Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg joined WFAN radio host Mike Francesa on April 24th and discussed a wide variety of topics. One topic that came up was the Rays ability to stay competitive in the current MLB landscape given their lack of fan turnout at the ballpark. Sternberg suggested, and Francesa agreed with wholeheartedly, that Major League Baseball should give small market teams, like the Rays, a first round pick in the early going of the draft so they can stay competitive. This is a dangerous idea and is awful for the game.
In what other business are owners given money to stay competitive? Only in sports. Is it the fault of the big market teams that teams like the Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals can’t manage to stay competitive by retaining their players and signing free agents? I shouldn’t even lump the Royals and Pirates in with the Rays who must be taking a page out of the Miami Marlins playbook and not investing in their team to attract fans. Yes, the Rays have been to a World Series. Yes, the Rays have developed star players like James Shields, David Price and Evan Longoria. However, to suggest that a team should get an early pick in any draft because they have trouble filling their seats is just plain stupid and it is dangerous to the future of the sport.
One caller to Mike Francesa’s show tried to point this out but was promptly shot down and talked to like he was a fool because Sternberg is a smart man and that was enough for Francesa. Francesa shouted down the caller stating that teams cannot win without having early first round picks. I guess Francesa forgets that Albert Pujols was taken in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft. I guess Francesa forgot Mike Piazza was taken in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. Or, perhaps Francesa forgets that the New York Yankees, a big market team that has picked in the later rounds of the first round, if they even had a first round pick, have managed to select 21-game winner Ian Kennedy and All-Star outfielder Austin Jackson in recent years. James Shields, for the record, was a 13th round pick and managed to play an integral role in the Rays rotation for the last few years before being traded for Wil Myers this past off-season.
The very idea that small market clubs that have trouble selling out their ballgames should be given a first round pick every year, or every third year as Francesa suggested at one point, is dangerous to the game. These small market teams are already given money in revenue sharing based on the fact that they play in small markets. The idea behind the revenue sharing is to allow these teams flexibility in signing free agents or retaining their own free agents. Is it the fault of the Yankees, New York Mets, or Boston Red Sox if the Rays can’t stay competitive?
Only in sports are teams or owners in poor markets given rewards to stay competitive. Sports should not be about the ability of everyone to compete and have a chance at a championship. Sports are the epitome of nature, only the strong survive. If a team owner, like Sternberg, is having trouble making money in a certain market then perhaps he should either change markets or get out of the business. A smart businessman should know that.
Maybe one day sports will stop moving toward communist ideology and remember that it is a business in a capitalist society. Not everyone can get a trophy and if a team wins 90 games it should not get an early first round pick just because they can’t attract fans to their ballpark.