NEW YORK — Agent Scott Boras says the number of major league teams rebuilding with younger, lower-cost rosters has become a cancer to the sport, attributing behaviour to the strengthened luxury tax combining with restraints on draft-pick salaries.
Boras attributes baseball’s attendance drop to an increase in non-competitive teams, predicts fans from perennial losers will increasingly stay away from ballparks until ticket prices are cut and says regional sports networks will negotiate lower rights fees with teams going into rebuild cycles.
J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Jake Arrieta, all Boras clients, remain unsigned 10 days before spring training in a historically slow market. He says the luxury tax, envisioned by Commissioner Bud Selig to increase competitive balance, is having the opposite effect. He claims incentives are needed to winning, such as increasing draft-pick money based on victories.
"They decided we’re going to have the 12 teams-a-tanking, if you will, and therefore you’re got a noncompetitive cancer and this is completely opposite of what Commissioner Selig in good-faith sought in bargaining," Boras said Monday.
Competitors watched a pair of successful rebuilds in the past two seasons. The Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series four years after losing 101 games and Houston took last year’s title four years after losing 111.
Since 2012, baseball’s collective bargaining agreement has limited the amount teams can spend on signing bonuses for amateur draft picks, making their cost predictable. Teams draft in reverse order of record, and clubs with higher selections are given larger amounts in their signing-bonus pools.
"There is a number of teams, let’s call it 10 or 12 in baseball, that are tearing down and rebuilding," Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said during the Mariners’ pre-spring training media availability on Jan. 25. "You could argue that you’re going to compete with more clubs to try to get the first pick in the draft than you would to win the World Series."
Agent Brodie Van Wagenen suggested Friday that players consider boycotting spring training workouts, which start Feb. 14 but are not mandatory until Feb. 24. Dodgers closer Kenley Janson told Los Angeles reporters at the team’s FanFest on Jan. 27 that "maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you."
Baseball has had labour peace since a 7 1/2-month strike that caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. Under the labour contract covering 2017-21, the highest luxury tax rate was raised from 50 per cent to 95 per cent and penalties were added that could push back a high-spending team’s top draft pick or cause a loss of selections.
The New York Yankees are intent of getting under the tax threshold for the first time after paying $341 million since the tax started in 2003. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have led the major leagues in spending for the last four years, also are on track to get under this year’s $197 million threshold for what is formally known as the competitive balance tax.
"The restraint on the CBT grew, grew dramatically different than what was intended initially," Boras said. "The intent was to create competition. The way the system is operating now, it is dramatically doing just the opposite. It is in affect creating competitive restraints where a third of the league is no longer competitive."
Boras questioned why fans would want to pay the same price to attend games involving non-competitive teams as they would to watch clubs trying to win.
"Where you have two tanking teams or one tanking team is in town to play a good team, they’re going to demand a reduction because the true MLB experience is no longer what it was professed to be," he said.
Major league games averaged 30,042 fans last year, down 0.4 per cent from 2016 and the lowest average since 2003.
"RSNs are going to start putting dynamics in their contracts," Boras said. "You may see lawsuits where the RSNs are saying you in good faith promised us competitive performances. You’re not delivering that. You’re tanking. The audience knows you’re not trying win."
One of his solutions is to add money to a team’s draft pool based on its wins and to punish teams with poorer records.
"If you win 78 games you get $2 million more in the draft, or if you win 80 games you get $4 or $6 or $8 or $10 as you go up the scale and you get $10 million in draft money if you wins 86 games," he said. "You don’t win more than 68 games, you don’t get a top-five draft pick. And that’s what every team is coveting to get, so they have a reason where they go, whoa, we cannot be that bad. We have to be that good."