Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal reports that the single-A Dayton Dragons are being sold by current owner Mandalay Baseball to a company called Palisades Arcadia Baseball. That’s not a big deal. Minor league teams sell all the time. What is a big deal is the price: $40 million, which Fisher says is the highest price ever paid for a minor league team.
Now, the Dragons are not your run-of-the-mill minor league teams. As Fisher notes, they have the longest sellout streak in the history of U.S. sports. They set the record in 2011 with their 815th straight sellout. It’s still going strong. In May they sold out their 1,000th straight game. While only a Midwest League team, their ballpark holds over 8,000 fans, which means that they draw more than just about every minor league team at every level. Usually only one or two Triple-A teams do better in overall attendance.
But still: sellouts or not, they are just a single-A team that can only charge single-A prices for tickets, beer and big foam fingers. Making that $40 million price tag pretty darn incredible. To put it in perspective, the Steinbrenner family bought the Yankees for $8.7 million in the early 70s. Current Phillies’ ownership bought that team in 1980 for $30 million. Current Twins ownership bought the team in 1984 for $44 million. Major league franchise prices have gone through the roof, but it wasn’t too terribly long ago when the price the Dragons’ current owners are getting was what you might expect to pay for a big league club.
But, for as interesting as this news is, let’s not allow it to make us lose sight of a couple of immutable facts: (1) Baseball is Dying, You Guys; and (2) Minor League Sports aren’t Very Successful.
Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.
While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.
Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.
Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”
Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.
If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.