One week from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will begin to report, and thus, the darkness known as the offseason will be vanquished until next November. Opening Day may still be a ways away, but we’re reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. Baseball is almost back.
But imagine for a second if baseball just suddenly didn’t exist. No spring training games, no Opening Day, no pennant race, no World Series...sounds like a nightmare, right? Unfortunately for baseball fans, that nightmare may be dangerously close to reality, and it may be up to us to stop it.
In order to do so, however, we need to take a good long look at the potential impending work stoppage, and how we as fans help contribute to it.
Although the Astros cheating scandal has overshadowed it, and the acquisition of Gerrit Cole has caused most Yankees fans to not see it, the most impactful story of this offseason has been the continued instances of major league teams crying poor, particularly in big markets. Perennial All-Stars Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, and Francisco Lindor have all been on the trading block all winter, as the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, and Cleveland Indians have looked to slash payroll (which could, in all four cases, amount to these teams essentially waving the white flag on the 2020 season before it even begins). Teams have spent more this winter than last, but even that spending surge has left overall spending behind where it was two offseasons ago.
Even so, far from being angry at the organizations, if you go on Twitter, you’ll find many fans and reporters blasting the players, not the teams, in all these situations. Betts in particular has been given a lot of heat for not agreeing to a 10-year, $300M contract, while Bryant has received flak for calling out bad faith behavior on the part of the Cubs’ front office. And although the Yankees have not engaged in salary dumps this offseason, Giancarlo Stanton and even Gerrit Cole have been called “overpaid” by segments of the fanbase.
Don’t think that ownership hasn’t noticed. The voice of fans on social media carries more weight than some may realize. Three years ago, it was calls to rebuild on social media that prompted Hal Steinbrenner to give Brian Cashman the go-ahead to trade Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran in 2016. So as front offices throughout the league work to cut payroll and keep player salaries down, they do so knowing that a large and vocal part of their fanbases will side with the team, not the player.
And that’s part of the problem: ownership has done a good job of getting the media to frame these contract disputes as “player versus team,” not “player versus front office/ownership.” Fans root for the laundry, not the individual players, and ownership exploits that.
I know what you’re going to say. “But John, these guys make millions of dollars, why should we be worried about their paychecks?” It’s the same argument everybody always makes. I’m not asking you to worry about Stanton’s paycheck, or Aaron Judge’s, or even Luis Cessa’s. I’m asking you to largely ignore them, because with the league pulling record amounts of revenue, ownership can easily pay these salaries.
Let’s put these numbers into perspective for a bit by bringing salaries down for scale. Imagine that the league average salary is only $56,516, the median household income in the United States in 2015. If we were to scale back all salaries and revenues by the same factor, the Yankees' revenue, as calculated by Forbes in April 2019, would equate to $8,658,873, while the team’s current payroll would amount to $2,745,368. Gerrit Cole, the highest-paid player on the team, would receive $466,645. And the league minimum — the salary most major league players earn — would be $7304...which equates to $3.50 per hour in a 40-hour work week.
I think the league’s owners can afford those salaries. In a time of record revenues, the portion that is spent on actual payroll is out of step with historical norms. It's time we started pressuring them to reinvest those revenues in their teams. Because if they don’t, we might just see the stadiums lay dark.