Mains: Opening baseball teams’ books won’t make a difference

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on March 10, 2020:

One of the most grating phrases in contemporary baseball is when teams claim that they “can’t afford” a player. The Red Sox said it would be “difficult” to afford both J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts, right up until they didn’t have both. The Nationals couldn’t afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. The Cubs couldn’t afford Eric Sogard, for crying out loud. Per Forbes, those three teams, worth a combined $8 billion, had $195 million in operating income in 2018. Each team’s owner is worth billions of dollars. That’s billions, with a b at the beginning and an s at the end. (Or at least hundreds of millions.)

It’s like when you were seven, and you really wanted some toy, and your parent told you that “we can’t afford it.” That couldn’t really be possible, right? That family finances were so precarious that one more Beanie Baby or Power Ranger was going to tip everything into the abyss? But at seven, you don’t have the wherewithal to say, “Oh yeah? I want to see your most recent 1040 as well as a list of assets and liabilities.”

But now you do. There are regular calls for owners, every one of whom is a multimillionaire, billionaire, or large corporation, to prove it when they say their finances are constrained. You say that in an industry where, per Forbes, industry revenues hit $10.7 billion last year, and in 2018 every team but the Jays, Marlins, and Orioles turned profits, Eric Sogard’s the straw that would break the camel’s back? Prove it. Open up your books. Show us that the problem is that you can’t afforda player rather than you would rather not pay him.

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Originally published: March 10, 2020. Last Updated: March 10, 2020.