Major League Baseball officials have discussed the possibility of capping teams’ spending in off-field areas such as technology, player development and scouting, report Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. MLB’s owners and league officials are convened in New York this week for a quarterly meeting, though they haven’t announced any changes to this point.
A league official downplayed the possibility of staff restrictions, telling Drellich and Rosenthal that MLB’s focus is on technology. “There is nothing happening on (the staffing) front,” the spokesperson told The Athletic. “What we are focused on is gathering information on vendor costs to find potential cost savings through efficiencies and to ensure equal access to all technology.”
Nevertheless, Drellich and Rosenthal hear that some high-ranking league personnel have indeed kicked around the idea of limits on spending for non-playing staff. That’d be a divisive provision that could impact job security for front office members were it to gain traction.
MLB could frame such a limitation as a competitive balance measure. Smaller-market clubs could argue that revenue disparities among organizations affords larger-market franchises more leeway in bolstering areas such as scouting, analytics and player development — all of which should have trickle-down effects in the on-field results. Limiting spending on non-playing personnel, one could argue, would prevent higher-revenue franchises from leveraging their financial might to gain those advantages.
However, there’s a reasonable case that capping non-playing spending actually reduces the ability for lower-revenue clubs to compete with bigger-payroll rivals. Investment in front office and player development staff generally costs a fraction of teams’ spending on players. For some smaller-market owners, unrestricted spending on non-playing talent can be a means of limiting the advantage for higher-revenue franchises with more leeway on player payroll.
A potential provision that’d force teams to cut costs in non-playing capacities is surely appealing to some on the league side. Each collective bargaining negotiation brings some chatter about MLB potentially pursuing a salary cap. The Players Association has steadfastly refused to entertain that, though. That’s not likely to make it out of collective bargaining anytime soon, but the MLBPA doesn’t represent an obstacle for the league in limiting non-player spending.
Most front office personnel aren’t unionized. As Rosenthal and Drellich point out, the Congressional antitrust exemption for MLB would likely be the basis for a potential limit on front office staff. Whether the league would consider possible litigation, increased scrutiny regarding the exemption, and/or adding an incentive for non-playing personnel to consider unionization efforts of their own — R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports examined that possibility in depth last month in a piece that’s worth a read for those interested in the topic — remains to be seen.