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Czar Bud has issued a gag order on his fellow owners, and despite Selig’s
relative lack of power, the owners have so far decided to abide by the
edict and clam up. The taboo subject? The impending labor talks and
possible work stoppage that currently loom over the 2002 season.

Many fans are no doubt pleased by the lack of acrimony in the press so far.
All fans should be pleased that some of the attention that would ordinarily
be focused on the expiration of the CBA and the morass that inevitably
accompanies such an event will instead be focused on the field. With less
controversy to cover in the board rooms, many reporters will default to
talking about the events on the field, and fans will not have to endure so
many sports commentators offering their witless commentaries on business
and economics. Sportswriters writing about economics issues is about as
sensible as Hollywood actors talking about politics, and the results are
equally vapid. When you see me writing about biotechnology, you know it’s
time to leave.

However, there is one small negative side effect to the vow of silence.
While public relations is generally seen as a form of marketing, it also
provides companies and entities with a way to test ideas before they’re
launched; that is, without actually making a full investment in the ideas.
Sometimes it’s a new product. Sometimes it’s a branding strategy. Sometimes
it’s a possible trade, floated to a widely read source like Peter Gammons.
And sometimes it’s a negotiating ploy.

In an industry like baseball, the general attitude of the fans is critical
to the teams’ future revenue streams. When fans see that the local team
isn’t going to win under any circumstances, they stop going to the games
and watching them on TV. Local corporations stop fighting over club seats
and luxury boxes.

More critically, if either side in the baseball battle determines early on
that its strategy will result in a severe drop in fan support, that side
will likely pull back and either revise its strategy or increase its
willingness to compromise at the negotiating table. This element to the
negotiation is lost when both sides claim they want to have an amicable
discussion out of the public eye. (You can, of course, exchange
pleasantries with someone you’re about to take to the cleaners.)

The owners, in particular, need to know when
somebody set up them the bomb,
because their unwillingness to accept that their problems are largely of
their own making probably means that they’re going to try to unnecessarily
stick it to the players. Again.

Chris Kahrl’s Transaction Analysis
talked
a bit about the insane contracts handed out recently

to several starting and backup catchers. Allow me to
contribute my two cents by pointing out that Tom Wilson,
Creighton Gubanich, and Danny Ardoin–among others–are all
sitting around Triple-A, waiting for a chance to earn just $200,000 and
play on a major-league team, while the Angels are coughing up ridiculous
sums to overpay the overachieving Ben Molina. This drives up the
cost for other teams to retain catchers as they reach their arbitration years.

Some teams simply don’t learn. Arbitration makes the smart teams pay for
that ineptitude.

Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.