Do not believe MLB’s claims about how much money it stands to lose

Getty Images

Over the weekend a story from the Associated Press about Major League Baseball’s potential financial losses got a lot of traction. The headline: “MLB projects $640K per game loss with no fans.” Inside the article it was claimed that even if a season is played, “doing so without fans would still lead to a $4 billion loss and would give major league players 89% of revenue.”

That story, and subsequent stories citing anonymous MLB sources, is clearly intended to paint a picture of a season which cannot happen absent massive concessions from players. Concessions, mind you, that MLB has told multiple reporters it requires, but which it has not yet formally requested from the players. Which is to say: this is a public relations onslaught.

The thing about it, though: the numbers are mostly bunk.

Yesterday at Fangraphs, Craig Edwards walked through the claims in both the AP article and from other sources and compared it to what is known about MLB finances. He found that, in multiple ways, the figures are misleading. They leave out large chunks of revenue MLB and its owners will realize. They include costs, such as spending on the amateur draft, that that have already been deferred to the future. The AP article neglects to mention that the money MLB claims it will lose due to broadcasters holding back broadcast rights money for games not played is, often, money being saved by the same businesses which own teams because a lot of teams have interests in their cable network. Sure, SNY might not be paying the Mets for some games, but every penny SNY saves is a money Fred Wilpon saves.

Which is to say a great deal of what MLB is claiming as a loss can be characterized very differently depending on how one accounts for it. Which is something anyone who is familiar with the history of Major League Baseball’s economic landscape knows has long been a part of the game’s creative approach to finances.

None of which is to say that what’s going to happen is good for the game’s finances, necessarily. But Edwards’ conclusion is far closer to the mark than the alarmism coming from MLB:

Ultimately, owners might lose money this season, but just how much is up for debate. If the teams play games, it certainly won’t be the $4 billion figure that is being floated. And even without a postseason, playing the games and paying players prorated salaries results in more incremental revenue per game for owners than skipping the season.

But, under the current plans being floated, there will be a postseason,. If it comes off as planned — complete with an additional round — even the losses claimed by MLB will be substantially ameliorated.

Indeed, it seems to me that far more hinges on the 2020 season having a postseason than anything the players agree to or don’t agree to as far as salary goes. If they play October baseball (or November baseball), things will likely be fine for MLB. Not flush like the past few years, but something the league and its teams can ride out pretty well. If for some reason they don’t — if, say, we get a nasty second wave COVID-19 outbreak and even the limited season plans are washed out — it will be worse.

Either way, though, as Edwards shows, there’s a huge reason not to buy what MLB and its surrogates in the media are selling about the financial state of affairs at the moment. Be wary of those claims. Always.

Trevor Bauer pulls on No. 96 for Yokohama’s BayStars

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

YOKOHAMA, Japan – Trevor Bauer apparently was shunned by every major league team, so he’s signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Before about 75 reporters in a Yokohama hotel, he slipped on the BayStars uniform – No. 96 – on Friday and said all the right things. Not a single Japanese reporter asked him about his suspension in the United States over domestic violence allegations or the reasons surrounding it.

The only question about it came from The Associated Press. Bauer disputed the fact the question suggested he was suspended from the major leagues.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” he said of the suspension. “But I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to pitch again. I’ve always wanted to play in Japan.”

He said the suspension dealt technically with matters of pay, and he said he had contacted major league teams about playing this year. He said he would have been eligible, but did not say if he had offers.

The 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 12, three weeks after an arbitrator reduced his suspension imposed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred from 324 to 194 games.

The penalty followed an investigation into domestic violence, which the pitcher has denied.

Manfred suspended Bauer last April for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy, after a San Diego woman said he beat and sexually abused her in 2021.

Bauer has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying everything that happened between him and the woman was consensual. He was never charged with a crime.

Bauer joined his hometown Dodgers before the 2021 season and was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts before being placed on paid leave.

Bauer said his goal with the BayStars was to strike out 200 and keep his average fastball velocity at 96 mph – hence his uniform number. He said he is also working on a better change-up pitch.

He said he hoped to play by mid-April – about two weeks after the Japanese season begins – and said he has been training for the last 1 1/2 years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength training and throwing,” he said. “I didn’t really take any time off. So I’ve had a year and a half of development time. I’m stronger than ever. More powerful than ever.”

Yokohama has not won a title in 25 years, and Bauer said that was his goal in the one-year deal.

“First and foremost, I want to help the Stars win a championship,” he said. “That involves pitching well. That involves helping teammates and learning from them. If they have questions – you know – share my knowledge with them.”

He also repeated several times about his desire to play in Japan, dating from a collegiate tournament in 2009 at the Tokyo Dome. He said playing in Japan was on his mind even before winning the Cy Young – and also immediately after.

“The Tokyo Dome was sold out,” he said. “I’d never played in front of that many people – probably combined in my life. In the United States, college games aren’t very big, so seeing that amount of passion. How many people came to a college game in Japan. It really struck me.”

He said he’d been practicing with the Japanese ball, which he said was slightly softer with higher seams.

“But overall it just feels like a baseball and the pitches move the same. The velocity is similar. I don’t notice much of a difference.”

Other teams in Japan have made similar controversial signings before.

Former major league reliever Roberto Osuna – who received a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy – signed last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

He has signed for this season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

In 1987, Dodgers relief pitcher Steve Howe, who had a career plagued with drug problems, tried to sign with the Seibu Lions. But he did not play in the country after the Japanese baseball commissioner disqualified Howe because of his history of drug abuse.

Bauer was an All-Star in 2018 and went 83-69 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 seasons for Arizona (2012), Cleveland, (2013-19), Cincinnati (2019-20) and the Dodgers. He won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.