This past week Atlanta Braves CEO Terry McGuirk did an interview in Atlanta. His comments did nothing to excite fans about the upcoming season, with some stark realities about the Braves’ ownership situation.
First, he defended the $94 million payroll, which will rank near the middle in baseball. He believes it is high enough to build a winner and compete in the NL.
While it’s true that having a payroll twice that amount does not guarantee a World Series, it’s the lack of flexibility an organization has when the budget is more limited that is the problem. No one is advocating, or even expecting, the Braves to have unlimited funds. But the lack of financial flexibility, due to a tighter budget, makes it more difficult to compete and improve.
After their historic collapse in September, the Braves owed it to the fans to remove the aftertaste. Yes, we all had a bitter taste in our mouth after seeing the team squander a 9.5-game lead in the wild card race. But instead of improving the team, the Braves’ have really done nothing.
Looking back at the past 21 years, this is the first offseason the team has not added a free agent from another team or acquired a major league player in a trade. The Braves have signed a few players to minor league contracts (who will probably be in Triple-A), added a reliever in the Rule V draft and added a minor league reliever in the Derek Lowe salary-dump trade.
But that’s it. The ability to go out remove the memory of the collapse by bringing in talent to help the team was just not there because of the limited finances.
Atlanta’s payroll in 2002 was $93.4 million dollars, roughly the same McGuirk has projected for this season. We know, without even having to look it up, that the average salary and the average payrolls in baseball have increased in the past 10 years.
So are we to be happy with the fact Atlanta’s payroll is basically the same as it was a decade ago?
Attendance is part of this equation. Obviously, the more people that go to Turner Field, the more revenue the team will have and then be able to spend on talent. While the Braves averaged just more than three million fans per season from 1991 through 1999, they’ve averaged only 2.58 million fans per year since 2000.
The Braves had better talent in the 1990s and averaged 99 wins per year. But since 2000, they’ve averaged 89 wins per season. So what if ownership put better talent on the field? Would that make more people want to go out, which would in turn pay for the higher payroll?
The most alarming news from McGuirk was that the Braves are locked into long-term television deals for the next 20 years. While teams like the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers are going to have significant revenue increases due to local television contracts over the next few years, the Braves will not have that luxury.
This could make it more difficult for team owner Liberty Media, a group which basically acts as a financier and allows McGuirk to run the management team, to sell the franchise. Potential owners may stay away if they know they’re not going to get increased revenue from future television deals.
All of this doesn’t mean the Braves can’t be competitive this year and in the future. But it will mean it will be up to the front office to be even more successful at building a farm system that can consistently churn out young and cheap talent.
It might also make decisions on long-term contracts for current players become a bit more difficult. Can the Braves, for example, commit long-term to catcher Brian McCann, who can be a free agent after the 2013 season? He’ll be almost 30 then, so it might be tough for a team with more limited finances to commit a huge contract for a catcher that will be getting older during the life of the contract.
Let’s hope this year’s Braves erase last year’s bad memories. But McGuirk better hope that the teams in the division that made moves to improve aren’t better. Now we’ll all know the reasons why the Braves couldn’t do the same thing.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.