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Remember back during the winter meetings, when Jerry Reinsdorf went and had lunch with the mayor of Nashville? With the idea being that it was solely to help build up some leverage for some stadium demands in Chicago? Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the White Sox were in “serious talks” to build a stadium, following a meeting between Reinsdorf and Chicago’s mayor, Brandon Johnson.
Sources familiar with the talks, all speaking on the condition they not be named, told the Chicago Sun-Times the negotiations for a baseball-only stadium are “serious.”
The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government agency that owns and financed Guaranteed Rate Field, has not been involved in the discussions, according to the authority’s CEO Frank Bilecki. At some point, the stadium authority would need to get involved in determining the future of Guaranteed Rate Field and possibly in building a new ballpark if it is publicly funded.
There’s all kinds of contextual information in that article regarding the site and hurdles that would need to be cleared, but for our purposes, all that matters is that Reinsdorf is getting his meetings with Chicago officials, five years before the lease on Guaranteed Rate Field ends, and likely in no small part because of what he’s been up to with the leaks about wanting to move to Nashville, and making sure that everyone knew he had lunch with that city’s mayor last month. Or, as I put it while covering that story:
That’s the start and end of this. If Reinsdorf absolutely has to go to Nashville to get this upgrade on his already enviable situation, then sure, maybe he’d leave — that’s why these threats can work, after all. But it’s much more likely that he knows he can get Chicago to cave, since none of these cities, counties, states, whichever, seems to have the spine or the brains to say no to these massive nine-figure taxpayer-financed stadium deals. So why not meet for lunch and make some local politicians nervous in the process? Just because Reinsdorf is on the record as saying this kind of thing is a scam to create leverage and trick people into handing him whatever he demands doesn’t mean that paper trail will actually stop him. Which is a depressing thing to consider, yes, but it’s not like Nevada or Milwaukee or anyone else who has agreed to spend half-a-billion in public funds for stadiums and stadium upgrades of late has missed the decades of writing explaining that this is all a scam. They do not care, and even actively work against themselves and their constituents to make these deals happen, which is why the Reinsdorfs of the world get to keep thriving.
He doesn’t actually want to go anywhere, but with the A’s moving (or, at least, getting approval to move — that whole deal seems far from settled), the door for other teams to move has also opened. So, Reinsdorf can threaten, as he did in the past, because hey, that worked the last time, why not play the hits? It’s all very frustrating, and the lack of pushback from Chicago — a city that already has another baseball team in it, that shouldn’t feel like they have to put up with Reinsdorf’s bullshit but does anyway — makes it worse.
Daniel Epstein wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus with a point worth making: that players, by and large, need to make it to free agency by the time they’re 31, or else there are serious consequences for their lifetime earnings:
Anyway, the trend line is clear. AAV decreases by an average of $617,000 at every birthday, but it’s more drastic than that. Ages 29-31 are above the trend line and 33-36 are all below it. By both contract length and AAV, prime time for free agency ends after 31.
The service time rules are collectively bargained by the MLB Players Association and the owners, so they aren’t written in stone. It’s in the players’ best interest to get as many guys to free agency by 31 as possible, but the clubs control the roster decisions for each player in the organization.
Changes are definitely needing in collective bargaining to address these issues — teams just have control of players for way too long, in both the minors and in the majors, before they can hit free agency and have some semblance of control over their future — but, as Epstein also points out, MLB is going to want major concessions for any possible change. If they’re even willing to make a change at all: it’s not like the Players Association didn’t spend the lockout attempting to get some changes made to the system, but MLB shut down most of them. The PA did extract some concessions for pre-free agency pay, but as far as free agency goes… that feels like it’s just the way it is, unless the union is willing to pay a price that certainly won’t be worth it in the long run.
Still, it’s worth poking around to see if there’s some change that can be made to keep players from being held on their initial deal until such time that they’ll essentially not be able to capitalize on their own most fruitful years. Just maybe don’t expect that change to be made, given this is MLB we’re talking about, and they are averse to modifying what works for them, specifically.
There are still some balls in the air here, and I’ll have more on this whole situation for Baseball Prospectus soon, but Amazon managed to work out a deal with Diamond to stream games for five teams on Prime Video, and it won’t require MLB’s approval. (Though, the bankruptcy court still needs to give it a thumbs up for it to be official.)
It still feels as if the end result of all of this is Amazon making themselves the official streaming platform of regional MLB broadcasts, which MLB won’t necessarily be against, but they don’t have as much control over the situation as they did if Diamond isn’t as desperate in negotiations as they were before Amazon started making investments in them.
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