Dan's Dugout: Who Can Buy A Pennant? • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Who Can Buy A Pennant?

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Forty years ago, one lone owner warned his colleagues that free agency would afflict baseball with a runaway salary spiral that would suffocate small-market teams.

Even with revenue sharing easing the burden on the little guys, there’s no doubt that Charles O. Finley was right.

Charley Finley and his mule Charley O in Kansas City days

Charley Finley and his mule Charley O in Kansas City days

The enigmatic owner of the Oakland Athletics, who rightfully belongs in the Hall of Fame because of his multiple innovations, warned that owners would engage in wild bidding wars that would make millionaires of minor-leaguers and force fans to pay the freight.

Because of his abrasive nature, Finley fought with Bowie Kuhn, then commissioner of baseball, as well as Marvin Miller, then the new head of the players association, and was widely considered a nincampoop.

Yeah, and Jose Canseco lied about steroids too.

It should not be forgotten that Finley’s teams finished first five straight times, sandwiching division titles around three world championships, while the owner served as his own general manager. But he saw trouble coming and reacted in 1976 by selling or trading as many top stars as Kuhn would allow.

Wonder what Charley O would say today, now that 29 clubs (the Yankees excluded) spent more than $2,483,000,000 (that’s billion with a b) on the first 106 veteran free agents who signed.

Apparently, somebody thinks you can guy a pennant.

The Chicago Cubs, who top the list, lavished $276 million on five players, including Jason Heyward

The Cubs made a huge investment in free agent Jason Heyward

The Cubs made a huge investment in free agent Jason Heyward

and Ben Zobrist, for an annual average of $17.3 million.

Right behind them are the Detroit Tigers, at $272 million and an annual average of $16 million for six newcomers, with Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton atop their list.

San Francisco’s $251 million outlay brought starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardjzia plus centerfielder Denard Span but the team committed 14 years to three players.

The Boston Red Sox were even more generous, spending $230 million on only two players. But one of them was crack southpaw starter David Price.

Nobody signed more players than the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, who dipped into the free agent market seven times each, but neither were near the top tier of spenders.

Zack Greinke will make a million dollars a start

Zack Greinke will make a million dollars a start

The frugal Finley would call the free-for-all fiscal insanity. Consider Zack Greinke alone; if he makes 34 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’ll make $1 million for each one.

No wonder the Yankees sat on the sidelines, preferring to swap rather than spend. The late George Steinbrenner, who purchased the entire team for $10 million in 1973, was more responsible than anyone for inflating the average payroll but the deals he made seem reasonable in light of what’s happened since. Even Reggie Jackson would agree.

With less than three weeks until pitchers and catchers report — the real first day of spring — a handful of quality veterans remain unsigned. They include infielders Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins, David Freese, and Justin Morneau; outfielders Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson; and pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Mike Minor, and Mat Latos.

Elsewhere in baseball:

Apparently, Home Run Derby is okay for the All-Star Game but not for the Caribbean Series; the Major League Baseball Players Association banned David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, and Miguel

No Home Run Derby in Caribbean Series for Big Papi Image Credit: EPIX

No Home Run Derby in Caribbean Series for Big Papi
Image Credit: EPIX

Cabrera from the pre-spring training exhibition to prevent potential injury . . .

Good thing the Yankees didn’t trade veteran first baseman Mark Teixeira with understudy Greg Bird out for the year following shoulder surgery . . .

Major League Baseball is studying the practice of “tanking” — teams deliberately stripping their stars in an effort to finish last and collect better draft choices. The Houston Astros became a 2015 playoff team after three last-place finishes yielded three top draft picks (including 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa).

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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