Notes: A different MLB salary cap, Barbara Lee’s ‘Moneyball Act’

The A’s might have opened up quite a few cans of antitrust-flavored worms, and MLB has new ideas for curbing spending.

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There won’t be a salary cap instituted for spending on players, no matter how many times someone leaks to the press that the owners want a salary cap. They always want a salary cap. The luxury tax system exists because of that desire for a salary cap, and it already effectively works like one to a degree — that’s as far as the Players Association is willing to go on this particular matter, and it’s not like they actually meant for things to get the way they did, either.

A salary cap on non-player spending, though? Oh you know MLB can get away with that. Or at least, institute it without a fight, since front offices, scouts, and so on aren’t unionized, and therefore can’t actually fight that sort of thing. Which is exactly why this appears to be the next area of spending that MLB is looking to cut. Per Evan Drellich:

Major League Baseball and high-ranking club officials have discussed limiting how much teams can spend in areas other than player salaries, such as technology, player development, scouting and health, multiple people briefed on such discussions told The Athletic.

Different pockets of management have talked about the potential cost controls, whether it be owners speaking to one another, or in similar conversations between club higher-ups. But MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, Morgan Sword, is said to have discussed the concept again last week on a call with club financial officers, an official briefed on the meeting said.

The story goes on to report that MLB denies these kinds of changes would have anything to do with staffing — “technology vendors” are the target, by their admission — but that’s not what Drellich was hearing from sources:

But multiple officials who have been briefed on or participated in some of these conversations said the thinking extends to personnel, as well. At least some clubs would enjoy seeing caps on spending in any area that can influence on-field success, player salaries or otherwise. Executives with smaller-market teams have long lamented the task of keeping up with the spending capabilities of larger market teams.

Hmm, who to believe. The league spokesperson whose job is to put out fires or clean up an area even before one can start, or the people who feel protected enough in their anonymity to talk about what the PR person will not?

The thing to watch out for here is that, if it does happen to these unprotected employees — of which R.J. Anderson wrote about, at length, in a recent feature on their being the next frontier of MLB unionization — is what it might mean from an antitrust perspective. As Drellich and others have already noted, capping non-player spending for staffers, be they scouts or front office types or both, would be eliminating what little competition exists in that job market. Front offices are already setup so that it’s difficult to poach talent unless they’re getting a promotion in their move to another organization, and, the relative lack of jobs compared to people qualified for and interested in them means pay is already much lower than it should be relative to the lack of time and effort required of those gigs. Capping potential pay would further limit the markets, and the professional movement of these personnel, too.

It could get Congress’ attention, if someone in a front office were to raise the issue with them, and in conjunction with MLB actively subsidizing the A’s move to Las Vegas, and the various problems the exemption has posed for Minor League Baseball and its players over the years, well, this might be the final push needed to get Congress to actually do something about this exemption that only serves to give MLB legal room to exploit anyone it can.


Speaking of the A’s and antitrust exemptions, Representative Barbara Lee, along with another California representative, Mark DeSaulnier, introduced the “Moneyball Act” to the House on Tuesday. The idea behind it is that MLB would be forced to pay any community it abandons in a franchise relocation, which would make exiting one more expensive for a team like the Athletics. “Any professional baseball club that relocates its home field more than 25 miles from its previous location shall be required to provide compensation to its former host community,” reads the act. Said compensation involves paying 10 years worth of tax revenue — “State, local, and or Tribal tax revenue levied in the 10 years prior to the date of relocation” — paid to all three of those entities, as it applies to the given teams’ situation.

And the punishment for not paying up? Then, “no persons in the business of organized professional baseball shall be exempt from the antitrust laws”. Basically, if this passes, MLB will pay up, because the tax revenue, regardless of what that would be for whichever team is relocating, is nothing compared to losing that antitrust protection. I don’t think the Moneyball Act, if it became law, would stop teams from relocating if they truly want to. But at least they couldn’t be ripped out of their community without paying a tax for it. Then again, if a team negotiates themselves into being exempt from local and state revenues in the first place as part of a new stadium deal, for instance, then there is no such penalty to pay, is there?

Still, it’s good to see someone in Congress actually threaten to remove antitrust status from MLB at all, in a clearer way than just vaguely implying that it could happen. Between the Senate Judiciary Committee and Lee deciding it’s time to fire back at the league for the whole A’s thing, maybe we’re actually getting somewhere on removing this archaic exploitation exemption.

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