Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

After reading today’s piece about contraction in Major League Baseball and last month’s franchise worth analysis on the Toronto Blue Jays, I’m beginning to wonder if Forbes magazine doesn’t have about as much business writing about baseball as Baseball Prospectus does writing about mutual funds.

The newest culprit is Mike Azanian who raises the Tampa Bay Rays as a possible candidate for contraction based on poor attendance.

The harsh reality is the Rays still have no fan support despite winning the AL East two out of the past three seasons and making it to the 2008 World Series. Stuart Sternberg’s group has done a good job of turning the team around on the diamond and developing and trading for  young players since taking control in 2004. But the Rays have averaged only 23,000 at the gate the past three seasons even though prices have been slashed and in 2010 the team had the second-lowest ticket prices in the AL ($19.75).

Of course, Azanian doesn’t mention the enormous increases in television ratings that the Rays have experienced, up 70% in the last year, or the general period of prosperity that baseball is experiencing or the fact that it would likely cost billions of dollars for MLB to pursue contraction.

As Craig Calcaterra of HardBall Talk points out:

It would cost MLB owners over a billion dollars to pull it off in order to, what, save a few million here or there? It would lead to a knock-down-drag-out fight with both the MLBPA and multiple governments, all of which would severely impact the brand and potentially the cash flow of baseball at a time when everyone — even the people who run the poor teams — are getting rich. To suggest that the Lords of the Game would subject themselves to this now is beyond ridiculous.

Maury Brown of The Biz Of Baseball also calls hogwash on the entire article:

The MLBPA certainly had something to say about it in 2001 with the Expos and Twins, as they do today. Simply put, contraction equals laying off workers. Even if there were a dispersal draft, there would be less roster spots at the major league level, and even though they aren’t union members, the associated minor league clubs would be dissolved, as well. A source at the MLBPA confirmed that they would vigorously fight any attempt at contraction.

In addition to having a lease at Tropicana Field that runs to 2027, Brown also brings up the team’s television deal.

While Ozanian said that he doubts “there will be any baseball at Tropicana Field after 2014”, the fact is,the Rays reached an 8-year extension with FSN Florida in 2008, meaning that broadcast agreement won’t be expiring until 2016.

Brown summarizes his view as such:

Fat chance that contraction ever flies in Major League Baseball. At least, not anytime soon. The MLBPA won’t go for it. The cities that house the clubs  and the networks that air them will fight it. There are arguments that might be made that contracting the Rays, who have performed exceptionally well in the standings, but abysmally at the gate, should be relocated. Contracting them, even if it made sense, is an impracticality. Baseball needs to figure out its own problems with relocation before the hollow threat of contraction is passed around through the press.

While Calcaterra is a little more harsh with his final thoughts on the matter:

The Forbes piece is echo chamber nonsense. It is being perpetuated either by someone who does not understand the economics and politics of baseball or someone who is willingly carrying water for Major League owners looking to get some sort of a negotiating edge in the current round of CBA talks.  There is no way it’s happening now.

Azanian could be “carrying water” for two groups seeking a negotiating edge, MLB owners interested in getting leverage ahead of collective bargaining negotiations, as Calcaterra suggests above, or more specifically Tampa Bay owners seeking a new stadium, and trying to scare local politicians into funding it.  Brown explains this possibility:

In the end, isn’t this really about trying to [get] new stadiums built at taxpayer expense? It was the case with the Twins and Marlins, and it worked. Whether politicians are any wiser now than they were then remains to be seen.

It is kind of convenient that the Oakland A’s have been the other team mentioned in contraction talks with the Rays, and just as the last time contraction whisperings became noticeable, both rumoured teams are also seeking new stadiums. Perhaps a little too  convenient. While it will be interesting to see what the future for the Rays and Athletics hold, it’s unlikely to be contraction.