Notes: The A’s can get worse, Diamond Baseball Holdings

Why the A’s can get worse, and what is Diamond Baseball Holdings up to?

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My latest at Baseball Prospectus published on Tuesday, and it’s on how the A’s can get worse. You would think they’re already as bad as they can be, but no. Right now, at least, there’s some hope that maybe things could get better, because the move to Las Vegas could get John Fisher to become a completely different person who spends money like he’s said will happen. But that’s very unlikely. Unlikely enough that I went on the record to say that it’s not happening, while feeling pretty good about my chances of not having to eat crow about it later.

They’ll have revenue-sharing checks again, since Las Vegas is the smallest media market in the league. They renegotiated their rights deal with NBC Sports California with the move to Sacramento, which won’t pay them the full value of the deal—nearly $70 million annually—but will still net them a “significant” amount of that promised cash, per Evan Drellich. They’ll still receive the roughly $100 million in central baseball revenue each year: the A’s will be flush with cash. Of course, they were already flush with cash. They were already receiving money from the central pool. They were already receiving nearly $70 million per year on their television deal. They were already receiving revenue-sharing checks again, since the current collective bargaining agreement took effect in 2022. And what did they do with that? They went from an 86-win team missing a few pieces to go for a Wild Card in 2021 to one that sold off any of the players whose names fans of other teams might know, lopping over $40 million off of the payroll by the end of 2022, and have added very little in the way of cash or talent since. Again, the money was there. A less embarrassing team could have been fielded, but the A’s didn’t even attempt to create one. It let Fisher pocket more cash, but their reputation went from bad to worse, with fans, with media, with players. The A’s were the Rays before the Rays, a cheap team that could at least put quality on the field, but now they’re just the Pirates. And, just like the Pirates, the A’s have already been making way more money than they’re spending.

There isn’t any new money here. And as I also alluded to the in piece, Las Vegas is no sure thing. There are still multiple opportunities for Nevada to say no, and polling in Las Vegas suggests that if the chance for a statewide vote on the public subsidizing the A’s and Fisher comes to pass, well, the A’s might just be staying in Sacramento for a while longer than they had planned. The A’s can very much get worse, and that’s the case even if the Vegas plan works out. In terms of getting there, anyway.

That Baseball Prospectus piece is free to read with a Basic subscription, by the way, which is itself free. You just need an email login and then you’re good to go.

I’ve been following this story for a while now, and poking around trying to find an answer to a question that apparently we still don’t have an answer for. Why is Diamond Baseball Holdings buying up so many minor league teams? The Athletic attempted to find out, and did a great job of laying out just what Diamond is doing and has done, but the answer as to “why” remains elusive.

To be fair, it’s difficult to trust just about anyone these days buying up a lot of anything, to assume that they’re telling the truth and actually do just want to help create a better product. So, some skepticism about that being “all” Diamond is up to by scooping up one-quarter of all minor-league teams is both understandable and merited. It would be lovely if all they wanted to do was ensure that there was someone there to act as a check against MLB’s desire to further cut into the overall population of minor-league teams, sure, but wanting it isn’t the same thing as it being the outcome we’ll eventually get. And the fact Diamond and MLB seem to be working very closely together, based on the reporting done by Chad Jennings, Evan Drellich, and Sam Blum, has my guard up.

It’s not just me thinking like this, either. From the story itself:

“On the one hand it is tremendously beneficial that DBH has a say because MLB can’t come in and push 120 teams around,” said one longtime minor league owner who, like some peers interviewed for this story, was granted anonymity so that he could speak freely. “However, the biggest fear that we have is that as we approach the next (minor-league contract) in several years, DBH has such influence, and the teams themselves are just a small part of DBH/Silver Lake’s overall involvement, that it’s conceivable MLB could hurt the minor-league teams to the benefit of other areas.”

Are they simply bringing a former mom-and-pop-style operation into the future, like they claim? Or will they eventually gobble up practically everything, and be as efficiency minded as MLB is about the minors as a whole, to the detriment of it all? Diamond certainly isn’t fully innocent or using its own money — they’re relocating a couple of teams where new stadiums were deemed a necessity given the conditions of the facilities and how much it would cost to renovate and update, and they were just thwarted in Portland, ME, in their attempt to receive public subsidies to renovate Hadlock Field, which needs $8-10 million in work done to it to bring it up to the new mandatory guidelines. They’re not planning to leave town or anything because of it, but still. Why can’t Diamond/Silver Lake just cover that bill themselves? Silver Lake is a massive investment firm with assets totaling over $100 billion, capable of making a purchase for the entirety of Endeavor, which is how they ended up with DBH in the first place. Meaning, in the end, they’re still the kind of business-minded folks looking to spend your money instead of their own whenever possible. It’s important to remember that, even if the operation wears the face of family-friendly entertainment.

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