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The union would like the Chicago Cubs to spend more money on players

May 26, 2014, 9:32 AM EDT

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A few years ago the MLBPA, the league and the Marlins entered into an agreement in which the Marlins agreed to spend more money on players rather than cut things to the bone in order to rebuild. The leverage the union had in forcing the Marlins’ hand on this was Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) of the Basic Agreement, which commits teams to spending revenue sharing money “to improve its performance on the field.” The Marlins weren’t doing that, thus the agreement to spend more.

The Cubs aren’t in the same boat. They are a high revenue team which pays into the revenue sharing system, not one that draws from it. Still, they have a low payroll — on Opening Day they were 23rd out of 30, coming just under $90 million — and the union doesn’t like it when there are low payrolls, especially on teams that make a lot of dough. So, despite not having Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) at its disposal, the union is still pressuring anyway:

Whether the most powerful players union in American sports can do anything about the high-revenue team’s years-long trend of spending cuts and roster purges is tricky. It might depend in part on how much longer it lasts and if the union can find grounds for action in Major League Baseball’s debt-ratio rules for clubs.

The debt-ratio rule benefits players, of course, in that if a team is severely in debt and using all of its revenues to service it, they won’t be spending on players. As of now, Major League Baseball says that the Cubs aren’t in violation of debt-ratio rules. It is widely thought by outside observers, however, that the Cubs have to be in violation given that ownership took on $670 million in debt to buy the team. My guess is that the union is nudging at this apparent discrepancy and cautiously trying to get MLB to nudge the Cubs into spending more to avoid the sort of scrutiny into owner finances that owners really, really hate.

As of now, the Cubs kinda stink. They stink for a lot of reasons, and a rebuild is always going to require some payroll cutting. But I don’t think anyone has all the answers on whether the best way to rebuild is to burn-it-to-the-ground first and then add veterans or whether spending on MLB talent can or should go hand-in-hand with the sort of young talent development the Astros and Cubs are pursuing.

This article should be read a the MLBPA weighing in on that subject.

  1. luz56 - May 26, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    Typical union isn’t it …… Spend more money…

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 26, 2014 at 10:35 AM

      Yeah, why should the people putting out the product get paid for it rather than mgmt pocketing the money?

      • goskinsvt - May 26, 2014 at 10:42 AM

        Because without the ownership, there is no product.

      • zackd2 - May 26, 2014 at 11:11 AM

        Without elite athletes, there is no product either

      • cardinalcrazy - May 26, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        There is a product without elite players, just a crappy one. And I don’t think there isn’t anything wrong with not spending a lot of money during building years. Hopefully they can tuck a little of that away and when the time is right spend it on the so called elite players.

  2. chill1184 - May 26, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    But the Mets “spending” and Astros spending is ok?

    • cincinata - May 26, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      And a lot of good it is doing the Astros.

  3. cincinata - May 26, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    The problem here is this. Why should any employer pay more money to players/employees who don’t do a good job? In this case, they generally get replaced. The Cubs would be very happy to pay a lot of money to players if they would win some games, and actually compete at the level they are in. The Cubs overpaid a lot of players in the past to what end? These were actually good players who got the Cubs close, but still no crown. So now, they have a group of journeymen and even apprentices, who are “learning on the job”, and are thrilled to get the chance. If they can make it, the Cubbies will be happy to pay them.

  4. SBoy - May 26, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    Either the Cubs are meeting the spending requirement or they are not. If they’re not than the union is doing its job, if they are then if I was the cubs owner, I would tell the union to kiss my A**…

  5. Bar None - May 26, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    The Cubs had a $130+ million payroll not that long ago and had similar results. So I don’t think spending and winning go hand in hand. Exhibit A – Oakland and Tampa Bay. The way the Cubs are doing it, they can groom talent and then pay them accordingly as they progress.

  6. imnotyourbuddyguy - May 26, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    Not the Mets or Astros, but the Cubs.
    If the MLBPA is so concerned about what clubs are spending they should push for a salary cap so there is a floor to spend up to….oh wait they would never ask for that.
    Maybe they should stop having such stupid conversations where in the end they are complaining about the Cubs spending 93 million to lose baseball games.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 26, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      If the MLBPA is so concerned about what clubs are spending they should push for a salary cap so there is a floor to spend up to….oh wait they would never ask for that.

      All a cap does is remove money from players and give it to the owners. That’s why they’d never suggest one.

      • imnotyourbuddyguy - May 26, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        You don’t say? lol

      • Kevin S. - May 26, 2014 at 12:55 PM

        Actually, I’m coming around on that somewhat. In the past decade or so, the players’ cut has gone from roughly 60% of gross revenues into the low 40s. The NBPA got housed in the last lockout, and they’re still at 50%. Baseball revenues are much more regionalized, and you have to account for the expenses of maintaining a minor-league system, but the pseudo-free market approach to FA isn’t helping the players right now. If the cap came with a floor, better revenue sharing and a high guarantee (at least 57% or so), the players should be willing to give in on it.

      • Kevin S. - May 26, 2014 at 3:58 PM

        And to clarify, I still oppose a salary cap for other reasons, but “wealth transfer from players to onwers” isn’t automatic. Let’s see how much the small-market owners talk about fairness when the PA proposes a 60% revenue guarantee – free market’s gonna look pretty good then, huh?

  7. gbart22 - May 26, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    If the MLBPA is so concerned about what clubs are spending they should push for a salary cap so there is a floor to spend up to….oh wait they would never ask for that.
    Maybe they should stop having such stupid conversations where in the end they are complaining about the Cubs spending 93 million to lose baseball games.

    That right there says it all. If they are worried about spending thresholds then agree to a salary cap and you can have minimum guarantees of course then there are maximums. Pick your battle union

  8. gloccamorra - May 26, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    Just a few years ago, a $90 million payroll was more than respectable. Just last year, the Braves Opening Day payroll was just under $90 million. This year, that’s in the bottom ten – Even the Padres have a $90 million payroll!

    The MLBPA might be protesting too much, even to clubs with large revenue streams. They lay off Houston, because their TV deal is a mess and the owner borrowed big bucks to buy the club, but didn’t the Ricketts’ borrow money too? At some point, the debt load and the overall expenses have to be considered.

  9. perryt200 - May 26, 2014 at 11:59 AM


    Come on. We saw this before the season even started. All 6 of the guys here gave predictions for all of the teams, the divisions, the leagues and picked winners straight through the World Series.

    The only thing all 6 agreed on was Cubs in last place in the NL Central. And they could come out with the same for next year and no one would be surprised.

    As long as the fans spend the money there to watch a loser, that’s what they will get.

  10. sawxalicious - May 26, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    The Cubs can spend $130 million to lose 100 games or $90 million to lose 100 games. The choice for ownership is simple. The difference between the Cubs and the Royals-type teams is that the Cubs are trying to develop talent on the farm that they will very likely be happy to pay fairly once they develop. The a Royals (and Pirates) have developed great players only to trade them when they get expensive or see them walk via free agency. The Cubs have committed long-term to Starlin Castro and if Szamarjia (spelling!) were a tad younger, they would likely give him a big contract. They tried to sign Tanaka over the winter. I think in a few years, the Cubs payroll will be back in the top 10 or higher. We’ll see what their results are.

    • chiadam - May 26, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      Well said.

  11. crillbill - May 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    When did the cubs become such a small market team?

  12. chiadam - May 26, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    It’s not as if the players that the Cubs don’t sign are forced into selling pencils at the airport. They just get signed elsewhere. And I think there’s a misconception about how much money the Cubs actually have to spend on players right now. Their 2013 revenues were fourth highest in MLB, but they invested heavily in their infrastructure. They also have mammoth loan payments and the Wrigley renovations are being funded (eventually) by the Ricketts.

  13. zappa1949 - May 26, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    If the Cubs have a low payroll, they should have low ticket prices

    • Alex K - May 26, 2014 at 2:49 PM

      Payroll and ticket prices don’t have much to do with each other. The tickets are purely supply vs demand.

  14. Kevin Gillman - May 26, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    Here is the truth though, even spending money on the most elite never guarantees championships. They are trying to build the right way, but I don’t think you can do that in a city like Chicago, a very big market.

  15. musketmaniac - May 26, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    cubs have no elite players.

    • Bar None - May 26, 2014 at 3:34 PM

      Whatchu talking about? They just signed Manny!

  16. Chris K - May 26, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    I seem to recall this being the reasoning for the Pirates trading for a declining Matt Morris. Wanted to keep their revenue sharing money. Though that may have been my imagination…

  17. ltpm3 - May 26, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Of course they would, that way the union will get more money out of them.

  18. 461deep - May 26, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    It all started with Cheapo Wrigley. He was so cheap he sold reused gum stuck on his shoes. Cubs continue to milk their cute ball park, take me out to the ball game singing &
    Harry’s image to keep fans coming. Everything but signing 1 or 2 FA to augment the 1000 year rebuilding program. Not saying they need to go overboard but all youth never wins as you need veteran experience to make post season.
    No excuse as Cubs have been overly frugal for many many years. They have 2 good pitchers, and 2-3 good young players so sign a couple FA and the team will improve overnight.

  19. metalhead65 - May 26, 2014 at 7:14 PM

    this is why I hate the players union. it is the ownership’s money to do with what they want. they have chosen to spend money on developing their own talent in the minors and not waste it on “superstars” who will hwlp them 5-6 more games. how about we tell the players what they should do with the millions they make? that they need to spend their money in their old neighborhoods to improve them?

    • Reflex - May 27, 2014 at 1:57 AM

      MLB has entered into an agreement with its labor force to adhere to certain rules in order to avoid potential loss of their government protected monopoly. They may be violating those agreements. If so, it is the union’s job to keep them honest, at both the league and individual club level.

      Yes its ownership’s money. But when they bought the team they agreed to the rules that govern the game, including the rules regarding expenditures.

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