftor.  I’m more or less a free-market-ish guy so I’d prefer to see the market decide what they should be paid.

    As it stands, the push for hard slotting is so you don’t have situations where a team passes on a guy due to signability issues, right?  Like when the Twins passed on Mark Prior (the consensus best pick) and were forced to take Joe Mauer instead because Mauer wouldn’t have the salary demands Prior did.  (The Twins should be damned happy of that, I would guess.)  But the grand total of bonuses handed out is pretty small compared to overall payrolls, right?

    I mean…I can’t find a list that would give me the grand totals for all draftees, but from 2007-2009 the first round appears to have averaged ~$70m in total bonuses/contracts.  Divide that by 30 teams, and you’re talking, what, $2.33m per team?  Even if you figure it ends up being $10m/team once you add all the rounds in…that’s not very much money, even for small-revenue clubs.  I fail to see why this needs “fixing” by hard slotting, etc.

    (I do like the idea of trading draft picks, though.)

  11. Bob Tufts said...

    Exactly Chris H. – teams control a player completly from when they sign their first contract until they are eligible for arbitration. After six years they could lose control due to free agency.

    If you assume a three year minor league internship and prefer to sign college players, the player makes the major leagues at 24, isn’t eligible for arbitration until 27 and reaches free aganecy at 30. Until age 30 that player will be paid sub-market rates and the club can earn excess returns on the player’s performance and contribution to wins due to the existing salary constraints.

    If you prefer to draft high school players, the numbers drop to 21 (majors), 24 (arbitration) and 27) free agnecy.  You run into free agency at the apex of the player’s career and would have to spend huge sums of money to retain them and usualyy a longer term and riskier contract.

    The name of the game is to get players with limited negotiating power to contribute to the team and develop replacements via develpoment/drafting in order to increase the team’s options at that position.

    There is a huge economic incentive for MLB to develop college baseball as a de facto minor league and be similar to the NFL and NBA (well in the NBA, the high schools are now development leagues).

    And yes. allow trading of draft picks!!!

  12. Pete Toms said...

    @ Bob.  Agreed, the player development structure in MLB is a big problems for them in comparison to the other “stick and ball” leagues.  Both Andrew Zimbalist and Tom Werner are on the record pegging each clubs annual player development expenses @ $20 million ea.  Compared to NBA and NFL, where they pay zero.  What is gonna change in the next CBA is that veteran players are gonna get (or will think they are getting) a bigger piece of revenues and “rookies” are gonna get less.  I digress a bit, but this is the same (not the sole) motivation behind clubs moving and increasing investments in minor league affiliates.  Some minor league markets do very well and MLB wants in on that.

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