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No Traction for Contraction

It is a new month so it must be time for new and often baseless speculation about contracting the Rays hits the intertubes. In February, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports got the 2011 contraction action going reporting on some rumblings he had heard. In March, Joel Sherman of the NY Post brought the C word back to the forefront with this piece that tried to also put Stuart Sternberg in the majority ownership role with the New York Mets with the help of Bud Selig. Yet, this month brings us the most outlandish of the all as Mike Ozanian of Forbes Magazine reports that contraction is coming for the Rays by the end of the 2014 season based on here-say. 

Contraction of the Tampa Bay Rays is as likely to happen as Tropicana Field growing legs and walking over to Channelside to take up new residence. You don't believe me? Listen to the experts.

Friend of the site Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball laid out the case against contraction very well this morning with his most recent post:

And so, the real issue with all this contraction talk is, no owner in MLB is willing to allow relocation out of a club’s given territory. The owners of clubs that don’t have financial issues (and, ironically, that now includes the Twins), would rather try and contract teams rather than have them land in their "backyard". After all, with less mouths to feed, those left standing reap the monetary benefits.

So, the issue is internal. This is MLB’s problem, not one that requires fans to lose a team or two in what Bud Selig has called "Baseball’s Golden Age".

Because of that, 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. And really, in the end, isn’t this really about trying to 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.

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.

Brown also reminds readers that the Rays have an existing television deal that runs through the 2016 season and there is no chance that FoxSports is going to let a club back out of the deal two to three years early. 

Craig Calceterra, former lawyer and now lead blogger for NBC's HardballTalk has also been quite vocal in refuting the contraction stories. In February, he addressed Rosenthal's piece by stating:

Here’s a quick financial lesson: when the very thing that is cited as a problem justifying contraction — a few teams having to pay tens or, occasionally, one hundred million dollars in revenue sharing — is way cheaper than the alleged solution, you know it’s not happening.  Especially when you consider that those complaining of the problem — the Yankees and Red Sox — are vastly outnumbered by the teams who don’t have any significant revenue sharing obligations to begin with.

No, contraction isn’t happening. The only thing that even comes close to having it make sense is if franchise values become so low that buying out owners isn’t too big a deal and overall revenues decrease to the point where not contracting a couple of team imperils the others as well.  In case you haven’t noticed, baseball is swimming in cash at the moment.  And the ones swimming in the nicest pool are the owners of the very teams who like to moan and complain about revenue sharing.

In March, Calceterra covered what it would costs MLB if they chose to take up the fight and attempt to contract two teams:

It’s not hard for me to imagine that to contract a team it would cost close to a billion dollars by the time it is all said and done. Really, I’m not exaggerating.  Then figure that you’d have to contract two teams to make the schedule workable.  As such, the total it would cost to contract two teams would be multiples over the total amount of money has been paid to all low revenue teams in the eight years since the current revenue sharing program has started. Revenue sharing payments, you’ll remember, that were the very reason why people started talking about contraction in the first place.

As a result of all of this, talking about contracting teams to do away with revenue sharing is like talking about euthanasia to do away with a case of allergies. The "solution" is laughably worse than the very problem it’s fancied to solve.  And as such, it’s ridiculous to even propose it.

Today, in response to the Forbes piece, Calceterra saved his best reply for last:


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.

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.

Please bookmark this and re-read it in the next 48 hours as other news sources pounce on the Forbes piece and pass it along with little if any critical thought.

Locally, Noah Pransky of WTSP and of the excellent blog Shadow of the Stadium chimes in:

I had indicated the Forbes column was baseless yesterday. I'd like to add it was also ignorant. In reading author Otzanian's comments at the bottom of the page, I see he based a large part of his argument about contracting the Rays on their poor broadcast contract.

However, with record TV ratings last year and an impressive start to 2011 as well, the team stands to make a huge windfall in 2016 (or sooner) when that deal is renegotiated. Both the Rays and MLB know this well and don't want to pull a team out of Tampa Bay.

One of those comments that Pransky was likely referring to was this stunning evaluation:

As the James Shields signing has shown thus far, the Rays "file-and-trial" strategy is risky. Wade Davis is unproven and could be very good or just another Shields. Longoria is great but do you really think the Rays willkeep him when his 6-year deal expires after 2013?

The fact that a writer, from a financial magazine, would call giving Shields a sum of $5 million over the past three seasons to produce a fWAR of 10.3 "risky" is downright comical. Additionally, Longoria is due an average of $10M a season from 2014-2016 when, not if, the club picks up his club options.  Simply put, it is impossible to take any writer seriously who views Shields' contract risky or Longoria's options a bad decision to pick up when both have proven to be gigantic money savers for the franchise. If that writer worked for the local paper in the 1600's, he would have questioned the purchase of Manhattan from the local natives as a, "risky financial move."

Pransky said it best in his last tweet, "It is time to write-off talk of Rays contraction and any writer who gives it credibility." When people sit down to view the facts of the situation rather than the speculation being reported, it is very easy to laugh off the threat of contraction much like the threat of chupacabra, spontaneous combustion, and how consuming green M&M's increase your libido. However, if you want to live in fear of contraction, I may have some duct tape and vis-queen in my garage left over from 2003.