Just about a week ago, our esteemed leader and co-proprietor noticed numerous baseball writers using the tough economic times as an excuse for the slow off season. Now that the Winter Meetings are officially underway, one can assume the free agent taps are about to gush. But the poor economy isn't a crutch for writers searching for something to publish, it's for ownership scapegoating too! Rob's parting words have a different kind of resonance to people all over North America this week:
Times may be tough in other professions but rich baseball teams are still living high on the hog.
With the creative accounting most professional teams are capable of, it's almost impossible to ascertain the true financial status of your local sports franchise. One surefire way to tell that things aren't going so swimmingly, layoffs! The Arizona Diamondbacks laid off 31 employees at the beginning of November while the Toronto Blue Jays recently released 30 employees from their front office, mostly in the sales department. Even Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the cash cow with revenues in upwards of $450 million bucks in 2007, laid off 4.5% of its workforce yesterday.
No matter what kind of collusive handjob the owners are giving each other; layoffs around the holidays stink. Even in a tepid free agent market, the money being splashed around for the services of a Joe Beimel or Adam Everett must be hard to take for one a newly liberated employee. Limited skill sets be damned, 1% of CC Sabathia's 2009 salary is enough money to cover the pay of at least 4 sales staffers.
The Blue Jays story is especially troubling as their layoffs were among 200 by parent company Rogers on the same day. To give you a sense of Rogers size, consider my cell phone, internet, cable TV, and landline are all from Rogers. Not to mention the all sports radio and television networks with nearly exclusive broadcast rights to Blue Jays games. This is one of the largest companies in Canada, founded and run by one of it's richest men. Until very recently, that is. Rogers (and therefore Jays) owner Ted Rogers died the same day all these layoffs were announced! So giant company in cost cutting mode plus recently deceased owner plus vacant president's chair equals rough times ahead at the Rogers Centre (oh yeah, they own the stadium too.)
Convenient as it may be for ownership to shut down spending and rabbit hole a few more dollars during a tough go, baseball is feeling the economic effects right along with everyone else. While the player replacing his Sub Zero fridge with another Sub Zero fridge because "they old one has a funny smell" may not notice a change in cash flow; someone along the baseball food chain is getting the shitty end of the frank.