We live in a time in which Major League Baseball front offices are increasingly cutting payroll and are seemingly happy to be “competitive” while eschewing — and sometimes even fearing — taking shots at being truly great. As we’ve discussed a lot around here over the past couple of years, a number of buzzwords — and tortured justifications for low payroll — spin out of that philosophy.
“Financial flexibility” is one we’ve had a lot of fun with. And to be sure, there are way more ridiculous ones. But there’s one you hear more often than all the others lately. Indeed, I can’t remember the last press conference from an owner or head of baseball operations that didn’t nod to it. What is it?
If you want to see it in action, look no further than yesterday’s introductory press conference of new Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. Both he and team president Sam Kennedy used the term on multiple occasions when referring to the future goals of the Boston Red Sox.
In front office speak “sustainable success” does not mean “sustained on-the-field success” in the form of trying to win every single season. The “sustainable” refers to “financial sustainability,” making the term “sustainable success” mean “success on the field only so long as the team finances remain within our pre-set parameters.”
Which, hey, how can that be unreasonable? No business — and baseball teams are businesses — wants to win at any cost. Coke no doubt would love to finally vanquish Pepsi for good, but if they did at the cost of bankrupting the company, well, that’d be bad. Similarly, baseball teams no doubt want to win the World Series, but they don’t want to do it if it means the club is forced out of business itself.
Except, there’s one problem here: there is absolutely no reason to believe that any team would be at risk of that if they actually spent money on players and truly attempted to compete for championships every year.
Part of this is structural: the Astros and Nationals are each trying to defeat the other right now, but they are not Coke and Pepsi. They are part of the same larger business concern, they depend on each other’s survival and they and their 28 counterparts have a host of rules and business arrangements in which they work to prop each other up in various ways and in which they seek to share the wealth.