In a recent anonymous survey, The Athletic detailed how a few MLB executives felt about the recent trade deadline. Most of the answers were normal, everyday responses to basic questions.
“How big a market will Shohei Ohtani bring in the offseason or next trade deadline?”
Random exec: “Real big.”
Wow! Thank you for that insight into an MLB front office. I totally couldn’t figure out that the most exciting player in baseball who routinely accomplishes feats that haven’t been done since Freddy McSchtickens before World War I would draw a big market. Thanks for clearing that up. However, when asked about the Juan Soto deal, the executives offered answers that really had me scratching my head.
The Athletic asked the executives, “Does this make financial or baseball sense?” While I can’t speak to the financial side since I don’t know everything that goes into running a baseball team financially, I can most assuredly tell you that it makes sense from a baseball standpoint. If you think that adding one of the greatest young bats in the game today doesn’t help out in a baseball sense, then I’d like a reference to your local dealer, because you are clearly smoking some of the finest shit north of the equator. Financially, it’s a little sketchier, but as any business major will tell you, you have to spend money to make money, and with the product that the Padres are putting out on the field every night, it’s hard to envision a future where San Diegans aren’t interested in seeing their team obliterate their competition night in, night out.
The random execs can’t comprehend why the Padres would make such a move though.
“I can’t understand San Diego’s business model,” said one exec.
“I don’t know how they’re paying for it,” said another.
Well, let’s see. Soto isn’t on a huge contract for his talent level. That’s where a lot of his appeal stemmed from. He’s under team control with a very team-friendly contract for the next two and a half years. He would’ve drawn immense interest regardless of his contract, but that was just another factor playing into just how much every team wanted to snatch him up. He’s only making $17 million this year, and will undergo arbitration in both 2023 and 2024. There’s a chance that arbitration could push him into the $40 million range immediately, but I find it much more likely that Soto won’t burst into the salary stratosphere until his current contract expires after 2024, or unless the Padres extend him before then.
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Josh Hader isn’t on a massive contract either. Sure, $11 million might be a lot for a closer, but the Padres are only paying half of that, plus Hader will undergo arbitration next year, and given that he currently boasts a 4.11 ERA — the highest of his career — the Padres could probably negotiate a lower salary in 2023. Even if Hader pops off for the Padres, and he demands a higher salary, he’ll only have one year left on his contract in 2023. They can afford to keep an expensive closer for one season.
Even if Soto and Hader were more expensive than they are, we have to keep in mind that this is baseball. Owners can pay whatever they want. There’s no salary cap. Sure, there’s a luxury tax, but I’m sure the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, and others will keep their incredibly talented roster and pay the comparatively minuscule fee without hesitation. Oh no! They have to pay less than a million in luxury tax fees after spending $250 million on their roster! How will they survive?!
The fact is that any team can afford to buy players like Soto, Fernando Tatís Jr., Hader, and Manny Machado; the owners just have to be willing to open up their pockets. Sadly, most owners are unwilling to do that, thinking they can win with some good luck and a lot of heart. (Editor’s Note: Or they’re just cheap). This isn’t a Disney Channel original movie though. Passion and friendship don’t win championships, Juan Soto-level players — though there aren’t many of them — do.
Combined, Machado, Tatís, Hader, and Soto cost a little over $82 million this year. That might be a lot for someone like Reds’ owner Robert Castellini ($400 million net worth), but for someone like Tigers’ owner Ilitch Holdings ($3.8 billion net worth) or Twins’ owner, the Pohlad family ($3.8 billion net worth), $82 million is like you or me finding change in our couch cushions.
Never mind the fact that bringing those players to your squad would increase revenue, but it’s really not that much for a team if they were willing to open up their pocketbooks. Sure, they may not bring in the revenue the owner was hoping for and that may lead to further financial losses, but you never know unless you try, and guess what, the small market teams aren’t making much money as is. Might as well go for some big names and championship aspirations and see if that works for your city. After all, the Padres are packing the house every night with their deadline additions, and Tatís isn’t even back yet.
Thankfully, one exec interviewed gave props to the Padres and owner AJ Preller for being willing to take shots on big-name players.
“I give their ownership group a ton of credit. They’ve financially committed to building an incredible major-league product. So obviously, they’re thinking that if you invest in building a strong brand, the money will all work out in the long run. … And I also think that if I owned a team, I’d be thinking it’s fun to win, so what’s the most fun thing we could do for me and our fans to watch? Let’s do that.”
This exec is absolutely right. Mark Cuban recently did an interview with GQ, and in part of that interview he talks about how the Dallas Mavericks’ lost money for years before they started earning him money, but by investing in the team and marketing the team, and winning a championship, the money eventually started rolling in. MLB may not have the same mass appeal that the NBA currently does, but the business model remains the same. Put money in the right areas, and money will spit back out. The fact that the owners of multiple MLB franchises can’t comprehend that is sad, to say the least.