Contraction Traction What's The Action

added 11/7/2001 by Todd Brody

There are lots of problems with the owners' contraction plan that was disclosed yesterday by Bud Selig. Look, I agree with the owners that baseball in Montreal is a bad idea. But if the purpose of contraction is to get rid of teams that are not economically viable, how can baseball simply dismiss the idea of moving the Expos to Northern Virginia, where there is a group of investors who is willing to build a new stadium for the team. And how can baseball dismiss the idea of selling the Twins to new local owners. If that new ownership group commits to financing a new stadium and to spending money on payroll, how can baseball simply state that the team should be disbanded, particularly when Minnesota fans have demonstrated that they will support a winning team. The fact that Selig casually dismissed these ideas at his press conference yesterday leads me to believe that there will be no contraction - that this is simply baseball's attempt to ram a favorable collective bargaining agreement down the throats of the players union and to force cities to build new stadiums. But let us assume for a second that the cynic in me is wrong and the true intent of the owners is to contract baseball by getting rid of two teams, what does this mean? And more important, what does it mean for the Astros.

There are several current notions on how the players on the two contracted teams (let's call them the Expos and Twins for convenience sake) will be dispersed throughout the league. Notion No. 1 assumes that the players on these teams (and I am not sure if they mean the entire 40 man roster or simply the players who have major league contracts) will become free agents and the rest of the players in those teams' minor league systems will be subject to a dispersal draft. Notion No. 2 assumes that there will be a draft, similar to the football and basketball draft, based on the final standings from last season with the team with the worst record (the Pirates) drafting first. Notion No. 3 (which was disclosed in yesterday's Minnesota papers) has a draft, but also has the owner of the Expos taking over the Marlins and being able to take a number of players with him. The owner of the Marlins would then take over ownership of the Angels (from Disney) and would be able to take a number of players with him from the Marlins to the Angels.

I have a problem with all of these possible plans. The first notion will allow teams who have a lot of money like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Braves, and Orioles (the usual suspects) to sign all of the top players from each of the disbanded teams. Consequently, rather than dispersing the talent throughout the league, the best players will end up on a few teams and the disparity between the rich teams and the poor teams will be exacerbated. Moreover, a plan like this might receive a lot of criticism from the players' union who should recognize that the flooding of the market with free agents will to some degree, reduce the salaries that some free agents would otherwise be able to obtain.

The second plan is also flawed because it penalizes teams like the Yankees and Diamondbacks and even the Astros who have spent money (and have spent it wisely) to the benefit of teams that have either refused to spend money on salary or who have spent money foolishly. This plan also penalizes teams that fought hard down the stretch to make the playoffs. Why should the Cubs receive a benefit for their late-season collapse to the detriment of the Astros and the Cardinals? The plan, of course, has an appeal because it resembles the draft of other leagues and the baseball amateur draft. But there is a difference. In football and in basketball there is revenue sharing and a salary cap, and with few exceptions, all teams meet the cap (and, in fact, find creative ways to exceed the cap). It is more fair to allow a team that finished poorly in the NFL to draft higher because that team did spend the money to try and make the team competitive. While baseball does have an amateur draft along these lines, that draft is also different because that draft is a real crapshoot and there is no guarantee that any of those players will make the major leagues and most players (even high draft picks) spend several years in the minors before reaching the major leagues. This is not the case with the dispersal draft. The top players on the Twins and the Expos (Guerrero, Vidro, Vazquez, Radke, Milton, etc.) will make an immediate impact next season for whatever team drafts them. And it simply is not fair to penalize teams like the Astros who worked very hard to come back from their disastrous season in 2000 to make the playoffs.

The third plan makes the least sense of all. Say the Expos take three players and move them to the Marlins. And say the Marlins take three players and move them to the Angles. What happens to the Angels. Do they simply get the benefit of three new players without losing any players themselves? This is a silly plan. If you want to allow the owner of the Expos to keep some of his players, then move the Expos to Florida, move the Marlins to Anaheim and disband the current Angles and Twins.

Okay, all of the plans are flawed. So what should baseball do. Don't worry. I'm not going to leave you hanging. Stick all of the teams' names in a hat and randomly select a draft order with no team having a better chance of getting the number one pick than the others. The team that drafts last would have the first pick of the second round. And I would have a ten round draft that includes all of the minor league players in those organizations as well. Does this mean that the Yankees could end up with the number one pick and draft Guerrero or Vazquez or Milton? Sure. But this is still the most equitable way of distributing the affected players throughout the league. And isn't that what America is all about - being fair?

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