Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Boston Red Sox pitcher Darwinzon Hernandez holds a glove and waits to workout during spring training baseball practice on Feb. 22, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Associated Press

There is no good time to be bad at what you do, unless you happen to be a professional baseball team. If so, that time is now.

Take, for instance, the Boston Red Sox.

In sports business terms, the Red Sox are a FAANG team. They’re worth US$3.3-billion. They have a better than US$100-million-per-year local TV contract, every penny of which is their own. Their stadium sells out on the regular.

Story continues below advertisement

The Red Sox are an elite team in every way but one – the ‘team’ part of it. Boston’s off-season moves have been transparently designed to make a roster that was already mediocre a little bit worse.

This year, MLB is peppered with these sorts of teams – ambitious franchises that have entered their just-after-graduation, what’s-the-point, maybe-I’ll-move-home-and-live-in-the-basement phase. Some just aren’t trying, some are tanking and some are deep-water tunnelling.

The Colorado Rockies had the best third baseman in baseball, Nolan Arenado, under long-term contract. They just traded him for a two cans of ham and agreed to eat US$50-million of his salary.

Pittsburgh traded two of its best young pitchers for prospects. It already had good prospects – those two pitchers. Only in baseball does it make sense to exchange hunches that have worked out for a few more hunches that might not.

Cleveland traded Francisco Lindor, which is a little like the Giants trading Willie Mays a third of the way through his career.

Most of the clubs mentioned have earned some good will from recent success. But even the ones who don’t have that benefit can’t be bothered.

Seattle Mariners president Kevin Mather resigned this week after making charged comments about non-English speaking players during a speech to, of all things, the Rotary Club. Buried in that disaster of a presentation was another, less-discussed nugget.

Story continues below advertisement

Mather, a believer in the Yosemite Sam school of brand promotion, admitted the Mariners would likely hold back their two best young prospects in order to extend the club’s period of contractual control over them. That is a mortal sin under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. But Mather just threw it out there, like it’s the obvious thing to do.

Two things are clear. A substantial portion of baseball’s over- and underclasses aren’t interested in even pretending they want to win this season. Also, I have to start going to more Rotary Club meetings. Five minutes under the hot (buffet) lights and people start spilling their guts.

Tanking isn’t new, but this sort of tanking is. The sort where multiple teams are tossing off good pieces like they’re on a plane that’s rapidly losing altitude.

Baseball is to blame. Or, more specifically, the way baseball has arranged its business.

This year will be an earnings disaster for MLB. The league has agreed to play a full schedule in front of somewhere between no paying customers and far-too-few paying customers.

The only real money anyone will make will be the sort already owed to them from existing broadcast deals, and through revenue sharing. Right now, most teams can probably estimate to within a few ducats where they will end up financially at the end of this season.

Story continues below advertisement

Winning won’t change that, nor will losing. ESPN pays the teams to play. They don’t pay them to be good.

Then baseball has December 1 staring it in the face. That’s when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

All indications are that the cold war between owners and the union will then become a hot one. There is every chance the 2022 season will be delayed, shortened or cancelled.

Under those circumstances, why would you throw money into a team right now? It’s a little like starting a swimwear line just before nuclear winter.

Nonetheless, a very few clubs have taken Warren Buffet’s advice about being greedy when others are fearful. The most notable investors are the Dodgers, the Padres and the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Dodgers are a unique case. They have dynastic ambitions, and so much money (including an US$8-billion local TV deal) they are above fiduciary concerns.

Story continues below advertisement

San Diego and Toronto are big-market clubs who haven’t won anything in a long time, supported by fair-weather fanbases who have other entertainment options (in Toronto’s case, the Raptors and Leafs; and in San Diego’s case, the city of San Diego). They can’t keep this endless performance rope-a-dope routine going without risking irrelevance.

Everyone else is either standing pat or cashing out. There’ll be two races in MLB this year – to the top and to the bottom. It’s hard to say which will be more competitive.

Just about every conversation about baseball these days ends up at ‘So how do you fix baseball?’

Every ‘how to fix baseball’ discussion ends up with heads exploding. Most of the game’s problems defy renovation. You’d have to take the whole thing down to the studs and start over.

In this case, ending this spate of ambitious loserdom would mean imposing top-down control on an unregulated marketplace. That means a salary cap.

It won’t eliminate the problem, but it would disincentivize teams from being so bold about it.

Story continues below advertisement

Everyone knows that’s not happening. Neither the owners nor the players are keen on a salary cap. Why would they be? They’re all making out like bandits.

The players prefer the Hollywood model – a very few of them get super-yacht rich, while the rest get vacation-house rich.

The owners have no worries as long as their franchise values continue a two-decade-long spike. If they need to save a few bucks, they manipulate the market to lower costs across the board. That’s what’s happening now.

In the end, it’s not a question of whether baseball’s ungainly and intertwined business/competitive model is a bad thing, but who it’s a bad thing for. You get one guess, and it isn’t the players or the owners.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies