“There’s no question that tightening the bracket would absolutely help teams like the Pirates”

BRADENTON, Fla. – Bob Nutting’s annual press conference in Spring Training happened to come one day after Manny Machado signed with the Padres. I’m pretty sure there would have been questions about Machado regardless of whether he was signed by this point, especially since you can make the argument that he would fill a huge need for the Pirates, while only putting their payroll just north of $100 M.

I’m going to skip over a lot of the questions and answers about Machado, because Nutting’s responses are what you’d expect. The Pirates didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about Machado. They’re happy with the players they have, who they believe will perform well. Neal Huntington doesn’t believe in allocating a large percentage of the payroll to one player.

My focus on this subject was more about the big picture in baseball, where small markets have to view guys like Machado in a different way than larger markets. Machado didn’t sign with a large market team, ending up in San Diego. Nutting said that “it will be interesting to see how it plays out for San Diego” and didn’t want to speak to how the move might look over the next ten years.

But when asked about whether small markets need to address this issue in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, to level the playing field for all teams, he gave two answers.

The first was the usual answer that the Pirates will always focus on what the existing rules are, and they won’t use market size or limitations as an excuse. As for the next CBA discussions, Nutting wasn’t very detailed, opting to keep specifics between the teams and the commissioner.

“We have individually and collectively expressed our opinions to the commissioner’s office,” Nutting said. “We have a good relationship there and I have a tremendous amount of faith that [MLB commissioner] Rob [Manfred] and his team will put together the package that they can in the best interest of the game and I’m highly confident that the concerns of teams like the Pirates are being heard.”

A downside to this is that Manfred recently stated that he doesn’t believe there is an advantage to spending more. There is a clear advantage, allowing bigger market teams to pursue anyone they want, and even patch over mistakes and injuries with replacement guys who cost money. The advantage is seen when you notice that only three teams in the last 25 years have won a World Series with a payroll in the bottom half of the league.

MLB is in need of a level playing field, with a salary cap, a salary floor, and revenue sharing that would allow every team to spend to the cap. Nutting said that this type of system would help teams like the Pirates.

“There’s no question that tightening the bracket would absolutely help teams like the Pirates and absolutely be a step forward,” Nutting said. “Whether it’s realistic in the overall economic system of baseball, whether it’s an achievable goal, what else would need to happen to make that happen, how it aligns with and fits with other teams and the union’s goals, I think that’s complex. It’s a very complex issue so I at least know and respect that what is in our best interest may or may not be ultimately be what ends up moving forward.

“The most important thing for us is we understand the real rules that are in place and work with them and don’t allow a potential future state to distract us from what it takes to put a championship team on the field in the existing economic system.”

Nutting didn’t want to comment on any speculation of a future strike, current public player comments, or any projections for future CBA topics.

As I’ve noted before, there is very little that small market teams can do in this case. In every other sport that has a cap/floor/revenue sharing structure, the change either came from the big market teams, or from league financial issues. The big market teams in baseball have never been willing to share their revenues fully and level the playing field. The league also isn’t in the same poor financial situation as the NHL was, for example. The best hope for small market teams would be an aggressive push from the player’s side for an overhaul in the league structure.

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