Some Teams May Try to Dump Contracts ASAP When (IF) Spring Training Part Two Begins

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Some Teams May Try to Dump Contracts ASAP When (IF) Spring Training Part Two Begins

Chicago Cubs

Jayson Stark, who has been pleading for weeks that MLB not drive itself off a cliff (results TBD), today published a piece on the grim future paths of baseball based on conversations with folks inside the game (in various roles and on various sides). It’s a worthwhile read if you want to better understand the existential threats facing the game at the moment, though I’m gonna spotlight one aspect in particular.

This is far, far from the most important part of the article, but it is among the most interesting things to think about (in the same darkly depressing way all of this is “interesting). When talking about what this offseason could look like, Stark’s sources mention all the things you’d expect given the disruption to the game – free agency crushed, short-term contracts even for stars, massive non-tenders among arbitration-eligible players, etc. – and also mentioned salary dumps.

Let’s talk about that for a quick moment before I dig into what Stark heard. From where I sit, although we already know that many teams are going to be aggressively attempting to unload contracts this offseason to limit their loss exposure next year (and try to “make back” some of the money they’re losing this year), I’ve been really skeptical that there will actually be a market, anywhere, for the kind of contract a team would want to dump. It feels like you’re not only would you have to eat ton of salary to move *previously-just-fine* contracts, but you also are going to expect zero meaningful return (how much more valuable do top prospects become in this environment?), and might even have to *include* prospects to unload *portions* of a contract. It’s going to be that bad.

And when it’s very clear that (1) a thing is going to be happening around the league at future time X, and (2) it’s going to be very challenging to navigate those waters well, then that means you’re going to have teams that try to jump to the head of the line. Here’s the “Salary Dumps” section of Stark’s 2020-21 offseason (emphasis mine):

Multiple executives predicted we’d see financially hurting clubs try to unload as many big contracts as they could – a process that might even begin as soon as spring training 2.0 this year, assuming there is a spring training 2.0. One exec’s take: “There’s no question you’ll see teams try to unload money. But they might have no one to unload them to” – because, theoretically, even the big-market teams will be reeling after losing hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020 revenues.

In other words, as soon as the current transaction freeze is lifted – even if it’s during the Spring Training Part Two ramp-up – you might see a number of teams desperately trying to unload salary THIS year, rather than waiting until the offseason. It is common sense that some of the most tightly-squeezed, penny-pinching organizations would try to unload contracts this year to soften this year’s bottom line loss, but that’s not what this is talking about. This, instead, to me hints at something much wider spread and more strategic.

Throw in the fact that there very likely will not be a trade deadline this year, and you might have some teams just trying to strip payroll as much as possible before this season even starts. It could look truly bizarre.

Hey, consider this, too: with a shorter schedule, the much wider berth of possible outcomes for teams, regardless of “true talent.” So, then, when it comes to massive Spring Training trade dumps, this year would leave you less impacted on the field than any other year.

… of course, the other side of that equation is true, too. Which teams out there are going to be able and willing to take on new contracts right now, with a big chunk of that contract playing out in a shortened season? Maybe some forward-thinking, well-situated teams will be aggressive this year or in the offseason? Can’t say for sure right now. But the point is, we might see some desperate teams try to jump the line and do outrageously bizarre things as soon as Spring Training Part Two begins.

If, you know, it ever does.

(I have to mention the Cubs here, because we cover the Cubs, but I have to tell you: there’s no good prediction on the impact to the Cubs here. Given the talent on the roster, I tend to think there would be no aggressive dumping. Moreover, now that getting under the luxury tax this year is a whole lot less meaningful (because, whether they do or not, I don’t see them going *over* it next year, so the three-time repeater is going to be off the table anyway). I guess if you want to be just so very unreasonably optimistic, you’ll convince yourself that the Cubs will be on the poaching side of the equation, maybe trying to goose up some extra interest in the team as they try to launch Marquee (which, by the way, is still not carried on Comcast yet), and also trying to pick up some extra prospects in the process if teams are forced to send them along as sweeteners. 

I won’t share in that optimism, though, because I think the Cubs, as an entity, are going to lose huge money this year, and I don’t see the appetite there from ownership to essentially take on additional losses this year in exchange for improved 2020 performance and opportunistic additions for the future. That’s not necessarily an overt criticism of ownership, mind you – while I do believe, where able, MLB owners should take care of their employees and players, I don’t necessarily think you can demand that they spend further into a one-year debt in order to add an extra player or pick up an extra prospect. Obviously, as a fan, I wish the Cubs would! But that goes a bit too far for me to actively criticize.

Basically, this is all in a parenthetical at the end because I just don’t think you can really know how any team is going to proceed right now. So much of their operations, financially, are opaque, and so much of the fallout from the pandemic is so exceedingly difficult to predict. Sorry if that reads like a cop out. But it’s just the truth.)

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.