The plight of the small-market franchises

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
2:28
AM ET
I've recently discovered a bright young writer who seems to have excellent contacts, and I was struck by this passage on the plight of some small-market clubs:

    "When [GM] Theo Epstein took over in Boston, he changed the industry," said Indians GM Mark Shapiro. "Now we see the Red Sox and Yankees operating as if they're creative mid- to small-market teams, and it's widened the gap between them and some of the other franchises."

    The economy in Cleveland is stagnating the Indians' energetic organization. Major League Baseball is gravely concerned about the future of the Rays, who last year realized little bump from their 2008 run. A respected organization industry-wide, the Rays are stuck in a ballpark and location that Peter Ueberroth once predicted would suit only tractor pulls. Pittsburgh is trying to be aggressive in the domestic and foreign talent pools, spending the money to get top scouts and development people, but has yet to show progress. MLB still isn't certain that the Marlins' new facility will make Miami a viable baseball market.

    Oakland, stranded in a facility that the Altamont Raiders have systematically trashed, is close to beyond hope if the team can't move to San Jose. Beane offered more years and money to Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre, and they both signed with Boston. Holliday admitted that he was miserable playing in the dank mausoleum.

    "You start to wonder," Beane said, "if anyone wants to play here."

Competing with the Yankees and the Red Sox, whether financially or intellectually, is pretty rough.

Fortunately for Billy Beane and Mark Shapiro, they're also competing with the Mets, Dodgers and Cubs, plus a bunch of other teams that lack the Red Sox's money and the Athletics' acumen. Or their supposed acumen, anyway.

I'm still one of Billy Beane's biggest fans. Assuming I'm right about him, there's still plenty of room for a team with a low payroll to win 85 or 90 games. It's not easy. But it can be done. And Beane knows this better than I. He's frustrated, and he wants a new home for his team. You can't blame him. But the Twins, Rays and Rockies have proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you don't need to spend $100 million to field a good baseball team.

All that said, there is another solution to some of the "problems" noted here: relocation.

Ah, but that's not really an option, is it? The Rays are, indeed, stuck. There's little evidence that the Marlins will ever draw well in Miami, but they're building a new ballpark that will lock them in place for decades. The Royals just convinced the locals to invest $200 million in their old stadium.

I don't mean to suggest that every team in a small (or underperforming) market should move. There aren't enough good markets to house all of them. And the Brewers have proved that even a team in a tiny market can, at the very least, sell plenty of tickets with the right sort of team. But from the very beginning, it was possible for franchises in bad spots to find better spots. Today, that's practically impossible, which is probably the real source of Billy Beane's frustration. He thinks he knows how to fix things. But they won't let him.

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