The Rangers and Rays entered today’s action — the final day of regular season action — tied for the second AL Wild Card spot and remained so at the end of the day. While the Indians secured themselves top billing in the AL Wild Card play-in game, the Rangers and Rays will have to play a 163rd game against each other to decide who gets the privilege of matching up against the Tribe in the Wild Card play-in game on Wednesday.
The Rays scored six times in the first inning against the Blue Jays in what looked like an easy victory, but the Jays stormed back late to make things interesting. Trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the sixth, the Jays scored three times against Rays starter Matt Moore. They added on in the seventh against Jake McGee and two in the eighth against Joel Peralta and closer Fernando Rodney to bring the game to 7-6. Rodney, however, was able to record the four-out save to keep the Rays’ post-season hopes alive.
Meanwhile, the Rangers wrapped up a four-game sweep of the Angels, winning their seventh consecutive game to force that Game 163. Starter Yu Darvish was solid, allowing only a home run to Mike Trout in five and two-thirds innings of work. With two outs in the sixth, lefty Neal Cotts entered the game and allowed an inherited runner to score, charged to Darvish, to tie the game at 2-2. In the bottom half of the inning, Geovany Soto hit an RBI double to put the Rangers up 3-2, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. They would score again in the seventh and twice in the eighth to go up 6-2. Joe Nathan pitched a comfortable ninth to keep the Rangers one win away from the post-season.
Tomorrow, at 8:07 PM Eastern, the Rangers will host the Rays. Lefty Martin Perez will oppose Rays lefty David Price. The winner will face Indians starter Danny Salazar on Wednesday in the AL Wild Card game. The winner of the AL Wild Card game will play the AL East-leading Red Sox on Friday.
Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.
A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”
Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:
Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.
But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?
Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.
Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.