Another question from Kelly:
As I write this, the owner of the New York Mets has spent WILDLY in an attempt to pretty much buy [the] next World Series. Just ONE contract he handed out this year is larger than the entire payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates–cumulatively, since 2010. Is this bad for baseball? How does baseball fix this, if it even wants to?
First, I know that you know you can’t guarantee a World Series. You can secure the best players based on previous performance, but the players could get injured. Indeed, the Mets were getting balky about Carlos Correa’s ankle, the same issue that kept the San Francisco Giants from signing him, and as you know, he ended up back in Minnesota.
Players also have off-years. Rookies on other teams in their division could be outstanding.
Still, your broader point is well-taken. The Pirates, since 2010, had a few decent years (2013-2015) but lost 101 and 100 games the past two seasons. This is a terrible outcome for a team who played in the first World Series in 1903 and existed for two decades before that.
Is this bad for baseball? I think so. No matter how much Major League Baseball rejiggers (dilutes) the playoffs, those teams with nothing to play for by Labor Day depress the whole MLB product.
One fix would be shared revenue of television revenues. This won’t happen because those large-market teams, such as the Mets, are advantaged by the imbalance.
An easier fix, at least logistically, would be a hard salary cap. That means a team can’t just pay a “luxury tax” and spend to their heart’s content. In the NFL, the salary cap is tied to league revenues; if the league does well, everyone benefits.
MLB had ticked me off recently when they gutted their minor league affiliations. This Mother Jones article at the end of 2020 describes it well. The minor leagues are inefficient. “There were more effective ways to, say, add velocity to a teenager’s fastball or improve a hitter’s launch angle than playing games—this kind of work could be done at closed-door facilities and any time of year.”
But I’d argue it’s the thing that makes people develop an affinity for the major league team that farm system teams develop. I grew up watching the Triplets in the Triple Cities of upstate New York in the 1960s. Later, Al Downing played for the New York Yankees.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Albany-Colonie Yankees had players such as Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada, and future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
“It should go without saying that one of the teams driving this movement—though by no means the only one—was the Houston Astros:
[T]he Houston Astros, a model of modern player development, bucked that trend a few years ago. After the 2017 season, they reduced their affiliate count from nine to seven clubs. The Astros believed they could become a more efficient producer of talent with fewer farm clubs.
One of those teams that lost its affiliation with the Astros was the Tri-City Valley Cats, who play in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro. The Astros won the 2017 World Series with five former Valley Cats, which I wrote about here; we won’t get into the subsequent signal-stealing scandal.
Compare and contrast
It occurred to me that the drafts of college football players to the NFL and college basketball players to the NBA can create players with instant impact on a team at the pro level. College baseball, not really.
That player coming up from the minors to play in The Show is exciting for fans who saw them when. I think MLB should spend MORE money on Minor League Baseball, not less. But I don’t see MLB going in this direction.
One last question from Kelly:
And finally, something mundane: Do you have bird feeders? If so, how many and what kinds?
Sort of. My daughter made one from a plastic, half-gallon milk carton. She made the openings and painted the rest. It was hanging in a tree for a time, but it came down. We need to reconnect it and put the feed in again.