I recently read an article in ESPN Magazine that interviewed Stu Sternberg, the Tampa Bay Rays' principle owner, that discussed how you can compete if you have a small market team. He mentioned some obvious things such as good drafting, scouting, and money management, but he also said something that struck me as somewhat odd.
He said, "FOLLOW THOSE MARLINS! Florida laid the blueprint for running a small-market club: Build your farm system, then add key guys for two-year runs. They also showed you can't hold your players forever. They knew when to let go of Josh Beckett and got Hanley Ramírez and Anibal Sánchez, pieces for a new foundation, when they traded him."
Stu Sternberg basically said that small-market teams can't hold onto veteran players that cost a lot of money, so they have to trade away key members of playoff-teams.
Why doesn't ownership realize that they had a great team which, if kept together, could generate more funds from the fans and ultimately more world championships?
The Marlins, after each of their their two world series, had fire sales and traded away fan favorites. In the winter of 2007, they traded away one of the best young players in the game, Miguel Cabrera.
Owners of these small market teams say that it's too expensive to hold onto these players, but doesn't the success of these teams generate more attendance, thus doesn't the team make more money? I took a look into it, and that's not the case.
I like the feel-good stories of this year's Rays, the 2006 Tigers, and the 2003 Marlins, but those are really all different stories.
The last time the Marlins were in the World Series was 2003, but their average attendance was just 16,290, which ranked 28th in baseball. That was even behind the Tigers who lost 119 games. Then in 2004, the Marlins, the defending world champs, had an average attendance of just 22,091, which ranked 26th.
The Rays this year, even though they have the best record in baseball as of July 4th, are averaging just 20,000 fans and that is good enough for 27th place.
The Tigers, on the other hand ranked 13th in attendance in 2006, the year they went to the World Series. They ranked ninth in '07 and currently rank eighth.
Now, even though all these teams have enjoyed success, the attendance is so different becuase no one cares about baseball where they play. Some say the Rays and Marlins play in old stadiums in the Football State of the World, Florida.
Yeah, that may be true, but the Tigers play in Detroit, which is in a huge economic crisis, and the Tigers lost an A.L. record 119 games five years ago. Even after all that, Detroit still has a large fan base. So, I raise the question, does anyone care if a small-market team does well?
Listen, maybe fan bases would be higher for small market teams if they didn't get rid of big name players, but those teams don't have a choice. They don't generate enough funds to keep those players because, well, the fans don't show up. But the bottom line is, the success of small market teams really seems to matter no one but the actual teams, pretty much becuase, it won't last for a long time.