Major League Baseball and senior club officials have discussed how much money teams can spend on areas other than player salaries, such as technology, player development, scouting and health, according to several people in such discussions. The athletics.
Potential cost controls have been discussed as holders of various managerial pockets talk to each other or in similar discussions between club senior management. But MLB vice president of baseball operations Morgan Saif reportedly re-discussed the idea in a call with club finance officials last week, according to an official briefed on the meeting.
A league spokesman said MLB’s focus was on technology providers rather than human resources.
“There is nothing on that front,” the spokesman said. “Our focus is on collecting data on vendor costs to effectively achieve cost savings and ensure equal access to all technologies.”
But several officials briefed on or involved in some of the talks said the sentiment extends to workers as well. At least some clubs like to see spending in any area that can affect success on the pitch, player wages or otherwise. Executives with smaller market groups have been grappling with the task of protecting the spending power of larger market groups.
Before opening day, commissioner Rob Manfred told a story about an owner who was baffled by how much his analytics staff had grown.
“I’ve heard (the cap idea) being discussed at the ownership level,” a different club official said this week. “I don’t know where it came from. It’s about competitive balance. … I’ve been in the game 20 years. The number of people working with the players in our clubhouse has tripled, quadrupled.
But with roughly 40 percent of the season completed, the rankings suggest concerns about market size and competitive balance. Entering Tuesday, four revenue-sharing recipients — the Rays, Twins, Pirates and Diamondbacks — were in first place. Three others – the Marlins, Brewers and Orioles – were in the wild card spot.
Likewise, some teams argue that investing in technology or player development creates a fairer advantage over other teams.
“Enough on the expense side,” another executive lamented the league’s ongoing efforts to cut costs. You have to encourage people to learn how to make money.
A number of club officials have suggested spending restrictions on non-players could be worth pursuing as part of a wider overhaul – including player wages. Whether or not the commissioner’s office and owners will push the salary cap for players when the current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2026 season.
The players’ salary cap would require the approval of the players’ association, which he said he would not grant. Most other workers in the sport are not unionized.
If MLB eventually tries to limit employee spending to some extent, the league is certainly taking advantage of the sport’s antitrust exemption. The 30 groups collectively decide not to compete with each other in any way in their recruitment practices.
This creates some concern for the league. Using the exemption in new ways could lead to new legal challenges to the exemption or additional scrutiny from Congress.
Whether or not baseball is better — meaning more fun — if teams can’t exploit each other off the field and support positions of players is debatable. Does it make baseball more exciting if each team has an absolutely equal possession of the ball, or is the sport more fun when teams have the ability and incentive to exploit each other?
Either way, the commissioner’s office and its owners have always valued cost control. Even a cap on how much teams can spend on technology providers would be another step in that direction.
(Main photo by Morgan Seif and Rob Manfred: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)