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Sell our team, Bob

It’s long past sell-thirty, Bob. It’s pushing sell-forty-five.

Minnesota Twins v Cincinnati Reds Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

For more than three months, we’ve largely held to the singular, vacuum belief that ‘the owners’ were behind Major League Baseball’s current lockout. ‘The owners’ led by Rob Manfred, who has made enough dastardly comical claims in the last few years to own top billing as a WWE heel.

‘The owners’ were the ones who caused Opening Day to be cancelled, for the regular season to be shortened, for the entirety of the baseball season as we’ve come to know it to be called into question.

What if leveling accusations at ‘the owners’ was being too kind, though?

What if we knew with more precision exactly which owners were dragging their heels the most?

Last night, Evan Drellich of The Athletic continued his excellent coverage of the lockout and the ongoing negotiations with precisely that, noting that the primary owners of four franchises were particularly opposed to a key part of why there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement - the luxury tax threshold. And, you guessed it, Cincinnati’s own Bob Castellini is one of them.

The same guy who ordered the giveaways of Wade Miley and Tucker Barnhart prior to the lockout is opposed to teams having the ability to spend more money before being taxed for an overage. The guy who can’t spend, or won’t spend, doesn’t want anybody else to spend, either. On the flip side, that means the guy who won’t pay players the market rate for their services doesn’t want players to be paid market rate for their services elsewhere, either.

As has been noted in numerous places elsewhere, of that fearsome foursome of team owners - Reds, Tigers, Angels, Diamondbacks - three of them also voted against Steve Cohen purchasing the New York Mets last year. That’s the same Steve Cohen who’s worth over $14 billion and who immediately broke an AAV record to sign Max Scherzer after being ultimately approved as a team owner, and putting two and two together shows a pretty clear pattern here:

Castellini doesn’t feel he can compete under those kinds of rules, even though they’re not truly any different than the rules under which he’s failed to compete for the last 16 years.

To broaden this back to ‘the owners’ level once again, it’s worth pinpointing the exact meaning of that ‘raise the luxury tax threshold to $220 million’ clause to which Castellini is particularly opposed. During the 2021 MLB season, exactly one team in all Major League Baseball spent over that level - the Los Angeles Dodgers. The New York Yankees, the biggest, baddest baseball club that has ever bigged and badded, did not. Per Cot’s Contracts, those Yankees have not in any of the last five years, and have only twice topped that level dating all the way back to the year 2000.

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It’s one thing to concede that you cannot compete against the other 29 teams in the game in certain forms and fashions. If your ballpark is too big, and nobody can hit the ball over its fences, it doesn’t make any sense in the world to pour cash into fly-ball sluggers whose only strength would be sapped, even if that’s what the rest of the league is doing (just ask the San Francisco Giants). The Reds themselves seemed to figure that out along the way with the inverse - their tiny ballpark - and moved to a pitching strategy bent as exclusively as possible on strikeouts and grounders (pardon me while I deal with Eric Milton flashbacks).

You make those concessions and find other avenues. Even the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s, notoriously at the bottom of overall spend each year, have conceded they are never going to be able to spend the kind of coin to sign as many top free agents as they want each year. They instead focus their means on scouting and development of young players, and win beaucoup games in their own ways.

Speaking of Tampa and Oakland, you don’t see them on that list of franchises protesting how much the other teams want to spend. They long ago realized money was never going to be their route to success and adjusted accordingly, and frankly they probably won’t mind if the Mets or anyone else end up with a 26-man roster with a few albatrosses on it.

That’s the rub here, I think. The Reds, or Castellini, are complaining about a theoretical route to success they won’t even, or can’t even, take. And after 16 years of operating with that premise in mind - using the same business model as the clubs that actually spend the big bucks - they seem alarmed at the concept of the natural pace of inflation. In the process, their desired path is to squeeze the players out of that inflation, at the same time squeezing baseball fans out of the chance to actually watch the sport we love.

It’s a methodology that truly flies in the face of the ownership group’s statement when they bought the team back in 2006. “We will not rest until you are happy. The Reds are, after all, your team. You buy the tickets. You watch the games. You support us financially and emotionally. Without you, the Reds cannot be great.”

We want to watch our team again. Frankly, we’re finding out more and more that the owner of our team is one of the specific few who is keeping that from happening, in the process doing just about all he can to make it known to every free agent out there that he doesn’t really feel like paying them what they’re worth - and making it clear he doesn’t want anyone else to be able to pay them that, either.

It’s time to sell the team, Bob. It’s time to sell our team.