Baseball has been riding a wave of big money based on big TV deals, both local and national. The deals are paid for by cable TV customers whose bills keep going up and up. There are an increasing number of voices who believe we have a bubble on our hands and that bubble is bound to burst. From Pete Kotz’s report in City Pages last week:
Today, the average TV bill rests at $86 per month, about half of which pays for sports programming. That’s more than double a decade ago. So it’s no coincidence that the cable and satellite industries have been jettisoning customers for nine years straight.
The new round of deals promises to hasten these unpleasant trends. “I can’t tell you what will be the trigger,” says Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association. “But I am certain that at some point in the very near future, that balloon will burst.”
And when it does, baseball will take the brunt of the explosion.
One has to be at least tad skeptical of this particular report given that it begins with what I feel is a fundamental misunderstanding of baseball’s relationship to television (i.e. national TV ratings are close to meaningless as a gauge for the health of televised baseball), but the nut of the article — cable bills can’t possibly keep going up at the rate they are to pay for all of these rights deals — seems pretty intuitive.
Indeed, as recent (and not-so-recent) history has shown us, no market spirals forever upward. There will be ruts at best, crashes at worst, and the balloons always pop eventually.
Baseball had best have a contingency plan in the event it happens to it as well.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Cubs won’t deal Kyle Schwarber this winter, despite multiple inquires from teams around the league. Schwarber is approaching his first year of arbitration and will remain under team control for another three seasons before reaching free agency in 2022.
The decision comes on the heels of one of the strongest seasons of the 25-year-old outfielder’s short career. Over 137 games and 510 PA for the Cubs, he proved a passable defender in left field and batted .238/.356/.467 with 26 home runs, an .823 OPS, and 3.2 fWAR in 2018. He also led the National League in intentional walks, with 20, and bumped up his total walks from 59 in 2017 to 78.
Despite his marked improvements from previous years, Schwarber’s performance still left something to be desired — specifically against left-handed pitchers, who held the slugger to a paltry .224/.352/.303 with four extra-base hits across 91 PA. Still, it’s evident the Cubs feel Schwarber is capable of strengthening his splits in the years to come, and they might stand to get more value from him on the field than they would in a trade this offseason.
Of course, that’s not to say the Cubs intend to pass the Winter Meetings in total silence, especially as they’ll be seeking bullpen and catching depth in advance of their 2019 run at the division title. As club president Theo Epstein remarked last week, “We’re certainly open and active in trade talks with a lot of deals that usually don’t come to fruition. So, we may make some trades. We could make big ones that transform the roster. We may make smaller complementary ones. But there’s certain things we’d like to accomplish.”