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February 24, 2011

Sportswriters generate "contraction" threat from thin air

How a random thought becomes a meme, lesson #327:

  • A sportswriter, in this case Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports, needs something to write about on a slow news day, as they all are during spring training. He writes: "Don't be surprised if the 'C' word — contraction — returns to the baseball lexicon soon. I'm already hearing rumblings that certain big-market teams want to drop the A's and Rays, even though the idea stands little chance of actually becoming reality." Plus several hundred more words, with the only actual "rumblings" being from Hank Steinbrenner and Larry Lucchino, each of whom, Rosenthal notes, didn't actually mention contraction.
  • FoxSports doubles down on Rosenthal's speculation by headlining the story "A's, Rays must relocate or face contraction." (Later changed to "Contraction's not the answer for MLB," though the original is still visible in the title bar.)
  • St. Petersburg Times sports columnist John Romano writes that "Contraction, once again, is in the news," where "in the news" means "in Ken Rosenthal's column." After another several hundred words, Romano concludes that while contraction isn't likely soon, "that threat will continue to grow day by day, dollar by dollar and empty seat by empty seat. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, Tampa Bay is now on the clock." The Times' headline: "Threat to contract Tampa Bay Rays may be gaining credibility."
  • Ray Ratto writes a column decrying all this talk of contraction, which he says is a terrible idea.

I covered all the reasons MLB contraction is extremely unlikely ever to happen ten years ago, and most of those arguments still hold true today. Romano does point out that with increased revenue sharing, there's more money to be recouped by buying out struggling franchises; however, team owners are also going to want more to be bought out now than in 2001 (in part because revenue sharing makes even low-revenue teams potentially profitable), and there's a simpler solution, which is just to reduce revenue-sharing payments — which is, no doubt, what Steinbrenner is really after. And in any case, any attempt at contraction would still prompt a labor war plus a wave of antitrust suits — with Florida having some of the toughest case law around antitrust issues, which is in part why MLB gave the state the Rays to begin with after blocking the San Francisco Giants from moving to Tampa Bay.

For now, then, I think it's safe to declare this a non-story. But expect to see lots more of it in coming weeks, especially if the Rays ownership keeps trying to heat up his soft sell stadium campaign, and MLB gets an early start on saber-rattling for the next collective bargaining agreement.


There is little doubt that the Union would oppose the loss of jobs, but increasing the roster size to 26 or 27 players should offset that. Maybe you could have a draft where each player picked in the first round would get Tampa Bay or and Oakland around $5m per player: ex: Longoria to the Pirates, and the Bucs giving Tampa that money. Then a declining scale per round. That way you can consolidate Oakland and Tampa (As opposed to building New Stadiums or players playing in dumps like "The Trop" and worse the Oakland Coliseum).

Posted by David Brown on February 24, 2011 12:17 PM

Expanding rosters wouldn't help any, as it would still depress salaries by creating a glut of quality ballplayers for fewer starting jobs. (No way Adam LaRoche makes $8m a year, for example, if there are only 28 starting first basemen jobs.) The only way you could truly make up for contraction would be to add a tenth player to the lineup, or a tenth inning to ballgames so teams need more relievers, and somehow I don't see either of those things happening.

Posted by Neil deMause on February 24, 2011 12:33 PM

To combine David's idea and Maury's rejoinder, contraction + roster expansion could be made palatable to the MLBPA by expanding the DH to the NL -- there's 16 new starting-job salaries, plus career extension for old hitters.

And, yes, I think contraction is unlikely in actuality -- but let's think about why there would currently be talk of contraction: the upcoming labor talks. Contraction, regardless of the actualities/problems with implementing it, is an important threat for Selig to wield against the union. I strongly believe that one of the major reasons Selig has held up the commission investigating the A's stadium situation is that he wants to hold on to the possibility of contraction -- if there's a plan and an official MLB recommendation in circulation, it really takes contraction off the table. I expect that the A's (and Rays) stadium plans won't be finalized until after the new CBA is finished.

Posted by monkeyball on February 24, 2011 01:21 PM

Uh, dur ... that would be Neil's rejoinder ... what I get for having too many tabs open at once ...

Posted by monkeyball on February 24, 2011 02:37 PM

The Rays have been consistently out drawing at least 7 other teams (The amount might even be higher,MLB may be lying about the numbers), so I guess those teams should all be "contracted" as well. Hopefully, MLB will end up with just 3 teams. That will be fun

Posted by Wade on February 24, 2011 05:00 PM

I agree that contraction is not likely to happen, but I woiuldn't say Rosenthal made this story up. While it may indeed be a non-story, Steinbrenner's recent quotes certainly hint at wanting contraction even if he never said the actual C-word.

"At some point, if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets, or don't leave teams in minor markets if they're truly minor"

Now, maybe you can interpret Steinbrenner's quote as meaning that he wants teams moved. But that wouldn't cure what Steinbrenner deems as a problem (unless you think he wants all 30 teams in Boston, Chicago, New York and LA).

Posted by Cork on February 25, 2011 04:07 PM

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