SBD/Issue 52/Franchises

Is Slow Economy To Blame For Lack Of MLB Free-Agent Movement?

Affeldt One Of Two Free Agents To
Have Inked Deals So Far This Offseason
Since MLB's free agency window opened on November 14, only two of the league's 171 free agents have signed contracts, and the lack of activity "raised the question as to whether the nation's economic crisis is affecting baseball's marketplace," according to Ben Shpigel of the N.Y. TIMES. The MLB winter meetings will be held December 8-11 in Las Vegas, and it is "possible that some prominent free agents may soon make their choices, giving baseball some buzz." But for the moment, it is "pretty quiet on the baseball front," and "unusually quiet, if free-agent moves that took place during the same period in recent off-seasons are considered." Each of the past five offseasons have seen at least six free agent signings by this date, but teams this year "seem to be proceeding cautiously and dispensing fewer offers than in years past." However, Shpigel writes in "all likelihood, elite players" such as P CC Sabathia and 1B Mark Teixeira will "not be affected by the economy; they will sign lucrative contracts at some point regardless of how many bankruptcies occur" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/26).

HOLDING THE RUNNER: In L.A., Dylan Hernandez writes Dodgers Owners Frank and Jamie McCourt seem to be "hedging against lavish spending during a time of such great economic uncertainty." Jamie McCourt said that the "fact that the majority of contracts were guaranteed was a significant issue." She said, "If people can't play anymore, it's like, 'Oh well, see ya.' Different story. Whatever money they are guaranteed could be money that we could otherwise have given to the community." Frank McCourt said that the funds that cover 42 youth baseball fields being built in Southern California "won't be taken out of the team's operating budget." But he added that the Dodgers need to "re-examine their priorities." He said that the team's "top priority remained to field a winning team," but noted that the team's payroll, which was around $120M this past season, has not been determined for '09. But Jamie McCourt said that while the Dodgers "might be more cautious, they wouldn't shy away from pursuing such big-name free agents" as Sabathia and LF Manny Ramirez (L.A. TIMES, 11/26).

Padres Could See Significant Attendance
Drop-Off After Paring Of Payroll 
DOWN BY THE BAY: ESPN.com's Sean McAdam wrote the Padres are "bracing for a significant drop-off in attendance in 2009, thanks in equal parts to the economic downturn and their dismal performance this past season," when the team finished with a 63-99 record. The Padres drew 2.4 million fans to Petco Park last season, down from 2.8 million in '07, and it "would surprise few if the Padres were to draw less than 2 million in attendance next season." The team's payroll, which was near $73M this past season, is "likely to be sliced nearly in half" for '09. Meanwhile, as part of the team's front-office structure, Padres Exec VP/Baseball Operations Paul DePodesta reports to CEO Sandy Alderson, not GM Kevin Towers, and "must sign off on player moves." An industry exec said of the Padres, "It's a mess. That whole organization is totally dysfunctional" (ESPN.com, 11/25).

IN THE BRONX: The Yankees yesterday said that they will keep ticket prices for Spring Training games at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on par with the '08 level, ranging from $17-31 (AP, 11/25). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote Yankees Vice Chair Hal Steinbrenner, who has assumed control of the organization, was "always going to be the guy in charge no matter what his older brother," Yankees Vice Chair Hank Steinbrenner, kept publicly saying. Hal was "quietly learning the business while his brother kept talking." Hal's leadership is "good for the Yankees and good for baseball, which did not want Hank to be the one in charge" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/23).

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