It was just two years ago that the Atlanta Braves had a payroll of $100 million dollars. Oh the good ole days. Now, for the second year in a row the organization is "getting by" on a payroll of $80 million dollars, which by all accounts is the 10th largest in the game.
The Braves will not get any sympathy from Tampa Bay, whose Devil Rays own a payroll right around $30 million, or the seven other teams that are below the $50 million dollar level.
Is eighty million dollars an acceptable level for a team payroll? Probably. Most teams below that level wish they could be there, while the Braves are probably worried that they could be forced to dip below that sometime in the future.
What hurts the Braves is that four players (Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, John Smoltz, and Mike Hampton) make up almost 60% of the $80 million dollar payroll. And it also hurts that the corporate structure supposedly running the franchise has put it on a short leash to not increase the mark by one dollar.
When the Braves were purchased as a part of Turner Broadcasting by Time Warner, and then by AOL, promises were made that nothing would change in the way of the team's financial structure. It was an important entity in the massive conglomerate because of its tie to television. So, we were told, the Braves would pretty much be left alone.
But then the huge deal between Time Warner and AOL became a bad deal. The Internet boom lasted for a short period of time, and all the wonderful things that were promised when the mega-merger was made went right out the window. Now it's just a big, huge company that had no business merging in the first place and will probably be lucky to remain intact in the coming years.
The company sold off the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Thrashers to a local Atlanta group. At one point the Braves were supposedly on the block. But then the powers that be, whomever these faceless people may be, decided that the Braves were too much of a core asset to sell off. Braves Baseball on TBS is important, and without the Braves under the corporate umbrella, it might be difficult to hold on to the television property.
With that in mind, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to lock the payroll down and not give General Manager John Schuerholz any flexibility to add a significant contract. Why would you jeopardize a supposed core asset by not allowing it to improve itself if necessary? It makes no sense.
Amazingly, the Braves have been able to remain in the race so far this summer despite an unprecedented run of serious injuries. Not many teams could lose their MVP and 60% of its starting rotation and still be only three games out of first place. If not for the tremendous farm system built up by Director of Player Personnel Dayton Moore and Scouting Director Roy Clark, this team would be in serious trouble.
And perhaps in a weird way that hurts the potential of getting flexibility in the payroll. The corporate suits, and again we don't really know who these people are, see these rookies come up and succeed and see them making only $316,500 for the season. They must be saying, "Well your minor leagues have kept you in this, so why should you have to go outside the organization for more help."
Admittedly, that is a good point. The kids have done the job, and there are even more kids in Richmond and Mississippi that could help if called upon. But the problem is simply not giving John Schuerholz the option of improving the team through trades if he deems it necessary. It really limits his ability, although he's waved his magic wand many times in his tenure as the GM in Atlanta, and the suits must believe he'll do it again.
In a way, as someone who loves our minor leaguers and our young players, I'm glad we might not have the option of trading a few of them away for a veteran rental player. I'm anxious to see what these kids are going to be able to do for the rest of the season. And I really don't believe Schuerholz needs to make a slew of moves – maybe only one.
The current bullpen, led by Chris Reitsma and the endangered Dan Kolb, is not going to lead this club far into the playoffs. The team is going to have to add someone, a veteran reliever, to the bullpen before the end of the year. Could that be done by acquiring a relatively inexpensive reliever? Absolutely. But by completely limiting John Schuerholz with the strict payroll, it prohibits him from finding the exact arm needed to round out the bullpen. And it also lessens his bargaining power in discussions. Other teams are going to know Schuerholz's hands are tied, so they're going to want a fortune for a solid reliever.
Let's say the kids didn't keep this team in the race the last three weeks. Let's say the team tanked after losing Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, and John Thomson. If the team had been seven games under .500 instead of seven games over .500, would Time Warner still have stood strong in their stance on not increasing the payroll?
But here's the thing that doesn't make sense. A winning club = higher ratings = higher revenue. So if the Braves win, Time Warner is going to make more money. If the Braves tank in the second half, won't the revenues decrease? So therefore, wouldn't it be better for these faceless suits at Time Warner to give Schuerholz the flexibility to add a player if it will help keep the team a winner?
But for some reason, they don't get it. They must have unshakable faith in John Schuerholz to get it done no matter what, and I for one won't bet against him either. But if the team had the luxury of adding a reliever that might cost a couple million dollars, it just seems it would help the overall bottom line at the company by keeping those TBS revenues at an acceptable level. Am I missing something here?
The Braves really get hosed in their deal "with" TBS. It would be easy to assume that the Braves get most of that revenue by having their games on national television. But instead, thanks to Bud Selig and his merry men in New York, the Braves get the same amount as the Mariners or Devil Rays or even the Dodgers. That's right, the Braves get 1/30th of the rights fees paid to MLB by TBS.
Now granted that some of the profits, if there are any, probably go back into the Braves area of the Time Warner spread sheets. But wouldn't it have been better to give the Braves an extra million or two to spend on a reliever than a huge matrix board? Wouldn't it be better for Time Warner to ensure a winning second half by allowing Schuerholz to seek a new addition to the bullpen? Then, if there are even more profits, more can go toward the Braves down the road.
I mean it's obvious with all the promotions that the main reason Time Warner keeps the Braves on TBS is to promote their other programming. I'd be surprised if they are making huge profits off the broadcasts, but their windfall is coming from promoting "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and all their other shows. So the team that is most important in allowing the network to promote those shows now may not be able to keep itself in the race because of their stringent regulations.
I'm not asking for a lot here. I'm in the minority in that I don't think the team needs to go acquire a big bat for the lineup. The only bat the Braves need to make it to the playoffs is Chipper Jones, and hopefully he'll be back by the beginning of August. But the team does need a closer, and by limiting John Schuerholz in his trade discussions by capping the payroll, the huge corporation running this team is jeopardizing one of its core assets.
But for some reason, they can't understand that.
Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development. "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team" is out in bookstores now. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Time Warner just doesn't get it
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