Has MLB competition improved since the shutdown?

Kirby Lee USA Today Sports

Remember the closing of Major League Baseball? You know, who lasted 99 days, and delayed the start of the 2022 season? One of the main topics on which the two sides haggled for more than three months has been competition in the game and, more specifically, the need to reduce tanks. With the 2022 season entering for the third time, let’s take a look at the level of competition in the game.

This year, in the June 6 games, there are 12 teams (40%) in baseball with over 0.500 registrations. Last year on this date, 16 teams (53%) crossed the 0.500 barrier. It certainly looks like Oakland Athletics (currently 20-36) and Cincinnati Reds (18-35) have decided to sell their top players (Mark KanhaAnd the Sony GrayAnd the Chris BassettAnd the Jesse WinkerAnd the Eugenio Suarez, etc.) and write-offs in 2022. Additionally, eight of the 30 teams have payrolls of less than $100 million. This is exactly what the Major League Baseball Players Association has been trying to avoid under a new collective bargaining agreement.

Player representative and guild leader Andrew Miller I talked about tanks in February 2022, while negotiations were underway. By Emma Batcheleri in Sports Illustrated:

“I think training is something you’ve probably heard a lot from us. It’s horrible telling your fans before the start of the season that you won’t be competing for a while. It doesn’t put a good product on the field. Who wants to go watch a game when ownership tells you he won’t try? And for several Years, in many cases. I think there are ways, unfortunately, we have to save them from themselves and convince them. Because players go out there, trying to win, every court, every hit, every game, and being players on a team who are told that winning isn’t Ahem, it’s a problem. So if we can get some of these things right through little things in CBA — or, I don’t know if I want to call them little things, but through CBA, through these negotiations, we need to do that.”

With the addition of two more teams in the playoff in 2022, the teams are hovering close to 0.500 in the search, at least for now, for a playoff point. For example, the Boston Red Sox, at 27-27, are just four games off the wildcard. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves, at age 28-27, find themselves in two wildcard games this early turn. At this point, the expanded 12-team stadium makes things interesting for some teams that haven’t gotten off to a good start.

Another concern in the early phase of the new CBA was that baseball had become a game of the haves and the have-nots. Going back to the top payroll according to Sport TrackThey are as follows:

  1. New York Mets, $260, $222,000
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers $260,002,000
  3. New York Yankees $247,653,000
  4. Philadelphia Phillies $233, 209000
  5. San Diego Padres, $217,967,000
  6. Boston Red Sox 201,436,000

Four of the above teams are in the top five for the best records in the game. (The Houston Astros tied for third highest record and tenth highest on the payroll.) Early evidence is that teams are still deteriorating, and teams are not spending on payroll to the levels the MLBPA was looking for in order to boost competition.

What is being done to address these issues?

When the shutdown was resolved, one of the main agreements was about a draft lottery beginning in 2023. Here’s how it works, from Jim Callis of MLB.com:

“From 2023, the top six picks will be decided by lottery rather than in reverse order of the previous year’s standings. Teams with the three worst records from the previous season will have the best chance (16.5 percent each) of getting the #1 overall pick via the lottery, Which will include all 18 clubs that are not in the post-season. The percentage of other teams will drop in reverse order of their records, to 0.23 per cent for the club not participating in a play-off with the highest winning percentage.”

Perhaps the draft lottery will reduce the incentive for the tanks. The salary issue is another story. While minimum wages (with fines) were discussed early in the CBA negotiations, they did not make their way into the final agreement. With more money going to each team before a ticket is sold (primarily from new streaming services, Peacock and Apple TV+), there’s no way to ensure that revenue is spent on players, to make more teams competitive each season.

Players have expressed concern about the expanded playoffs, and that the new format may serve to discourage spending and the need for more teams to invest in order to compete. Early on, these concerns seemed to materialize. Some teams are still declining, and payroll spending doesn’t rise significantly across the game.

The new draft structure may be a step in the right direction (time will tell in two years), but baseball has an issue with the competition, and the biggest problem is that the game could split sharply based on team revenue lines. A higher competitive credit tax cap may continually exacerbate the problem of larger market difference from taking advantage of smaller market difference.

It’s early CBA. However, a futuristic world of tank teams, and world championship winners being an exclusive club of big market teams is not good for the game. The CBA may not have gone far enough on these issues.

At least the New York Mets are finally working as one of those big teams on the market.

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