MLB Television Numbers Show Why Pirates Need Salary Cap to Compete

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The editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus, Craig Goldstein, put out a tweet about new MLB television contracts yesterday afternoon.  The original tweet (below) describes how national television contracts in 2022 will guarantee each team pulls in about $60 million.  Craig then went on to say that the average local contract is about $40 million.

The message behind the tweet was that each team should have a minimum payroll of $100 million based on these numbers.  If a team is making this amount just in television contracts then surely adding in ticket, food, alcohol, and merchandise sales would drive up MLB franchise profits even higher, right?  While I totally agree with Craig’s sentiment here, it is his follow-up tweets that have me very troubled.

When Craig was pushed further in the replies to clarify some of his tweets, he began to touch on individual team contracts.  All of these, of course, are estimates because only the team knows their true value, but based on information out there it is easy to estimate within $5-10 million.

Per Craig, the Marlins are estimated at $40 million, the Brewers in the mid-30’s, the Pirates around $40 million, and the Tampa Bay Rays at $89 million.  The Tampa number surprised me, but I guess that’s what consecutive great seasons does for your value. 

Then, the staggering tweet, that I’m not sure many are making a big enough deal about.  It is estimated that the Los Angeles Dodgers local deal is worth around $240 million.  $240 million.  Six times more than the Pirates.  This is absurd.

What’s more absurd, is that aside from a soft cap, the Dodgers ownership group is free to spend as much of this money as they want on their payroll.  Nobody recognizes the problem here?  Nobody??

However, a hard cap will never happen because the players bow down to the great Scott Boras, and the few lucky players that benefit from a lack of a true salary cap.  While 90% of the players would benefit from the salary floor that would be put in place with a salary cap, they will instead argue against the cap so three or four guys a year can get mega contracts.  Even though they have the perfect opportunity to make real change in the current CBA negotiations, the Player’s Union will continue to just cater to the top 5% of players and enact no real change.

So teams like the Pirates will continue to go into the season at a massive disadvantage because they have less people in their television contract radius.  Meanwhile, the Boston’s, New York’s, LA’s, and Chicago’s of the world wouldn’t have a billion dollar sport to play if not for the Pittsburgh’s, Baltimore’s, Oakland's, and Milwaukee’s of the world competing in the same league. 

Is this beating a dead horse?  Sure.  But when fans will still blame individual organizations without recognizing the foundational issues within Major League Baseball, the issue still hasn’t been enunciated on enough.  We can b**ch and moan about the Pirates not spending enough money, and demand payrolls be at a minimum $100 million.  However, until the systemic problems with MLB’s financial structure are fixed, there is no incentive for teams to invest money into a league based on inequity. 

Now is the time for change, and it’s time for the majority of the players to stop wasting time on the top 1% of players that will get mega contracts in their careers.  These CBA negotiations are not trending in the direction of a salary cap, nor does it look like actual change will take place and that is a shame.  So we Pirate fans will continue to love a sport that really doesn’t love us back.  If they even get on the field this year.  *Sigh*