Friday, January 09, 2009

Zen Dayley: Minor leagues a major concern

Our friend Pete Toms has provided some good context on baseball's coming labour War of 2012 over at The Biz of Baseball.

The blogetariat has been doing a lot of chin-wagging over what percentage of MLB revenues is paid out to players. They get about 52% if you don't count player development costs, which run about $20 million per team. You can see where this will be a problem — the players, in three years' time, are going to claim they see a smaller piece of the pie than their counterparts in other sports (which see about 58% of the money). Management is going to say, well, that's because we have so much outlay for keeping someone such as John-Ford Griffin and the other Quad-A players (seamhead argot for career minor leaguers) under contract, whereas the NBA and NFL have the NCAA to do their bidding.

Meantime, minor-league baseball teams, not that anyone needs the news alert, have become a gold mine in the United States. The public is willing to pay more for the ballpark experience. Their player costs are also taken care by their major-league parent, and as Pete says, that tab is getting larger all the time.

That's why a lot of teams are trying to have minor-league affiliates in close proximity — they want their cut. Meantime, since no one wanted your Toronto Blue Jays as a dance partner, they ended up with a top farm club located 3,600 km away in Las Vegas. As Pete explains:
"The increased involvement of MLB in the affiliated minors is perhaps an example of necessity being the mother of invention. Annual player development costs have risen to an average of approximately $20 million per club. Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner addressed the subject in March with Sports Business Daily. 'Every major league club spends about $20 million a year on growing their talent,' Werner said. "We have a minor league system and coaches and trainers and all kinds of personnel that just aren't equivalent in football or in basketball, where you have the college system as a way of being their minor league.' "
This probably leads to the MLB clubs trying to get their Triple-A teams to pay something closer to the full freight for the Bernie Castro and Mike Hessman types of the world.

The way it works now is the Jays and the 29 other teams have to furnish their affiliates with players who are not serious prospects. Even someone who is listed among a team's Top 10 prospects by Baseball America is no can't-miss kid. However, they need the "parking lot players" so the upwardly mobile future stars have someone to play games against until they are mature enough for the majors.It could be, hey, you're raking it in, and this player's labour makes more money for you, the Triple-A owner, than it does for us.

There probably is the possibility this will lead to the Triple-A teams becoming more independent, as well they should be. The major-league parent would maybe provide 12-15 players. The Triple-A club would have to fill out the rest of the roster, perhaps with veterans with a tie to the area, not unlike the situation in the AHL, where 41-year-old Mike Keane is a player-assistant coach with his hometown Manitoba Moose, five years after he last played in the NHL. Perhaps those players get more bargaining power and more liveable wage.

It's something else to think about as baseball heads toward their next round of labour talks. Hopefully, this does some justice to Pete's piece.

Related:
A Detailed Look at the Ties Between MLB, MiLB, and Independent Leagues (Pete Toms, The Biz of Baseball)

1 comment:

Nick said...

Very few teams in the AHL can afford to sign the types of players the Moose have. With the MTS Centre generating huge amounts of revenue for Chipman and company, they can afford to sign guys and pay guys other teams would only dream about. Keane is one example, and the Moose are also paying Jason Krog's $700,000 salary and at least a portion of Michel Ouellet's $1 million + salary. Add in guys like Karl Goehring, and the Moose could assemble on their own guys most teams could only get with the parent clubs help.

The agreement to sign players on their own has been beneficial to not only the Moose but also the Canucks. Players like Alex Burrows, Alexandre Bolduc and Jason Jaffray have become useful to the Canucks as well, after being discovered by Moose GM Craig Heisinger. Again though, this is something that few teams can afford with the Moose's good attendance and high ticket prices and the overall success of MTS Centre.

In baseball, I'm sure teams like Buffalo, Memphis and Sacramento could afford their own players, but I believe some other teams would have trouble with this.