It feels like just yesterday that the owners locked out the players during CBA negotiations last winter, making it clear the way that the group of 30 men perceived the players that they employ. We’re now quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the lockout being lifted and relations between the two sides unsurprisingly have not thawed. This is particularly apparent when looking at the recent comments from Dick Monfort.
Monfort has been part of Rockies ownership since his family’s $95 million purchase of the team in 1992 and has acted as full-time owner since 2011 when his brother handed over his share of responsibilities. In that time, he’s seen the valuation of his franchise skyrocket to almost $1.4 billion while revenues have more than doubled over the last two decades. And yet, he felt the need to use the Northern Colorado Friends of Baseball breakfast to take shots at players and other teams.
As reported by Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post Monfort touched on a range of subjects including his team’s outlook heading into the 2023 season, the landscape of player compensation and team payrolls, and Rockies players both past and present. He’s no stranger to making bizarre comments in public, notably predicting that the team would win a franchise-record 94 games prior to the 2019 season. At this point, Monfort must be a connoisseur of penny loafer flavor given the frequency with which he inserts his foot into his mouth. Here are a few snippets of his most noteworthy statements:
“We have a lot of talent, a lot of good things are going to happen, and I think they are going to start happening this year, and I think we can play .500 ball.”
On spending trends this offseason:
“That puts a lot of pressure. But it’s not just the Padres, it’s the Mets, it’s the Phillies. This has been an interesting year... What the Padres are doing, I don’t 100% agree with, though I know that our fans probably agree with it. We’ll see how it works out... They have spent a lot of money and they will have to spend a lot more if they want to keep Juan Soto. But it does put a lot of pressure on you. Yes, it does.”
And finally when asked about the possibility of retiring Charlie Blackmon’s number:
“I don’t know, but I probably would. In an era where stars seem to want to go other places, Charlie’s been pretty loyal and pretty good.”
I think a lot of what he said reflects how many owners feel about player spending, and shows why it was so important for the players and union to secure what gains they did during the lockout and to continue to fight for the many things they didn’t win when this deal expires. That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to respond to the sentiments he shared.
It’s a lot to process, so we’ll go item by item. The first comment is an unabashed admission that the Rockies have no intention of contending this season. They’ve shelled out just $8.5 million in free agent contracts this winter despite a Swiss cheese roster. And while they do play in a tough division, any argument that teams cannot be expected to try to win each year is disingenuous at best.
starting in 2022 every MLB team will receive a guaranteed $60.1 million via national TV deals (averaging out the money from the life of those deals). Likely every local tv deal averages >$40m per year. So every single team is getting $100m+ guaranteed before selling a ticket.— Cruggle (@cdgoldstein) February 1, 2022
As Craig Goldstein points out, every team in baseball figures to pull in nine-figure revenues before a single game is played. What’s more, forays into the sports betting world as well as the introduction of advertising patches on uniforms could net the league upwards of a billion dollars in increased yearly revenue. As a more concrete example, the Pirates are able to cover the entirety of their payroll through the sale of tickets and concessions alone.
When owners know they have this guaranteed cash flow incoming regardless of the product they put on the field, there is almost no incentive to reinvest those earning back into player salaries and try to compete. This corrupts the very heart of the sport — competition — and it emphasizes why the union was so adamant to reduce tanking and encourage teams to try, a battle they largely lost.
This ties into Monfort’s second comment, where he bemoans a division rival trying to maximize their chances at success. The Padres should be celebrated for their approach to the upcoming season and yet Monfort insinuates that spending to try to win is something he’d prefer to avoid. At least we can once and for all do away with the notion of “small market teams.” There are no small market teams; there are big market teams and there are bigger market teams. That the team with the fourth-smallest market can comfortably field the third-highest payroll is all the evidence one needs.
I think this offseason in general has highlighted how beholden owners were to the Collective Balance Tax thresholds, treating them as a soft cap. This is why it was so important for the union to secure the increases they did — lo and behold we’ve witnessed record spending in the first offseason under the new CBA.
Raising the thresholds is not a panacea to all player compensation woes, however. Yes, we’ve seen record contracts and record payrolls, however these disproportionately favor the top one percent of players. Baseball’s middle class, aging veterans, and pipeline of young prospects deserve protections as well. The union received token concessions including a modest bump in the league minimum salary and superficial incentives to reduce service time manipulation, however there is far more to be won now that teams more than ever are counting on surplus value reaped from the lowest-earning demographic of players.
Finally, Monfort felt the need to carry out an unprovoked and thinly-veiled drive-by on former players who he deems as less loyal than Charlie Blackmon. Owners playing the loyalty card is generally yucky behavior to me, however it’s especially repulsive given the insincerity behind it in this particular case. The Rockies traded Nolan Arenado for the right to not pay him the majority of the money left on his contract and a year later made no effort to retain Trevor Story, yet somehow these decisions are a reflection of the player’s loyalty? Give me a break.
Every baseball fan should take note of the sentiments expressed in Monfort’s recent comments. There is a certain level of disdain reflected towards the very players who put their bodies on the line — with full knowledge of how stacked the odds are against success and the life-changing salaries that go with — to generate the revenues and escalating franchise valuations that make baseball team ownership one of the most lucrative investments one can make. All against a backdrop of owners’ continued quest to secure an ever-increasing slice of MLB revenue pie.
Up until this winter I might have lumped Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner into the group of owners who might align themselves with Monfort’s sentiments. However, I believe Steinbrenner has earned the benefit of the doubt after approving a franchise-record spending spree of almost $600 million in free agency this winter as well as a franchise-record $292.5 million payroll for 2023. Let us hope that this new-found open-minded attitude to spending continues beyond this season.